Monday, November 28

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review

I played on: Nintendo Switch
I paid: £44.99
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Notes: I played Pokémon Violet for this review, but as my wife has Scarlet, I’m aware of the differences.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the first mainline Pokémon game after Legends Arceus proved that the series could make the jump to an open world. Unlike that game, this is a new mainline entry marking a whole new generation for the series. You’re again challenging the regional gyms, taking down a misbehaving team and helping a professor save the world. This has been combined with the lessons GameFreak learned from Pokémon Legends Arceus. The result is a brilliant game that I’ve enjoyed every second of the 40 Hours I’ve put into it so far! Let’s dig into the ninth generation of Pokémon!

I want to begin with the bad points so that I can continue to gush about this fantastic game afterwards. The technical side, in terms of performance and graphics, is abysmal. You will see NPCs pop in just a few feet ahead of you while inside buildings. This pop-in is so much worse when outside in the open world. People and Pokémon will appear right before you, which can sometimes be annoying. Whenever there are more than a few NPCs on the screen at once, the framerate will drop below 30. I did get used to this, but the fact remains that when the Switch can run Breath of the Wild and Doom Eternal at 30FPS, this shouldn’t be something we need to get used to. The characters and animations are low quality, only improving during a few cutscenes. There is also still no voice acting for either the humans or the Pokémon. This makes Scarlet and Violet feel notably dated when we have games like Breath of the Wild, Mario Odessey and Splatoon 3, all voiced in part and all also on the Switch. It feels archaic when you put it next to games like the Last of Us Part 2 or Halo Infinite.

Despite everything I said, this is not an ugly game. I’ve repeatedly said that a good art style can shine through bad graphics and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet prove that. The region of Paldea is beautiful. Every town you visit is unique, with its theme and style that often tie into the type of Gym the town hosts. The new Pokémon added to the roster are excellent, with very few I’ve not loved bumping into. Wild Pokémon don’t feel as dynamic as they did in Legends Arceus. That being said, it was nice to see packs of them roaming around, napping under trees or swimming in water. 

All of this is in a massive open world with plenty of diverse biomes to explore. This is all open, with only two areas locked behind load zones. The central city hub and the final endgame area are hidden behind loading screens. Besides these, the entire map is open to you. Once you finish the roughly one to two-hour opening, you can pick a direction and explore. You have eighteen badges to earn before you unlock the end-game content. There are the traditional eight Gym badges and five Titan and Star badges to earn, respectively.  These badges have a recommended order based on the levels, but the game won’t stop you from ignoring this and simply taking on the hardest ones immediately. You will likely get your butt kicked, but I love that the game lets you get your butt kicked.

The gameplay is a combination of classic Pokémon mixed with a few ideas from Legends Arceus. Combat is turn-based, closer to Sword and Shield than the hybrid system we had during Pokémon Legend Arceus. During that game, you could also stalk wild Pokémon by hiding in the long grass, waiting for them to eat, sleep or turn their backs on you before you threw a pokéball at them for a chance to catch them without needing to fight. This is missing in Scarlet and Violet. If you want to catch Pokémon, you must at least begin to fight them. Strangely the experience of levelling your Pokémon has been made easier. You can let your Pokémon out of their Pokéballs, and they will defend both themselves and you from dangerous wild Pokémon. You can also tell your Pokémon to attack any wild Pokémon. As long as they are at a higher level or have a type advantage, they will win and earn EXP. This made the grind from older games into a buttery smooth experience. I wish we had the sneaky catching from Arceus alongside this new levelling system. 

The story starts as one pathway until you finish the opening and then diverts into three paths until the end when it rejoins all three. This intro introduces you to the new region of Paldea and the school in which the game is based. All the characters you meet along the way are either students or faculty of this school. The game diverts when your school has what’s known as the treasure hunt. A time for students to explore Paldea and find something important to them. This is like when you do work experience in real life but much more fun because it’s Pokémon.

You have the Gym pathway, which has you travelling to each of the 8 Gyms and defeating their leaders. This story will see you interacting with your friend and rival, Nemona. She’s the most traditional character, filling the role of a friendly rival that challenges you along the way. The most interesting thing about her is that unlike past rivals in the series Nemona is older than you and has already achieved the rank of Champion in the Pokémon League. This doesn’t change anything with her in reality, as she’s decided to train up a new team of Pokémon alongside you. Then you have the Team Star path. Team Star is headed up by a group of six friends that started the group as a way to get back at the bullies tormenting them. Despite these humble beginnings, they have grown so large that their members become bullies. It’s up to you to team up with Penny, Clavell and the Mysterious hacker Cassiopeia to challenge and defeat each of the five bosses. This was my favourite of the three stories. I loved the way that it dealt with bullying. Then you have the Titan path, which sees you helping out awkward schoolmate Arven by taking on five massive Pokémon, each protecting a healing herb. Pokémon has never been a series with particularly strong writing, but Scarlet and Violet get close to it at points. This has been the most I’ve ever been interested in the characters around me during a Pokémon adventure. Typically it’s the world and broader mythology that catches my interest. Scarlet and Violet have that fascinating history and lore, but they simultaneously manage to include a few fantastic characters. The ending is wild in the best possible way. The last hour of this game is Pokémon at its absolute best.

While playing, I asked myself, do I enjoy this more than Pokémon Legends Arceus? The answer, I’m afraid, is no. It’s not the jank that got me. It’s the focus. Pokémon Scarlet focuses on the battles with an emphasis on the gyms, titans, etc. Pokémon Legends Arceus had the freedom of being a spin-off and could not include any of that, instead focusing on collecting and studying the wild Pokémon. My favourite part of a Pokémon game is the Pokédex. I love exploring the world and hunting down those rare pocket monsters. Arceus is better at that. Scarlet and Violet are better at the Pokémon battles.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is a divisive entry in the series. Despite the game breaking sales records, it’s gotten much pushback from the community. Many people can’t see past the technical shortcomings, and while I understand that, it is a shame. Under all the bugs, glitches and jank is maybe the best mainline Pokémon game we’ve ever had. If this is a sign of the future, then I’m excited. Please don’t rush it out the gates next time, GameFreak. All in all, I would highly recommend this game despite its technical failings. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is an amazing game you shouldn’t miss out on just because of jank.

Recommendation Rating: 8 out of 10

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