Jeremy Jastrzab
15 Dec, 2005

Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness Review

GCN Review | 3D Pokemon RPG 1.1
For years, Pokemon fans clamoured for a 3-D rendition of their favourite monster-hunter. While they weren’t RPG’s, the N64 Pokemon Stadium titles were a pair of good games that showcased what Pokemon may be like in 3-D. Finally, last year, fans got their wish … well, sort of. Pokemon Colosseum was part watered-down RPG and part stadium battler. It was a solid title but neither part really captured the true essence of their predecessors. Following up this year, is another 3-D RPG, Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness.

Purely judging from the title, one may assume that the game is an attempt to pull in some of the older fans that may have forsaken Pokemon in the past. From the game, this is only marginally true. The story takes place 5 years after the events of the last game and you are in the same region, Orre. You play as a (nameable) teenager, who lives and trains at a laboratory that is dedicated to the study of purifying the shadow pokemon that were created by the disbanded group, Cipher. For those who don’t know, shadow pokemon are ones that have had the doors to their hearts artificially closed to turn them into fighting machines. Well, since the story mode is virtually the only mode that is on offer this time around, the obvious occurs. Cipher are still around and are working their way back to complete their world domination through the converting of all pokemon into shadow pokemon. The head pokemon that is leading their efforts happens to be the titular dark Lugia, a pokemon that is supposed to be completely immune to purification. Your quest starts when the head professor is kidnapped and taken away to help Cipher crack a few of their problems.

Story-wise, the game is somewhat predictable but it does have its moments. Essentially, you are given a series of tasks, one after the other and as you complete these you visit more and more places. The general objective is to weed out all the shadow pokemon that you can find as well as build your team along the way. While the game is missing some of the more traditional tasks such as Gym battles, there is more of an emphasis of battling through Cipher cronies in order to save someone or find out some information. The story is somewhat pedestrian and to some, predictable however, there are a few comedic moments that are a kin to the TV show that will have you laughing.

Dark Lugia is meant to play a large role in this game

Dark Lugia is meant to play a large role in this game
Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness (along with its predecessor) is an oddity in the gaming world. Normally, a successful console title will make the move to a dumbed-down technically inept portable version. For whatever reason or decision made, this time it happens to be the other way around. There have been a few system improvements from the last game to try and make this experience closer to the Game Boy colossi. Some of these work reasonably well but in the end, the game still suffers from the same problems of Pokemon Colosseum. The main one being, you really aren’t playing a true Pokemon RPG.

At its core, the system in Pokemon is very simple. Normally, it’s a one-on-one turn-based battle. The fastest pokemon goes first and the rest follow. Beyond that, the variations in the game are based on the type of each pokemon. There are seventeen different types, ranging from water, fire and grass to psychic, ghost and dark. These work in a rock-paper-scissors fashion, where water is strong against fire, fire is strong against grass and grass is strong against water. It’s a system that’s proven to work very well and is part of what makes the Pokemon RPG’s more enjoyable, tactical and deeper than it seems. However, to try and spice things up for the consoles, Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness employs the double-battles that were first introduced in Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire and solely used in Pokemon Colosseum. Here, each “trainer” has two pokemon on the field at once.

The double-battles are both better and worse than the standard one-on-ones. Better because you need to take into account the types of attacks and the opponents on a much more rigorous scale. Worse, because there are some mechanics from the one-on-ones that are missing and the fact that it takes too long to complete a single turn. However, it probably makes more sense to use this system prevalently in a console title than in a handheld title.

As in the previous game, your main objective apart from completing the story is to capture as many shadow pokemon as you can and purify them i.e. open the door to their hearts. To do this, you are equipped with the snag machince, just like (you guessed it) in the previous game. This is where the game dilutes from its Game Boy counterparts. The snag machine allows you to steal other people’s pokemon. Since this is generally a BIG no-no in the world of Pokemon, you are equipped with a visor that identifies shadow pokemon and will only allow the machine to work when there is one on the field. As usual, you first need to weaken the pokemon, in order to capture it in a Pokeball. Once caught, it’s up to you to decide the method of purification.

