It’s been nearly an entire year since the release of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, and The Pokémon Company is giving the games a new breath of life via The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero. This DLC will give the games two expansions, the first being The Teal Mask, which just released this past week.
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet saw quite a bit of discussion since their launch last November, some good and some bad. Most of the complaints from the community stem from the game’s less than ideal performance. At its best, users can expect the occasional glitch or two during a normal playthrough, and at its worst, some players have reported loss of save data. Fortunately for myself, I have not seen a lot of these issues. In my original review sessions, I believe I only ever had the game crash twice, and my experience was about the same for The Teal Mask as well.
Over the course of the past year, The Pokémon Company has actually acknowledged the performance issues some users have experienced, and while they’ve made statements here and there, there’s still a subset of players experiencing those issues. That being said, whatever your experience was playing the base game, expect something similar from The Teal Mask.
To say that The Teal Mask’s release crept up on me would be quite the understatement. The Pokémon Company shared a few glimpses at this DLC throughout 2023, and with every reveal I couldn’t help but find myself struggling to find a reason to really get excited about it. Call it fatigue from all the rest of the REALLY great games I’ve played this year (looking at you, Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur’s Gate), call it burnout after putting over 200 hours into these games, call it whatever you like. Nevertheless, I was really waiting to see a singular “wow” moment that unfortunately never came.
So then, after playing through the entirety of the story, exploring the new region of Kitakami, and absorbing the fresh aspects of the game’s multiplayer, what do I make of The Teal Mask? Well, it’s fine…but let me explain.
So far, this review may seem a bit harsh, but don’t get the wrong idea. Everything there was to like about the core game experience carries over with this DLC. In my original review, some of the core takeaways I had from the main game included things like the art direction, music, character and Pokémon designs, and they’re all present here.
Kitakami is a gorgeous new region, and while it isn’t as big as Paldea (nor did anyone expect it to be), it still has enough going for it in its own right. My personal favorite sightlines come from Kitakami Hall, right next to the street where the Mask Festival eventually takes place, and the Crystal Pools placed at the top of Oni Mountain. With this region, and The Teal Mask in general, everything feels a bit more condensed or focused, and serves as a great foundation for the story at hand.
For those that may be unaware; yes, The Teal Mask DLC also includes a brand new story to go along with it! The setup is simple enough, as things start out with the player’s school giving them a call about an upcoming field trip to the region of Kitakami. While the player is out exploring, you’ll hear some chatter about a festival (which you get to attend), a mysterious truth behind the face of this first expansion, Ogerpon, as well as the smallest bit of exposition relating to Terapagos. The story of The Teal Mask is fine, and while it’s not as grand as the base game’s narrative, it serves the game well in terms of the overall experience. If anything, this expansion serves as a really good cultural touchstone for the story it’s trying to tell.
The only issue I had with the story is that it almost felt like it was playing second fiddle to what seems like the REAL meat and potatoes of these expansions; the lore behind Terapagos and its associated “new Tera type” that was shown off at The Pokémon World Championships earlier this year. Of course, what is a story without good characters? I’m happy to report that The Teal Mask includes a few more equally well designed characters for its roster.
Much like Nemona, Carmine is an enthusiastic battle-fiend who is always looking for an excuse to take the player on in a battle, but rather than cheering you on in defeat like Nemona once did, Carmine is praying for the player’s downfall in nearly every interaction. Conversations with Carmine can start out feeling very hostile, but by the time the credits roll, she’ll have warmed up to you.
One more great character example is Perrin. She’s a traveling photographer who made her way to Kitakami in search of the perfect photo of a certain Pokémon. She’s likable, she has one of the most fun side quests in Scarlet & Violet, and she also bears a striking resemblance to Adaman from Pokémon Legends Arceus. This serves as a nice little callback to past characters, and is always a treat to see.
One of the big attractions to new Pokémon expansions is always going to be the advent of new Pokémon, of which The Teal Mask includes 8. Nearly half of these new mons have gotten quite a bit of screen time during The Teal Mask’s marketing run, though my personal favorite of the bunch has to go to the Polchageist line. Apart from its design being inspired by matcha tea (which I love), what really won me over was Polchageist’s reveal trailer, wherein it’s stated that Kitakami locals will give this Pokémon the greeting “Nice tea meet ya!” as a means of staying in its good graces. I love it!
All in all, I really did enjoy my time with The Teal Mask. The new characters & Pokémon were enough to keep me entertained throughout the story’s ~5 hour runtime, and while it isn’t quite as narratively grand as I was hoping, I do believe that there’s still some fun to be had here in the region of Kitakami, even if it feels like an accessory for what’s to come in the game’s next expansion, The Indigo Disk.