Pokémon Quest is a free-to-play game developed by Game Freak for Nintendo Switch and mobile devices. As far as its genre… it’s hard to say. I see it officially being labeled as an action-adventure game, but it also has some RPG elements, strategy elements, and even a bit of a tower defense vibe if you ask me. Perhaps you could just call its genre unique, but whatever you want to call it, it’s still a game. It doesn’t even have much of a story either. I think at the very start there’s some semblance of a story thrust upon you, but it’s mostly to teach you how to play and quickly becomes unimportant. To give you some context here, let me just say that I beat the main game within a week of playing it. I played it a lot during that week, but it only took that week. I then spent months beating the postgame content. And as of writing this review I am only grinding out the final unfinished quests. So let’s skip the formality of the unimportant story inclusion and get down to the gameplay.
So after some of the starting tutorial is over and you get into the meat of the game, you’ll pretty much know all of the basics, but since that’s pretty much the entirety of the gameplay, let me try to explain it as best I can. You build a team of 3 pokémon from your inventory and set out on an expedition. You can pick from whatever areas are available. Each one has a number a levels to beat before fighting the boss level for the area. Each area also has a bonus type that will get boosted stats when in your party. So you pick a stage in an area and head into battle. Your pokémon will move towards enemies on their own and automatically do basic attacks. Some have ranged attacks while others have melee attacks. You also have one or two moves you can select to use on the bottom of the screen. After picking a move it will be used and then be put on its cooldown timer. You can select which move to use for each pokémon independently. These moves are based on those from the core series of Pokémon games but with tweaks to line up with this game’s mechanics. There are basically a few categories of moves you can do. Some are straightforward attacks that do damage. Some do damage and can also inflict status effects like poison, burn, and others. Some moves solely inflict negative status effects. Other moves will buff the user with positive status effects. If one of your pokémon run out of HP they will faint and return to their pokéball where a cooldown will start. If you can keep at least one party member alive until that cooldown timer is up then they will come back with some of their HP recovered and continue fighting. The more times they go down, the less HP they’ll have upon revival. If all three of your party members go down then you lose the fight. If you beat all the waves within the round you’ll face off against a huge boss pokémon. You’ll gain experience points whether you win or lose, but victory will net you more points as well as some rewards. Usually you’ll get some ingredients and perhaps some power stones. Let’s talk about those power stones first.
By going into a sub menu you can equip your pokémon with power stones. There are attack stones and HP stones that can be placed on a 3×3 grid each pokémon has on display. As a pokémon gets XP and levels up it will not only naturally increase its HP and attack but also slowly unlock more of these 9 slots to be available for the power stones. HP stones increase your HP and attack stones increase your attack, each by the number represented on them. Some slots are specific to one type of power stone but some can hold either an attack or an HP stone. These stones can also have up to three additional traits on them. These can alter other stats such as critical chance, healing on hit, or increased movement speed to name a few. You also can get what are called bingo bonuses by filling in three consecutive slots vertically or horizontally. These boosts are different for each pokémon but can be seen, along with various other stats, by tapping the magnifying glass on this equip screen. Then there are the move stones which can only be applied to your moves. As mentioned before, each pokémon will have one or two moves. So basically, either one move with three open slots for stones, two moves with one slot each, or two moves where one has two open slots and the other has none. The kind of move stones that can be used depends on the move itself. Most moves can be enhanced by a move stone to reduce cooldown time or use the move stone to repeat it, but using the sharing stone to share buffs with teammates for example is relegated to moves that buff the user. You can only carry so many of these stones total but you do have the option to recycle them for more ingredients at any point.
Speaking of ingredients, let’s talk about acquiring new pokémon. Unlike the main series, you don’t catch pokémon. Instead you attract them by cooking dishes of food at your base camp. To cook a dish you have to put ingredients recovered from your expeditions into your cooking pot. There are five slots to place ingredients and each slot takes up a certain number of said ingredient depending on the quality of your pot. Higher quality pots will take more pieces per ingredient slot but also attract higher level pokémon. Depending on the configuration of ingredients used you’ll create different dishes. Each type of dish has various quality levels depending on the ingredient configuration as well, so naturally each dish has different odds to attract certain pokémon to your camp. The quality and size of the dish will also dictate how long it will take to cook. You’ll be shown how many expeditions you need to go on for it to finish cooking. Each expedition uses up energy which replenishes over time. You also have the option to sacrifice pokémon in your inventory to either level up another pokémon or to attempt to change one of their moves into another one from their move pool at random. The more times you do the move training, the less likely it is to work and for either purpose you can sacrifice up to 4 pokémon. You can only attract basic pokémon with your dishes so in order to have them evolve you’ll need to train them up to certain levels. Even pokémon that previously required trading or elemental stones to evolve will now simply evolve by level. The three exceptions are the evolutions of Eevee. Jolten, Flareon, and Vaporeon will evolve from an Eevee depending on if it has more HP stone, more sttack stone, or an even amount by its evolution level.
