The Pokemon franchise is ruthlessly known for pumping out titles (and merchandise), so it's a little strange that Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is only the second game in the series to appear on the GameCube. This is a good thing mind you, as the extra time seems to have paid off - it improves on its predecessor, Pokemon Colosseum, in every way. While the bulk of the game system remains intact from previous titles, minor variations such as improved enemy AI, more varied creature movesets, and a stronger plot go a long way towards giving Pokemon XD its own style. This, along with some unusual mini games, makes it a lot of fun to play. With closer attention payed to the overall visual and musical style of the game, and more detailed creature and character models, Pokemon XD is improved on an aesthetic as well as a technical level. While Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness may lack some depth of gameplay that the GBA versions rely on so heavily, it more than makes up for it with more demanding combat, a deeper story, and an upbeat, entertaining style.
The character design in Pokemon XD doesn’t take quite the left turn away from series tradition that Colosseum did, but it does a far better job of bringing the bright, colorful look of the series into 3D. As with the music, there are a large number of returning favorites from the previous title, but these tend to build upon, rather than distract from, the overall feel of the game. That said, the art direction in this game is really top notch. Pokemon XD’s bright colors are never to the point of being garish, but rather just enough to make the visuals upbeat, youthful, and appealing.
In Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness, the player takes the role of a young man charged with defeating Cipher, a nefarious organization responsible for corrupting the hearts of Pokemon stolen from their trainers and turning them into Shadow Pokemon, creatures with the ability to attack humans and capable of causing massive damage to other Pokemon. The story is decidedly less dark than Pokemon Colosseum, but it’s also written a good deal better. Overall, it isn’t going to be a religious experience for anyone over the age of ten, but it’s a step in the right direction.
One of the primary strengths of Pokemon Colosseum was its superior sound quality and composition. Pokemon XD improves on the sound quality, but so many of its themes are holdovers from Colosseum that it is often difficult to seperate the two. The new themes are quite well done and work reasonably well with the visual setting, being bright and upbeat. Orchestral themes are used perhaps a bit more often than necessary, especially for such a modern setting, but by and large the soundtrack is a highly enjoyable piece of work. Sound effects, on the other hand, are something of a mixed bag. While most of the effects are very lifelike, the re-use of GBA sound effects for Pokemon cries stands out as clanky and overly mechanical in an otherwise well-done selection of sounds.
Combat in the Pokemon series is based around choosing a team of six creatures from a selection of nearly four hundred unique monsters, each with their own weaknesses and strengths. The player is tasked with turning them into effective fighting machines and sending them into battle against the teams of various people from around the Pokemon world, all in a turn-based combat system. Creature selection, as well as a limit of four moves per creature, makes for a profound level of tactical variety in combat. Pokemon XD uses the two-on-two variation of the Pokemon combat system, adding another level of consideration to be taken in when constructing a team - having two creatures with the same weakness in play at the same time means that a good chunk of your party could potentially be wiped out at a single stroke. Though the combat system is largely unchanged from previous entries, Pokemon XD’s use of Shadow-type creatures and attacks adds a bit of spice. In addition, some of the other previously available creatures in Pokemon XD learn moves which were previously un-obtainable, giving veterans something new to consider.
Pokemon XD’s menu system is a bit laggy and overcomplicated, dividing the menu into the main menu, which contains the Pokemon, Item, PD*A and Exit commands, and the PD*A, which contains the Strategy Memo, E-Mail, and a few of the more esoteric commands. It wouldn’t be a problem if Pokemon XD’s many mini games didn’t require the player to open and re-open the load-prone PD*A every time a buzzer goes off. Overall, it isn’t a huge problem, but it is one that could have been avoided.
Pokemon XD is an easy title to complete, with superiority in levels being the primary deciding factor in most player-vs-AI battles. The real challenge lies in catching, not defeating, Shadow-type Pokemon and then purifying them, rather than simply beating them senseless. Capturing all 83 of the Shadow Pokemon is something of a time consuming task, though not one that affects the plot to any significant degree. With the plot taking only approximately twenty hours to complete, Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is a fairly short game, though mini-games, optional side quests, and a small number of Colosseum challenges do make things a bit more interesting.
Pokemon is a series that knows what it does well and tries to stick with those things as much as possible. Collection, turn-based combat, and elemental tactics are this series’ bread and butter, and Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness does all these things quite well. By adding in a higher than normal level of technical excellence and a few unique concepts of its own to this mix, Pokemon XD is an above-average entry to the series.