Review: Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness (Nintendo Gamecube)

Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 10/5/05

Can you believe it’s actually been ten years since Pokemon first came out? In a mere decade, this turn based RPG filled with cock fighting seizure monsters has became the best selling game franchise of all time. It’s even replaced Mario as Nintendo’s overall cash cow, something no one thought would ever happened. Sure it gets the label of “kiddee” or “too cute” from some gamers, but those are the type that put graphics before gameplay and often rave about how cool the Tomb Raider games are, so really, as soon as the sentence “Pokemon is for kids” comes out of someone’s mouth, you know that you can pretty much tell nothing or credibility is ever going to be spoken by them.

It’s kind of sad though, as Pokemon XD is most likely my last Game Cube purchase. I bought my handy old Game Cube on launch day pack in 2001, and although I still have more titles for it than any other system, this past year and a half has seen me review only three games for the system: Ribbit King, the horrible Day of Reckoning 2, and now Pokemon XD. After this, there’s nothing else coming out for the Cube that even remotely interests me. It’s a melancholy feeling I’ve had while playing through Pokemon XD, as I can still remember my first day purchasing the Cube and picking up Tony Hawk 4, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Monkey Ball, and Acclaim’s Baseball offering for that year. Of those 4 release purchases, not a single one remains in my collection. Kind of telling, isn’t it? Still, if the Cube has to have a final purchase from me, I’m very happy it’s a Pokemon game. Pound for pound no series has had the consistent level of excellence that Pokemon has, from sales to quality gameplay, to even innovation and trying new things with the characters.

So how does XD hold up compared to the rest of the series? Is this latest Pokemon game a letdown like Pokemon Emerald where Game Freak showed itself to be resting on its laurels ala Capcom with Street Fighter, or is this game worthy of the reputation Pokemon has earned over the past decade? Let’s find out.

Let’s Review

1.Story

Pokemon XD is not just Pokemon’s second foray onto the Nintendo Game Cube, but it’s also the second time the region of Orre has been visited. This level of continuity hasn’t been done in the series since Pokemon Gold & Silver came out in 2000, allowing you to visit Kanto after you had beaten the Johto part of the game. You’ll be encountering familiar characters and locations that remind you of how great Pokemon Coliseum was, and just WHY it was such a breath of fresh air for the RPG part of the series.

Unfortunately, in addition to encountering familiar places, you’re getting a familiar plot as well. For the most part the plot of Pokemon XD follows the plot of PokeCol. Cypher is back, turning Pokemon into instruments of evil and it becomes the main character’s job to “snag” (catch) these Shadow Pokemon from their reprehensible trainers, and then rehabilitate and purify them. You’ll also have the same predictable “look who turns out to be the main bad guy” twist you had in Pokemon Coliseum as well. Genius Sonority made an excellent and captivating story first time around, but for the most part, it appears they only have that one story in them.

What saves the game from being merely a mediocre rehash plotwise are the new characters. Your main character’s sister is well written and comes off sounding and acting like a very young girl. Chobin is amusing, and his master’s inventions o’ doom never failed to make me shake my head and laugh.

What else is worth examining are the heads of team Cypher. As you go through the game, you’ll see the main Cypher characters you meet (not including the grunts) have very unique personalities and reasons for doing evil deeds. Usually in Pokemon games only the absolute leaders of team Rocket/Magma/Aqua have been flesh out at all, but here some consideration has been given to the thinking processes of various characters. In other words, the bad guys finally have a real back story. Which is a nice touch.

Finally, although XD has a lot of story rehash, it makes sense in context of the game because Team Cypher has basically up their plans from last game. Same Scheme, loftier goals. As you’ll see from the opening CGI scene of the game, Cypher has captured a LUGIA, one of the rarest and most powerful of all Pokemon, and turned it into a Shadow Pokemon. Team Cypher plans to find a way to permanently turn Pokemon into Shadow Pokemon, thus make them evil slaves of Team Cypher forever. And like I said earlier, it’s your main character’s job to the bad guys from achieving their nefarious goal.

