A Pokémon fighting game has been a long time coming. There is no way you can make something with so many recognizable monsters without eventually giving a Fighting game a try. Sure, there are some pokémon in Super Smash Bros., but to have their own dedicated fighter was something that needed to happen. I mean the entire franchise is about you making your pokémon team FIGHT another pokémon team. Thankfully, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U have properly paved the way for this to actually happen in the form of Pokkén Tournament, a 1-on-1 fighting game staring the mons themselves and developed by the Fighting Game Gurus at Namco Bandai. Does the Tekken team imbue pokémon with the will of the Iron Fist? Or has the spirit gone soft?
"Master of the Pokéfist"
Shockingly, Pokkén Tournament has a story of sorts. It takes place in the Ferrum Reigon and it's mostly just your silent and nothing avatar fighting their way throughout the Ferrum League to become the champion. It's standard pokémon stuff just put into a Dead or Alive, Street Fighter or, most importantly, Tekken set-up. The League is separated into different League ranks; D to S, and it's your job to rise up through the ranks in each League. The higher your rank, the more Battlers participate in each League. Your goal in each League is to get to Rank 8 in order to fight in the League Tournament. Win the tournament and you become the top of that particular League and are able to challenge a Battler that can raise your rank. You can potentially lower your rank by losing too often, and you fight 8 Trainers in a row in League Match so it could happen, but it's always easy to gain your rank back making progress steady.
Other than your standard matches, there is a small side story going on. In Ferrum, the Ferrum League is the popular way to play because of an energy called Synergy Energy that allows Battlers to Sync with their Partner Pokemon which gives them a burst of strength. Your character showed up at the right time, of course, because things are going wrong with the Synergy Energy. A dark pokémon is appearing and absorbing all the Synergy Energy in the area and causing trouble. This pokémon just so happens to be Mewtwo and it ends up being up to you to stop this from happening. In the end, the story is pretty nothing, but it's a fighting game. A fighting game based off a property that isn't really known for story in the first place.
Master Your Aura
To start things off gameplay-wise, Pokkén Tournament's controls are fairly simple. The Y Button is your primary way of attacking, the X button is another physical attack, the A Button does Special Attacks, the B button jumps, the R Button Blocks, the L button summons support pokémon, pressing L and R together causes you to enter Synergy Burst, Y and B together do throws and X and A together do Critical Attacks. Now, the gameplay in Pokkén Tournament is actually a strange mix of 2D and 3D. You start the battle in a 3D Battle; known as Field Phase, and certain attacks will send the battle into Duel Phase. In Field Phase your attacks are simplified; one button does ranged attacks, one button does physical attacks and the other attack button does Special Attacks. In Duel Phase; one button does light attacks, one button does heavy attacks and the other, again, does Special Attacks. This dynamic adds something unique to the game and certain pokémon are better in certain phases. Field Phase does feel like the most throwaway part of the gameplay, but it still has it's moments, while Duel Mode is like a classic fighting game.
No matter the phases, there are actions that remain the same no matter what. You can Synergy Burst, you can block, you can summon support pokémon, you can grab, you can Critical Hit and you can jump in any phase. Whether you try to stay in Field or Duel Phase is up to you and there are different ways to change the phase. A successful grab is the easiest way to change, but you can also change by ending a powerful combo or attack and you can also sometimes change the Phase with a successful Critical Hit. Another thing to be aware of is the fact that there is a Rock-Paper-Scissors system at play, like is common with fighting games, and it's very vital you learn to use it to your advantage. Normal Attacks; Y, X and A, beat Grabs, Grabs beat Critical Hits and Critical Hits beat Normal Attacks. Sometimes this can be frustrating due to a Critical Hit being broken by a perfectly timed quick jab and getting blasted because your Grab went out a little too late but it's a fun system to learn. There are also Burst attacks that require you to be in Synergy Burst but it deals tons of damage if it connects and it looks great.
