Pokémon has been in a down period lately, with a lot of more recent games being rough in terms of performance. This is due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of time to develop their games, as well as rising performance expectations. After all, even on the Nintendo Switch, there are some games that still look good and perform well, like Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus in 2022 was a big turnaround for the series in terms of critical reception. Despite performance issues, the actual gameplay and style of the game was significantly better than Sword and Shield. Now, in the same year, we’ve got Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, a more open world experience than any previous Pokémon game has ever done. But how did it turn out?
As far as gameplay goes, it’s about what you expect from the series. You adventure around the world, completing various challenges, and you catch, battle, and trade Pokémon. For a lot of people, this gameplay is always an enjoyable time, but some feel that the gameplay is getting a little stale. I find myself in between both camps, but honestly, Scarlet and Violet did a good job of pulling me back in.
The thing that really made me enjoy Scarlet and Violet the most is the fact that the game, for the first time, has a truly open world. None of this Wild Area stuff, not a Monster Hunter-like structure like with Pokémon Legends: Arceus. You’re actually given freedom to explore the game how you like. You can find plenty of Pokémon, as well as items (which are conveniently lit up for increased visibility usually).
But how is it, you ask? Well, it’s… decent. It’s not the best attempt at an open world by any means, not even from Nintendo, but if you’re a Pokémon fan, I think the concept of an open world in this series will be enough to entertain you. However, despite enjoying running around the game’s world, I can’t deny that it’s pretty barren. There’s some stuff to do, sure, but outside of towns, there’s not much in the way of secrets and landmarks to find. It’d be really nice if they added caves and other landmarks you could enter and explore, instead of having everything be a part of the overworld.
As far as towns go, there are a lot of nice visual elements that make them appealing to visit. It’s certainly a significant improvement over the towns in Pokémon Sword and Shield. However, it was a little disappointing just how many buildings are only there for show, and if they’re not, they’re often shopping menus. It’s disappointing, and makes the towns feel a lot less alive. Granted, past games had buildings you couldn’t enter, but the towns just don’t feel as exciting as they used to.
After a bit of a tedious beginning where you have to learn about Pokémon for the ninth time, you’re given three different quests. The first, and the one present in all of the mainline games except Sun and Moon, is to beat eight Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and the regional Champion. You’re not required to complete the gym challenge in any particular order, so if you’re feeling daring, you’re certainly free to try one of the tougher gyms. It’s not too difficult to reach them, so long as you have your Koraidon or Miraidon to ride.
Once you actually get to the gym, however, the bad news is that you have to do boring challenges before you are actually allowed to fight the trainer. No, I really don’t care about pushing an olive, I just want to solve puzzles, fight trainers, and navigate a maze with a fun gimmick tied to it. Here, you just do some boring, usually simple challenges, and then you get to fight the gym leader.
The next quest has you invading Team Star bases, which is the new villain team of hoodlums causing trouble in the region. Much like gym battles, these can be challenged in any order. Finally, you also have five titans to battle, which are Pokémon significantly larger than normal. Once defeated, they give you access to things that enhance your Koraidon or Miraidon to make it more able to traverse the overworld. For example, the earliest titan – Klawf – gives your Pokémon the ability to run faster.
One thing I think holds it back in this respect, however, is the fact that there is no form of level scaling, nor are challenges always placed in the most logical location. So, while you absolutely can try to do the final gym, Team Star leader, or titan first, it’ll be challenging enough that every other challenge afterward will be trivial once you beat it. It just doesn’t work without it. Compare it to Skyrim or Breath of the Wild, where going into more challenging areas is obviously difficult, but doable. However, since player skill can’t overcome the level gap in most cases, it creates a problem here. Still, you can always try catching a strong Pokemon to overcome the gap more quickly.
Encountering, battling, and catching Pokémon
The way Pokémon are encountered in this game is somewhat similar to Arceus, but at the same time, there are some changes. Pokémon always appear on the overworld, and there is no longer tall grass. Some Pokémon are passive, fearful of you, or actively try to fight you. One thing I like is that Pokémon are somewhat more aggressive than they were in Sword and Shield. They still give you a little too much time to get away, but some Pokémon, like Tauros, are very dangerous if they’re at a higher level and set their sights on you.
A great feature added to this game is auto battling, which, when I first heard about it, I thought, “Oh good, another way to make the game easier.” But once I actually looked into it, it was a pretty cool idea. Basically, you can send your Pokémon out to fight wild Pokémon without you. This is a great way to not only get some extra fast experience, but also get materials for making TMs. In addition to this, you can actually walk with your Pokémon, although I feel that they move way too slowly, so you quickly forget about doing so. That said, I had a great time early on taking a slow stroll with my Ralts and watching it race ahead of me.