Pokemon XD has a good story with some of the best characterization the franchise has ever seen. However that same good story was done almost to the letter by Genius Sonority in Pokemon Coliseum and so Pokemon XD feels like Teen Wolf TOO to PokeCol’s Teen Wolf: Decent if you haven’t seen the first one, a strong feeling of Deja Vu if you have.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

Pokemon has never looked better. A lot of the background graphics are exactly the same as they were in PokeCol, but with a different camera angle. But the graphics that ARE new are amazing. Some of the character designs (such as the Team Cypher heads) are very well done and original. And it’s cute to see a consistent rip on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the game with a certain set of sextuplets. Pokemon look sharper and crisper, and it’s been a while, but many, if not all of the attack graphics look completely redesigned as well.

Early on in the game you’ll get to travel to an eccentric inventor’s house and I have to admit, that the first view of the home with all the effects around it made my jaw drop. This was by far the best looking thing I’ve ever seen on the Gamecube hardware. The lighting, the Groudon statue, and the whole eerie effect was perfectly sublime. That may sound silly to some of you, but seriously, go put in the game and take a look at the visuals here. It’s only 30 minutes into the game after all.

And the level of graphics may occasionally dip down back to Pokemon Coliseum levels, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as how amazing that game looked itself. Back in March 2004, I said PokeCol was the best looking Pokemon game ever made. Well, 17 months later, I stand corrected. Pokemon XD is a step above its ancestor, which makes sense considering the amount of time between the games. And hell, I’m looking at my collection of 2 dozen other Game Cube games right now, and graphically, XD blows every one of them out of the water.

If you’ve ever wanted to see your Pokemon look more realistic than they ever have before, you’re going to want to by this game. Generally when there’s a conversation of a classic 2D game with superior gameplay into 3D, it takes a massive stepback. I’m happy to say Pokemon XD looks as good as it plays. I honestly can’t think of a better looking game on the Game Cube than Pokemon XD

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

I’m still disappointed that Pokemon XD doesn’t have actual voice acting in the game, as it would be so easy to port over the voices from the cartoon for the Pokemon. I want Pikachu to say “PIKA PIKA!” damn it! It’s part of the adorableness of the whole Pokemon package. I’ll never understand how they could get voice acting onto Pokemon YELLOW released 6 or so years ago, but nothing for the Game Cube Pokemon games.

That being said, the music in Pokemon XD is the best I’ve heard in a Pokemon game and far better than the music we had in PokeCol. There’s remixes of the classic Pokemon songs that have never failed to stick in the cranium’s of anyone who has heard them. I’ve seen people who swear up and down t o me they hate Pokemon, but after hearing just one song from the game, will catch themselves singing/humming the songs a few hours later.

The new tracks for the game are wonderful as well. My personal favorite song is from when you are using the Pokemon Purify Chamber. The song is so upbeat and happy; you can’t help but find it catchy. It’s just too bad you’ll rarely ever hear it while playing. It’s the first song since the classic Game Boy days that I would love to see added to recurring familiar tracks of the series.

Pokemon XD has the best soundtrack attached to a Pokemon game since the original RGBY games made ten years ago. They enhance the game rather than distract you or make you want to mute your TV and turn on your stereo instead. Again, I’m disappointed there is a complete lack of voice acting and that all communication is text only, but it’s something I can live with thanks to the great music on the game.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control & Gameplay

If you’ve played any Pokemon game even once, you know how the battle engine of Pokemon XD works. You have a team of six Pokemon, with each Pokemon having 1-2 types out of a possible 17 types. These types range from fire to ice to poison to dragon. The game basically works like a gigantic version of Rock/Paper/Scissors, where you try to give your Pokemon a move set that allows it to survive against Pokemon it is usually weak against and flourish against hose they are strong against.

Generally, Pokemon battles are one on one elimination affairs that continue until one team is utterly exhausted. In the Orre region, Pokemon battles are primarily tag team affairs. This changes the dynamic and strategy of battles significantly without really changing the gameplay at all. Now because there are 4 Pokemon on the screen at once, there can be up to EIGHT different types on the field. There are also attacks that can hit both enemy (or both of your) Pokemon at the same time, basically giving your team 3 attacks to the opponent’s two. Finally there are also moves one Pokemon can use that increase the abilities of its ally, such as Helping Hand. Having a game of primarily tag team battles shifts how one raises their Pokemon and what move sets a player chooses for their Pokemon. It’s turning the strategy for the series on its head, while still feeling familiar and not alien to long time players.

