Beyond the Hashtag: Pokémon Masters EX Update Pairs Style & Substance

Let’s get it out of the way: yes, the online hashtag for Pokémon Masters EX was a misjudgment (don’t make me write it down). However, if that is the main takeaway from this substantial update, it would be a great shame, as developers DeNA have brought a lot to the table here in terms of new content and mechanical refinements. It’s a fantastic way to mark the one year Anniversary of the game, and so for those who perhaps don’t know much about the update, and for those who do and would like to know my thoughts, I’m going to run through what has changed and how that affects the overall package. To read more of my thoughts on the game prior to this, then you can click here for my post on why Pokémon Masters is my favourite mobile game ever!

Firstly, whilst there are clear improvements to the game, it’s important to say that DeNA have not made drastic changes to the core 3-on-3 gameplay of Pokémon Masters that has been there since launch. You’re still choosing combinations of Sync Pairs to make a team to go into battle; much of the alterations have been to the surrounding framework of the game. This is to say that, if you were particularly fond of or against the gameplay of Pokémon Masters before this, the update won’t necessarily do much to alter that. However, if you perhaps thought that the game had potential not realised, this could be the time to jump back in.

Throughout this article, as I am going in-depth into some of the changes, I have included more videos than I do in some other articles to try and give you glimpses into the update. So, if intrigued, I recommend viewing them as you go along for extra clarity!

Right; one of the major changes is one that actually happened in the days leading up to the Anniversary, and whilst it may not be the change most prominent in the marketing, it is a very crucial one that directly affects how you play the game: the addition of Stamina. Every time you play certain matches (not all), it takes up part of your Stamina – this goes up to 999, and generally is taken in increments of 20 for each entry. Adding this in may seem at first to be a way to limit gameplay in the cynical way seen in many mobile games, and I am not going to say I am entirely in favour of a system that does have monetary transactions behind it. You get Stamina when you log in each day, and I have found I have plentiful amounts – but if you do run out, that is when the option to buy more intrudes.

On the other hand, I shall express my personal finding, which is that the addition of Stamina also has the opposite effect. See, arriving in tandem with it are Skip Tickets. These can be used to play out a battle instantly and automatically, sending you directly to the results screen. Your resources of Stamina are still used, but it allows you to cycle through the same battle multiple times at a faster pace. This gets you to rewards faster – and if this sounds as though it is short-cutting gameplay, then do not fret, as in order to be able to use a Skip Ticket on a battle you have to have not only completed it, but have finished with all 3 of your Sync Pairs not fainting; perhaps, you might say that you have to master (aha) the stage. In a way, the presence of Stamina provides a form of balance, making you more cautious about when and where you use your Stamina and Skip Tickets. The monetisation side is there, though, and again I shall emphasise that I do not welcome that.

An example of the new Stamina and Skip Ticket system in action is the recent New World Dilemma event that focused on Cynthia and Cyrus; by battling, you earned a currency that could be exchanged for rewards from a Prize Box (similar to the way the Scouts work for Sync Pairs), including unlocking further parts of the story. In this situation, the time investment of playing the same battle repeatedly to earn the currency is reduced significantly when you use Skip Tickets. It is a scenario that motivated me to play more of the game, because I knew that by using more of my Stamina and Skip Tickets I could get the prizes I am after without spending money.

With that context, now onto the additions for the Anniversary day itself. The reason why the game has EX added onto the name now – and that subsequent hashtag happened – is the new 6 EX Sync Pairs; previously, Sync Pairs each had a star rating from 1 to 5, but now particular pairs can go to the new 6 EX and get new outfits with that. The first Sync Pairs to get 6 EX are the following Kanto trainers and their Pokémon: 6 EX Sygna Suit Leaf & Venusaur, Red & Charizard, and Blue & Blastoise, all being capable of Mega Evolution (only Mega Charizard X for this, not Mega Charizard Y). New Sync Moves, with more power and new animations, arrive with them. The visual spectacle is fantastic, and I hope more new 6 EX and/or Sygna Suit designs continue to be rolled out in the future. I mean, we recently got to witness Sygna Suit Cynthia & Kommo-O. That hair! Seeing these new appearances and lore continues the way that Pokémon Masters excels at building on the Pokémon franchise.

