The Pokémon anime is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year with a movie retelling the story of how Satoshi and Pikachu first met with a few changes. The riddle-solving escape game “Ho-Oh no Shiren Kara no Dasshutsu” (Escape From Ho-Oh’s Trials) connects directly into the film, allowing players to become Pokémon trainers being tested by the legendary bird himself. Anime Now!’s team of writers embarked on a journey to become Pokémon Masters.
The story of the escape game made by the escape game experts at Scrap revolves around you, a Pokémon trainer trying to certified as a “true Pokémon trainer” by Ho-Oh. However, the golden bird won’t give you the title just for throwing a few Pokéballs around. You set your sights on the peak of Mount Tensei, where a holy pedestal and Ho-Oh await. On your journey, you will gather a variety of Pokémon that will be able to assist you on your quest, as well as at your final trial.
We began our journey at the laboratory (the basement of the Scrap headquarters), where a group of friendly professors explained to us the game’s rules. First, we had to choose the course we wanted to go down. The Trainer Course is the easier of the two courses available and can be completed in around 90 minutes by children and their parents and/or guardians. The Professor Course, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. Only for the most seasoned and confident of trainers, this more difficult course is estimated to take 180 minutes to complete.
After choosing your course, you get to choose one of three Pokémon to accompany you as your starter: Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. The five of us split off into two groups, with me and my friend choosing Squirtle, and Toshi, Kat, and Ken choosing Charmander. Depending on the starter you choose, the path you take during the first half of the game will be completely different.
Each journey progresses by finding panels placed on walls of stores and other establishments all around the Shimo-Kitazawa neighborhood. After receiving clues, you must use the Pokémon card representing a Pokémon you have obtained to line up symbols and use that Pokémon’s ability to find the symbol revealed to you on a separate page in the official escape game binder you must scratch off with a coin or other object (Trainer tip: use the back of the pencil you’re given at the beginning). The number that is left after scratching the area will lead you to another page in the binder that will tell you what you need to do next. If you scratch the wrong area, however, you will have points deducted from your Trainer Rank at the end of the game.
Me and my companion embarked on our journey… and used about 30 minutes trying to solve the first question. But that’s OK, because while their are time estimates, there is no time limit: you can take as long as you want as long as you don’t go past the Scrap shop’s opening hours (9 p.m. on weekdays, 10 p.m. on weekends).
One thing to note: the entire game takes place outdoors throughout the district of Shimo-Kitazawa, and there is a lot of walking under the hot summer sun. You’re free to go into coffee shops, restaurants, and other establishments to grab a bite to eat or a sip of something to drink while you sit down and try to solve your puzzles. In fact, with the current temperatures in Japan, I suggest it.
While we chose to do the Trainer Course, the very beginning and end of the course was actually pretty difficult. Or, maybe that’s because I lack escape game skills. The beginning was the hardest because of our lack of familiarity with the system, but it got easier as we went on until the very final question.
To solve questions, you will need to borrow the help of the binder’s Pokédex—which lists a bunch of different Pokémon, their types, and what abilities they can use. The way the Pokémon are used and the questions given to the player depend on which starter Pokémon the player chooses at the beginning.
There is a lot of love put into this game, from the themed props used to solve puzzles to the story. While I can’t give any spoilers, the story of the escape game connects directly into that of the upcoming film in a really cool and unexpected way. Keep in mind that this is a celebration of “20 years” of the Pokémon anime and when you figure out the connection between the escape game and the film, it might put a nostalgic tear in your eye.
Once you clear the game, your scratch sheet will be checked by a staff member. If you get nothing wrong, you get the honor of being a Pokémon Master. Get just one wrong, and you’ll be an Elite Trainer. The lower ranks are Normal Trainer and Youngster, in that order (these ranks apply to both the Trainer and Professor courses, by the way). My team got Normal Trainer and Toshi’s got Elite Trainer certifications, but we all agreed it would have been just a bit more interesting to have been certified Youngsters. Maybe we needed Rattatas in the top percentage.
Overall, the escape game was a nostalgic way to look back at the years of the Pokémon franchise, and it felt like I went back to my childhood of wanting to actually become a trainer. I think 7-year old Sarah would have been ecstatic to play this game with my parents—had me or any of my family been able to speak or read Japanese.
If you’re planning to play, note that the game is completely in Japanese, and you need at least a Japanese elementary school student’s understanding of the language. Suggested items to bring would be a bottle of water, comfortable shoes, and plenty of sunscreen. It’s a hot day out to be a Pokémon Master, but you gotta catch ’em all.
©Nintendo･Creatures･GAME FREAK･TV Tokyo･ShoPro･JR Kikaku ©Pokémon ©2017 ピカチュウプロジェクト
Tickets are available now online. If you pre-order a ticket before the day you go, the price will be 2,500 yen for adults, 2,000 yen for students (high school and college students), and 1,250 yen for children (elementary and middle school students). Day-of tickets cost 500 yen more, but be warned that since this is a popular game, many of the days are completely sold out already through pre-order tickets alone. The game is running in Tokyo from July 13 to October 31. It will also be held in Sapporo, Miyagi, Kannagawa, Aichi, Osaka, Okayama, and Fukuoka. You can check the official website for specific dates for the other areas.
Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! (Gekijōban Pocket Monster: Kimi ni Kimeta!) will premiere in Japan on July 15, 2017 to celebrate the anime’s twentieth anniversary. The latest anime–Pokémon: Sun & Moon–is currently airing in North America on Disney XD.