The Purification process that debuted in PokeCol adds a new level of gameplay as well. When you catch a Shadow Pokemon, they are only able to use two shadow moves, which are actually quite strong. They also end up having a line made up of four bars showing how closed off the hearts are. There are various ways to remove the shadow casing of the Pokemon. You can walk around with one, use one in battle, call out a Pokemon’s name when it is going berserk, spray them with perfume, or put them in the all new purification machine. As the Pokemon is free from the shadow casing, they can remember other moves, regain their personality and eventually start earning experience points again. Eventually you free the Pokemon by taking them to a Relic infused with Celebi’s power or using non Shadow Pokemon in the Purify Machine to unlock their heart. Again, this adds another level of gameplay as Shadow Pokemon may be stronger than their regular counterparts with their shadow attacks, but they can’t level up. So its up to a trainer to decide how and when they want to remove the Shadow aspect of their Pokemon.

Pokemon XD is a very easy game to learn how to play, but it takes a very long time to master. With so many Pokemon to catch and snag, each with very different stats, types, and move sets, the combinations and possibilities for your team feel endless. Pokemon defines exactly what a turn based RPG SHOULD be. Too many turn based RPG’s can be played by a monkey or three year old, and lack any strategy at all. Thanks to nearly 300 species of Pokemon that can be fought in XD, almost all in tag battles, one does have to think about who they will use on their team and what moves they will be giving their specific Pokemon. It’s hard to imagine a turn based game that can even allow half the strategy Pokemon does. And the little battle engine that could is still amazing ten years after it was first released. Rock on Pokemon.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

Here’s one of the few flaws of Pokemon XD. The game is so mind numbingly linear, that it’s hard to recommend more than one play through. After all, once you’ve beaten the game you should have captured and purified all the Shadow Pokemon and then transferred them to your Game Boy Advance carts to fill out your Pokedex. After that, there’s really not much left to do. There is Mt. Battle and a few Pokemon Coliseums in the game, but as Pokemon Emerald taught Game Freak and Nintendo, setting up something like the Battle Frontier (lots of lots of battles with several gimmicks to make them feel original or interesting) bombed badly, as it turned out only a very tiny fraction of Pokemon gamers wanted something like that. The vast majority wanted a new original storyline and to complete their Pokedex. Game Freak forgot that ten years they had been hammering it in to Pokemon fans that the game is about facing other human opponents, and then they gave us lengthy and blase battles against CPU’s.

Thankfully Pokemon XD didn’t give us this problem, by making the Coliseum/Frontier type battles optional parts of the in game story and not a totally separate mode that had been done to death in Stadium/Stadium 2/Coliseum/Emerald. However where PokeCol was an RPG and Stadium mix game where you could play either mode, Pokemon XD is 85% RPG and 15% Coliseum mindless battling.

Multiplayer battling is still available here. If you and a friend want to play against each other with 3D graphics on a TV screen instead of via your GBA SP’s, simple use the a GBA-GCN connect cable and voila! You’re playing against each other. Up to four people can play against each other. And trust me, group Pokemon is always a blast. Especially if you have 4 different carts.

Ironically in GS cutting out the Coliseum Mode from XD and focusing sheerly on a straight RPG/story mode, they’ve also cut out some of the Replayability. Part of this is of course due to making such an amazingly linear story, but those are the breaks.

Unless you’re a massive Pokemon addict, Pokemon XD is going to be a one time only playthrough for most gamers. If you do want to complete everything there is to offer in the RPG Mode, you might find some very interesting things after you’ve beaten the game and purified everything…

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

Usually the RPG/Story mode of Pokemon games aren’t well balanced. CPU’s tend to stick to one specific type of Pokemon due to the set up of Gym’s and their specialization of particular types of Pokemon. This makes it very easy to build teams that will have little to no trouble against the computer controlled teams. Generally the hardest part about Pokemon is catching the rare Pokemon that only appear once a game.

Well like Pokemon Coliseum before it, Pokemon XD is the only other Pokemon game that gives you an actual degree of challenge. See, In Pokemon XD, you CAN’T catch them all. In fact, you can only catch a small number of Pokemon. Less than one-third of all possible Pokemon, even though the number you will be fighting is many times that.

