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Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness: What happens when Nintendo breaks from formula?

As I spent sleepless nights scouring the internet to find a Switch during the pandemic, I kept wondering if it was all worth it. The constant SOLD OUT messages were etched into my mind more than Slack’s notification alert, but when I finally ordered one online from Best Buy, I could not put it down. At the time of writing, I only own four games for the console, including Pokemon Sword, my first true Pokemon game. See, I didn’t grow up with handheld consoles, and until recently, I only owned a Gamecube and a Wii, so Pokemon was always a world my friends lived in, where I was only a passive observer.

That’s not entirely accurate, because I forgot to mention one thing. Pokemon Sword was my first true Pokemon game, but I’ve had the luxury of owning one more. It’s a lesser-known title, one of Nintendo’s only console Pokemon titles, and one that leaves you thinking, “This is a Pokemon game?” but like, in a good way. This is the legacy of the Gamecube title Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness.

XD Gale of Fire
All photos in this article are courtesy of Nintendo

This obscure Nintendo game was not Nintendo’s first attempt at a non-handheld title; in fact, it’s not even Nintendo’s first Pokemon title on the Gamecube. However, while the Nintendo 64 featured pokemon games, they were either battle simulators with no storyline (Pokemon Stadium and its sequel) or obscure-yet-delightful spin-off games (like Pokemon Snap). Then, the Gamecube arrived, and with it, a new Pokemon game… Pokemon Colosseum. 

What? I said Gale of Darkness wasn’t the first Pokemon game on the Gamecube. Keep up.

This entry in the Pokemon franchise took many risks, and right from the opening cutscene, it’s apparent this title would be a break from formula (peep the headline). First off, you’re not a 10-year-old child choosing a starter. Instead, you begin the game escaping from a hideout as you blast through the wall on a motorcycle, revealing that your character is in fact a grown man named Wes (you can change the name but that’s what he’s canonically called). You’re a former member of Team Snagem — who for all intents and purposes is Team Rocket — a criminal organization that steals Pokemon, and you’ve stolen the “Snag Machine.” They’re actually the grunts of this game, as the main enemy is Team Cipher, who uses the stolen Pokemon and converts them to Shadow Pokemon, making them super-powerful ultimate fighting machines at the cost of actual bonds and constant relapses into “Hyper Mode,” a state where the Pokemon will disobey your commands and occasionally hurt itself, a game mechanic that NEVER applies to the NPCs but ALWAYS applies to you when you’re just one move away from winning… I digress. You also start out with Espeon and Umbreon, so that’s neat.

Anyway, you’re joined by a woman named Rui who can “see” Shadow Pokemon’s auras — which look like purple flames — and it’s up to you to defeat Team Snagem, Team Cipher, and other enemies as you stop them from using a Shadow legendary to rule the world.

So it’s safe to say the story is a break from formula, but what about the gameplay? Well, much of it works like a normal Pokemon turn-based-strategy battle system, but in this game every battle is a double battle. What’s more? You don’t catch Wild Pokemon. Well, you do, but you have to go to a PokeSpot and put food there and wait, so there’s no tall grass, no dark caves full of Zubats, no. You catch Pokemon, by… snagging them, Shadow Pokemon specifically.

But wait! There’s more! You don’t just automatically have a Pokemon that you can train and level, you have to purify them, which is a long process that involves battling, bonding, and traveling. What’s the point of this? Well, once you purify them, they’re no longer Shadow Pokemon, and you can use them as normal. You can just leave them as Shadow Pokemon, get those ultra powerful moves, and just hope Hyper Mode doesn’t f you in the a, but the catch is you can’t level Shadow Pokemon, they stay at the same level until you purify them.

Okay Izzy, you’ve spent the bulk of this article talking about Pokemon Colosseum, but why? Why are you describing a game that isn’t even mentioned in the headline, and furthermore, why are you asking these hypothetical questions if you’ll answer them in this article and it just takes up more space? Because I can. And, because Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is a direct sequel to Pokemon Colosseum.

The reason for the build up is, when I played the game as a kid and even until very recently, I did not know that fact. I thought XD was a standalone game, but all the lore behind it, all the teams, even the locations, are all from Colosseum.

We’re about 850 words in and I still have more to say, so thanks for sticking around.

XD: Gale of Darkness slightly returns to formula, where the main character is in fact a 10-year-old child that you can name, but the rest of the game follows what Colosseum laid out. However, the story is different. First off, this time you start at the Pokemon Lab, but you still have a snag machine — this time developed by the lab techs — and you also start out with an eevee, albeit this time you get to decide its variant (I almost always went with Jolteon.)

Look at that sweet sweet Pokemon Lab

In this storyline, Cipher once again is trying to take over the world, this time with a Shadow Lugia. The game begins with a boat being pulled out of the water before being thrown into the desert (and you get to explore the boat later in the game!) You then begin the actual gameplay with a level 50 Salamence, only to realize afterwards you’ve been in a simulation at the Pokemon lab. From there, you’re then tasked with finding your sister, which is a pretty standard fetch quest for family oriented games… that aren’t pokemon… and when you return, your Mom is kidnapped. Yeah, 0-100 real quick. You quickly discover the culprits are Team Cipher, and you once again set up to save the world. Oh also, at one point in the game you battle against a Robo Groudon, which is pretty dope.

Robo Groudon, it’s dope

Though this is once again a save-the-world quest, just like Colosseum, for some reason I felt like the stakes were higher because I was playing as a child. I wasn’t a secret agent who clearly could win, I was a kid, and when I was actually IRL a kid playing as a kid saving the world, I fell in love. It was here that I found my love for Pokemon, even though I was eons behind everyone else, and wouldn’t even own another Pokemon game until Sword.

The result of this combination, using Colosseum’s locations and classic Pokemon’s tried-and-true being-a-kid model, is an overall amazing game that I’m sorry more people haven’t gotten the chance to play. It’s one of the few Gamecube games I still have (next to Sonic Heroes, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, and Paper Mario TTYD), and I always get a joy out of playing it.

If you have a Wii or a Gamecube, consider getting this timeless classic if you can find it. For everyone else, watch a playthrough or something. Need more convincing? Here’s a character from the game with a sick afro named Mirror B. 

I’ve said enough.

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