Review: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

Developer: GameFreak
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Rating: Everyone
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch

I wanted to put off writing a review for this game. I was awaiting the hypothetical update that would take care of the performance issues. After all, once the problems were patched, any review that stated them as being the main problem would quickly grow obsolete. But the only notable update that came (aside from the day one patch) took care of a fun glitch that actually benefitted players. So, it looks like this game is going to continue to stand as being too ambitious for the dated Nvidia Tegra X1 chip. Either that, or the game devs were in a hurry to push something out for a strategic release date.

For most games, performance issues are enough to kill them. But oddly, in the case of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, that’s not the case. Somehow, the game manages to be so awesome that it overcomes the performance issues, which mainly have to do with dropped frames. Which would mainly be an issue for those who insist that their games be completely realistic, which is not much of an expectation when it comes to the Pokémon series.

Scarlet and Violet are GameFreak’s first attempt at an open-world experience for the Pokémon franchise. As one might expect, it doesn’t so much change open-world games as it does change the way Pokémon is played. Considering what we’ve been seeing out of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Sword/Shield, the series has been tending in that direction. Finally, the franchise has made a committed attempt at an open-world game, and it does not disappoint.

It’s a welcome change, as most Pokémon games up to this point have been strongly formulaic. Sure, some of the old tropes remain, such as that you still choose from three types for your starter, and there are still 8 gym badges to collect as part of a League challenge. However, the League challenge is only one of three main story routes, and the three culminate in a finale story, and in the case of the non-League stories, the writers really told some moving tales.

It starts out with the main character about to start his first day at an academy (the name of which varies on which version you’re playing). The academy director and a new rival direct you towards the academy, but there’s a diversion which involves the main character meeting a new legendary Pokémon, which serves as your ride Pokémon throughout the game. At the academy, you meet a bunch of new characters that will be relevant to you during the three branching stories.

Then, you’re set loose on the Paldea region, where you can take on any challenge that you want (aside from the central Great Crater, which remains off-limits until near the end). The region of Paldea is open to you, and you’re not compelled to go in any one direction. Any of the three main stories can be taken on in any order you wish, and you can put any of the three on hold at any time, either to further another storyline, or to run about and attempt to catch the Pokémon you set your sights on. Personally, I recommend prioritizing taking on the titans, since that path rewards you by increasing your mobility, enabling you to further appreciate your freedom to move about through the Paldea region.

As far as I know, the game doesn’t explicitly spell out a recommended order for its objectives. You can take on the gyms in any order you want, you can take on the Team Star bases in any order you want, and you can take on the titans in any order you want. Just be warned that the levels of most opponents don’t scale based on your progress level, so it’s possible to wander too far and end up overwhelmed by gym leaders you weren’t prepared for. But this also allows for players to, in a sense, set their own difficulties by pushing themselves as far as they care to at the game’s outset.

The core Pokémon games are, at their hearts, turn-based RPGs. Thankfully, this core aspect remains intact in the series’ conversion to an open-world experience. The overworld switches seamlessly to battle scenes by showing the battles as taking place in the overworld environment, in a manner reminiscent to Pokémon Legends: Arceus. However, Scarlet and Violet differ from Legends in that wild Pokémon battles are 1v1 affairs, with other wild Pokémon in the area looking on as spectators, which is a nice touch!

A new and welcome feature is the Let’s Go mechanic, where you can send your own lead Pokémon into the overworld, and it’ll passively seek out wild Pokémon to battle, and defeat them. It’s a relatively fast way to level up your own Pokémon, putting aside that EXP points are decreased when you battle with this method. But considering that you wouldn’t be constantly switching between overworld mode and the battle scene constantly, this may still be a fast way to level up your team. Also, your Let’s Go Pokémon won’t beat up shiny Pokémon with this method. Shiny hunters, rejoice! Just be warned that this style of battling doesn’t trigger evolution, so you might want to level up the old-fashioned way at some point to trigger evolution to occur.

As fans have come to expect with each new generation of Pokémon since X and Y, Scarlet and Violet introduce a new game mechanic that makes battles in Scarlet and Violet distinct, as compared to battles in other games in the franchise: Terrastilization. It’s an act which causes Pokémon to take on a crystalline appearance. The Pokémon will change its type mid-battle, and its moves gain a boost in power, depending on the type it takes on. It’s a neat little gimmick that adds spectacle to in-game battles, and is certainly something to account for for competitive players participating in competitions that allow for it.

Aside from competitive battles, much of Scarlet and Violet’s post-game content seems to hinge on Tera Raid battles. You can find some easier ones during the main playthrough, but you’ll eventually have access to five-star raids, which pose a serious challenge to players who intend to solo them. Afterwards, players can access six-star raids, which are a lot more challenging than the raid dens in Sword/Shield. In many cases, it’ll take a team of players with specific Pokémon and specific builds to be more likely to win.

The soundtrack, by the way, is the best in the series. No question. Whether it’s the upbeat gym leader tune which is almost as good as the gym leader tune in Sword/Shield, the atmospheric environmental tunes that switches to an alternate track when mounting the ride Pokémon, the recurring leitmotif, and the bangin’ battle themes that play during a few key battles, it’s various degrees of excellent. Toby Fox’s presence may be controversial, but it’s plain that he’s a positive asset, and Pokémon’s music direction benefits huge from his input.

The game isn’t without flaws, but those mainly come down to performance issues, which make it evident that the game was rushed. Yet, this is one case where the good greatly overtakes the bad, to the point that the issues with performance are actually easy to overlook, even if they do sometimes take one out of the experience.

I suppose another complaint that one can think of is that there isn’t much of a postgame for those who aren’t terribly interested in Tera Raid battles. Because, those aside, there aren’t many post-game battles that are much of a challenge. That’s a problem that might be resolved through a future DLC package, which would be great for those who are patient and willing to spend more.

But as for the game as it is, I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth. If it weren’t for the technical issues, it wouldn’t seem out of place in the running for distinctions such as Game of the Year.

But as they are right now, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are deserving of high recommendations, and a score of 9.5 out of 10.

But if you’re a fan of the Pokémon series, you probably already bought it. Great choice.

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