Pokemon games have always followed a familiar pattern. You start the game, pick a starter Pokemon, and set out on a linear journey to fill up your Pokedex and be the best that no one ever was. It’s a formula that has worked since the first game came out on the Game Boy, but recent titles like Sword and Shield and even its spin-off title Legends: Arceus gave us more freedom to set out on the journey we wanted without altering too much the series had created for itself all these years.
One of the reasons Arceus was so impactful was because it broke the mold of what a normal Pokemon game should be and totally changed up how we caught, fought, and even explored a new region. Coming out less than a year after it, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have the hard job of standing out on their own even though they technically are new main series entries. They may not be exactly revolutionary, but these games do spoils us with an engrossing Pokemon adventure in a whole new region worth exploring despite suffering from some hardware limitations and the effects of rushing too quickly into a new generation.
A Whole New World
- An giant open-world region just begging to be explored;
- The freedom to play and focus on what you want;
- Plenty of improvements to battling and assembling your teams
- Performance issues that spoil the wonder of exploration;
- Visuals are not as impressive as they could be.
One of the best things about Scarlet and Violet is that they truly are open-world games more so than even Arceus was. For the first time in a Pokemon game, you can decide the order of which gyms to fight and which areas to explore first. The new region of Paldea is essentially shaped like a donut so you can go left or right when you start your adventure and focus on what you want without needing to follow a linear path.
Of course, there is a story that plays out—naturally—but it all works in creating an experience that plays out at your own pace. Upon starting the game and choosing my starter, for example, I decided to focus on catching every Pokemon I saw roaming the world. I was so distracted and focused on filling up my Pokedex that I didn’t fight my first gym leader until I was 17 hours into the game. That would be unheard of in any previous title, but in Scarlet and Violet, you are free to explore what you want as long as you are okay with your Pokemon not obeying you until you get the necessary gym badge, that is. You also won’t be able to access all areas until you complete story-related tasks to unlock travel abilities for your legendary Pokemon that also doubles as your ride. So while there are some limitation to how freely you can explore Paldea, the freedom to see how far you can go is awesome.
Also, the game doesn’t have level scaling, so there is a desired order to defeat the gym leaders and to progress through the game. You can, of course, ignore this, but this also means that at some point you will have to fight that level 15 gym leader with your team of level 60 monsters. While some may think that the lack of level scaling holds you back from freely playing it at your pace, you can simply use other, lower-leveled Pokemon you may have forgotten from your hours exploring the world. It all works in giving you an experience that keeps you connected to what you are doing from the minute you start playing.
The new region also features a plethora of Iberian-inspired locales to discover and different biomes that are home to a panoply of Pokemon, both old and new. Paldea has zones instead of routes which are home to dozens of different species of Pokemon just doing their thing. Unlike Sword and Shield, there is no grass for you to run through to trigger a battle so all you have to do is throw one of your own Pokemon at it to engage. Unfortunately, you can’t catch them like you could in Arceus, but this battle system is a step up from Sword and Shield offering dynamic battles without needing to fade out or load a different screen.
Everything is out in the open, so to speak, including Pokemon Centers giving the game a very outdoorsy feel. Sure, there are dozens of cities and towns for you to explore filled with shops to change up your outfits, purchase ingredients, and indulge in Spanish-inspired delicacies, but you rarely travel inside buildings like in past games as most of the battling and exploring takes place out in the open.
They may be limited to what the Switch can put out, but Pokemon Scarlet and Violet take things to the next level and highlight a new generation of what Pokemon games should feel like. At the root of it all are two games that excel in the thrill of discovery and invite you into a world you just want to keep exploring.
Unfortunately, this means the game is constantly loading things wherever you travel, and because the Switch can only handle so much at a time, you will run into a variety of performance issues such as clipping, sluggish frame rates, and even crashes that could ruin your fun. My game crashed twice on me, once when I entered a restaurant and another time when a battle was about to begin. It’s not a good feeling losing over an hour of progress when you have auto-save turned off.
Not only that, but because the game always has to keep up to how fast you are going or what is happening around you, things don’t always look as good as they ought to. Compared to Sword and Shield, the game is similar in visuals but also suffers from the same problems Arceus did with poor textures and areas that simply look barren and poorly generated. Besides the towns and cities, most of Paldea lacks any noticeable character. You can appreciate its landscapes, vistas, and snowcapped mountains, but more noticeable landmarks or structures would have made it feel more lived-in. It’s a shame the game couldn’t look as good as even Breath of the Wild did when it first came out—and the sad thing is that was almost five years ago.
On the flip side, Scarlet and Violet is a step-up from previous games and features plenty of quality-of-life improvements and adjustments that make the experience so much more fun and accessible. Besides just the familiar goal to beat the gym leaders and become the champion, the game also offers two other storyline paths that together make for a lengthy, memorable experience. It’s not very often a Pokemon game deals with themes of bullying nor does it often feature boss battles and unique ways to fight Pokemon outside from the usual battle mechanic. These welcome additions make the game feel robust and diverse in what it offers you.
Small adjustments from previous games have been improved so you can now easily change up your party whenever you want, for example, without needing to visit a Pokemon Center. Gone are the days of collecting items to make your Pokemon remember a move as you can now freely edit your attacks on the fly. Special competitive items and those that change the nature and abilities of your Pokemon are now much easier to acquire without needing to grind through battles to afford them, and useful items will spawn generously all over your map. Even breeding has been tweaked making it easier to pop out battle-ready Pokemon without waiting around for eggs to hatch.
The new Terastallization gimmick of this generation that allows you to change the type of your Pokemon during battle will also open up new strategies for certain Pokemon that may not have benefitting from their initial typing. What’s more, the new Pokemon introduced in this generation are all worth training and come with their own unique abilities, move pools, and colorful Pokedex entries that complement the already existing roster. It is too bad not everyone is returning from previous games, but once again, the game is limited to what it can offer.
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Even after you become the champion, complete the three different story routes, and complete your Pokedex, chances are you will still manage to put in more hours in Scarlet and Violet creating competitive teams, trading with others online, or simply trying to find various Pokemon with unique Tera types. These are games that keep on giving even after you see the credits roll so how much you get out of it is entirely up to you.
Despite its shortcomings, Scarlet and Violet are the best Pokemon games the series has seen in a long time simply because they take everything that has come before them and consolidate it into a very fun, engaging, and fluid experience. They may be limited to what the Switch can put out, but these games take things to the next level and highlight a new generation of what Pokemon games should feel like. At the root of it all are two games that excel in the thrill of discovery and invite you into a world you just want to keep exploring.
The review is based on the Pokemon Violet version.
We have received a copy of the game from Golin PR Agency.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com