The gacha game has become a staple of free-to-play mobile gaming in recent years. Success in the early 2010s over in Japan eventually found gacha games heading westward. Fate/Grand Order and Fire Emblem Heroes released to relatively high praise in 2017. A couple of years later and at last Pokémon has jumped on the trend with Pokemon Masters.
The core gameplay has you teaming up with various characters from the Pokemon universe. A lot of fan favorites are in there from day one. I was impressed with how Pokémon Masters respects all seven generations rather than playing favorites. In recent games, Nintendo has been pandering to casual gen one players to the detriment of actual fans.
Of course, many legends of Kanto are present including Misty, Brock, and Agatha. However, every other generation has some of their iconic trainers featured too. Particular highlights include Flannery, Rosa, Mina, and Iris. Keep in mind that’s Black and White 2’s champion, Iris. Not the screeching brat the anime gave us.
Each of these so-called Sync Pairs has their signature Pokemon as a partner. Korrina has Lucario, Brock has Onix, Hau has Alolan Raichu and so on. Pokemon are categorized as either Strike, Support or Tech. Strikers do the most damage, Supports buff teammates and Techs debuff opponents.
Battles in Pokemon Masters are real-time rather than turn-based. A move gauge displayed at the bottom of the screen slowly charges over-time. Different moves use different amounts of gauge energy. Weaker moves often only use 1 bar whilst powerful finishers can use 3. There are also support moves that don’t use gauge energy up. These are usually either reference to items from the main series games or stat modifying moves. For example, your starting Pikachu gets a Potion move, lightly healing an ally of choice.
In a word, it’s simplistic. There’s enough there for it to still feel like Pokémon but not enough to satisfy series veterans. Pokémon have weaknesses as you’d expect but the iconic type match-ups have mostly been scrapped. Instead, each sync pair only has one type weakness. Many of the core games more complex mechanics have been dumped too. Move priority, abilities, friendship, and breeding, amongst other things, are all nowhere to be seen.
The importance of typing is debatable in the first place. Pokemon Masters tries to push you to train type relevant sync pairs for that super effective damage. It’s not actually all that necessary though. This is because Pokemon Masters doesn’t feature any kind of energy system to limit playtime. In other words, you can repeat level up courses over and over to get max level Pokémon.
All you have to do is max level your strongest brawler and you’re set for 99.9% of the game’s content. Throw a support or two in there like Rosa or Phoebe, my two of choice, and your primary damage dealer will shred through everything. The auto battler is also complete garbage and needs looking at urgently. As things stand it just spams the most powerful move on your team, regardless of context. I suspect its a result of lazy implementation.
Alright, let’s get down to the gritty part of any mobile game. What’s the business model like? In an impressive accomplishment of game design, Pokemon Masters manages to be both very fair and very unfair at once. On one hand, a lot of Sync Pairs are handed out as part of the main story. This even includes top tier supports like Rosa and strong options like Skyla.
You also get an okay amount of gems from the main story given its relative ease to progress through. You can also get 1000 gems for linking your Nintendo account and a few hundred gems from daily logins. I fear that long-term getting gems could become very tedious without new options being introduced.
The issues, as ever, relate to the microtransaction model used. Gems are split up into free gems and paid gems. You can pay 3000 gems for 10 Sync Pairs. Alternatively, you can pay real money and use 3000 paid gems for 10 Sync Pairs with a guaranteed 5* drop. To their credit, developers DeNA have been very transparent with exact drop odds. None of that nonsense FIFA pulls where it tells you “<1%,” rather than an actual number.
There’s a 7% chance of any 5* Sync Pair dropping and a 20% chance of a 4*. A basic 3* will appear 73% of the time. To be fair, unlike many other gacha games, 3* doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Many 3* and 4* Sync Pairs are still strong enough to last through the game’s content. Despite this, there’s no denying 5* Sync Pairs like Brendan, Phoebe, and Karen are all top tier.
So is Pokemon Masters worth your time? If you’re an actual Pokemon fan who loves the characters from the games, probably. If you’re just a gacha fan who doesn’t know too much about Pokemon, probably not. Pokemon Masters is a good enough game that offers plenty of fun and cute fanservice for those that care. However, if you don’t care I’m not sure there’s enough elsewhere to justify any serious time investment. At least not until DeNA makes it easier to play without spending real money.