And it is a long haul, even though the game retains its rather claustrophobic hand-holding design. Whenever you come across an obstacle, you know there'll be a Pokmon that can deal with it in the immediate vicinity. It's just a matter of wandering around until you find it. Equally, the story rarely gives you the freedom to roam and find your own path. Missions are doled out in rigid order, and there's very little opportunity to tackle them in your own way.
The plot moves at a snail's pace - the largely uneventful opening set at the Ranger Academy still takes over an hour, despite offering the shallowest training regime since Luke Skywalker became a Jedi by doing some handstands and giving Yoda a shoulder ride. More annoyingly, characters continually interrupt the action to state the obvious. You'll be hurrying to an urgent mission, and your companions will halt your progress to tell you that you'd better hurry up. Then as you see that you're getting near your objective, they'll pipe up to tell you that you're getting near your objective. And then again to tell you they're a bit scared. And then again when they're feeling brave.
You just want to get on with the task at hand, but you have to click through too much inconsequential waffle to do so. It's all par for the course in the realms of JRPG, where charm and incidental detail can add quirky texture to an epic tale, but since this story often feels like a retread of the last outing, with yet another villainous team trying to implicate innocent Pokmon in their evil plot, such stop-start padding is harder to forgive.
At least there are now side-quests, with the civilian population of Almia asking for assistance in solving their Pokmon-related problems. You can only have one of these optional objectives on the go at a time, but your reward for completion is Power-Up Data which improves your Capture Styler. You may be able to draw longer lines, for example, or take less damage from a particular type of Pokmon. It's not enough to make you feel like there's a world of adventure to be found beyond the main story missions, but it's better than nothing.
So there are improvements over the previous entry, and Shadows of Almia is most assuredly good at what it does. It's just that what it does still isn't that exciting or memorable, and without the lure of permanently capturing your Pokpals, it falls to the rather dull storyline to try and keep players engaged. With a long wait until the next proper Pokmon game, many fans may feel that's enough, but they shouldn't expect anything more than a mild distraction.
6 / 10