In case it wasn’t clear from the title, I want to get one thing out of the way: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are by far the worst mainline games in the series, in my opinion at least.
I’m not even talking about the technical issues — which are representative of a punishing development cycle as opposed to the creative vision — but rather, the gameplay itself. In an arbitrary push for an open world, Paldea sacrificed the integrity of the journey in favor of big, open spaces that amount to very little.
There’s some Pokemon wandering around, and a few trainers here and there. Do you want to interact with them, or just continue on toward the next monochromatic destination? True enough, the locations you’ll visit are ‘open’, and yet, this is hardly a ‘world’. There’s nothing much in the way of whimsy or intrigue connecting one city to another, no sign of a Glimwood Tangle or S.S. Cactus (aka Hoenn’s Abandoned Ship).
With this in mind, I cannot say in good faith that I went into the Teal Mask DLC with an open mind. After just a few minutes, I was recognizing all of the trappings of the base game re-emerging, with constant stop-start momentum being the most damning.
I Visited Kitakami Island & All I Got Was This Lousy Teal Mask DLC, I smugly jotted down as the tentative title for this piece, in between interruptive cutscenes featuring characters I didn’t care about saying things that didn’t matter.
But in time, those characters grew on me a little, and Kitakami grew on me a little, too. Upon completion, I’ve since concluded that Teal Mask is a distillation of everything that is right and wrong with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, but on a reduced scale that actually winds up suiting it wonderfully.
First off, I have to say allowing near-immediate access to your ride-on Pokemon — Koraidon for Scarlet or Miraidon for Violet — was a major mistake. So much of the DLC’s objectives invite you to travel across the island in search of landmarks, but if your dragon steed is fully souped up (a likely possibility considering almost a year has passed since the games’ initial release), you will almost certainly elect to bypass it entirely.
Oh, you want me to follow this mountain trail up toward the den of the dreaded beast? ATV lizard says nah, I’ll just clumsily climb a wall instead. Had the DLC relied on fast travel destinations until you had finished its story arc, there would have been more of a connection to the various biomes.
Kitakami, when compared to the Paldean mainland, is incredibly small, and it won’t take you long to get from one end to the other, but this is one of its major strengths. By shrinking its scope, the world feels fuller, with rice paddies and apple orchards serving as points of interest.
Additionally, the design of said biomes completely trumps what came before it. Alfornada Cavern is one of the worst and ugliest locations in any Pokemon game. It’s bland, it’s flat, it’s empty — practically an allegory for why Scarlet and Violet are so divisive. Deep within the recesses of Kitakami’s Oni Mountain, however, lies a labyrinthine series of tunnels and chambers known as the Chilling Waterhead.
There are flooded areas, and elaborate rock formations to descend in order to reach its base. Again, your ride Pokemon can make quick work of it, but the tight quarters make it an awkward fit, and you might even be tempted to proceed on-foot.
The featured NPCs for Teal Mask, siblings Kieran and Carmine, are welcome additions with clear and satisfying arcs. They even offer something of a cliffhanger by the end, instead of just tidily wrapping everything up with a neat little bow.
And yes, the dynamic of Ogerpon and the Loyal Three is a nice little tale in and of itself. As much as I bemoan Scarlet and Violet (and rightfully so), they do at least attempt to explore plot elements beyond the stock standard combination of ‘catch a lot’ and ‘battle a lot’.
The Teal Mask isn’t a lengthy campaign by any means, making the DLC in Sword and Shield seem robust by comparison. Additionally, because of the awkward uncertainty of how far you’ll be into your game, you will most likely end up dramatically overpowered thanks to its messy level scaling.
For context, I have collected all of the gym badges, bested the Titan Pokemon, and disbarred the nefarious Team Star, but defiantly refused to proceed through to the Pokemon League. As such, where the DLC trainers should be in the high 70s, I found them to all be capped around level 30.
As satisfying as it is to dismantle opponents with a single attack, it can’t be good for the introverted Kieran to watch on as his beloved Pokemon are ripped to shreds.
Ultimately, my main takeaway from Kitakami is that it didn’t overstay its welcome. There’s a bit of back-and-forth busywork, a few battles, and a final showdown against Ogerpon that would be spectacular were it not for that aforementioned level disparity. It never gets in its own way, and acts as a window into an alternate reality where the aimless ambition of Scarlet and Violet was kept in check.
Had the rest of the game been this tidy and succinct, maybe I wouldn’t be so inclined to deride it at every opportunity… Just maybe.