Spending Time With Triple 9s and New Pokemon Goodness

Welcome to Save State, where games sometimes change substantially post-release. It’s not uncommon, especially nowadays, for a game to have an update or DLC pack that dramatically corrects-course for a problematic title. Pokemon Sword and Shield were two games that, upon their release, had a significant amount of baggage that dramatically hindered enjoyment of the games. The end of the gym challenge seemed rushed- with one of the final towns and gyms being nothing more than a single hallway. Missing Pokemon, mediocre patchwork online systems that were worse than the offerings just a couple generations prior- you name it. Within the last month the second DLC pack for Sword and Shield released, the Crown Tundra, and I took a brief journey back into the Galar region to both finish the Isle of Armor and experience the Crown Tundra for the first time.

Sword and Shield had a lot of missed opportunities- being the first main series Pokemon games on home consoles should have been a huge affair, but it’s obvious that time crunch, or something similar, got in the way of the game’s vision. The Wild Area showed how a more free-form approach to a Pokemon game could actually work, and that’s precisely what the Isle of Armor DLC for the 8th generation Pokemon titles does. On the Isle of Armor you can pretty much wander and freely explore new locations, with areas like the Forest of Focus which are much more visually appealing than many of the base game’s areas. A much-beloved feature of having Pokemon that follow the trainer has returned- though only on the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra areas.

There’s no real, powerful connecting story in the Isle of Armor DLC- you meet a young legendary Pokemon named Kubfu and will acquire it and help it evolve by completing various trials around the island, which will include brief battles with a new rival as well as the master of the island’s dojo. This process does not take long at all, but thankfully you’ll have new areas to explore and new Pokemon to catch as you wander around the island, since around 100 Pokemon that were missing in base Sword and Shield were added back in with this expansion. There are also 150 Digletts randomly hidden throughout the island, of which finding those will reward you with Alolan variant Pokemon like Vulpix and Marowak for every so many you find.

For the most part, exploring a new location and finding a bunch of returning Pokemon was a great time, because the more that’s available to catch, the happier I am (it appeals to my inner collector). The new move tutor actually has a number of moves that are extremely valuable, and a new NPC in the base game’s Battle Tower will appear who will make it so that you can use Pokemon from a previous generation in ranked online play. Typically, only Pokemon born in the generation you’re playing can be used online, but now you can sacrifice the occasional egg move to have a previous generation’s battle-ready team back in action quickly; this is especially useful if you shiny hunted in a previous generation. There’s also a soup that you can cook and feed your Pokemon that will unlock an applicable Gigantamax form, which were originally somewhat annoying to acquire- now that shiny Hatterene you hatched can be used on your Trick Room team if you wanted it to have its special Gigantamax form, giving more options to the players (which is always a good thing).

Check out our full review of Pokemon Sword and Shield.

That said, the Isle of Armor was short, and every battle was insanely easy. Once you complete the story component and catch what you want, the only reason you’d visit the area would be to use the move tutor to teach Grassy Glide to your hidden ability Rillaboom, or something. The Crown Tundra has a little bit more going on than that, initially, as it reintroduces a ton of older legendary Pokemon back into the games. When you get off the train station for the Crown Tundra, you’ll immediately be dragged into a father-daughter argument and introduced to the Crown Tundra’s special gimmick, Dynamax Adventures

The Crown Tundra story is about a Pokemon called the King of Bountiful Harvests, and you’ll play through a brief 3-4 hour excursion on discovering why that legendary Pokemon lost its power, as well as return its noble steed to it. Along the way, you’ll also encounter puzzles involving the Regi Pokemon from Gen III, as well as two new Regis never before seen.

For Dynamax Adventures, you embark on an expedition involving battles in which your damage and status ailments carry over from one battle into the next. You and up to three friends select from a pool of rental Pokemon and venture forth to battle four Dynamaxed/Gigantamaxed Pokemon in a row, with a powerful legendary Pokemon from a past game waiting for you at the end. You can select the paths you want to go, with hints showing what type of Pokemon you will be battling next- pink clouds obfuscate your full vision of what the Pokemon may be, but one of its types is clearly shown to you, making for an easy game of, “What’s that Pokemon?” as you progress through the lair. Once you beat a Pokemon, one of the four players can elect to swap out their current pocket monster for the recently defeated one, which can be useful for building type advantages going into the final battle of the lair.

Dynamax Adventures is actually an incredibly fun little distraction- with almost every legendary Pokemon from previous generations available (excluding mythical Pokemon like Mew and Celebi), there are 48 total legendary Pokemon that can be caught, including the Ultra Beasts from Sun and Moon. There’s also a higher than normal chance for Pokemon in Dynamax Adventures to be shiny, which incentivizes players to catch every Pokemon they encounter along the way to the legendary at the end of the road. Unfortunately, if you, for example, catch all four Pokemon along the route, you only get to keep one of them). You can also only catch the legendary Pokemon once per save file, so if you’re hunting a shiny Rayquaza or Mewtwo, you’ll likely need to run them multiple times and avoid taking the legendary at the end, or else you’ll need to start a whole new save file just to have another attempt.

