Temtem has technically been available on PS5 for the best part of two years, but with the game now out of its early access phase, it's time we gave it a proper shake. The RPG is now fully featured, and while some might hand-wave it off as some unholy imitation of Pokémon, the game does enough to stand on its own two feet.
Fundamentally, it is familiar. As a young, aspiring Temtem trainer, you're given one of the titular monsters and a Tempedia in order to kickstart your journey. As you venture out into the Airborne Archipelago, your goals are straightforward: capture new Temtem species, train up a team of six, battle other tamers, and ultimately become the very best, like no one ever was. This framework is tried and tested, of course, but it works; finding new monsters, learning which ones you like, and progressing through the world remains compelling here.
Quite quickly, the game distances itself from its inspiration. You can fully customise your character, for one thing, but it's with the battles that you'll begin to notice some key differences. They're 2 vs. 2 as standard. This isn't a new idea, but having all the fights in this format means a tighter emphasis on strategic play. The moves your creatures learn will often benefit their teammate on the battlefield, or become stronger depending on their ally's type. A simple example: one Water type move deals regular damage, but if the other Temtem on your side of the field has Fire typing, the move will then also inflict the Burn status effect. There are all sorts of synergistic opportunities like this, and it means movesets may influence who you choose to be in your party.
Battles can be surprisingly challenging, and it isn't just because you need to think harder about which monsters you're sending out. Each move has a stamina cost, taken from a meter below your Temtem's health. Stronger techniques will cost more, but will obviously deplete your stamina bar faster. Using a move you can't "afford" will begin to use HP instead, and this will overexert your Temtem, which means they'll skip a turn. Managing stamina will also inform your choice of moves in addition to team synergies and the typing of the opposition. In fact, some moves actually force you to think about whether a Temtem is on the left or right; the technique Chain Lightning, for instance, hits Temtem in turn three times, moving clockwise. All that plus type advantages and Temtem traits, which are passive abilities that may activate during battles, mean there's a fair amount to think about.
You'll encounter plenty of other tamers during the game, whether it's friendly matches between towns, rival Max, or the adversarial Clan Belsoto. They usually line the path forwards through the world, which is quite diverse across the six main islands. Deniz starts you off with large bodies of water and simple grassy plains, while Omninesia introduces autumnal woodlands and a large volcano, and so on. Progress is pretty linear, though you're free to explore as you like. We enjoy the almost Metroidvania nature of the game; throughout the main quest you'll gather equipment that lets you reach new areas by surfing, climbing, skating on certain surfaces, and more. It's a nicely designed setting.
The main thrust of the adventure brings you through eight Dojos that act as you'd expect, testing your strength and skills throughout. This familiar structure is backed up by a story and characters that, sadly, won't live long in the memory, though some clashing tonal shifts might raise an eyebrow. Human NPCs aren't memorable, really, blending in with everyone else due to similar facial features, hair, and clothing. The Temtem themselves are a bit better, with a handful of neat designs, though we found most to also be fairly bland.
Fortunately, if you enjoy playing despite the game's flaws, there's lots to do. There's a fairly lengthy main campaign to get through, dozens of side quests, competitive battles and tournaments, and plenty more once you reach the endgame. Furthermore, Temtem is always online, and the world is populated with other players going about their business. Through the menus you can interact with them by battling, trading, sending messages, and you can even join them in co-op. This lets you play the story alongside another tamer, following the one earliest in the main quest. It's a big game, and that's not to mention the cosmetics you can buy with currency, or the Tamer Pass with even more rewards.
The fact it's online only does mean you get the occasional server dropout or other technical hitch, but it's not so frequent to be too annoying. One big perk is that there's no manual saving to worry about; the game charts your progress, even down to where you were standing when you turned the game off. Sometimes the game will pause for a second when you enter or exit a building, but aside from that, performance is a very smooth 60 frames-per-second. We must also give a quick shout-out to the DualSense haptic feedback, which has been implemented very nicely, particularly during battles.
By and large, Temtem is a well-made, generous monster-taming RPG that differentiates itself enough from the obvious competition. The battle system is perhaps its main strength, offering quite challenging 2-on-2 fights even against wild encounters. It's jam-packed with stuff to do, and its online integration means connecting with other players is easy. The creature designs could be better, and the writing and human characters aren't particularly memorable, but if the game clicks for you, those weaknesses will fade into the background.