In some of my previous articles, I’ve made mention of my love for seeing indie developers take heavy inspiration from existing franchises. Sure, the “Super Mario” name may be copyrighted, but the designs and game mechanics behind the franchise are open to interpretation and expansion from other developers. “Pokémon” is another example of a franchise for which the rights and licensing privileges are more heavily guarded than the gold of Fort Knox. However, that's not to say that an indie developer can't offer up their unique take on a monster-catching RPG adventure. Enter “Nexomon: Extinction,” a game developed by VEWO Interactive and published by Pqube that seeks to offer players a unique, yet still familiar alternative to Nintendo and Game Freak’s iconic franchise. The question is, does “Nexomon: Extinction” hold up on its own merits, or does it end up feeling more like a cheap knock-off?
Our story begins with a tale of a great war between humans and Nexomon for control of the entire planet. It seems as though this war broke out when a group of incredibly powerful Nexomon decided that they no longer desired to coexist with humans and began to reclaim the planet for themselves. However, many of the remaining Nexomon saw the error of their superiors’ ways and began to fight alongside humans to put a stop to these powerful Nexomon and restore balance to the world. Interestingly, the result of this war is kept somewhat vague, but seeing as how we cut to what is implied to be hundreds of years in the future to take control of our main protagonist, (which can be named by the player) one can only assume that some sort of temporary resolution was reached. I say “temporary” because it just so happens that these mighty Nexomon have returned with a vengeance, and are now aided by a group of Master Tamers who have their own nefarious goals. As new recruits to the Nexomon Tamers Guild, it is now up to us to travel around the world, fight all of the mythical Nexomon of legend and put a stop to their attacks on the planet once and for all.
Apologies if that plot synopsis seemed a bit all over the place, but there’s actually a good reason for that, as “Nexomon: Extinction” has got to have one of the most convoluted and ridiculously unfocused plots I’ve seen in a long time— I didn't even include anywhere close to all the details just then. That synopsis was my best attempt at trying to piece events together based on what little context the game seems to give me, which is odd to say because there were several times where I felt like the game dishes out what I would refer to as “plot dumps.” See, the game completely showers you with information at several points, (even early on in the adventure) but rarely did I as the player feel like I had the proper knowledge or context to understand exactly how everything went together. NPCs would frequently have dialogue referencing how the Nexomon of legend are ripping the world apart and pose an immediate threat to all of humanity. But when they are telling you this in the middle of a lush, green forest with tranquil and peaceful rivers flowing throughout, it leads to a bit of a disconnect forming between what the player is being told and what they actually observe in the world.
Speaking of those lush, green forests, I must admit that the graphical style here is certainly appealing. It’s not a technical showcase by any means, as the environments are all based on the foundation of a simple grid, and animation for the player characters and NPCs is incredibly limited. However, it must be said that the art direction here is truly fantastic. Many of the 300+ Nexomon designs were very appealing to me, and they have that very distinct, “Pokémon-like” quality where you can almost universally identify a given monster’s type and even guess what some of its abilities may be just by looking at it. The battles are also (perhaps unsurprisingly) where the graphics shine the most. Battle animations are generally quick and to the point, yet punchy and flashy enough to do their part in helping to make the encounters feel dynamic and interesting. Additionally, I feel that the choice of going with animated 2D sprites rather than 3D models for the Nexomon themselves ended up working highly in the developer’s favor, as the sprites themselves are all well-animated and highly expressive, hearkening back to the fan-favorite fifth generation of “Pokémon” to great effect.
What doesn’t hold up as well, however, are the battles themselves, or more specifically the systems at play within the battles. “Nexomon: Extinction” lifts a lot of its battle gameplay directly from the “Pokémon” series. Players will send one of their Nexomon, of which up to six can be held at a time, onto the battlefield and engage in turn-based combat with an opposing Nexomon. Each Nexomon can learn up to four different techniques of varying power levels and elemental attributes, and it is up to the player to select both the best Nexomon and the best move for the situation at hand. This would all be fine, but the developers at VEWO Interactive have introduced some fundamental changes to the tried-and-true formula that they are attempting to emulate here. And unfortunately, almost all of these changes ended up being to the game’s detriment.
For starters, there is a type-balancing system present in “Nexomon: Extinction” that works largely off of an element-based trail of logic. Water-Type Nexomon will have an advantage against Fire-Type Nexomon, Ground-Type Nexomon will have an advantage over Electric-Type Nexomon, and so on. The unfortunate truth, though, is that the changes that have been made to this system result in a far more unbalanced and counter-intuitive product than the game’s clear inspiration. For example, some of the type matchups in this title seem to have been changed for the sole purpose of differentiating the game from “Pokémon,” but as a result, these changes have created a balance that feels much less defined and oddly lacking in logic when compared to that of Game Freak’s series. For example, Electric is weak to Grass here, which makes far less immediate logical sense than the Ground weakness given to it in “Pokémon.” (Could it be because vines can potentially grow around and ensnare electrical equipment?) This does not only have a diminishing effect on worldbuilding though as certain types have been left practically useless by the game’s strange balancing. The Normal-Type is perhaps the most egregious, as in “Nexomon: Extinction” the type has two weaknesses (Ghost and Psychic), and absolutely no strengths to speak of, making it objectively one of the worst types in the game by technicality alone. Compare this to the Normal-Type in “Pokémon,” which, despite having a weakness to Fighting, is also completely immune to Ghost-type attacks, allowing for situations in which it would actually be beneficial to use a Normal-type on your team.
