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Pokémon Scarlet And Violet Review

Treasure awaits

Pokémon has been in a bit of a rough patch for a while, with developer Game Freak repeatedly trying to breathe new life into the series since it first transitioned from 2D to 3D. Generational stunts like Mega Evolutions, Z-Moves, and Dynamaxing have all been attempts to update the formula, but the end result was overly shallow. The series, despite still enjoying massive financial success, was in need of a fundamental shift, a need that came to a head in the divisive Pokémon Sword and Shield (SwSh). Early impressions of the game’s new open environments were great but once the hype wore down, I know I wasn’t alone in finding myself bitterly disappointed by the overall package. Earlier this year the series lurched forward once again with Pokémon Legends: Arceus (PLA), a massive shakeup to the formula that fully embraced open-world gameplay and new mechanics. Taking a lot of notes from PLA, we finally arrive at the ambitiously produced Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the second major release for the year and bearing those marks openly. Game Freak’s latest push for the series sees their haste catch up to them as a lack of polish spoils what would be an otherwise wonderful game.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are set in the Spanish-inspired region of Paldea, home of the Paldean Pokémon Academy — Naranja (Orange for Scarlet) or Uva (Grape for Violet) where you assume the role of a young first-year student. In the centre of this region is the Great Crater of Paldea, a giant hole that is said to be incredibly dangerous and is of course strictly off-limits for a student of the academy. The head honcho of the academy Director Clavell meets you at your home and provides you with your school uniform, as well as the choice of three Pokémon to start your adventure with. Clearly, Sprigatito is the best because not only is it a cat, but it is also a Spanish cat pun (gatito means little cat). The other two are fine but they aren’t a cute little grass cat, so they are clearly not as good. Soon you are introduced to the rival character of the game, Nemona, and either Koraidon or Miraidon (version dependent), legendary Pokemon who appear to be injured in some capacity and are in a weaker form that is not fit for battle. This Pokémon serves as your mount (and friend) for the game and exists as the vessel for various movement techniques which can be unlocked throughout your journey.

pokemon violet dragapult

It doesn’t take long for the game to bring you up to speed with its new gimmick, Terastillization (I hate spelling it this way). To put this in layman’s terms, Terastillization [Tera] serves as this generation’s Dynamaxing, but in contrast, it’s not terrible. Tera forms allow any given Pokémon to bolster themselves with a specific type that can vary based on each Pokémon. Sometimes it matches one of their natural typings and other times it can be the complete opposite. While in Tera form, using a move that matches the Pokémon’s Tera Type will enhance the move beyond just STAB (same type attack bonus). This is a really neat mechanic as it allows for some interesting Pokémon/Tera Type combos and the Gyms do not shy away from it. For instance, I had a Gardevoir that came with a Fire Tera Type, so any Fire-type moves that I taught it could take advantage of this, which meant that this Pokémon could counter its own natural weakness in Steel-type. I’m not sure how this mechanic will play out competitively, but I can see it being a little more interesting than Dynamaxing ever was, and for that I am thankful.

Shortly after your introduction to the game and its mechanics, you are thrown into the region of Paldea for the ‘Treasure Hunt.’ Don’t worry, it’s not an actual treasure hunt where X marks the spot, it’s more of a metaphorical treasure hunt. The students, yourself included, are tasked with the objective of venturing out into the world to find your own treasure. What this boils down to is three separate questlines, all of which need to be completed in order to roll the credits.

The first path that you will be introduced to is the Victory Road path which is your typical Gym Challenge experience, but this time the gyms can be tackled in any order you see fit. You would be forgiven for thinking that because the game does not restrict where you can go that the milestone challenges like the Gyms would scale to how many badges you have. However, they do not. This creates an incredibly jarring experience as the difficulty will swing wildly. For instance, the first Gym you are supposed to challenge was one of the last Gyms that I myself challenged, so I ended up going against a team that doesn’t exceed level 15 while having a team of mid to high 40s. This is a design flaw that remains consistent across all three questlines. Free roam Gym challenge progression is something that has existed within the Pokémon community for quite a while. The community has tried something like this previously with ROM Hacks like Pokémon Crystal Clear, which allows for a Generation 2 Johto/Kanto experience without the shackles of linearity. With fanmade projects like this, it’s a wonder why Game Freak is so insistent on these dated design systems. Additionally, half of the Gyms contain “trials”, an arbitrary objective that is required to be completed before you can challenge the leader. These don’t serve as effective replacements for the standard Gym experience and end up just feeling like a waste of time (I’m staring at you, Psychic Gym trial).

