Pokémon Scarlet and Violet mark a milestone for the Pokémon series with a truly explorative open world and the 1000th Pokémon revealed. As a gamer who has played every mainline Pokémon game since Pokémon Blue back in the late 90s, an open world has been a long-time dream of mine for a substantial amount of time. But does this open world live up to my expectations? Not exactly, but it is definitely a step in the right direction for the Pokémon franchise.
Left to Right: Sprigatito, Quaxley, Fuecoco.
In Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, you live in the Paldea region, and your primary goal like in previous games is to catch them all. Player progression in the story is non-linear (kind of), with 3 different storylines to complete in any order you like. Progressing through each of these storylines unlocks different upgrades for traversal, TMs to craft, and other rewards.
Victory Road is your staple storyline which involves beating 8 gym leaders at varying difficulties and then making your way to Victory Road to defeat the Elite Four and Champion. Your rival, Nemona, is a champion-ranked trainer who cheers you on throughout your journey to the Elite Four. As far as rivals go, the series has been notorious for having “annoying” rivals that constantly disrupt your journey. I’m happy to report that Nemona is one of the best rivals a Pokémon game has seen.
The gym leaders all had their own quirky personalities and appearances as you would expect from a Pokémon game. The battles themselves could be challenging at times but it’s all dependent on your team and which order you do the gyms in (more on that later).
Customization options for your character.
The next storyline is called Starfall Street which involves defeating Team Star, a criminal group that has caused bullying at the Naranja/Uva Academy. Team Star has set up five camps around the Paldea region all fronted by 5 different leaders of Team Star. Once at a camp, you are needed to battle 30 Pokémon before taking on the leader of the camp who use their Star Mobiles (a large machine Pokémon called Revavroom) as their final Pokémon to battle. These Star Mobiles can be incredibly challenging to defeat, particularly the ones later in the game.
The final storyline is the Path of Legends, which involves battling Titan Pokémon around the Paldea region and collecting Herba Mystica to cure a Mabosstiff owned by your friend Arven. These Titan Pokémon were extremely enjoyable to battle and one of my favourite additions to the franchise.
Each of these storylines offered different gameplay concepts which revitalized the Pokémon formula. That said, I don’t think the games should be marketed as “do what you want in any order” when there is no level-scaling involved. There is definitely a hidden sequence in which to complete the Gyms, Titans, and Starfall bases.
A player riding Miraidon, the Violet exclusive legendary Pokémon.
The gameplay in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the most expansive and captivating in the history of the franchise. A new Let’s Go feature has been added which sends out your lead Pokémon to “auto-battle” wild Pokémon. Let’s Go is a great way to train your Pokémon even at the expense of the standard amount of EXP you would earn from an actual battle. Speaking of battling, every wild battle and trainer battle is captured in the real world. At times you will have wild Pokémon running over to the battle to watch and react to it. Adorable.
Legendary Pokémon Miraidon and Koraidon who appear on the box art of the games are received early on in the game to help you navigate your way around the expansive Paldea region. Upon progressing through the game you unlock upgrades for the two Pokémon which include climbing, gliding, and swimming. These ways of traversing were utilised in Pokémon Legends: Arceus earlier this year and make a propitious return to Scarlet and Violet.
The Paldea region is enormous and you will always find a Pokémon no matter where you are standing. Unfortunately, the world-building is dismal at times and I think Game Freak could have made the world feel more alive. Not a single house in the region apart from your own is accessible which feels odd considering every other Pokémon game allowed you to explore and meet the residents of the region.
A terastallized Eevee.
Another new feature is the Terastal phenomenon, which gives a Pokémon a crystallized appearance and changes their type to their “Tera type”. I was quite skeptical at another gimmick added to the Pokémon franchise on top of Mega Evolution and Gigantamaxing, but terastallizing grew on me. It will be interesting to see how the competitive Pokémon scene embraces the ability to mix and match types and tera types.
A feature I did not really care for was the picnic and sandwich feature. You can set up a picnic to have with your Pokémon almost anywhere you want to, where you can pat your Pokémon, give them a soccer ball to kick around, breed Pokémon and make sandwiches. I’m sure there will be people that like this feature, but I feel like the time and effort into making it could have been utilised elsewhere.
Post-game content is available after the three main storylines are finished. There is a satisfying amount of content available like rematching gym leaders, revisiting Team Star Bases, and other content that dips into spoiler territory. If Sword and Shield are anything to go by, we could see DLC for Scarlet and Violet launching mid-2023.
Two trainers with a Zoroark and Zorua.
The highest feat achieved in this game is the multiplayer capabilities. The ability to catch Pokémon and progress through the story alongside three of your friends is phenomenal. I did find that local communication was found to be a lot more unstable compared to internet communication.
Raids return in the form of Tera Raids and are scattered throughout the Paldea region. Tera raids can be played with your friends, with other players online, or with AI. These are extremely fun and the higher-difficulty raids are the most challenging events in the game.
Four trainers having a picnic together.
Music is something that Pokémon never fail at. There were some certified bangers in different parts of the Paldea region but the stand out for me is the gym battle music. Returning from Sword and Shield is the crowd chanting during the final moments of battling a Gym Leader. It would always without a doubt hype me up.
GRAPHICS AND PERFORMANCE
Now to talk about the major downfall of the game – the performance and graphics. I’ll start with the graphics. The Nintendo Switch has shown us it is capable of breathtaking scenery through games like Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 3. There are times through the game when it looks absolutely gorgeous (mainly in the cutscenes), but for the most part, much is to be desired. As a long-time Pokémon fan, I was extremely disappointed in how low-budget the game looks.
But what is more disappointing is the performance, at times my FPS would fall below 30. While this didn’t occur frequently, it still occurred enough times to notice and mention in this review.
Arven – a new friend.
THE FUTURE OF POKEMON
Do these blemishes destroy the overall experience? In my opinion – no. Since Pokémon transitioned from sprites to 3D models, the graphics quality has always been mediocre and nothing to gawk about. There is so much to enjoy in the revitalised Pokémon formula created for the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, and it would be a shame for fans to miss out on the experience because the graphics were sub-par.
Is it time for The Pokémon Company to hire another developer to take the reigns? Game Freak has developed the mainline Pokémon Games since Red and Blue in 1996, and while Pokémon has shown no signs of slowing down, the quality of the games does seem to be. Unfortunately, I don’t think Game Freak will be going anywhere; with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet selling 10 million copies in the first three days of its release – becoming the highest-selling console exclusive game of all time.
Despite worrying performance issues and graphics, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is a large leap forward for the Pokémon franchise. The many additions to the gameplay make this iteration one of the most reinvigorated and entertaining Pokémon games to date.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are now available exclusively on Nintendo Switch