Turns out it’s Pokémon Week on my blog. I’m spending the entire week talking about it. What’s the occasion? I dunno, good timing I guess.
Fellow blogger Pokémon fan who puts me to shame in her drive to blog; Pinkie of Pinkie’s Paradise has been on a mission to play through as many Pokémon fan games as she possibly can these past few months. For the most part, these seemed like cool little curiosities to me. Cool ideas with varying quality of execution. The only game that I ever came close to enjoying before was Pokémon Uranium.
But there was something different about Pokemon Xenoverse from the moment I laid my eyes on it. A level of production and design that put on a whole different level than any other fan made Pokemon game I’d ever seen before.
The game comes from a group of Italian programmers, composers and artists from Italy called Team Weedle. Making use of a combination of existing art assets from various official Pokémon games and combining them together with original art and sprite-work that is seamless when compared to the existing art it sits alongside.
Right away, the production value behind this project is the most immediately noticeable aspect of the game that really drew me in and made me want to play it where so many other fan games just pass me by. The game uses a combination of 5th Generation overworld sprites and animated battle sprites combined with 6th generation character portraits for both the characters and trainers you encounter as well as the menu art of the Pokémon outside of battle.
And like I already mentioned, the original art from the team is seamless when compared to the sprites and artwork pulled from official sources. Which brings me to the original fake Pokémon designed for this game. I am a huge fan of the new Pokémon made for this game. When it comes to these fan-games, a lot of the fakemon can stick out like a sore thumb.
Not the case here, I was super impressed with the new Pokémon made for this game. Often forgetting they weren’t official at times, and even lamenting that fact for how much I ended up becoming attached to them. Aside from creating a number of new parallels to Pokémon you’d expect to find in genuine games; the early route bird, the beginner’s bug type, the big original twist to the game are the X-Pokémon.
I’m not sure when work started on this game, but given how much it takes from both the 5th and 6th generation, I am going to guess that this game may have brought a bunch of ideas to the table that ended up also coincidentally happening in Sun and Moon anyway.
The titular Xenoverse is the driving force behind the story of this game. Like the Ultra Space from Sun and Moon, the Xenoverse is an extra dimensional world, different from the one we know. One in which Pokémon evolved differently than the ones we’re familiar with. However, Unlike Sun and Moon, where the Ultra Beasts were totally alien looking Pokémon, the Mons of the Xenoverse are familiar, but with a twist.
Like the regional variants that also found themselves introduced in Sun and Moon, the Xenoverse is filled with existing Pokémon that are of utterly different types. Fire type Elekids, Dragon type Gastlys and Sound type Pikachu. Oh yeah, did I not mention, the game also introduces the new sound type. Mainly as a counter to fairy. And they look great. I cannot compliment the artists enough for the work they did, not only with these original Pokémon creatures, but also with the redesigns of the differently typed classics.
So I’ve comfortably described that the game looks great at this point, so what about the story? To cut right to the matter: It’s fantastic. In Xenoverse, the player’s journey begins as a rescue mission. As a small child, the player’s father is attacked by some unknown force, he asks the child to pick one of three Pokémon to protect them and then vanished for years afterwards.
Finally reaching some breaking point, the player sets out against their mother’s wishes to search for answers. Wanting to know what happened to their father and if he’s even still alive. Sure, there are Gyms like any other game, but they’re mostly a secondary concern, just side adventure on the player’s journey to find dad, investigate the increasing dimensional rifts between their world and the Xenoverse and try to discover how this villainous Team Dimension are connected to it all.
The region of Eldiw plays host to a much more dramatic story than you’d usually see from a Pokémon game, the most we’ve seen since the story of Black and White. It toes the line from being both a little more adult while also not alienating the age group the games have always been originally intended for. In that regard this game feel much more like it takes inspiration from games like Dragon Quest than it does Pokémon when it comes to the different towns and stories told within them throughout the journey.
Each new town feels like it plays host to its own little narrative, one that drags the player into it, much like a more traditional JRPG. Sure it kind of makes little sense that you’ve got an entire town that’s a university campus right next to a town where everyone acts like it’s ancient egypt, but you forgive it all because the stories you find yourself a part of within each lotion are just so compelling.
It’s because this game, unlike almost every other Pokemon game ever made manages to surprise you. It does something different with your starter Pokemon and its relation to the story and how it changes form, it turns these moments into dramatic story events and throws you up against rogue boss pokemon that feel like something akin to Sun and Moon’s totem pokemon. Only much tougher. On top of all this, as the story unfolds you realise that it has a much closer connection to the events of both Red/Blue and Gold/Silver as you might have expected.
Acting as a pseudo sequel to them much in the same way Gold and Silver were a sequel to the original games in their time placement and returning characters.
The game isn’t without its problems though. Being a fan game, there were a few performance issues when it came to transitioning between the overworld and battle sequences. Which would occasionally result in crashes. Although, the game was designed in such a way that it managed to automatically save itself shortly before shutting down, meaning a crash never resulted in a loss in progress for me.
Additionally, while the game is filled with fantastic art and original design, where it’s lacking is in battle animations. A lot of different attacks have the same animations, a catch-all animation per type of the attack. It’s not really a massive issue for me, but it’s a noticeable absence when all other art in the game is so bespoke. I mean, it generally goes as far as to add elements to characters artwork like a hat or a wig when their sprite has it on.
I just suppose animating all those battle animations was just one step of depth too far.
Despite the game being “done”, the team are still working on it and adding more content over time. They just released a major piece of DLC since I finished the game’s main story. I’d highly recommend this game to any fan of the franchise out there. It’s the best fan game for Pokémon I’ve ever seen, by a clear margin.
Pokémon Xenoverse is not only a great video game in its own right, but also a stark reminder of what’s been lacking from the mainline Pokémon franchise for the past few generations. There’s nothing stopping them from telling a more traditional, Dragon quest-esque JRPG story within the framework of these games. It just makes me hope that Game Freak are on the same page ands that Arceus game is being made within this mold.