One thing I was a little disappointed by is the fact that changes made in Legends Arceus to catching Pokémon were not included in this game. Legends Arceus had a great gimmick, where you can just throw your Poke Ball at a Pokémon, and there’s a chance you’re able to catch it without having to fight it first. Here, you have to catch it like you normally would in the series.
Additionally, it can be pretty frustrating to have to encounter Pokémon while riding on Miraidon or Koraidon. Not that I think you necessarily should not be able to encounter Pokémon while riding them, but when it’s weaker Pokémon, it makes it really tedious to have to waste time running away. It’s also harder to avoid running into smaller Pokémon, as sometimes they can be nigh invisible. It’d be nice if they either made Pokémon run out of the way if they’re much lower level, or made them pop out more.
Each Pokémon game since Pokémon X and Y has added a new gimmick associated with your Pokémon. First with Mega Evolutions, then Z Moves, then Gigantamax/Dynamax, and most recently, Tera forms. Basically, Tera forms allow your Pokémon to change to a single third type, giving them a crystal object above their head to represent the type. For example, a Flying Tera type would give the Pokémon crystallized balloons. Tera Raids can be encountered throughout the region, and work similarly to the Dynamax battles in Sword and Shield, except there’s a timer counting down instead of a turn limit.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite changes in all of Scarlet and Violet. Dynamax raids were such a drag due to how long they took, and it made me avoid doing them more often than not. Here though, things are way faster, and you don’t have to worry about turn order like you did. You could easily get a Tera Raid done in a minute under the right circumstances.
I always felt that Mega Evolutions and other gimmicks like it made the competitive metagame a little too centered around it, and Dynamax/Gigantamax felt especially gimmicky and uninteresting in general. Here though, Tera forms actually feel like a viable kit to use that doesn’t act as some kind of win button. Since it changes your type, there may be times when you don’t want to use it, since that type might be weak to the Pokémon you’re fighting. The only downside for me is that, well, I think the Tera transformation looks really ugly! It feels rushed and haphazard.
Ever since Pokémon Red and Blue for the original Game Boy, multiplayer has been a key feature of the franchise, and this is true for Scarlet and Violet as well. Trading and battling have been an important aspect of the franchise, giving the gameplay longevity beyond just completing the story and Pokedex. However, Scarlet and Violet does have a feature found in a few Pokemon games: co-op gameplay.
Now, this isn’t perfectly executed, as you can’t really do all THAT much with friends in multiplayer. For instance, gym challenges are single-player-only affairs (although you can still do them alone while your friends are doing stuff elsewhere). However, despite that limitation, it’s still a lot of fun to go battling wild Pokémon, challenging Tera Raids, and just exploring the Paldean wilderness with three buddies (even if it makes the game chug). Though, it would have been nice if there were more interesting things to discover with your friends along the way.
Like the last few games, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have put a lot of stock into being able to customize your characters. Not only can you modify your facial features and hair design/color to a decent degree, but you can also customize which clothing you wear. You can also change your character’s skin color, although it is rather limiting, with only four skin color options. I feel like my character has a decently unique visual identity, although the schoolkid aesthetic makes it a lot more difficult for me to have as unique an identity as I had in Sword and Shield.
Changes – good and bad
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet has had a lot of changes to the formula from the previous entry. Some of these changes have been good, while others have been not so good.
A big problem I often have with Pokémon games, especially ones released more recently, is that they move at a snail’s pace. Scarlet and Violet does fix some issues with that, but also introduces new issues that cancel out any improvements. One of the biggest advancements is how quickly you enter and exit battles, as well as certain things being sped up (like the catch animation). However, honestly, I think the new issues overall make the game a little slower.
One thing that not only made the game take longer, but also makes the game needlessly limited, is the removal of certain options, which honestly baffles me. Two long-standing options were removed in this game for the first time, namely the Set Battle option and the ability to turn off move animations. It legitimately confuses me why they’re absent, and not being able to turn them off makes the game kind of a slog.
If I had to speculate, the reason why they got rid of the Set Battle option is because it is a more difficult mode of play. Basically, it prevents you from seeing which Pokémon you’ll be fighting next, and being given the opportunity to switch out. Because Pokémon is such an easy game, a lot of people prefer to do what they can to make the game a legitimate challenge.
These changes, as well as how they handled game balance, have made the game way too easy. Granted, the Pokémon series has never been a particularly challenging experience, but the most recent entries are among the easiest. For example, a lot of trainers only use one or two Pokémon, so these fights feel utterly trivial.
