Food For Thought: Pokemon Colosseum/XD Gale of Darkness (Part 1)

Several years ago I made the decision to start replaying the games I loved when I was young, though it wasn’t until last year that I actually started making that happen, where I started by replaying the original Spyro and Ratchet and Clank Trilogies (which I'm sure I'll get around to posting about eventually). Several weeks ago I made the plunge and decided I’d finally get around to replaying Pok√©mon Colosseum, and Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness, which was something I'd been putting off for a while. Much like my “review” for Super Mario Odyssey, this will just be my ramblings, thoughts and semi-review on the game, and of course, it will contain spoilers, so you’ve been warned.

Pokemon Colosseum and XD are the first core-RPG Pokemon games to appear on a home console. Whilst the gameplay and storyline are minimal, the essential plot is to capture and purify all the Shadow Pokemon - which are Pokemon that have had the door to their heart closed - and stop the evil team from doing this. I would've been around 8-10 years old when Colosseum first came out, and I hated reading, so I never actually understood that the concept of this game was to catch the Shadow Pokemon, and I kept knocking them out. My best friend at the time also shared my love for Pokemon, but he didn’t own a GameCube, so he had to live vicariously through me with Colosseum and XD. I remember when I finally saved Duking’s Plusle from Mirror B, and at school the next day I remember running up to him screaming “I figured out how to catch Pokemon! They’re gifted to you!” (cringe). Of course, as I continued to play the game I was never gifted anymore Pokemon, so my play-through using only Espeon, Umbreon and Plusle was a real treat... I'm not too sure when I actually figured out you were meant catch Shadow Pokemon, but it was definitely after the main story, so I had to go back and find the second chance captures and go from there. In a way my very first (and only, up until this point) play through of this game was ruined by my own idiocy, but in a way it also made it memorable. So here I am, 12+ years later, to finally play the game it was intended to be played.

To jump right into it, the games pacing is kind of out of whack. It starts off very mellow, up until Mt. Battle is under attack, and then it all comes at once and hits you like a tonne of bricks. You fight your way through 9 trainers to reach the first boss, defeat the boss, 5 minutes later (if that) you’re at the second boss, and then after another 5 minutes, you’re in a dungeon on the hunt for the third boss. Once you defeat the third boss, you’re sent on a mission to the games last dungeon where you go to find and fight the final boss. It seems to throw a whole lot of nothing at you, and then suddenly decides to give you everything at once, with minimal pace breakers in between.There really isn’t much of a breather once you start making progress. The main story is very short and abrupt, and if you saved catching Shadow Pokemon for the post-game once you’d caught enough for your team, you’d likely be able to complete the main story within 10 hours, and that’s being generous. And then there's the post game... It's so long and drawn out when all you need to do is catch 8 more Shadow Pokemon (and subsequently purify them all). The amount of endless battles you need to partake in just to catch the last few remaining Shadow Pokemon probably takes about as much time as the main story, and I can only imagine it'd be worse if you had more than 8 Shadow Pokemon left to catch. When doing research on this game, I came across a comment saying “it’s basically a glorified Pokemon Stadium; the Shadow Pokemon are the rental Pokemon, with a story line tacked on” and at the time I didn’t think much of it as it sounds like such a harsh criticism, but as I played through, it sat in the back of my mind, and the further I got, the more I came to see the truth to that statement. Now it’s not necessary a bad thing, but to be able to appreciate this game you need to be more critical of it, and for a first attempt of putting a story-based Pokemon game on a home console, they did a good effort.

On the topic of Shadow Pokemon they're... alright I guess? I really do like the idea of limiting the amount of Pokemon you can use, as it allows you to use Pokemon you wouldn’t normally use on your team, and it works incredibly well for a spin-off title... however some Pokemon are significantly worse than others, and the lack of move tutors and little TMs is a flaw that makes training a perfect team near impossible, and feels unfair at time due to your opponents often having overpowered troll sets designed for double battles (oh did I forget to mention the main format of this game is double battles?). Because of this, it often drags out battles much longer than necessary, as you can't efficiently optimize a team to fit with the format of the game, which is especially tedious when trying to catch Shadow Pokemon, or to beat the bosses of the game. Oh, and Shadow Pokemon have one of their movesets occupied with a recoil move called Shadow Rush (which makes catching them even harder as they can knock themselves out at low HP), and learn regular attacks as their heart gauge lowers. To lower a Pokemon's heart gauge you can walk with them, battle with them, call out to them in battle when in Hyper Mode (which I can't be bothered explaining so just read about it here), using Scents on your Pokemon (which costs money), leaving them in the Day Care, or you can instantly lower a Pokemon's heart gauge by using a special item called a Time Flute, although there are only three in-game and these are better used on the harder to purify Pokemon, such as Legendary Pokemon or final stage evolutions. Once a Pokemon's heart gauge has been lowered, you can take it to the Relic Stone in Agate Village and have it purified. Upon purification, it'll regain all it's experience it earned as a Shadow Pokemon (Shadow Pokemon don't gain experience from battles), it will lose the move Shadow Rush and learn a regular move, will gain a special ribbon, and you'll also have the ability to nickname it if you wish.