The Elite Four is also kind of a letdown, with the arena just being a plain white box of a room. Making matters worse is the fact that you cannot rematch the Pokémon League – once you beat them that’s it.

Pokemon Violet Levincia Selfie

As is to be expected with any Pokémon game, there is a core team that is positioned as the antagonists of the game, and you are brought face-to-face with this team with Operation Starfall. Team Star is a group of delinquents who are enrolled in the Pokémon Academy but pretty much refuse to go to classes and try to bully other students into joining their ranks. You actually get a pretty early interaction with them so you can understand why this operation is so important. What is bizarre about this operation, however, is that you are given your orders by someone who only goes by the name of Cassiopeia, and their true identity remains hidden.

Unlike the Gym challenge, Operation Starfall only has five key progression points (Team Star Bases), but what is cool is that these progression points exist as a method of introducing the player to the new auto-battle feature. Auto-battle allows you to throw your lead Pokémon into the field and just instantly KO whatever is nearby, with the caveat being they earn a smaller amount of experience points than normal.

What I wasn’t expecting from this questline was an exploration into the history of bullying within the Pokémon Academy, and how the actions of some students in the past have shaped the future of the Academy. Pokémon has tried to explore themes of abuse and isolation before, especially with Lusamine and her two children back in the Generation 7 games, but this is the first time we see how these negative actions can really shape people.

The last of the three questlines, Path of Legends sees you travel across Paldea to track down fabled Titan Pokémon. These are Pokémon who have grown abnormally large and are said to be the guardians of the mysterious Herba Mystica plant. This plant is said to have restorative capabilities and could potentially be used to help with Koraidon/Miraidon’s recovery. This questline is also home to what is one of the nicest stories revolving around a character named Arven and his injured Pokémon Mabosstiff, a big dog. I won’t lie and say that it is the most well-written story and dialogue to grace gaming, but it is at least kind, endearing, and compelling enough to keep you going.  I realise it’s a tall order asking you to care about the story in a Pokémon game but if you can’t find room in your heart for this guy and his dog, I don’t know that I can trust you.

The last thing to note about this questline is how each milestone unlocks a new mode of traversal for you. Initially, you’ll gain the ability to make Koraidon/Miraidon move faster across the world but eventually, you’ll unlock a gliding system and the ability to scale mountains. These unlocks perfectly fit into the new open-world design and do a great job of tying the narrative to mechanical progression.

Pokemon Violet Shiny Floatzel

With all three paths completed, there is one final leg of the journey before you can roll the credits, and this is where Pokémon Scarlet/Violet’s strengths truly lie. I was already thoroughly enjoying the game before this, but as I gazed upon this game’s final offerings I fell in love. This section is by far the slowest portion of the game, but it is also where the game’s most important storytelling occurs. It is hard to really say what happens here without diving into spoilers, however, this section of the game has some of the best world-building and storytelling the series has ever seen.

This final chapter also is home to what I would argue is some of the best music the series has ever been graced with. The melodies and the choice of instruments perfectly capture what the final chapter is trying to convey, a mix of melancholy, mystery, and hope. This final chapter changed my mind about the soundtrack as a whole and I find myself tempted to replay the entire game just for the music. What does bring my love of the soundtrack down is a bizarre use of that Ed Sheeran song in the game’s credits. I don’t like Ed Sheeran, and I know for a fact I’m not the only one who doesn’t want his distinct coo-ing in my Pokemon.

Taking notes from PLA, Scarlet/Violet has implemented many positive open-world changes and opted for Pokémon to naturally spawn around you instead of in random grass encounters. Pokémon actually react to your movements, and some will chase you very aggressively and others will try to run and hide. What this creates is a Pokémon world that feels far more lively and engaging than we have ever experienced before. PLA was a great stepping stone but this feels like a proper evolution of old design in the best way. The only real issue I have with this is that sometimes you will find yourself beset by waves of wild monsters, basically trapping you in an encounter loop.

A big addition to these games is a more fully fleshed-out multiplayer. Aside from the obvious benefits of playing with friends, the version exclusives for each game can spawn for other players if you are near each other. This is a fantastic change as it reduces the stress and reliance on the trading system. There are still evolutions that require trading but you don’t need to do a million trades to get the version exclusives.

Pokemon Violet Terastillize

Tera Raid Battles are a set of endgame activities that are strewn about the world. In the early game, you will find these that are at a low level so you can still tackle them, but once you complete the game these will scale to ridiculous proportions. For example, a six-star rating Tera Raid Battle usually necessitates the use of extremely high-level Pokémon (80+) while also working as a team with your teammates. Through the game’s persistent multiplayer, you can just send out a notification to everyone in the session and they can join with a simple press of a button.

