Pokémon Masters, the mobile game by DeNA and The Pokémon Company, is currently the best way to experience a familiar Pokémon battling experience on mobile devices that aren’t the Nintendo Switch. It falls flat in comparison to most mobile games, however.
Pokémon Masters uses the same formula as so many other mobile RPGs out there, like Fate/Grand Order or Granblue Fantasy, but with a Pokémon-themed twist. You have to use a premium currency to try to get the characters you want at random, you have to grind for materials to level up that unit, and then you have to grind for more materials to uncap the unit, or make it even stronger. Once you’ve completed a short list of story quests where you battle it out with familiar Pokémon trainers from throughout the franchise, there’s nothing left to do but grind and power up your teams.
The principle of grinding isn’t what makes the game pale in comparison to its Nintendo-run sister, Dragalia Lost. Pokémon Masters is slow and lacks common quality-of-life features. There’s no static menu at the bottom, meaning you have to hit a back button three or four times, then find the “team” button once you’re done grinding materials. There’s likewise no single button to feed a unit all the materials you have at once, meaning you have to keep hitting that plus button to feed it more.
The gameplay itself is simple enough. Each Sync Pair, which is a set unit comprising a trainer and a Pokémon, has four abilities. They’ll each start off with two, with the other two unlocked by, yes, grinding for materials. The abilities aren’t all Pokémon moves, however; some of them are trainers shouting or encouraging their ’mons, thus giving them a buff.
Players duke it out in three-on-three battles, and have to plan out what moves to use, as each move has a point cost that goes up over time.
Players can battle as much as they want, as there are no stamina limits in the game. If you want to beat the story in one day, you can. If you want to take your time and grind out materials to help you level up, you can do that forever, as well. You control the pace.
One of the best aspects of this game is how many beloved trainers from the series are included, especially characters that the more modern games may not have included. The game even features side characters like Marley and Noland, two characters from mainline games I was positive would never again show up in a game.
But getting those characters requires spending your premium currency on the random gacha mechanics. Each pull in the game costs 300 jewels, with bundles that let you pull 10 units at the press of a single button for 3,000 jewels. Unlike other games, there’s no benefit to doing these 10-pulls, as there’s no guaranteed high rarity unit or extra bonus unit for saving your jewels. Completing a story mission where you have to battle rewards 30 jewels, and completing a story mission that’s just a cutscene rewards 10. Completing events, which have you completing a short list of story missions and then grinding in co-op missions, seems to reward a good chunk of jewels, fortunately.
I have high hopes for Pokémon Masters, based on other mobile games that DeNA had a hand in, like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Final Fantasy Record Keeper. Updates based on player feedback are bound to come soon, rounding out the feature set that feels lacking at the moment. It takes a while for these types of games to get fleshed out to be the rewarding and intense experience, and I’m willing to wait for my sweet, sweet Pokémon fan service.