If you do fail to catch a Shadow Pokemon the game does offer a second chance later on, so it’s not the end of the world, so if you wanted to, you could easily knock them out and catch them later to speed up the gameplay - though each time you try to capture them is just as tedious, and if you do leave them for the second chance battles, they're rendered useless as the main story is already over. Trying to catch them through out the main story is often a pain, and all they seem to do is prolong unnecessary battles. Whilst this isn't that big of an issue, it certainly becomes a much bigger problem in the games sequel, when trainers can have more than one Shadow Pokemon on their team. Money is also somewhat difficult to come by in this game, which makes juggling poke balls and healing items a challenge, though there is a glitch that exploits the double-style format and stops you using up your Pokeballs, and this becomes a godsend once you obtain the Masterball. Normally I wouldn’t exploit such a glitch, but in a game as tedious this when it comes to catching Pokemon, I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to use the unlimited Masterball glitch.

I should probably note that both Colosseum and XD could interact with the Gen III GBA games - you could transfer Pokemon to and from the consoles to the handhelds, but only after you'd completed the main story on the console games. You could also battle with your GBA games and have your 2D sprites come to life in 3D glory. The game also included two bonus discs, but only if you lived in Japan or America. If you pre-ordered the game in the US, you received a special bonus disc allowing you to transfer Jirachi to Ruby/Sapphire. If you lived in Japan, you could receive a Celebi from the bonus disc, as well as a Pikachu. If you lived in Europe/Australia/anywhere else, you got nothing.

Shadow Pokemon aside, another thing the game is well known for is its area called Mt. Battle, which is a 100 trainer challenge (with minimal rewards). There’s 10 floors total, each with 10 trainers, and the final trainer on each floor acts as the “boss”. The first few floors are very easy, but once you reach the 5th floor the challenge starts spiking. I have seen a lot of complaints about this area, though personally I don’t mind it, it’s a nice optional pace breaker, (which the game desperately needs) and acts as way to farm money and experience points, even if it is minimal. The only issues I have with it are the rewards... for completing the challenge, you get a Ho-Oh... but you also need to purify all 48 Shadow Pokemon, which just isn’t worth the effort anymore (maybe back when the game first came out it was), I’d much rather do Mt. Battle 10 times over, than go through the arduous task of purifying all Shadow Pokemom. The other type of reward it offers is Poke Coupons, which can be exchanged for “prizes” (a term I use loosely). At the shop, you can purchase the items Bright Powder, Choice/Focus Band, King’s Rock, Leftovers, Quick Claw and Scope Lens for 10,000 Coupons each, and White/Mental herb for 8,000 Coupons. It sells the Apicot, Ganlon, Petaya, and Salac berries for 15,000 Coupons, and 4,000 Coupons will net you the TM's Ice Beam, Thunderbolt, Psychic, Flamethrower and Double Team (though Double Team is only 1,500 Coupons and Psychic is only 3,500 Coupons). Whilst I do appreciate the idea of having a coupon exchange, and I understand most of the hold items and berries were put in with the intent of them being transferred to the GBA games, the execution could have been a lot better. The prices are far too expensive for the amount of coupons you receive, and the prizes aren’t even that great. With no reliable move tutor in game, this would have been a really good way to teach your Pokemon better attacks if they included more TM's, and lowered the price. 

The region was something I wasn’t really a fan of growing up. I mean a desert? That’s it? It seemed lacking and boring, and I’m the type of person who always wants a dynamic region with a number of environments, and being stuck with a sandy desert that wasn’t even that appealing to my eye left a sour taste in my mouth. Though going back, I’ve come to appreciate the region a lot more. The desert setting fits a lot with the games storyline, and even though I didn’t like how many of the towns look, they certainly go with the theme of the game. So looks wise, the game has a nice feel to it... but Pokemon wise, not so much. If you're a Hoenn Pokemon, you're much luckier to have a better looking model, but if you're from a prior generation, your model was just ported from Pokemon Stadium. Now a lot of Gen I and II Pokemon actually have really good models, but some like Kadabra, Golduck, Growlithe and Machop are pretty dated and look incredibly out of place when next to a much smoother Gen III Pokemon.

So that about sums up my initial thoughts on Pokemon Colosseum. Keep an eye out for a post covering Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness, where I'll go into a more in depth analysis (and ramblings) covering the games sequel.


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