The biggest hurdle to jump, however, is finding which pokémon you are fit for, much like every other Fighting Game. Each Pokéfighter is separated into one of four different classes; Standard, your average everyday fighter that's pretty well balanced, Power, your heavy hitters that are usually on the slow side, Technical, your set-up characters that usually require a pro to play, and Speed, Quick hitters that do little damage in exchange for extreme speed. There are big pokémon and there are small pokémon but, thankfully, a small pokémon fighting a large pokémon rarely has the advantage. Even with the separations, each pokémon performs differently among their own class. It makes picking your favorite pokémon tricky but fun at the same time. Some pokémon seem to have the advantage at first, and some definitely feel like they are at a disadvantage (I'm looking at you Suicune), but taking control of your situation and not letting up any pressure will let you have a good time regardless of what pokémon you pick.
Other than the story, the game is only full of the standard modes; Versus, Online and Training, but you can also customize your avatar and set different roles for your Adviser and what Supports you want to take into battle, which brings me to those two things I've neglected to mention. Throughout the story you have a partner that does all the talking for you, her name is Nia and between rounds she gives you a bonus that changes depending on what you have set for her to do. As for your support pokémon, their gauge fills up as you fight and when it's full you can summon them to do a single action. That action differs depending on what Support pokémon you chose. Support pokémon are seperated into sets of two and you unlock more as you play through the story. The actual actions don't differ too much and you'll find yourself sticking to what works. With all said, the gameplay is simple, while still having a deeper side, and I can say my time fighting in the Ferrum League was well spent.
Pokkén Contest Winner
Pokkén Tournament is a mostly attractive game. The stages are bustling with life and the pokémon models themselves are full of personality and detail. There are plenty of different stages to fight in and each one is pretty and fun. On the pokémon side, they have never looked better and all the animations and combo strings, especially the Burst Attacks, are fully realized and fun to watch. The way Braixen hops around during it's victory poses and some of it's combo strings and the way Weavile taunts it's opponents before and after battle is something the Handheld mainline games were never able to portray and it's fun to see the pokémon world in this way. The reason I said mostly, however, is because of two stand-out problems; the characters are just portraits and the god awful voice acting.
The Battlers you fight throughout the story mode are just custom characters that were pre-made and they look just as generic and lame as your avatar does. Nia and other special story mode characters look fine, mostly, but it's still lame that that is the best we got. You'd think Namco would have learned that doing a story mode this way is disappointing. Still, we at least got a single-player story mode so that's forgivable. As for the voice acting, this is something I RARELY complain about, but here I'm really annoyed I decided to play the game in English and not Japanese. 99% of the random voices are lame and phoned in while the biggest and most prominent one, being Nia, is just God awful. There are some instances where the actress sounds like she didn't know how the sentence was supposed to go, like they were giving her lines to say one word at a time, and other instances where she just didn't know how to portray basic emotions. It's disgusting to say the least but it thankfully doesn't tarnish the presentation much because it's such a small thing that can be turned off.
A Spirit of Lightning and Synergy
In the end, Pokkén Tournament is a fantastic first attempt at a pokémon Fighting Game. It has plenty of diverse pokémon to choose from, a fun gameplay system, a lengthy story mode and a great presentation. Namco threw all they had at the game and it shows. If there are ever any more Tournaments, and I hope there are, I'd love to see where they take it with new pokémon. Namco's first attempt at something that should have come sooner is a Critical Hit. Super Effective!
+ Fun, fast combat system
+ Diverse cast of pokémon that are full of personality
+ Plenty of nice looking stages to fight in
+ Detailed pokémon that look great in motion
+ Lengthy story mode
- AWFUL VOICE ACTING
- Nothing story
+/- Gameplay is kind of simple
Overall rating 4.0 - Good
When the Sensei isn't reviewing RPG games, he also runs a YouTube channel featuring Lets Plays of classic games.