What's worse is that most of what I’ve discussed here is relatively useless information because of “Nexomon: Extinction’s” baffling method of handling weaknesses and resistances in the first place. Here, the bonuses that are added or subtracted to an attack’s damage based on type matchups are so minuscule that types barely matter in the grand scheme of things. For example, hitting a Fire-Type Nexomon with a Water-Type move (which the game labels as an “effective matchup”) quite literally results in anywhere from one to three additional points of damage, which often works out to be less than a 5% increase from what the attack would normally deal. Once again, compare this to “Pokémon,” where weaknesses mean taking double damage and resistances mean taking half damage, and it is plain to see how Nintendo’s series does a much better job of incentivizing players to be strategic and learn the ins-and-outs of the type matchup system. Add to this the complete lack of any of the more nuanced mechanics that have been present in “Pokémon” for decades now, such as the Same Type Attack Bonus (STAB), IVs, EVs, Natures, Abilities and more. One has to wonder why the developers of “Nexomon: Extinction” would have gone to the trouble of emulating the game’s battle system only to simplify it to this shocking of a degree.
However, the final point of contention, and what ultimately made me want to stop playing “Nexomon: Extinction” altogether, is how the game relentlessly wastes your time at almost every opportunity. In general, your Nexomon will have very few chances to attack before they run out of stamina, as every single move requires a certain (often fairly high) amount for each use on the battlefield. There are only two ways to refill this stamina, being to either use an item that can be purchased from the in-game shops or to visit one of the game’s many Medical Facilities. This is fine on its own, (many, many games are structured in the same way) but the problem here all comes down to just how stingy the game can be with resources. The amount of money that you receive for winning battles is an absolute joke. Basic, single-use items for restoring health, restoring stamina, and even catching new Nexomon to add to your team all start at around the 300 to 500 coin range and only go up from there, however you’re lucky if you earn more than 10 coins from any given battle. This essentially leaves players with two options, either mindlessly grind battles for hours on end to get enough money to set yourself up with a decent stock of items and then press forward to the next destination, or make your way to the next destination very slowly, turning around to head back to the nearest Medical Facility every time your Nexomon run out of stamina or fall in battle. It is impossible, I repeat, impossible to make it from one town to the next in this game without resorting to one of these two incredibly tedious and annoying methods. It’s quite fitting that this game has an adaptive in-game time tracking feature that only tracks the playtime in which you are actively making forward progress towards your next objective, as it actually works perfectly to illustrate my point. During one of my sessions, after roughly an hour and a half of consecutive playtime, I noticed (to my absolute horror) that the game had only tracked six minutes’ worth of actual progress, SIX MINUTES! This wasn’t exactly surprising, I was well aware that most of my session had been spent running to the road leading to the next town, advancing about 20 feet before all of my Nexomon were either out of stamina or defeated then going back to the previous town to heal because I had no money for healing items, and repeating that process ad nauseam. It’s one of the most blatantly awful systems that I have seen in a game in recent memory, and this punishing economy and constant back-tracking almost certainly killed any possible enjoyment I could’ve gotten from my time with this title.
I alluded to it earlier, but if it wasn’t already obvious, I didn’t finish this game (hence why this is an “impressions” piece with no final score, rather than a review). After playing for about 10 hours, I realized that I was only roughly a quarter of the way through the game, and I didn’t see how things were going to get much better. Sometimes, first impressions can be everything, and with an incoherent story, unbalanced combat, baffling design choices, and frustrating traversal of the overworld, “Nexomon: Extinction” made, quite frankly, a terrible first impression on me. Perhaps the game starts to come together in the later areas. Perhaps the battle mechanics become more fleshed out with additional wrinkles and gimmicks introduced part-way through the adventure. Perhaps the story ends up tying the seemingly distant points together into some kind of satisfying answer. Unfortunately, the truth is that I just don’t feel that it’s worth putting another 30 hours or so into the game just to see if that’s the case. “Nexomon: Extinction” shows a great deal of potential, and I feel like a possible second attempt could allow the developers to keep what works here while going back to the drawing board with some of the aspects that need a major overhaul. However, as it stands now, “Nexomon: Extinction” is an unfortunate misstep on the path to providing a meaningful alternative experience to “Pokémon,” as those games are simply more polished, strategic, and most importantly, rewarding in virtually every way.