Typically spiky-hair anime dudes battle it out

Typically spiky-hair anime dudes battle it out
As in the last game, each shadow pokemon has a shadow meter. To purify, the meter has to be completely depleted and the pokemon taken to a monument in a far away village to perform a purification ceremony. To deplete this meter, you could carry the pokemon around with you or use it to battle. This took a damn long time and was very detrimental to team building, so the new purification chamber is a godsend. Once you have a handful of purified pokemon, you can use the chamber to put them in an arrangement that will create an energy flow. Placing a shadow pokemon within this arrangement will gradually purify it. You can leave the Pokemon in there to purify as you go about the rest of your business. It makes the game much easier but using the chamber is initially cumbersome, as it is not really well explained. You’re simply told to “experiment”.

Battling with shadow pokemon is much better this time around. This is because there are many more shadow moves (as opposed to one) than last time and each have many different effects. The moves range from stat changes to moves that inflict a lot of damage. It is unlikely that each shadow pokemon that you catch will have the same moves. Not only is this variety much welcome, it makes battling with shadow pokemon much more viable. This also makes catching them much easier, since they generally won’t knock themselves out before you get a chance to nab them. This is especially true with some of the higher end pokemon, which are much easier to catch this time round.

It is explained that wild pokemon are very rare the Orre region. Using this as an excuse, the game consists of only a series of towns. All the traveling between towns is depicted by a cut-scene. From this, the game lost a lot of what made it so enjoyable in handheld form. The free roaming and exploratory nature of RPG’s is completely lost. Whether this was a decision of inability or laziness on the developer’s half, we’ll never know for sure. However, in this game, there is a small element of catching wild pokemon. There are three Pokespots, that allow you to place food and as you continue through your adventure, a monitor will notify you if the spot is being disturbed. If you head to the spot before the food is consumed, you may find yourself in a classic wild pokemon battle. Here, the game reverts back to one-on-one and you can catch the wild pokemon at your discretion. As handy as this is, it doesn’t really go far enough to alleviate what has been excluded.

Essentially, these Pokespots will figure in a couple of the games side-quests. No respectable RPG can go pass a few good side-quests and this title is much more varied than the previous one. Players of Pokemon Colosseum may remember a site where there was a tower being built, well now it has been completed. Aside from the Colosseum battles, you can now partake in events that take place Battle CD’s. These are numerous pre-set scenarios that you are given random Pokemon and moves that need to satisfy some sort of objective. There are some that are very challenging and engaging. Apart from that, the side-quests in this game are much improved over the previous game and go a little way to making the game more acceptable.

Super Barf Attack!

Super Barf Attack!
However, for all that has been changed or improved, a lot of the underlying issues that hampered the first game have not been addressed. The big main one is the pacing. Simply put, this game is way too slow. Even the simplest battle can take up to 20 minutes if the opponent has five pokemon at his disposal. Part of the bliss and beauty of the handheld version is how quickly you could go about your business. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were at least challenging. Battles get very boring very quickly because you are taking on such insignificant, miserly pokemon. We can argue that it’s for younger kids but attention span may be a problem for some. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the very last part of the game that the difficulty ramps up significantly. But still, that’s only because the game out muscles you rather than beat you tactically. Through out the game, the AI is completely scatterbrained. Anyone who has been around the Pokemon scene for a while can easily wipe through this game, though it will only take them a long ime because the battles are so slow.

