PLAY or NAY: 5 things Nexomon does better than Pokémon and 5 things it doesn’t…

Played on… PC (Steam)
Developed by… VEWO Interactive Inc. 
Published by… VEWO Interactive Inc. 
Is a… monster-taming JRPG 
Good to play… when you want to binge a Pokémon-lite over a weekend or two

I picked up Nexomon hoping that it would be a light distraction until the next major Pokémon game. Here, you won’t find trainers but tamers; nexotraps rather than pokeballs. Bluntly speaking, this isn’t a game that will win any awards for originality. Nevertheless, I found myself pleasantly surprised at this charming, if derivative, take on such a giant, especially considering it was originally a mobile game that has since been ported to PC. I could leave it there but that would make for a very short article. Instead, here are 5 ways Nexomon hits the mark and another 5 it doesn’t. 

PLAY! 

1: Pika-who? 

Let’s start with a slightly contentious opinion: I think the Nexomon designs are good. The developers have gone for an upscaled Ruby/Sapphire look with a bold, colourful style. There’s a nice variety of cute, cool, and straight up glamorous Nexomon and with over 300 to tame, you’re sure to find a team that is easy on the eye. That said, monster designs are a personal preference and Pokémon itself is not exempt from criticism about the quality and originality of its designs between different generations. ‘Too childish! Unimaginative! Literally garbage (remember Trubbish?)!’ cry diehards. It’s enough to spark an existential crisis about the nature of Pokémon design and, likewise, Nexomon’s conservative designs won’t convert such naysayers. 

However, one way Nexomon excels is in the game’s multitude of starters. There are seven to initially choose from – one for each elemental type present in the game – and, like Pokémon starters, each can evolve twice. The fire-water-grass combo is traditional but I enjoyed the novelty of starting with a completely different element. Even better is that these special monsters can also be caught in the wild. They’re rare encounters but I managed to catch ‘em all with relative ease. No more fraught decisions or wiki-scouring about the prettiest best starter to commit to – and Nexomon is better for it. 

2: I wasn’t prepared for this…

Nexomon follows the tried and tested adventure formula: random child saves world with friendship™! You’ve heard this one before – it’s all rainbow and justice, right? Wrong. Don’t be fooled by the cute designs. Nexomon starts with you chasing the tyrannical champion Nexolord, who is doing some proper dubious stuff with kidnapped scientists. The player quickly learns not to trust the Nexolord’s corrupt overseers, who act much like gym leaders. Having been used to the overly helpful authority figures in the Pokémon series, this sense of antagonism was a refreshing change and set up a good amount of intrigue as you discover what the Nexolord’s motivations are. The player is generally made to feel small against some rather almighty powers, which makes victory all the more gratifying by the end. The overall narrative is certainly not mature or deep by any means (after all, this is still a story where you command small animals) and the stakes are fairly quickly revealed to be an illusion but it was fun while it lasted. 

The adults are mostly helful. This guy isn’t.

3: …but at least it’s funny

While the world is much unfriendlier than you might expect from a Pokémon-esque game, Nexomon is often more overtly comic in tone. It mixes sarcasm, a pinch of 4th wall breaking and a great dollop of tongue in cheek OTT gags. The game knows its inspirations well and isn’t afraid to riff off them. There’s a hint of slapstick in the exaggerated emoticons that regularly pop up over characters’ heads. You could argue the humour is at odds with the ‘darker’ story plots but I’m truthfully glad that the game didn’t go full Cujo. 

When ‘Justice’ comes in spandex

4: No’s to the grindstone 

I appreciate games that value my time. As I’ve grown older and my backlog only grows ever larger, I find myself less tolerant of grind for the sake of grind. The monster taming genre is often guilty of this, especially in games that offer a lot of customisation in the makeup of your party. Pokémon has tried to minimise the grind with optional experience share items but even then it can be tempting to secure a team early and stick with it. I found myself experimenting with different teams in Nexomon simply because grinding is extremely easy. Not only is experience sharing possible, albeit not from the beginning, but monsters very frequently level up from battling whatever poor beasties can be found in the field. Besides this, monsters automatically heal after levelling up. ‘One more level’ has never been more compelling when you don’t have to pop back to the local healing centre every ten minutes. Encounters are not random either, since rustling spots clearly mark out wild Nexomon, which means you are entirely in control of when and where you battle. You might think that this would ruin the balance or difficulty of combat but somehow the game makes it work in my opinion. Hardcore challengers are clearly not the target audience but even so some battles did make me stop and plan, especially in the early game. 

