UPDATE: Since writing this review, the first post-launch patch Version 1.1.0. has been released, and it fixes some of the problems I go on to discuss. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it’s definitely a decent improvement.
Over the last few years, the Pokémon series has teased us with the idea of fully open-world gameplay; something fans have dreamt of for many, many years. In Generation 8, Sword and Shield, there was a dedicated “Wild Area” to explore, and in the latest spin-off title Pokémon Legends: Arceus, free-roaming exploration was a major selling point. With the release of Generation 9, Scarlet and Violet, the open-world concept has finally been fully embraced, but does it truly live up to the amount of hype? Let’s find out!
Since Pokémon has been around for over 25 years, it seems like it would be counterproductive to explain every traditional aspect of the series most of you are probably already familiar with. If you don’t already know about Pokémon type strengths and weaknesses, you’ve probably been living under a rock, so I’ll try to keep this review condensed without any unnecessary filler. As always, Scarlet and Violet are two versions of relatively the same game with a few minute differences. You can check out these well put-together articles from serebii.net here and here for a full list of differences to help decide which game is right for you… or just pick your favorite colour.
Your adventure begins after creating your own Pokémon Trainer from a variety of customization options. It’s your first day at Naranja/Uva Academy, and the school director Mr. Clavell welcomes you by offering a starter Pokémon, either Sprigatito (grass type), Fuecoco (fire type), or Quaxly (water type). Afterwards, you’ll be introduced to Nemona, your friendly rival and Champion-ranked president of the student council. When Nemona proceeds to show you around campus, you will discover the mysterious Pokémon Koraidon/Miraidon, and although you can’t use them in battle at the start, you can ride on them as a quicker mode of transportation. Steering away from spoilers, the story is deep and engaging with a cast of characters that glow with personality. The lack of voice acting makes the dialogue feel a bit lifeless, but I suppose it’s understandable given the amount of lines that would need to be recorded, meaning added development costs. Even still, I hope Nintendo and The Pokémon Company make the investment for the next generation, as it would add a whole new dimension.
As soon as I began exploring the region of Paldea, my expectations were blown out of the water by the sheer size and scope of the open-world. There are so many massive areas filled to the brim with Pokémon to catch, trainers to battle, and badges to earn, and you pretty much can do anything you want in any order. There are Pokémon Centers aplenty to heal your party of six, purchase Poké Balls and healing items, or craft TMs using materials you collect from Pokémon, all from the same location. After visiting a Pokémon Center, you can travel back to it near instantly at any time by using the “Flying Taxi” service found on your always accessible Rotom Phone, a device that holds the world map where waypoints can be set for ease of getting around, and also your very own Pokédex.
There are 400 total Pokémon to find in the Paldea region, 104 of which are brand new. As a collector at heart and someone who owns every single Super Smash Bros. amiibo, the “gotta catch ’em all” mantra has always stuck with me. Completing the Pokédex is my favorite part of every new Pokémon generation, and Scarlet and Violet makes it more fun than ever before. The UI of the catching system is very intuitive, and as always, the more damage dealt in a battle before throwing your Poké Ball results in a greater chance of success. However, that of course runs the risk of accidentally causing your desired Pokémon to faint, which is always a tragedy. A battle begins when you either throw a Poké Ball at a Pokémon or run directly into one, but sneaking up on them is the best strategy, as it provides an advantage by letting you go first in battle. If you can’t remember whether or not you already caught a certain Pokémon, there is a handy indicator when you lock-on that tells you if it’s registered to your Pokédex. I’m glad that gone are the days of random encounters, as those were always frustrating to me.
There are a few different types of Pokémon battles that can be partaken, with the most familiar being Gym Battles; taking on a leader well acquainted with a specific Pokémon type. Before you get to go head-to-head though, you must complete a special challenge to prove your worthiness. Some of these challenges are more difficult than others, but I found each one to at least be enjoyable. As for the Gym Battles themselves, you’ll want to make sure you’re properly prepared before entering the arena, as having the right team of Pokémon will be key to victory. There are eight total gyms, and after defeating them all, you’ll take a Champion Assessment that will grant you the sought after Champion Rank you’ve been working so very hard towards.