On top of that, the simplistic system is still flawed. For example, the game doesn’t allow you to attack a pokemon and then throw a pokeball to catch it. The pokeball is always thrown first. There have been a few puzzle thrown into the mix but they’re way too simple for a console RPG. The translation and localisation at times seems a bit rushed as well. It doesn’t butcher the English language, but the amount of text compared to normal RPG’s makes for some concerns. The game also forsakes the secondary colosseum mode from the previous game for a simple multiplayer mode. Basically, you can take some pre-set teams or your own teams off you Game Boy games. It’s not bad, but it has been done before and much better. As a stand-alone title, the most disappointing thing about Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is that it plays like Pokemon Colosseum 1.1. About 80% of the game is identical to the previous game and this loses the appeal that the initial title had of being a 3-D Pokemon RPG. As a gamer and a Pokemon fan, I am disappointed that the developers are providing an adventure that has an original game as a secondary purpose, to that of collecting and completing a full Pokedex in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire.

Despite the flaws, the gameplay is acceptable. The graphics on the other hand only just make the grade. The style is simple yet in the parts that it is done well, it looks good and elegant. Each town has its own personality and distinctions. The people have their own style as well, despite there being a lot of repetitive models. The disappointing aspect is from the pokemon and their moves. It’s a real mixed bag. Some look very good and have some lively animations to match. Others have been ripped almost directly out the N64 games. Then there are a few that had to be specifically created for this game that look absolutely terrible. A lot of the moves have been recreated but a lot of them lack effort and distinction. Even cut-scenes have a bare-bone amount of direction and most of them are utterly lifeless. In all, there are a lot places that needed some more effort, especially with some of the awful texture work and unvaried animations. The only thing this lack of effort or if you want, system pushing yields is speedy load times and smooth play. Regardless, the pacing of the game sucks.

Since we have some N64 graphics, why not top it off with Game Boy sounds. For some reason, the monkeys at Nintendo Co. have yet to realise the importance of sound in a game. Many games have demonstrated how powerful the GameCube can be yet its own house is unwilling to harness this potential. Even Pokemon Snap for the N64 had faithful Pokemon sounds yet here, at the end of the generation were still forced to put up with primitive beeps, bleeps and other midi-inspired noises that have all been heard before. It’s simply not good enough and shows blatant laziness and cost saving. There aren’t even any attempts at actual voicing. Given some of the dialogue is decent, it presents a missed opportunity. The music isn’t too bad, until you realize that the in-battle music is on a virtual endless loop that you are likely to hear several times in one battle. Culminate this in several battles and you have very irritating times ahead.

Even opening a warp hole won't speed up the game

Even opening a warp hole won't speed up the game
The biggest positive for this game is that it manages to span a long period of time. There are easily 20+ hours of gameplay here. It’s just too bad that it’s so slow and disengaging at times and that there aren’t the modes that were in the previous game. That and only the absolutely craziest of completionists and Pokefreaks will attempt to go through the game again.

Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness only just manages to get over the line as an acceptable game, if you can negate the presentation. There is a solid RPG adventure that is likely to be accepted by some of the more lenient and patient fans. It improves a few things but since it takes too much from its predecessor, it loses the appeal of being a 3-D Pokemon RPG. However, it doesn’t really fit into being a game for kids or for older gamers. As competent as it may be, the simple fact is that for all that it copies from the Game Boy versions, it for the most part, fails to capture the true essence of what makes the game so popular and so great to play.
The Score
Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is a competent RPG that has some remote appeal but it doesn't take enough of the things that made the Game Boy versions so enjoyable. 6
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
Nice. I agree with the score, it was a decent game but it also had so many flaws and borrowed wayyy to much from the first. It needed more locations and I think they need to create a new way of playing or revert to the GBA versions and use gyms and eliete four..or five.

I traded mine in today actually. I got Lugia off it so I was happy - now Im playing through Soul Calibur 3. A game I think ill get more out off.
8 years ago
The "XD" is laughing at you
8 years ago
While battles may be paced a little slow, it is faster than Colosseum, which was even slower still.
8 years ago
Wake me when Game Freak goes 3D.
8 years ago
Excellent review. The last paragraph really sums up my feelings on the direction Pokémon console games are being taken.

I've not bought XD, and I don't intend to. I second GTPod's comment; Genius Sonority are simply failing. icon_razz.gif
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