Now, to be fair, it is entirely possible to make the game more challenging by handicapping yourself. What I did was I avoided doing the challenges in order, I avoided using healing items in battle, I didn’t swap Pokémon out when they offered, and I didn’t use the Tera feature (outside of trying it out for a spin). When I limited myself like this, it was actually a decent challenge, although if I limited myself like that in most other Pokémon games, it would be significantly harder than it is in Scarlet and Violet.
After what I considered a pretty disappointing roster of new Pokémon in Sword and Shield, Scarlet and Violet really turn things around. For one, the starters are all solid. I really enjoy Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly, though Sprigatito stands out as my favorite. And the best part is that each starter’s second and third forms are great, so you don’t have to worry about evolving into a bad design. Additionally, there are also legendaries, the two most obvious ones being Koraidon and Miraidon, which you get right away.
A lot of the new Pokémon outside of the starters and legendaries are also pretty enjoyable, and this game gives me one of my new favorite Pokemon: Tinkaton (as well as its earlier forms). The idea of this cute little creature with a big-ass hammer that’s systematically destroying everything in its past, especially Corviknights, is such a funny idea. And the Tandemaus are such a weird concept that I can’t help but dig it.
Much like the past few games, old Pokémon return with new forms and new evolutions. For example, Girafarig, a single-stage Pokémon, finally has its own evolution, and Pokémon like Wooper have new forms with new evolutions for these forms. However, there are two new types of variants of old Pokémon. The first is Pokémon that are similar to preexisting ones, such as Wiglett, despite being their own species. The second are called Paradox Pokémon, which are either primitive versions of Pokémon (in Scarlet’s case) or futuristic versions of Pokemon (in Violet’s case). My favorites are Flutter Mane (Misdreavus) and Iron Valiant (Gardevoir/Gallade), each of which are exclusive to one version, so I’ll have to find someone to trade with.
Now, the one thing I’m not a big fan of with respect to this game (as well as other Pokémon Switch games) is the fact that the Pokedex is so small. I understand that, at some point, it may be difficult to make it work with how little time they have to develop the games, but it still stings when a favorite Pokémon of mine doesn’t return. Several of my favorites – including Mawile, Primarina, and Braixen – are all absent from this game, which is such a shame. Granted, we’ll see many returning Pokemon added as DLC presumably, given what they did with Sword and Shield, but I wish we got them right away.
Premise and setting
This game has you playing as a school kid attending a new Pokémon training school, although it doesn’t really do much with the school. It’d be nice if the school grounds were a huge place with tons of stuff to do – both side content and main content – but there is, at the very least, some interesting stuff to bring you back to the school grounds.
Just like all mainline Pokémon games before this generation, Scarlet and Violet is set in a region based on a real-world area. This time, the game is set in the Paldea region, which is based on Spain (although it has inspirations from other countries, such as Mexico, with the Fuecoco evolutionary line’s obvious inspiration from the Day of the Dead).
To be honest, I find myself feeling less interested in them basing the game on a real-world area, as it often felt very surface-level. Almost like they’re trying to justify writing off their trips to these regions as a business expense! Honestly, I either want them to go ham with their inspirations in the next entry, or just don’t bother having specific regional inspiration whatsoever.
Honestly, one of the things that I enjoy the most in Pokémon games are the characters. These characters are nothing spectacular, but the designs are great and the personalities are well-written. Even with Sword and Shield, the designs and personalities of several of its cast – Marnie, Piers, Sonia, Bea, Nessa – were all quite enjoyable, and Scarlet and Violet keep this trend going.
There are a lot of characters to enjoy, with some of my favorites being the Gym Leader Iono, Elite Four member Rika, and your three rivals, Nemona, Arven, and Penny. I do wish that the gym leaders were more involved in your quest, at least to the degree that they were in Sword and Shield, however.
Nemona has been a particularly fun rival as well. I prefer my rivals to be more antagonistic, but Nemona feels like a better attempt at the battle maniac Hop. Meanwhile, Arven is a little grumpy, but it adds to his character. And Penny is a major shut-in and has a fun personality in her own right. These three rivals are each connected to a different major plot – Nemona to the Gym Challenges, Arven to the Titan quest, and Penny to the Team Star quest.
However, one problem that emerges with the characters are the unimportant ones. A lot of minor non-playable characters in past games have been well-received, both for their fun designs and memorable lines that make us remember them despite their minor role. Here, though, the dialogue between them is not particularly compelling, and their designs don’t really get the chance to stand out. The latter is partly due to how zoomed out the screen is during battles, so you never get a good look at them.
Graphics and performance
This is where the game really suffers most of all, and it’s such a shame, because there’s so much about it to like. To put it plainly, the game runs like trash, even after the day-one patch to fix some of the issues. However, even that day-one patch was not able to make it feel like a game that was completed at launch.