The drawback to this constant connection, however, is the incredibly restrictive nature of it. If you were to join a multiplayer session, your game would effectively lock down and only allow wireless communication between people within that session. My friends and I learned this the hard way when we spent forever trying to trade with each other only to realise that because they were in a session together and I was not, they were not able to trade with me. I understand that this is their first attempt at persistent multiplayer, but this method is janky at best and frustratingly restrictive at worst.

On to what is obviously the biggest point of discussion surrounding these games right now – the performance. I am going to just come right out and say it. These games may be the most horribly performing, bug-riddled messes that I have ever played on the Switch. Hell, it may even take that title for just a game I’ve played within the last five years or so. Actually no, I forgot Anthem happened for a moment there. Regardless, to say these games are a technical disaster would be putting it mildly. Before you say it, no this is not a problem to do with the Switch’s underwhelming and dated hardware. These games should have been delayed, but The Pokémon Company wishes to push these games out with the merchandise releases. Poor Game Freak.

pokemon violet sandwich that defies physics

Framerate aside, everything about this game is just a technical abomination. Horrific texture pop-in, bizarre lighting issues, clipping through the world, poor animation framerate, crashes, and Pokémon spawning inside walls and hills are all prevalent issues. That last point really became a sore point for me once I completed the Pokédex and obtained the Shiny Charm, allowing me to go Shiny hunting. Thankfully, no Shiny Pokémon spawned in the wall for me, but when I was farming a Mass Outbreak (a returning mechanic from PLA) a bunch of the target Pokémon spawned inside the wall. I can already see how this issue would be incredibly frustrating during a Shiny hunt, and I hope this problem gets fixed pretty soon.

Final Thoughts

After over 70 hours of playtime and a completed Pokédex, I can safely say that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the most ambitious and enjoyable Pokémon titles since Game Freak attempted the series reboot with Generation 5. They break a lot of the conventional design points of Pokémon that we have grown used to over the decades and instead opt for one of the most engaging Pokémon experiences to date. There are some systems that feel like they are in their infancy, with a lack of scaling in the challenges and the ludicrously janky and restrictive multiplayer, but these changes are at least a great step in the right direction. What is a shame is how its atrocious technical state really sours the experience. These games are seriously undercooked and should have spent more time in development ironing out these issues before releasing them to the public. While I really, really love these games, I can only recommend them provided you are going to overlook these glaring technical issues.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher

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Pokémon Scarlet And Violet Review
Fiebre de Pokémon
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet offer a unique and incredibly engaging experience that the series has desperately needed since its transition to 3D back in 2013. Unfortunately, it has also been released in an incredibly unoptimised state which sours the whole experience.
The Good
Pokémon’s gameplay has never been so engaging
The soundtrack ranges from inoffensive to a straight-up banger
Terastillization offers some great diversity in tactics and strategies
Surprisingly good storytelling, especially in the final chapter
Roaming around with friends in the Pokémon world is really cool
The Bad
Poor framerate and bug-ridden
Lack of scaling in the multiple progression paths, inconsistent difficulty
Incredibly janky and restrictive multiplayer
The Victory Road challenge path is relatively underwhelming, no Pokémon League rematches
Ed Sheeran
6.5
Has A Crack
  • Game Freak
  • The Pokémon Company/Nintendo
  • Nintendo Switch
  • November 18, 2022

Pokémon Scarlet And Violet Review
Fiebre de Pokémon
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet offer a unique and incredibly engaging experience that the series has desperately needed since its transition to 3D back in 2013. Unfortunately, it has also been released in an incredibly unoptimised state which sours the whole experience.
The Good
Pokémon’s gameplay has never been so engaging
The soundtrack ranges from inoffensive to a straight-up banger
Terastillization offers some great diversity in tactics and strategies
Surprisingly good storytelling, especially in the final chapter
Roaming around with friends in the Pokémon world is really cool
The Bad
Poor framerate and bug-ridden
Lack of scaling in the multiple progression paths, inconsistent difficulty
Incredibly janky and restrictive multiplayer
The Victory Road challenge path is relatively underwhelming, no Pokémon League rematches
Ed Sheeran
6.5
Has A Crack
Written By Jordan Garcia

Jordan lives and breathes Dark Souls, even though his favourite game is Bloodborne. He takes pride in bashing his face on walls and praising the sun. Hailing from the land of tacos, he is the token minority for WellPlayed.

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