Pokemon fans were recently introduced to the “Land of Kitakami” in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet through the dlc titled “The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero Part 1: The Teal Mask.” I got my hands on the DLC day 1 and had to figure out how to split my time between playing it and “Starfield.” Before I continue into my thoughts about the DLC, be aware spoilers are inbound so if you are somehow concerned about the *plot* of a Pokemon game then be advised I will be talking about various story beats and characters.
When I first set foot in Kitakami, I was excited to immediately see several Pokemon that were not in the base game. Then, after furiously clicking through the always too slow conversation between the teacher and other main characters, I was suddenly released to explore! I should confess before going too far that my main focus and passion in Pokemon is shiny hunting. I adore collecting alternate colored pokemon, even if their stats are trash. That being said I still like to complete the story and complete the pokedex. I’m a few trade evolutions away from completing this DLC’s pokedex and have completed the main DLC story.
When I first met the DLC’s main story NPCs, Kieran and his older sister Carmine, I was struck by the sense that Pokemon really only knows how to tell a story with character dialogue, essentially plot-dumping. After getting to know the bold and self-confident Carmine and her younger, less confident brother, we are then sent on what seems to be the common staple in Pokemon games these days: the “go talk to this person and then come back” mission. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t feel like 90% of the plot of these games weren’t like this. It was perhaps less egregious in the base game, due to having the various plotlines to alternate between. There, it certainly felt like action was always at hand. Here in Kitakami though, you walk between Mossui village and Kitakami Hall mostly just picking up pieces of the various local legends about the Ogre of the Dreaded Den, the Loyal Three, and other pokemon.
Fundamentally, I understand this game is designed with children in mind. It’s perhaps easier to explain why the story is lackluster when you realize the average age of the game falls somewhere between 8-12… This explanation falls flat for me, even as I try to entertain some level of consideration for the intended age group. However, this is a series that has existed for over 20 years now, though. It is a worldwide phenomena, and immediately recognizable to countless people, even those who don’t play the games or watch the anime. Considering that over a year ago we got the most exciting and fresh experience in the form of “Pokemon Legends: Arceus” the reversion to a somewhat more traditional experience is such a letdown.
Getting back to the point with the “Teal Mask'' however, the main conceit of the story follows the newest Legendary pokemon, “Ogerpon” and her powerful artifact, the eponymous Teal Mask, which acts much like a Tera Crystal. Through the narrative we come to know of the existence of Ogerpon as still alive, and what's more, that she is not the villain the villagers of Mossui Town believe her to be. How do we learn this though? Through a convenient exposition dump by Carmine and Kieran’s grandfather. This is particularly egregious because the story is ridiculously short. The story absolutely could have shown through action how Ogerpon is not villainous… and yet again we learn about all of this through someone simply telling us what “actually” happened.
When it comes to the villains, the supposed “Loyal Three” are brought back to life in the story… somehow? I mean seriously, this gave big “Somehow Palpatine returned” vibes. I know the game is aimed at children… but are sure they aren’t assuming children are too stupid to have understood an ounce of exposition? I mean even in researching for this to make sure I have my facts straight, the Bulbapedia article states: “Suddenly, a burst of light erupts from the monument, and the Loyal Three are inexplicably resurrected from their grave.” What? They don’t even have their masks, so there is no chance that Tera energy is at play, which might be a fun mcguffin to explain their resurrection. Instead we get long-dead pokemon jumping out of a grave looking fine and galloping off to get their masks back.
Following that, and after tracking down the villainous trio, we find out that Mossui Town has now changed their minds about the Loyal Three. It seems in your travels around Kitakami, Kieran was hard at work convincing the townsfolk about the truth of Ogerpon and the Loyal Three. Yes, we are led to believe that all of the denizens of a town who have for hundreds of years believed that the Loyal Three were untouchable heroes and that Ogerpon was a murderous monster… are now thoroughly convinced that everything they knew was wrong? The “Teal Mask” again relies on characters just talking and bypassing potential for great action. I imagine a world where Ogerpon performs various acts of heroism, or the Loyal Three are caught red-handed being the thieves they actually are.
After all of the dialogue based plot development, the story is wrapped somewhat neatly up by the obvious confrontations between the villains, returning the masks back to Ogerpon. Eventually all is “made right” and the Loyal Three can then be caught if you return to the place you found them before when they had their masks. Thankfully, the opportunities in Kitakami don’t end there. For people interested in other elements, like shiny hunting, they will be delighted to find that mass outbreaks occur in Kitakami as well. One interesting detail about the region to note, during the story missions the normal day/night cycle is suspended. Some story beats take place at a certain time of day, meaning that if you avoid completing the next mission, you could experience eternal night or day in Kitakami. This is useful if you want to search for pokemon that only spawn during certain times of the day.
There are also some new variant pokemon, like Sinistcha or Dipplin. Although brand new pokemon are limited, this seems less egregious considering this is just a DLC. The DLC also features over 150 entries in the pokedex, however many are pokemon that were already in the base game. The size of the DLC overall is a bit disappointing as well. The entirety of Kitakami is largely centered around Oni Mountain. Sprinkled along this wheel-like map design are a few different biomes, mostly grassland though. The mountain itself is traversable, and canny adventurers may find themselves in a network of caves and tunnels running all the way down through the mountain.
Ultimately I think Pokemon struggles to create new and interesting stories. Considering some of the choices that Scarlet and Violet’s base game took, the DLC feels like somewhat of a stumble. Consider too that the Teal Mask is supposed to be the first part of a longer storyline which apparently culminates in a later DLC. The first DLC being this way suggests we should care about what we learn from the story, but with such a lackluster plot I’m struggling to perceive how this opens up into a wider story and a bigger story payoff.
I’m heading off to complete some post-game pokemon hunting, but one last thought strikes me. These DLC’s staying power will suffer greatly if afterwards the only draw is mass outbreaks and tera raids. Tera raids have consistently remained one of the buggiest and most anti-fun pieces of the overall game that it’s truly ridiculous it’s still an issue to this day. I’m further frustrated by that reality because they have locked Herba Mystica behind completing tera raids at 5 stars or higher and RNG! I suppose I will at least have some fun shiny hunting in Kitakami in the days to come, but when I look back at the “Isle of Armor” or “Crown Tundra…” I’m actually a bit appalled by the “Teal Mask.”
Overall, as far as a DLC goes the “Teal Mask” is a bit of a letdown. It’s a shame because it comes as part of an overarching story so skipping it may not be an option if you want the full story. Additionally, fan favorite pokemon return with its debut so collectors will be tempted to pick it up just to fill out their pokedexs. If I had to rate it out of 10, which seems arbitrary but maybe helpful for folks who think with numbers, I’d give it a 4/10.