Pokkén Tournament DX Burnout
Contributed by DJMMT
Since I was very young, I have always held two personal truths or rationales for gaming. These two foundational principles have and continue to shape the games I buy, the genres I prefer, and the studios I follow. The first is that I play games for the story. Ever since I was a kid, the thing I always cared about most in games was the story. Specifically, reaching the end of the story. That was why I played games. It didn’t matter if the story was simple and obvious. It didn’t matter if the princess was always in another castle. What mattered was that I got to experience the story in its totality. The second, which is directly connected to the first, is that I make it a point to play games to the end. It doesn’t matter how terrible a game is. If I played past the first level, then I’m going to do my best to see it through to the end. I won’t let boredom, a lack of challenging gameplay, or any other common complaints stop me.
The only time I would quit a game before reaching the credits while having already decided to try to finish the game would be either gameplay so broken that I literally couldn’t move forward, as was the case when I tried to play Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) on the XBOX 360, or gameplay so difficult that I literally cannot move forward. And that second scenario is extremely rare. Especially these days. That would mean I’ve spent hours failing, looked up strategies online, and just could not move forward. At that point, we’re talking about monumentally hard games. Games harder than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. 99% of the time, I’m playing games to the end.
A lot of people don’t play games for the story, and they don’t care about the writing. Yet many will still harp on writing quality while openly admitting that they don’t care about the story in video games. As a writer myself, I hate the idea of not playing a game till the end of the story. Someone took the time to not only write that story but fight to get it made. I know what that’s like. I know how hard it is to get a story you’ve written produced in any visual medium. I know all the changes that end up getting made and all the opinions, usually from non-writers, that often end up messing up the original story written. Leaving that writer’s name to carry the weight of the criticism when the story flounders. Out of respect for those writers and because of my general interest in consuming an infinite number of stories, I always try to see games through to the end of the campaign.
On the flip side, I give very little attention to games that don’t have a story. Unless it’s something that I just love playing, like Tetris, I won’t give most games with no story the time of day. I’ll run through short indies and the occasional puzzle game with no story, but AAA titles at $60+ with no story? Absolutely not paying for that. I also think it’s important to note that not all stories are told the same way; and not all stories need dialog to be interesting and effective. But a game completely devoid of story is almost always a waste of my time. As such, there’s nothing I dislike more than starting a story and not being able to finish it. It’s why I tend to not play franchises that have been running for a long time that I haven’t played since the beginning. Imagine trying to start Assassin’s Creed from scratch today. That would be horrible. I’m glad that I started that at the beginning, but it’s still hard to keep up. I haven’t even started Valhalla yet. But let’s get to the actual topic at hand.
Last week, Nintendo Switch Online game a free trial for Pokkén Tournament DX (PTD). I’m a big Pokémon fan and when I first saw the original game released back in 2015, I was interested. Thankfully, they had a demo. I played it and was not sold. Now, seven years later, I was given the opportunity to play it for free. I basically never try to complete a game during a free trial period, but this was a very specific and rare exception. Here we had a game I didn’t love in a franchise I did love that could supposedly be beaten in eight hours, according to howlongtobeat.com, with a five-day free trial of the full game. The opportunity was just too good to pass up. I can do eight hours of gameplay over the course of five days in my sleep.
I happen to like finishing games. I try to beat at least 52 a year. That’s one of the reasons I play so many indie titles these days. They’re games I actually have time to play and can be finished in a reasonable amount of time. So even though I didn’t love Pokkén Tournament the first time I tried it, I decided to try to marathon the campaign during this free trial period. Ultimately, I did manage to complete PKD during the time trial with time to spare. But playing it this way absolutely ruined the game for me.
PKD isn’t long, and it does have an actual story. However, though it absolute can be marathoned, it wasn’t made to be. When playing the campaign, the game can almost never be played one match at a time. The game has four leagues plus some additional story content. Climbing the leagues is broken into three phases: rankings, tournaments, and master duels. You always start at the bottom of the ranking for a specific league, fight your way up to the top eight of that league, win the league tournament, and then beat the master duel to progress to the next league. Ranking matches are not fought one match at a time. You have to fight five straight opponents and then your ranking increases or decreases based on how you did across the five matches and the rankings of the opponents you faced. In my experience, I climbed the ranking in every set of five matches I did, but the amount of climbing varied from set to set. I had to do 3 - 5 sets of five matches to reach a high enough ranking to progress forward to the league tournament in all four leagues. League tournaments always consist of three matches. I don’t know what happens to your ranking if you lose the tournament, as I never lost a tournament or master duel match. The problem is that fighting so many consecutive matches wears on you quickly.
I was able to beat the game in about 100 matches plus the story boss fights. I ended up completing the campaign in under eight hours with two days of the trial to spare. By the time I rolled the credits, I was just done. The post-game adds a special fifth league and I could barely stand to play it. I did a couple 5-match ranking sessions and finally just gave up. I play for the credits, not the 100% completion. Though on occasion I do go after the 100% completion with games I really like, such as Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The problem with PKD is that it’s very clearly not made for marathon play. At least not in solo play anyway.
When playing for long sessions, the five-match ranking rounds are killer. The rounds only take like 10 – 15 minutes each, but when you play for an hour, that adds up. And this isn’t Smash Bros. or Mortal Kombat. The matches aren’t wildly different from each other. And you can’t change Pokémon during each five-match round. Generally speaking, you don’t want to change Pokémon anyway, because they have levels. So the most efficient way to play is to just stick with one and constantly grow stronger. When trying to speed run the game, as I did, you really don’t have a choice. I played all 100 matches with Charizard, because he’s the best Pokémon of all time of course.
My point is that while trying to marathon the game is brutal with this multi-match structure, if instead I had been playing it without a time component, it would probably work really well. I could see myself having casually played just one or two five-match rounds a day. I’d spend no more than 30 – 40 minutes playing a day and slowly make my way towards the end of the game. After playing for about two months, I’d probably have reached the end of the campaign. It would almost be like playing a mobile game but with a clear end goal in sight. I think I might have enjoyed that more. However, I already had concluded that I wasn’t really a fan of the gameplay to begin with when I first tried the demo. So, if I didn’t have that time component forcing me to race to the end would I actually have finished the game at all? I want to say yes, since finishing games is my thing. But there’s a chance I might have just stopped playing it unintentionally out of boredom and then just never went back to it. I guess that’s assuming I shelled out the $60 to begin with, which I didn’t and wasn’t ever planning to.
It is interesting how the free trial motivated me to play a game I wasn’t interested in to completion in record time. But I’d argue it was at the expense of the overall game experience. To be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with rushing through games. I’ve done it with countless games over the course of my life. Many of which I really enjoyed playing that way. And yes, I’m talking about on a first play through. But with Pokkén Tournament DX specifically, playing it quickly made for a really grating experience.