Because you mainly only use snagged Pokemon (although there are a few you can catch by leaving food out for wild ones), you are limited to what you will use. For example, one Pokemon is Ladyba, who you would never use in one of the GBA games, because quite frankly, he sucks hard. However, considering he knows a psychic attack and never miss flying attack once you purify him, he can be quite good considering your other choices. Same with Spheal. I would never use him in Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, but being the only ice using Pokemon you get for most of the game, he becomes quite helpful, especially with his second water type. Sure there are also the big guns like Houndoom who you will use for most of the game due to his stats and Fire/Dark types, and some of the more common “uber Pokemon” that you will use consistently towards the end of the game, but overall, you’re trying to make a bunch of midcarders into Main Eventers, and that gives you a real sense of challenge and accomplishment in this game.

As well, you’ve got some nasty Shadow Pokemon to face eventually. The Legendary Bird Trio from Red/Green/Blue/Yellow and Lugia await you. And you NEED to catch them rather than beat them, which as any Pokemon trainer can tell you, is easier said then done.

Really, it seems to me, Pokemon XD is the best overall balanced Pokemon game out there. The GBA ones are too easy, and Pokemon Coliseum was made a lot easier that it should have been thanks to being able to have the three starters from Gold/Silver, as well as two Evee’s. Pokemon XD is still easy for a lot of the game, but it’s the most challenging Pokemon game yet, especially when you look at your lineup. Wow. A Hoppip. Yay.

Speaking of Evee, here’s a hint for you all. There’s lots of fire, water, and dark Pokemon you’ll collect in the game, but very few Psychic and Electric types, and those that you will get aren’t that good. My advice, evolve Evee into Jolteon or Espeon, and truthfully, Espeon is a better overall Pokemon thanks to being a Psychic type that knows a Dark attack (Strong against Psychic types). Nine times out of ten, an Espeon can take out a Mewtwo (the most powerful of all Pokemon) when both are at the same approximate level. Espeon also can heal itself, and you’ll eventually get the best Electric Pokemon in the entire game in Zapdos towards the end, making Jolteon useless. So go with Espeon.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality
Even though Pokemon XD might as well be Pokemon Coliseum 1.5, there are some new changes to the game. You can catch a rare select few wild Pokemon, there’s a new way to purify Pokemon, and Shadow Pokemon has many types of Shadow moves they can get, instead of the single “Shadow Rush” attack in PokeCol.

The story IS somewhat different and there are new locations and things to do, but for the most part the game is still “Young boy takes on the villainous Cypher organization in order to save Pokemon from being turned into mindless death dealing drones of evil.” It’s nice to see Genius Sonority continuing the story from Pokemon Coliseum, but it’s way too much of a rehash for my tastes.

Saving XD’s hash in this category are a lot of the unique extras in the game that I’ll talk about under Miscellaneous. These include Battle CD’s, Pokemon Bingo, and the most original post game subquest ever offered in a Pokemon game. Without these, XD’d be looking at a 3 in this category.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Although there is a lot rehashed as mentioned above, there’s so much about this game to love. Old friends, old enemies, old locations. It’s like coming home again. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled when I heard familiar music, saw characters I haven’t seen in a year, or revisited locals and watched how they had changed. It wasn’t quite the same as when I took my kid from Kanto and ruined a date between Misty and Ash, but it was darn close. It’s kind of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario for XD. It rehashes a lot, but also gives that feeling of Nostalgia and remembrance, but if it didn’t rehash, the game would feel hollow. The plot and trappings of XD hurt it in Story and Originality, but help it in Addictiveness & Miscellaneous. Everything balances out I guess.

Purifying Shadow Pokemon is fun as well. It’s addicting as hell to see what moves your Pokemon rediscovers as it loses the shadow binding. And with each battle, you find yourself going “Oh please don’t let THAT one be a Shadow Pokemon.” Or “Bagon! Please be a Sha…oh rats! It’s not.” The whole snagging of Shadow Pokemon is a wonderful contrivance that helps get long time Pokemon gamers re-enthused about the series, and adds many levels of strategy and gameplay that does not exist outside this version of the series.

I can’t tell you how many times I was amazed at how much time flew by while playing this game. “11pm? Already? Holy Crap!” was a common utterance for me on weeknights.