5: Save the whales! 

A common feature of mobile games is a rarity system since dangling a juicy 5-star carrot next to bland 3-star fodder is a particularly effective method of opening up wallets. Nexomon explicitly groups monsters in terms of rarity. This adds another layer of anticipation whenever the player is making their way in the world. Will the next encounter be a common or super rare ‘mon? It’s a double edged sword though. While I appreciated that rarity was clearly indicated, I found myself automatically sticking with monsters classed as rare or above since they had the highest stats and most evolutions. Nothing is stopping you from running with a team on the lower end of the rarity scale but the temptation was too great for me and for a lot of players, I expect. 

NAY! 

1: Just a pretty face?

As mentioned, Nexomon has the Pokémon-esque style down to a pat. Sprite-work is full of character and environments are lush and bursting with colourful detail. It’s a shame, then, that there is so little to interact with. Objects I have come to expect a reaction from cruelly taunted me with their silence. Don’t expect any useful items when inspecting bins, bookcases, or TVs, let alone a witty liner. Yes, I am essentially arguing for Nexomon to become more like Pokémon in this regard but I’m so used to playing a touchy-feely bandit in RPGs that I felt a definite void. Likewise, effort has gone into monster designs but the lack of lore in the database is particularly conspicuous. The world of Nexomon looks beautiful, but it needs some environmental script to bring it to life. 

You can’t put a hot spring here and not let me interact with it!

2: Sometimes simple is not best

With the scope of the game (over 300 Nexomon is a great number of beasties after all) it is expected that some cuts would be made. Unfortunately, this is most prominent in the simplistic combat system. There’s no hook to set Nexomon’s gameplay apart. While a lack of innovation isn’t a sin in itself, a poor imitation is less palatable. Stats are simplified with no special attack/defense categories. There is also not much variety in offensive and buff/debuff skills, nor are there any unique abilities to differentiate monsters. One of my favourite ‘mons was an earth-type spider that had a water skill as well earth skills but by and large most Nexomon could only use moves of their same elemental type along with a normal type skill. As a result, battles are serviceable but ultimately shallow with little room for strategy. The combat system is arguably the most important aspect that needs to be expanded on or revamped so that the game can breathe into itself. 

Battling is a bit more exciting than this kitty makes it seem

3: Mobile hangovers 

Nexomon gets the job done and is generally polished, although it seems to have some hang-ups from its mobile origins. These are mostly UI issues that don’t translate well onto larger screens, such as cluttered battle animations and icons. On the other hand, there is a lack of explanation in some menus that makes retrieving certain information cumbersome. For example, you cannot easily see the moves of monsters outside of your party without actually withdrawing them from storage and looking at their moveset in the party menu. Skill explanations are not readily apparent except in battle. These niggles just make planning a chore of navigating multiple menus. Hopefully the next installment will be more streamlined since it is primarily releasing for consoles and PC. 

4: Cheap shots

This a rather specific criticism but one that I came back to over and over again during the course of the game. After you knock out a foe in a tamer battle, the opposition can immediately summon their next Nexomon and attack you. It was usually hard to predict whether they’d do a small attack or something that could wipe out two-thirds of your buddy’s HP. It didn’t matter that your Nexomon just did a one-hit KO and was at full health. Type advantages hit hard and sometimes these jabs in-between felt unpredictable and cheap since you aren’t given the chance to circumvent them. 

5: Status effects suck and don’t work

When status skills hit as lightly and infrequently as they do, they aren’t worth using. Enough said. 

Aren’t we all…

Final ramble

Nexomon operates within narrow bounds of Game Freak’s formula but where it shows innovation, it often shines. The blatant likeness to Pokémon draws out some unflattering comparisons but it would be unfair to decry Nexomon as merely a copycat without recognising its many good qualities. Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game and look forward to the next installment in this series, Nexomon Extinction. 

Published by nonplayergirl

Long-time lurker turned blogging newb. Lover of all things otaku but especially JRPGs, anime and manga. Always adding something to the backlog. Probably descending into K-Pop hell right now.

One thought on “PLAY or NAY: 5 things Nexomon does better than Pokémon and 5 things it doesn’t…

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