The framerate is one of the most obvious issues with the game, where characters in the distance often look like they’re stop-motion animated. And it’s not even like this was a secret, as it was seen multiple times during the trailers, most notably the scene where a bunch of Sunflora are following the player. It’s honestly ridiculous just how poor the framerate often is, even when there is not that much going on at the time.
The game also suffers from noticeable graphical glitches, such as the floor disappearing, character models breaking in outrageous ways, and the camera going wild when you walk into enclosed spaces. The game can also be really clunky when it comes to navigation, such as when you jump on something you can’t actually land on with your ridable Pokémon. When this happens, you will hover until you either find a place you’re allowed to land on, or until it respawns you from where you jumped.
Glitches only get worse when you try to go online. The actual connectivity, in my experience, wasn’t TOO awful, but it had plenty of problems. However, in terms of visual glitches, the game really killed my immersion sometimes. Some of the most severe glitches exist in this mode, such as the infamous glitch of the trainer’s eyes popping out of their head.
Pop-in is also a major issue with the game, as Pokémon and objects will pop up right in front of you at times. It can prove to be frustrating when you can’t react to these things that seemingly come out of nowhere. And while I never had the game crash myself, I have seen multiple instances where my friends suffered from crashes. The graphics themselves suffer a lot, as even if the game ran at 60FPS without glitches, the art design still suffers due to poor textures and boring environments.
A big issue with the poor performance is that it doesn’t look like the game is doing anything especially taxing that would require such poor performance. Look at Xenoblade Chronicles 3, or even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While the Nintendo Switch is a bit of a rough experience for a lot of games, Game Freak seems to have particular difficulty getting games to run well on the device.
There have been some suggestions as to how to improve performance, including installing it on the system memory instead of the microSD card. The system memory is only 32GB, so you may have to juggle games between the two storage media in order to make it fit. So if you’re finding your gameplay experience unbearable, try doing that.
Music and audio
No matter how many issues a Pokémon game may have, one thing that critics seem to agree upon is that the soundtrack is solid. I find myself humming the soundtrack frequently whenever I’m away from the game, so it’s at least pretty catchy. However, one thing I don’t love is the fact that they have the audience cheering that first appeared in Pokémon Sword and Shield. It feels right in that game, but it kind of spoils the gym leader theme.
On top of being a solid soundtrack in general, the game’s soundtrack has another thing propping it up: Toby Fox. Toby Fox, the composer of the excellent Undertale and Deltarune soundtracks, previously worked on Pokémon Sword and Shield for a single track. This time around, however, he contributed multiple tracks, including a field theme and the Tera Battle theme, which are absolute bangers. Hopefully Toby Fox keeps contributing music to the series.
The one big downside for me is that the Pokémon series, either by choice or time constraints, still does not do voice acting. And it’s not like Pokémon has NEVER had voice acting; for example, Pokémon Black and White had music with singing in it. Yet, in Sword and Shield, perhaps the most divisive game until this one, it had the most awkward scene ever thanks to its lack of singing (either through text or voice). Granted, the voice acting isn’t always solid, especially for a game’s first foray into it, but I’d at least like to see them attempt it. It turned out fine with Breath of the Wild, after all.
Overall, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is such a hard game to recommend. The best way I can describe it is that it’s a 6 out of 10 game that feels like a 9 out of 10 game. I’ve never had a Pokémon game where I didn’t at least have a little fun while playing, and there is still a strong sense of identity that was lacking in Sword and Shield. However, because of the abundance of ambition, that means that we have experienced an abundance of problems.
It’s unfortunate that Game Freak seems to be so rushed to finish these games, because it’s not like The Pokémon Company is going to go bankrupt if they take more than a year to make a game. It’s almost impressive that they were able to get a game like this made in such a short time, but nevertheless, I would have to say that you need to be a fan of Pokémon to really enjoy this game at $60.
Hopefully, patches will fix a lot of the performance issues, and in fact, Game Freak already put a patch out on December 1. But ideally, I don’t want to see Pokémon being the kind of game where it only gets good a year later. We may also be able to look forward to more content added as downloadable content (hopefully some that will be free), though again, I wish the game was released when it was complete, not when it was most profitable.
- Same great Pokémon gameplay
- Entering and exiting battles is a much smoother transition
- Some of my favorite new Pokémon species in a while
- Exploration is fun and at least somewhat interesting
- World map is a lot easier to traverse thanks to the ridable Pokémon
- Pokémon are to scale
- Certain features are missing for arbitrary reasons
- Performance is really poor at times, often in noticeable ways
- Even despite poor performance, the game has graphical limitations
- Gameplay can be unnecessarily slow at times
- The fact that there is no level scaling discourages too much exploration
- While riding your Pokémon, it is easy to accidentally fight Pokémon