After the miserable experience that was Pokemon Emerald, Pokemon XD shows how to make a rehash entertaining and addictive instead of “I did this 8 times before!” Perhaps it’s because XD is only the second version of this style of Pokemon gameplay, but it’s still and amazing amount of fun to me, and it was quite hard to pull myself off of this to write this review.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

There’s two types of gamers in the world: The sad horrid kind that would rather a game look good that play well, who feels games should be full of tits & ass or blood & gore rather than anything close to the games they played growing up that made them develop a life long love of the genre, or that can’t handle any sort of challenge in their games. You know the type. The people who will play something because PR companies TELL them too. Resident Evil? Horrible controls. But it has ads on TV and it’s violent! Let’s pick that up instead of the far superior Fatal Frame or Clock Tower. Final Fantasy! Amazingly beautiful game that requires no skill at all to play and is pretty much still the exact same it has been since it’s SNES days. Let’s hold this up as the standard even though there are literally hundreds of better turn based RPG’s, from Persona to Shining the Holy Ark. Ugh. As you can tell, it’s those kind of gamers that make me ill to my stomach and glad that I have neither their sheep like mentality nor their social retardation.

The other type of gamer is that who knows is that how the game plays is more important than it looks. The type that still finds enjoyment out of Adventure for the Atari 2600 even though the dragons look like ducks. The type that knows just because a game is 10 years old doesn’t make it less cool or enjoyable than anything on a new platform. It’s the type of gamer that likes to try all genres, even ones they suck at because hey, it’s something new.

And it’s that latter type that will fall in love with Pokemon XD. Especially if they’ve never played Pokemon Coliseum. XD had wonderful character, an enticing story, excellent gameplay, and superb graphics and sound. It’s not the best in any of these categories, but it’s quality across the board, and that’s more important than being perfect in 1-2 sections and average or crappy in the rest. It doesn’t matter what type of gamer you are, there is something you will find and love about Pokemon. Unless of course, you’re the kind of person that willingly shells out 50 bucks for the next Madden game even though there’s only 5 dollars worth of new content compared to the one they put out the year before.

Appeal Factor Rating: 8/10

10. Miscellaneous

Although the straight up Coliseum mode is missing from XD, there’s a lot here to spend your time on. There’s new Battle CD’s which give you logistics challenges. With Battle CD’s you fight a simulated Pokemon battle in which you must use a specific attack or series of attacks in a certain order in order to beat the CPU controlled Pokemon. It’s a lot of fun and something I wish had been enabled before XD, but I’m thankful its here now. These types of sim battles remind me of Pokemon Puzzle Challenge for the GBC, where there are specific puzzles you have to solve in 3 moves or less. Fans of games like Still Life or Myst will really enjoy these, which you can find and access about a dozen hours into the game.

There’s Pokemon Bingo, which is far easier played than explained here. But it’s a lot of fun and a good replacement for Pokemon slots that you find in the handheld versions of the game.

After you beat the game, you can complete the “Lucky Egg Quest,” which involves Pokemon going mute. It’s time consuming and involves very little battling, so it’s a wonderful change of pace to keep the game feeling fresh after all the battling and purifying you’ve already put into the game.

One of the best treats is that Pokemon XD is the first time you can use one of the two Pokemon revealed for Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, that Pokemon being Bonsly. You can only use him in one battle and in regards to Pokemon Bingo, but it’s still a great thrill for Pokemon addicts.

There’s also special Pokemon you can get as rewards in this game. If you purify all Shadow Pokemon, you have a chance to snag a Shadow Dragonite. if you beat Mt. battle you get your choice of Johto starters complete with an elemental hyper beam that could only be learned by the starters in Fire Red and Leaf Green.

The plot of Pokemon XD might be a rehash, but it’s with new games, activities, and a great post game subquest to play through that really helps XD come into its own. Definitely a wonderful game that continues the Pokemon legacy of well rounded enjoyable RPG’s.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

THE SCORES

Story: 6/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 8/10
Control & Gameplay: 10/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10

Overall Score: 78/100
FINAL SCORE: 8.0 (Great!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Pokemon Coliseum got an 8.5 from me, XD gets a 8. Why? Because Coliseum was new and original, while XD lacks the originality and Replayability of PokeCol. However, the music and graphics are superior in XD, and although it lacks the Coliseum mode, it does have Bingo and Battle CD’s to make up for it. Really, it comes down to what you as a gamer are looking for. PokeCol is older and thus cheaper, so it might be the game to get if you’re new to Pokemon and want to see why this has been so successful for the past decade, but Pokemon XD does offer you a better RPG mode, along with better sound and graphics. On a leveling playing field to someone who has played neither, I’d give XD the nod, but if you’ve played Pokemon Coliseum at all, you will realize that there is a lot of rehashing in XD, but at least it’s excellently done rehashing.

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