Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
“Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s open-world pivot is precisely what the series needed, though poor tech holds back its true potential.”
- Delightful academy premise
- Sweet, kid-friendly storytelling
- Much-needed freedom
- Excellent diversity of Pokémon
- Flexible challenges
- Some dull quest objectives
- Level scaling needed work
- A tech disaster
Before playing Pokémon Scarlet, I didn’t realize how little freedom I actually had in a Pokémon game. Sure, I had the facility to select my monster party and customize it with moves and items, but that’s often where my player agency ended. Regardless of what region my adventures took me to, I often found myself following a maze-like map of routes, caves, and towns that spit me out on the Elite 4. The creatures I could add to my party were laid out for me in a careful order, while forced battles against wandering trainers would be certain that my party was all the time at the best level to tackle whatever gym leader I used to be predestined to beat next.
I’d been biking with training wheels for 26 years.
For perhaps the primary time within the series’ history, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet takes down the guardrails (or not less than pretends to convincingly enough). Developer Game Freak trusts players to carve their very own path through the open-world Paldea region, even when meaning letting them walk right into a battle entirely unprepared. Greater than the entire big-picture formula shake-ups, it’s that psychological shift that proves to be this generation’s most vital innovation. Though the bike maywobble, the training wheels are finally off.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is an actual step forward for a series that’s been locked in a holding pattern for well over a decade. The open-world pivot successfully reinvigorates a stale premise by giving trainers more control over the pace and difficulty of their journey. Like every recent Pokémon game, nevertheless, deteriorating tech and half-hearted experimentation still makes it feel like we’re five years away from the franchise’s true return to glory.
In Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, players don’t just assume the role of one other young trainer seeking to be the perfect. As a substitute, the stories focus on a student who’s just been enrolled in Paldea’s oldest university (the Naranja or Uva Academy, depending on which game you’re playing) and sent off on an independent study. Over the course of the journey, they’ll have to finish 18 tasks across a completely open map, which incorporates beating eight gyms, tracking down giant titan Pokémon, and shutting down bases belonging to the villainous (or perhaps misunderstood) Team Star.
It’s a cute setup that works on each narrative and game design levels. In terms of the previous, the framework creates some fun presentation touches that truly put me in that student headspace. The Pokédex is laid out like an lovable collection of textbooks, with volumes for every creature I catch. Tutorials are delivered through optional classes where I’m quizzed on different subjects via midterm and final exams. Even the “independent study” wording itself puts me within the mindset of a child on a college task, somewhat than that of the interchangeable “trainers” which have starred in previous installments.
The more I settled into my flow, the more I grew to value my newfound freedom.
Most of all, I appreciate how the premise allows Game Freak to higher tailor its storytelling to younger players. Slightly than specializing in a sweeping, lore-heavy narrative with world-ending stakes, Scarlet and Violet’s three primary quests create space for more sincere stories in regards to the Academy students. The Team Star quest, for example, isn’t a lot about vague bad guys attempting to steal Pokémon or take over the world. As a substitute, it’s a bullying narrative that’s tackled with nuance and sincerity. Game Freak makes a firm selection about its core audience here, one which it’s been scared to commit to for many of the series’ life span. The choice to talk to childhood struggles makes for a more focused story with some actual emotional depth.
As an open-world motivator, the narrative setup serves as technique to let players wander away in an enormous map somewhat than locking them right into a golden path. Objectives might be tackled in any order (type of), which offers a level of freedom that’s never been present in a mainline Pokémon game. Remember the at-the-time special moment in Red and Blue where you first arrive at Saffron City and have the choice to either tackle the fighting dojo or infiltrate the Silph tower? Scarlet and Violet is that selection was a full game.
The more I settled into my flow, the more I grew to value my newfound freedom. Sometimes I’d pop right into a Team Star base and find that I just didn’t have the best party to beat the boss inside. In that moment, I could simply back out and seek out an enormous Klawf, try my luck on the grass gym, or simply wander off and catch some creatures for a couple of hours. It’s an experience that finally makes me feel like Ash Ketchum within the anime series, occurring adventurous diversions between the same old badge checklist.
Not every quest is a winner. Gyms, for example, are not any longer small dungeons filled with trainers and puzzles. As a substitute, players simply have to finish a brief challenge before taking over the gym leader. At best, those tasks are neutral minigames, like having to search out 10 Sunflora hidden around a town. Similarly, each Team Star mission has players beating 30 Pokémon by completing a mini strategy game built around auto-battling. I had 10 minutes to finish these, but handily finished most in under two minutes each time without much effort. Few of those are particularly fun or difficult, but they not less than bring some variety to a series that’s been short on ideas for a very long time.
You wanted a challenge? You bought it
Even with some weak ideas, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet excels on the subject of the basics. The RPG formula that has carried the series through eight generations still works here, and parts of it function even higher within the context of an open-world. Catching, for example, is the most effective it’s ever been because of the wide diversity of Pokémon scattered throughout Paldea. By the point I arrived at my first gym, I already had 40 pals at my disposal with nearly every type covered. It’s just one other way that I’m given more agency here, letting me truly construct a celebration from the jump as a substitute of creating me use monsters I do know I’m eliminating the primary likelihood I get.
