When it comes to gaming, I’m not the most social person in the world. Co-operative, competitive, close friends or complete strangers, it doesn’t matter; I’d really rather play completely on my own. So, when details of Pokémon Sword and Shield’s second DLC, The Crown Tundra, were revealed, I was pretty excited to see that the Galarian Star Tournament would be a post-game pursuit alongside the new Dynamax Adventures.
If you’ve not dug into the details of Crown Tundra yet, the Galarian Star Tournament comes right at the end of the DLC, after you’ve completed the main story. It sees you return to Wyndon to compete in 2 versus 2 battle tournaments with gym leaders and rivals from Sword and Shield as well Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra. While I found it kind of bittersweet that I had to finish the last bit of new mainline Pokémon content we’re probably going to get for a while before I could try the Star Tournament, it hasn’t disappointed me.
If you’re the kind of player, like me, who prefers to play your games without any online elements, the single-player Star Tournament is a nice alternative to the co-op Dynamax Adventures and a good way to balance out the relative isolation of scouring the Wild Areas to complete your Pokédex after the main story is done. Essentially, it's solo gameplay without the feeling of being completely on your own.
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Interaction without interacting
Sometimes, after completing Pokémon games, it can feel like all of the characters that were key to your journey just vanish off the face of the region. But, with the Star Tournament, you get the opportunity to enjoy some meaningful interactions with them while you continue to hone your battle skills.
The Galar region is, after all, home to some memorable, even likable, characters and it would be a shame for them to go to waste. The Star Tournament gives you the opportunity not only to see more of them but to see slightly different sides to them. It’s nothing drastic; you don’t, for example, get to see the deep pain that I suspect lies dormant behind Leon’s perma-smile. But you do get the chance to fight alongside your rivals for once and you even get a better sense of the personalities of some of the gym leaders with whom you usually spend relatively little time.
Seeing all of the game's characters interact with one another brings the world to life slightly more, giving you a sense of how they know one another and how Galar exists beyond yourself. You might not have heard of Mustard before Isle of Armor, for instance, but Bea certainly had.
It’s also pretty nice to play in a post-game world where your battle skills as the champion are not only explicitly acknowledged and respected, but also challenged by the gym leaders you’ve previously faced. It allows you to appreciate how far you’ve come while helping to make the post-game world feel a little less static.
Hey, AI'm talking to you
The Galarian Star Tournament’s suitability for solo players also really struck me when I considered it alongside another kind of extra-story battling available in Crown Tundra: Dynamax Adventures. Dynamax Adventures are actually available from the start of Crown Tundra but you can play them right through to the post-game when the addition of Ultra Beasts reinvigorates them.
Dynamax Adventures are an extension of Max Raids, pitting you and three others against several rounds of Dynamax Pokémon with the hope of encountering a legendary at the end of the adventure. I’ve played a few now and they are fun but, as someone who prefers to play offline, they’re not really the post-game I’m looking to throw myself into for an extended period.
While you can play Dynamax Adventures on your own (the game will just add in three AI companions of its choosing), I get the feeling the experience is probably more fun when you’re fighting alongside your real-life friends, not least because you can tell them off for using useless moves, which I’ve been unable to do with my new AI nemesis Isabella. If your friends aren’t really all that interested in Pokémon, though, or you’re not keen on playing with real-life strangers then you’re left with little option but to rely on the AI.
Unlike the AI trainers in the Galarian Star Tournament, there really isn’t much character to the trainers you’re fighting alongside in Dynamax Adventures. Admittedly, there doesn’t have to be (that’s not the point of the battles, after all). But, between your teammates that left their personalities at home and the rental pokémon you have to use rather than your own, the whole experience feels somewhat impersonal and closed-off from the rest of the game world—you’re there to get the legendaries and get out.
With the Star Tournament, on the other hand, the personalities involved and the interactions between them create much more of an “it’s the journey as much as the destination” atmosphere that I’ve enjoyed.
HM02 in the ointment
The Galarian Star Tournament isn’t all rainbows and smiles, though; it has faults of its own. For one thing, sometimes the lines characters say can be a little repetitive. When two characters fight together more than once, for example, they might repeat the same banter and when you beat someone they tend to have a particular thing that they like to say.
That’s all very well the first time but, personally, when it’s the fourth or fifth tournament in a row someone’s suffering defeat at my hands I’d like their outburst of lament, self-flagellation or resentment to have a little more history behind it.
Also, as good as the Star Tournament is at mixing up pairings to keep battles fresh, you will still find yourself up against the same pairings repeatedly (I’m convinced Bea and Gordie have something going on, to be honest). This can be irksome if you don’t want to see them have the same interaction all over again but it is, at least, slightly offset by the fact that you’re probably fighting alongside someone new on your own team who will either trigger a different interaction or mix up the battle experience with their own type-specialism.
As post-game content goes, the Galarian Star Tournament isn’t quite as expansive as Gold and Silver’s legendary “So you liked Johto? How about some Kanto?” encore. But, considering it’s actually just one part of what is effectively the post-game’s post-game it’s pretty great and something I’d like to see again in the future.
In fact, if it was to return in some way I’d like to see the Star Tournament go even further and bring back gym leaders and characters from other regions—I’ve always wanted to fight alongside Sabrina rather than against her and I wouldn’t be totally against having Whitney’s Miltank on my side rather than my last nerve. I think what I'm actually asking for is for Pokémon Black and White 2’s Pokémon World Tournament to make a return, just with the enhancements and personality of the Galarian Star Tournament.
In the meantime, I’ll just have to bide my time and continue fighting my way through the Galarian Star Tournament to find my ideal battle partner, even if I am sure that I fight better solo.
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