Overall, the DLCs for Pokemon Sword and Shield added a total of 221 Pokemon, mostly returning old Pokemon sprinkled with some powerful new ones, meaning that out of 898 Pokemon, 234 of them are still unavailable in Sword and Shield. This means you could still be unsatisfied if one of your favorites is something like Greninja, Honchkrow, or Medicham, which are all still not present in the games. The new environments are great, and changes throughout the last year have improved online play, though not quite enough to actually be called good. Link codes were changed from 4 digits to 8, which reduces the chances of pairing with someone who isn’t your intended partner, but there is still zero excuse to not let you just select friends to trade and battle with, making the link code aspect a complete step backwards even for Dynamax Adventures.

For what the DLCs offer, though, they’re quite enjoyable and give a lot for collectors to do. If you’re looking for a strong story or for the national Pokedex to be fully fleshed out again, then you’ll want to avoid the Sword and Shield expansion pass, but if you enjoy collecting and enjoy playing with other players to collect various Pokemon, new and old, then you may find the expansions worth the cash.

The second game looked at this last week was the first entry in the Zero Escape series, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors for the Nintendo DS. I had just finished Virtue’s Last Reward in preparation for the third game’s release, Zero Time Dilemma. Due to a weird shipping issue, a broken watch preorder bonus, and a broken 3DS, I wound up not being able to play Zero Time Dilemma on its release day, which was a shame, because its apparently heavily relies on the player having an understanding of events that took place in 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Years later, I found the watch that was shipped to me broken four years ago, remembered I hadn’t yet played the third game in the Zero Escape series, and decided that I’m going to embark on a journey to experience these games again. The largest difference between my playing 999 years ago, and doing so now, is that I’m bringing you folks along for the ride!

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors opens with a young man named Junpei waking up in a haze in the room of a ship adrift on the ocean. After some brief exposition of Junpei trying to trace his steps to determine how he wound up there, he quickly realizes that he’s been kidnapped and the room that he’s in is flooding. At this point players will need to solve puzzles throughout the room in order to unlock the door and escape in the larger portions of the ship, where you will encounter eight other kidnapping victims. It is here that the protagonist is exposed to the mysterious Zero, who informs the cast that they’ve been thrown into a life or death event called the Nonary Games. You have nine hours to escape the ship, and everyone will have to work together to escape the number-themed puzzles of this life and death game.

The characters quickly introduce themselves, and players will quickly discover an extremely enjoyable cast of characters with their own motivations, methods, and moxie. The premise is just the initial way to hook players into the story, as well, considering that Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, hereafter referred to as 999 for brevity, lets players choose the story path they wish to follow like an old “Choose your own adventure” book. You’ll be given various dialogue choices that may determine the fate of Junpei or other characters you’ve come to love, and even your choices of who to take with you through various doors can be enough to completely change the ending you receive.

One of the neat things about 999 is that spoken dialogue between characters will be displayed to players on the top screen, while inner monologue or action information will be divulged to players on the DS’s bottom screen. It sounds silly, but the information presented on the bottom screen, in an almost ebook-esque fashion, really does a lot for world building to the point that it’s much more easy to get wrapped up in the game’s story. The story paths of 999 are insanely branching, as you’ll be presented with different doors only specific combinations of characters can move through, which can be hard to keep track of as you progress through the game.

Later iterations of Zero Escape fix this particular issue by implementing a flow chart that shows what story branches you’ve completed, but the original DS of 999 does not. From what I understand, however, the PC and PS4 version called Zero Escape: The Nonary Games, which includes both 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, does include a flow chart to make it easier to navigate the various story paths. If you’re playing the original DS version, however, you mostly need to remember what you’ve completed, and you’ll need to use the game’s skip feature to speed up reaching the next branch, which can be a little tiresome if it’s your second or third time through a particular escape room.

The escape rooms themselves form up the gameplay of 999- characters will walk into a specific room and get locked in, and need to solve various puzzles in order to successfully progress to the next story segment. Some of these puzzles can be quite ingenious, and several take full advantage of the features of the Nintendo DS (it’s my understanding that some of these puzzles were changed for the PC/PS4 release, but I do not know in which way). Many of the puzzles involve unique ways to utilize numbers, chemicals, and the like, and while they’re not so overly challenging that they become stressful- honestly they make a great break from the growing story developments.

There isn’t much that can be said about 999’s story- it’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s one of the finest tales spun on the Nintendo DS, or almost any visual novel-type game to come after it. Kotaro Uchikoshi’s writing is incredible, with fleshed out characters, excellent use of tension and branching paths, as well as puzzles that are extremely satisfying to solve, incorporating all of these elements to form an extremely competent package that is uniquely entertaining. Even for someone who isn’t a huge fan of visual novels, like myself, I found 999 to stand alongside the likes of Steins;Gate with relative ease, which is one of the highest compliments I can give.

That said, these are the two games that jumped out at me over the last few weeks. Join us some nebulous time in the future in which we’ll discuss a couple more possibly forgotten games that deserve a second look.

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