My Scarlet playthrough was by far the toughest I’ve experienced in one in all these games because the earliest iterations.
Crucial change, nevertheless, comes from the games’ approach to challenge. For well over a decade now, older fans have begged Game Freak so as to add difficulty options to Pokémon games. Those players might be pleased to listen to that my Scarlet playthrough was by far the toughest I’ve experienced in one in all these games sincethe earliest iterations. That’s not because I set it to hard mode; there are not any difficulty siders here. Slightly, the challenge is solely an excellent side effect of freedom.
Since I’m never railroaded into anything, meaning nothing can stop me from wandering right into a gym whose Pokémon are six levels above mine and attempting to play from behind. Similarly, nothing’s stopping me from entering a far-off slice of the map and attempting to catch some creatures which are way more powerful than my crew. All trainer battles on the planet are optional too, which suggests that my party’s levels are never being stealthily raised as I am going to take care of balance. I’m all the time in full control of the grind, which suggests I get to decide on if I need to go right into a battle unprepared. Players can essentially create their very own difficulty level, which is an answer to the age gap problem that truly works.
That’s especially helped along by the undeniable fact that story fights feel like legitimate boss battles. Titan Pokémon have giant health bars that players must whittle away piece by piece, successfully riffing on Pokémon Sun and Moon’s Totem Pokémon. Team Star fights might be particularly difficult too, as each culminates with a similarly supersized fight. Those ideas complement raid battles, which return from Pokémon Sword and Shield with a slight real-time twist. Five-star battles prove to be a legitimate challenge, making combat more engaging. Let me put it this manner: In Sensible Diamond, the primary time I worn out was within the Elite 4. In Pokémon Scarlet, I routinely lost not less than once on nearly all of story missions I tackled — even when my average levels exceeded my opponent’s.
While I like how difficulty plays into the open-world design, Game Freak doesn’t quite find the most effective implementation of its latest idea — something that’s develop into a standard problem within the series as of late. Alternative is a little bit of an illusion here, as there’s still an optimal order through which the sport assumes you’ll tackle most tasks. As an illustration, gyms don’t scale to your level. Should you determine to go to at least one on the opposite side of the map, you’ll end up woefully underleveled. Even in case you manage to catch some creatures who can compete, you won’t have the option to totally control them without enough badges, like in previous games. That left me in situations where I’d struggle to beat one gym that I wasn’t ready for, just for the following two gyms to be a cakewalk for my skill level. Going off the invisible path can turn the sport into a large number, and it’s not all the time clear what that intended order of operations is.
Though it’s not the cleanest solution, the undeniable fact that I’m never turned away from a difficult task is significant. Some gyms pushed me to essentially strategize so I can take down Pokémon six levels above me. After I actually pulled off those victories, I felt a level of mastery that I often only get from the endgame content in previous installments.
For all my praise, there’s a black cloud hanging over Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: It’s downright embarrassing on a technical front. The open world itself is an uninspired collection of basic terrain with few (if any) landmarks, but that’s the least of the games’ issues. Textures are muddy across the board, even looking bad next to GameCube games like Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness. Assets routinely flicker out and in of existence, while the camera tends to reveal the underside of the world by accident. Worst of all, some areas which are densely filled with Pokémon will cause the sport to essentially drop into slow-motion. While I like soaring above the world on my legendary lizard, it’s dampened by among the ugliest scenic views I’ve seen in a contemporary game of this scale.
It’s unfathomable to me that a series that generates this much money can launch in such a poor technical state.
I generally avoid using the word “unacceptable” when critiquing games. Video games are incredibly difficult to make and I understand that there are occasions where corners must get cut to make them work. Scarlet and Violet ultimately function, with most of those complaints being annoying distractions somewhat than game-halting issues. But it surely is unfathomable to me that a series that generates this much money can launch in such a poor technical state. Perhaps the cash that went toward commissioning an original Ed Sheeran song could have gone to higher use.
Scarlet and Violet wind up feeling like a rush job, and that’s what frustrates me essentially the most. The machinelike churn of the Pokémon series is taking more of a toll on each entry, bringing down what may very well be excellent RPGs. That isn’t just resulting in technical issues, but holding back design too. Earlier this 12 months, Game Freak released Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which was praised for a few of its creative system innovations. Features like streamlined catching would have felt right at home within the open world here, but there just wasn’t enough time between games for Game Freak to collect feedback and apply it here. As a substitute, I’m once more dreaming of the mainline installments that’ll launch three years from now — games that can feel similarly behind the curve by then if the trend continues.
Take the framework of Scarlet and Violet, mix that with Arceus’ systems, and I actually consider you might have the following great Pokémon game. As a substitute, we wound up with two good concepts.
While I even have my share of disappointments, this ninth generation of Pokémon has exceeded my tempered expectations. I went in prepared for an additional set of games that flirt with daring changes, but still play it protected overall. As a substitute, Scarlet and Violet offer a radically reinvented approach to Pokémon that solves among the series’ most pressing problems. The hard part was getting the arrogance to ride without training wheels; now the goal is to maintain the bike upright.
Pokémon Scarlet was tested on a Nintendo Switch OLED in handheld mode and on a TCL 6-Series R635 when docked.