There are many achievement-style quests to complete as you progress through the game. Some of these are simply rewards for making linear progress through the areas. Others are for grinding up specific feats such as reaching power benchmarks for your party or befriending a certain amount of a specific type of pokémon. Sometimes these rewards are ingredients, other times they are energy refreshes, and a common reward is PM tickets which are the in-game currency. These can be obtained daily alongside a random pokémon that shows up at your camp each day as well. You can use PM tickets to instantly finish cooking dishes, instantly recharge your energy, and purchase items in the shop. You can get expansions to your boxes to increase the number of power stones or pokémon you can carry. You can also buy decorations for your campsite that will give passive effects such as increasing certain ingredient drop rates or boosting the XP you earn from sacrificing pokémon and more. After clearing all current areas you unlock more until you reach the final area for a very powerful boss fight. If you beat this boss you are treated with the credits and then you can return to a set of newly opened postgame areas of very powerful pokémon and higher rewards. You can even net a special material not available in previous areas. After beating all of these you will have conquered all of the areas in the game.
Pokémon Quest has an interesting style to it. I though the music was interesting for the bit I listened to it, and the visual style was oddly appealing. It’s mostly a voxelized representation of every pokémon from the original 151. The casual nature of the game made it easy to jump into and feel like you’re making progress. Originally I was trying to manually do my abilities with each pokémon, but as time went on I got more comfortable with using the auto battle feature. This worked especially well with pokémon that only had one ability to use anyway so they could use them faster than I could press them and it’s the only move they can use anyway. This is when I turned my experience into more of a tower defense type of game. I would assemble teams with moves and stats to try and work for the fight, and then I would watch that battle unfold. If I needed changes I would play around with different teams or level up or change power stones. And having those achievements helps you work towards other things while you grind up levels. I’m still absolutely blown away by the fact that this game has an end. It’s a free to play game I played on a mobile device and it has an ending with a final boss and credits and everything! Sure, there’s postgame content, but even THAT has an ending and the rest you do it pretty much up to you and how much fun you’re having. It’s a fun little spin on Pokémon mechanics that uses its art style to immediately differentiate it from the main series yet also still look appropriate for the franchise. I also liked finding favorites for this game based on their voxel designs and smaller move pools. For example, Onix saved my bacon so many times that it ended up being one of my favorites on here. It’s a fun way to mix things up with the franchise.
It doesn’t totally escape the usual free-to-play issues, though. In order to have more than one cooking pot or certain specialized decorations for your camp to give you passive buffs you need to spend money. You can also spend money to get PM tickets. These things aren’t forced on you and the game does a good job of not nagging you about their availability, but they do still hinder some of the design. Either you’re spending more money so that you will play the game less, thereby decreasing its mathematical sense of value, or you’re forced to grind more repetitively for a longer amount of time which isn’t necessarily meaningful. The auto feature of the gameplay takes away most of your agency during battles which I could see being a problem, but manually doing the moves isn’t all that efficient and rarely makes much difference in comparison. I also don’t understand the logic behind including things like fairy, steel, and dark types for pokémon and/or moves when it’s only including pokémon from the first generation of games anyway. The cooking is pretty annoying without a guide. You basically don’t know what ingredients make what until you stumble upon it through experimentation first. Afterwards the description for these dishes is kind of vague. You are told in terms of sweet, hard, mineral, etc. and in vague ideas of quantities like some or a lot. Not to mention that you can make nearly the same dish with different levels of quality without much idea as to why or what makes what even afterward. You pretty much just need to use a guide to reliably make the dishes you want and ultimately get the pokémon you want. The game’s charm also runs out after a while and the postgame can get pretty dull and grindy. The achievements at this point get very grindy as well. Your progress will come to a… heh… grinding halt as you tread water trying to finish up what is left.
Then again, I suppose this has been a welcome change. I don’t think I would’ve liked Pokémon Quest nearly as much had it gone on and on and never had any clear ending points. Whether you’re looking to play until the credits, play through the postgame content, or even go for full completion, you’ll have clear objectives the entire time. If you’ve been looking for a twist on Pokémon that the main series just won’t give you then this is worth a look. Casual players and big fans of gen one will likely find something to enjoy, and hey, it’s free! If you get bored you can always just stop playing it and delete it off of your device. It’s a least worth your time to check it out long enough to decide, which is more than I can say about plenty of other mobile games I’ve played. Besides… it’s still a better game than Pokémon GO.