Pokémon Scarlet & Violet - The Teal Mask 1
Image: The Pokémon Company

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Ahead of tomorrow's Pokémon Presents, Alana is hoping that The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero is a real treasure for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.

Pokémon Scarlet & Violet’s DLC, The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero, is a bit of a mystery at the moment. We know it’s split into two parts – The Teal Mask is due out this Fall, while The Indigo Disk follows in Winter – and we know the locations, a few characters, and some returning (and new) Pokémon. But even as someone who loved Scarlet & Violet, despite its swathe of technical issues, this DLC has some real work to do if Game Freak is going to win back disheartened fans.

We know very little at this moment in time, and the Pokémon Presents August 2023 showcase will likely remove the mask and show us a lot more details, especially for Part One. But the nine months since Scarlet & Violet dropped haven’t exactly been the smoothest. The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero, and specifically The Teal Mask, is a real chance for Game Freak and The Pokémon Company to make amends with the many fans who lost patience with the base game; to embrace the parts of Scarlet & Violet that make it special, and smooth over some of the issues that currently exist.

To be clear, I don’t think that’ll include performance issues, sadly — I think that S.S. Anne has sailed — but I reckon there’s plenty The Teal Mask can bring to the table to reignite fans' interest in the game, and bring a sceptical group of people back to a franchise they once loved.

Pokémon Scarlet & Violet - The Teal Mask 4
Image: The Pokémon Company

The Teal Mask – which will be accessible after you’ve started your Treasure Hunt – is all about a school trip to Kitakami, a land inspired by its namesake Japanese town and the Iwate prefecture. At the centre of this story looks to be four brand new Pokémon and the festival at Kitakami village.

We’ve seen plenty of Japanese-inspired regions in Pokémon before, but Kitakami has the chance to stand out from the rest of Paldea. My favourite part of exploring Paldea was all of the small pockets across the map with regional differences – there weren’t many, and they were often nestled between huge open, empty fields of… nothing, but finding them was often a joy. The bamboo thickets are one of my favourite places to visit, and they feel so different from the forests, plains, and arid lands of the rest of Paldea.

Kitakami is overshadowed by a huge mountain, and the people of the region live at its base. We’ve also got Mossui Town, which is your base hub during your time in Kitakami. The immediate surroundings of layered cliff faces, a small waterfall, and stone walls, make this look more appealing than many of the other towns in the base game. And even the Pokémon Center – situated outside the main building – looks very different from the drive-through-style hubs we got in Paldea.

The Teal Mask will feel much more rural than a lot of the region. We had mountainous towns and a couple of smaller locations, but Paldea went bigger with many of its home cities, much like Sword & Shield. Big in terms of size, that is. The beautiful street markets evoke a humbler version of the Department Stores we’ve seen in previous games, and the more rural setting should allow for an even more diverse set of locales.

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Image: The Pokémon Company

The screenshots we’ve seen so far haven’t blown me away, but the possibilities are there. Kitakami is home to apple orchards and rice paddies, the former a clear nod to Morioka. All of the Japanese-inspired features bring back memories of Kanto and Johto – the former of which we’ve seen in full HD 3D thanks to Let’s Go, Pikachu & Eevee, but Kanto is going for a very different side of Japan. Kitakami captures the essence of the time when I was a devoted Pokémon fan, and I can feel the ripples of Johto’s ancient, traditional Japanese inspirations here.

If The Teal Mask wants to capture more of the magic I’m looking for, it will have to do so with its story – but I’m not expecting too much. The Indigo Disk is probably where I’m going to get that Area Zero lore dump that I’m so desperate for. Whatever you think about Scarlet & Violet as a whole, there’s no denying that the end sequences inside Area Zero are some of the best moments in the series to date. It’s a shame that performance issues stopped a lot of people from pushing through, but the music, atmosphere, characters, and final battles made for an incredible capstone to a fractured experience.

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|7| — Image: The Pokémon Company

There’s still a chance The Teal Mask could bring about some wonder, though. The four new Pokémon – Okidogi, Munkidori, Fezandipiti, and Ogerpon – have strong ties to Kitakami, and the strong regional identity coupled with the folktales means that there are ways these new ‘mons could be tied into the mysterious space pocket at the centre of the crater in Paldea. Maybe. How else could Pokémon of legend and history make an appearance? Well… many ways, but for the sake of Scarlet & Violet, Area Zero could be the cause of this. What do those crystals behind Ogerpon's mask mean anyway?

I’m not holding out hope for that revelation in The Teal Mask, but The Indigo Disk absolutely has that chance. Terapagos – the turtle-like Pokémon – and Terarium, have clear visual links and anomalies that line up perfectly with Area Zero. We know part of the history of the crater, the discoveries a character named Heath made on the Herba Mystica, and the origin of the Terastal phenomenon. But there’s no way there aren’t more hidden treasures for Area Zero lurking in Terarium, or related to Terapagos.

Pokémon Scarlet & Violet - The Indigo Disk 1
Image: The Pokémon Company

It’s hard for me to get extremely excited about The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero, but there’s hope. I liked Sword & Shield considerably less than I do Scarlet & Violet – even though the performance issues and the post-game cycle of Tera Raids and lacklustre Mystery Gifts haven't enticed me back too often. But Sword & Shield’s DLC improved upon so many aspects of the base game and embraced what made Galar stand out from the pack.

The Teal Mask is the first step of this two-part journey toward a potential hidden treasure, the treasure that makes Pokémon as beloved as it is. Could there be more new Pokémon? More regional forms? Or perhaps more Paradox Pokémon? And are there ways battles can be streamlined or sped up? We can hope for a lot – and many of our wishes won’t likely come true – but The Teal Mask needs to make me and many green with envy, wanting more from the world of Paldea.

It may not solve the game's tech problems, but Game Freak has proven time and again that technical perfection isn't a prerequisite to a magical experience. It has a chance prove that once again, and I hope the Pokémon Presents gives us that first glimpse of the treasure that (hopefully) awaits us.

What do you want to see from The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero? Let us know in the comments.