Furthermore, to continue the Kanto theme, a brand new feature – one that gets a comparable screen space to the Main Story in the Explore menu – is the Champion Stadium. This is an area where you face the Indigo Elite Four and Champion: Lorelei, Bruno, Agatha, Lance, and Blue. From battle to battle, you are required to use different Sync Pairs. Careful consideration of the type dynamics is crucial, especially on the Hard difficulty; on Normal, I found working through the battles relatively straightforward, but on Hard preparing the right team is a puzzle in of itself. It’s great to see the challenge being supplied for players, as well as rewards for different skill levels. This is a mode that is going to be added to, with the appearances of the Pokémon League from different regions, an exciting prospect that provides longevity for the future.

Perhaps less prominent in the marketing is another new feature, Type Skills. These are new abilities that can be activated when your team of Sync Pairs is made up of Pairs of the same type, another new way to tailor your approach. It coincides with the way that DeNA have altered the Training Area, too. As well as the options that were there previously, such as the Level-Up area, there are new battles for getting items for unlocking Level Caps – which now go up to 125 – and the Type Skill of Sync Pairs. The Training Area is comprehensive, and a reliable way to get the items you need for your next personal target without needing to spend money on the game. Be prepared though, as these aren’t easy to complete!

At the moment, there are multiple ongoing events in Pokémon Masters EX, including the latest one, the Grass-, Fire-, and Water-Type Egg Event where you can hatch Kanto starters Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. As well as this, the Training with Legends event offers up resources you can trade for other items, in a similar vein to the New World Dilemma event – it’s a Skip Ticket candidate! How about the immediate future, you ask? On September 9th, the new Family Ties story event arrives, revolving around characters from Alola: Lillie, Lusamine, and Gladion. The idea of them having to improve their co-operation as a team of Sync Pairs works wonderfully with their stories in Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon. My prediction is that there shall soon be news of 6 EX Sygna Suit Lillie & Clefairy to go with this, considering the event and their appearance in the new cinematic trailer for Pokémon Masters EX (see the video near the end of this post).

The variety of new features and refinements have an impressive balance of style and substance; there are the visual wows of the new outfits and Sync Moves, as well as an under-riding improvement to the game on a mechanical level with the Stamina/Skip Ticket system and other new features such as Type Skills. If one side or the other was not present, this could have been an underwhelming update, but as a combo it produces a cohesive overhaul that maintains the core appeal of the game. Key to success is that they keep up this frequency and quality of update; going on recent evidence, that is going to happen!

For me, there are no glaring weaknesses in the game or a particular area that needs more focus. As far as I am concerned, DeNA should put their attention on that which they are getting right, without falling into the trap of drifting towards the realm where some mobile games feel as though they are pressuring you into spending money.

I am confident that there is a bright future for Pokémon Masters EX, as the people behind it seem to be aware of why the game works so well. Playing with the Pokémon continuity is so fun – the game consistently makes me smile. DeNA seem to be leaning into this with the way the Champion Stadium is set up, the increasing frequency of 6 EX Sygna Suit designs, and the story content; the recent New World Dilemma and Summer Superstars events contained new lore on characters and new Sygna Suit and Seasonal designs. It’s great to see a developer responding to feedback in this way – consider me very excited about future possibilities.

There is so much potential for the avenues Pokémon Masters EX can go. The gameplay is reliably enjoyable, and the pace at which the game is adding to the foundations that have been built is very impressive. New updates have a distinct creativity and energy that have me excited to log into the game each day. The game, and the Anniversary update, are in my opinion a clear success!

Do you play Pokémon Masters? What do you make of the changes and additions? Who would you be most excited to see a Sygna Suit for? Whoever thought up the idea of creating costumes inspired by Pokémon is a genius. As for me, I’m going back to that 6 EX Sygna Suit Leaf Sync Pair Scout!

Seriously, though. That hashtag. How does that even happen?

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