A unique kind of Pokémon battle in Scarlet and Violet are Titan Battles, in which there are five to defeat. These battles have you going up against different types of massive Titan Pokémon that are guarding a lair containing a special kind of Herba Mystica. Every Titan Battle you complete will upgrade your ride Pokémon, Koraidon/Miraidon, with abilities to help you travel around, including but not limited to dashing and an increase in jump height. There is a story-arc surrounding this as well, but I’m tip-toeing around it for the sake of spoilers.
Finally, you’re tasked with taking down Team Star, a group of troublemakers split up into five crew bases of different Pokémon types. Before battling the boss of each base, you’ll have to participate in a Star Barrage, a special kind of Pokémon battling that’s much less hands-on. With the use of only three of your Pokémon at a time, you have to defeat a set number of enemies within a certain time limit using Auto Battle, a mechanic where you send out your Pokémon to battle on its own, without the need to tell it which moves to execute. Auto Battle can also be used outside of Star Barrages too, and can come in handy during regular exploration.
The way that battles work are as you’ve come to expect for Pokémon, but with the introduction of a new feature known as Terastallizing, a phenomenon that crystallizes your Pokémon, making them much more powerful. A Tera Type Pokémon is sometimes different from its usual type, so keep that in mind. Once you Terastallize one of your Pokémon in battle, you won’t be able to use the mechanic again until visiting a Pokémon Center and healing up your entire party. Terastallizing adds an interesting level of strategy, and while it’s not always necessary to use, it’ll be important to take advantage of its power during some of the more difficult Pokémon battles you’ll come across.
Multiplayer features have always been a huge part of Pokémon games, and Scarlet and Violet has enough options to satisfy just about every kind of player. Not only can you trade and/or battle Pokémon with other trainers online or through local communication, but Raid Battles from Sword and Shield also make their return…but with a twist. Seeing as the Dynamax mechanic from last generation is no longer present, you will now team up with players to defeat Terastallized Pokémon instead. On top of all this, online co-op is available for up to four players, so you can explore the open-world region of Paldea with friends, a first for the Pokémon series.
Framerate issues and noticeable stuttering are apparent in Scarlet and Violet more often than not, and it’s not the level of quality to be expected from a multi-billion dollar franchise. Within the first few hours of my playthrough, I encountered an abundance of glitches, including but not limited to: shadows being cast underneath textures, objects popping in and out of existence, the camera clipping through the floor, stiff and awkward movements/animations, and a cutscene not triggering when it was supposed to, forcing me to completely restart the game in order to progress. Allegedly, some users have also reported losing their save data after sudden crashes. Thankfully, that never happened to me, but that isn’t to say it’s not some cause for concern.
While some may point to hardware limitations due to the increasingly outdated technology of the Nintendo Switch, that really isn’t a good enough excuse when gorgeous games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are also snug at home on the platform. The Pokémon Company were likely aware of the poor optimization, but opted to release the games to make them available to consumers in time for the holiday season. That’s just speculation, but the decision not to delay Scarlet and Violet seems to have paid off, as it went on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide in just the first three days on the market, making it not only the fastest selling Pokémon generation ever, but the fastest selling platform-exclusive video game of all time.
I’d like to end this review off by properly expressing how much I love, and always will love, the Pokémon series. Any criticism I expressed here is because I want the series to be the very best it ever was, not due to some weird personal vendetta that some may be quick to assume. In fact, although I have my fair share of problems with the games, I’d even go so far as to recommend Scarlet and Violet; especially if Nintendo and Game Freak keep their promise of performance updates to unleash the full potential of these otherwise fantastic Pokémon RPGs.
Scarlet and Violet takes the evolution of the Pokémon series one step forward and two steps back. It excels in providing an excellent open-world gameplay experience, but falls flat on a technical level, feeling more like an alpha build than a final product. Unfortunately, the severe lack of polish and optimization holds Scarlet and Violet back from what very well could have been the best Pokémon generation yet. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have enough enjoyment to make it well worth my time, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus tickled my fancy just a bit more.
A copy of Pokémon Violet was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for the purpose of this review.