Pokemon Scarlet and Violet on Switch
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet offer some of the best, most fun experiences I’ve had in the series. Unfortunately, there are also several aspects of the game that take a step backward from previous entries. It has plenty of strengths that make it worth playing, but its shortcomings hold it back from reaching excellence.
This ninth generation of Pokemon takes place in Paldea, the first completely open-world region. Other Pokemon titles on the Nintendo Switch have taken bite-sized attempts at an open world (Sword and Shield’s Wild Area and Legends Arceus’s open biomes), but this is the first time you can travel in any direction for the entire game and choose which challenges to take on in whatever order you wish.
The open-world of Paldea works well, and I think it does so because instead of a single storyline to follow, there are three paths to take that break up any potential monotony or forced path. As usual, one of the routes involves the gym challenge to collect eight badges and take on the Pokemon League. This time, the game also includes a separate story regarding the mysterious Titan Pokemon and another following Team Star, a rebellious group of students at your school.
Since you can take on these paths simultaneously, I traveled around the map at my own pace, taking on challenges from each one in the order I thought looked most interesting. If I felt like a challenge was too difficult, I left and came back later. There’s no level scaling, and while that feature might have worked well, I was perfectly fine with returning to the tougher areas later.
When it comes to open-world games, many players worry that the map will be so large it becomes void of interesting content. I didn’t feel that way when playing. Wild Pokemon appear in the overworld as they did in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, so I was always on the lookout for rare species and shinies. There are also plenty of item drops across the map that respawn over time, so even doubling back to an area I had been to before yielded something new.
Another way that Scarlet and Violet took inspiration from Legends: Arceus was by riding on Pokemon to navigate the world. This time, you have the ability to ride on the game’s main legendary from the start of the game. Though it’s limited at first, you can improve your traveling skills throughout one of the story paths, eventually gaining the ability to climb, glide, and more. This kept the game balanced by making it harder to access the more difficult areas of the map before I was ready for them.
The new Pokemon designs in this generation are fantastic. I finally love all three starters when they are fully evolved. Animals that had been highly requested for years now have a Pokemon equivalent, such as a dolphin, a peacock, and a flamingo. Some of the new Pokemon have totally unique ways to evolve that we’ve never seen before.
I’m a fan of Terastalization, this generation’s gimmick in which Pokemon are assigned a Tera Type that can be different than their usual type. The Pokemon can transform into a beautiful crystalized version of themselves (I fondly refer to this as “Bejeweled Mode” or “Swarovski Crystal Mode”), and it really changes the strategy of battles since now a Pokemon can essentially turn into any type, like a Pikachu having a Water Tera Type.
There’s also a new concept called Paradox Pokemon, which are Pokemon based on species from the past (in Scarlet) and future (in Violet)—these special species give new life to old designs, and they tie into the game’s story after all three paths are completed.
Speaking of the story, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have what is probably the best one in the series. Initially, the storylines throughout the three paths are nothing to write home about and are pretty typical of any other Pokemon game: opposing team tries to make your life harder as you collect gym badges to become the champion of the region—we’ve been there, done that plenty of times.
But then the story really kicks off in the game’s ending sequence after all of those other storylines are finished. Without spoiling anything, the final section of the game is absolutely superb, is much more mature than I ever expected it to be, and contains what is easily the most memorable final battle in the history of the series.
The last positive I want to discuss is the game’s multiplayer experience. Given Nintendo’s history with online multiplayer in games, I initially didn’t have high hopes for it in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. But my reservations were proven wrong when I was able to quickly team up with three other friends and play together.
The cool part about the multiplayer experience here is that you can play the entire game independently while in a friend’s world. In other words, I was able to take on a gym challenge while two of my friends teamed up for a Tera Raid battle while the fourth friend was on the other side of the map working on completing his Pokedex. We met up to take selfies, make sandwiches on a picnic, and ride around on our legendary Pokemon together.
Clearly, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have many strengths. But I also need to acknowledge its faults, starting with the Donphan in the room.
The game is ugly. It’s like, really bad.
I miss the soft, stylized graphics from Pokemon Legends: Arceus. The textures in Scarlet and Violet are hard to look at, especially in environments like mountains or fields where it appears to be a single texture repeated in a pattern. The visuals feel rushed and unpolished.
The game suffers from noticeable technical issues, even with the most recent 1.1.0 patch. While I haven’t had anything severely game-breaking, the framerate problems are distracting, the character and Pokemon models can be glitchy, and there were a few instances in which the game software completely crashed.
It’s embarrassing that the game was allowed to be released in this state, and quite frankly, it’s inexcusable. Nintendo’s standards are usually much higher for the games it publishes.
Looking beyond the graphics and technical problems, there are a few other aspects of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet that feel like steps backward for the series.
One notable example is the game’s towns. There’s barely anything to do in them. It’s a shame because visually, their exteriors appear to be quite inspired, but you can’t go into the vast majority of the houses and buildings. The ones you can “go in” just bring up a shop menu, and several towns share the same exact shops with the same exact inventories. I stopped getting excited to find new towns because they were so empty and boring.
I was also let down by the outfit customization. What I had thought was a staple in Pokemon games has been remarkably reduced to the most basic features. You can still buy accessories for your character, like sunglasses and bags, but this time, you’re limited to school uniforms. There are four choices, one for each season, and they are the same options for both genders.
Scarlet players are locked into orange uniforms while Violet players are locked into purple. The uniforms were a constant reminder the entire game that my character is a school student. I missed being able to express my own personality through an outfit, especially when I connected online with my friends and we all looked exactly the same.
Even though I was glad that wild Pokemon are back in the overworld instead of through random encounters, I can’t help but miss the catching mechanic from Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Not including it here was a missed opportunity. In such a large, open world, I felt a bit slowed down by the battles at times. It would have been nice to have the second catching mechanic as an option.
Finally, while I did enjoy all three paths in the game, only one of the storylines has any interesting depth, and it doesn’t come until the very end of the game. I suspect that many players won’t end up completing all three paths to get to the finest part of the overarching story. The pacing could have been much better because it feels like all of the best ideas were saved for the final two hours.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet get a lot of things right, and the gameplay loop is undeniably addictive. It’s a shame that so much of the conversation is going to revolve around its graphical and technical shortcomings; if it weren’t for that, these would be the best main series Pokemon games since HeartGold and SoulSilver on the DS.
It’s so frustrating. The game is fun. I’ll always wish that Game Freak had taken another year or maybe even just a few more months to polish up what drags it down.
But I won’t lie; I plan to spend many more hours in the game completing my Pokedex, challenging Tera Raid battles with my friends online, and hunting for shinies. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet just have some kind of glimmer that still makes it worthwhile enough to overlook the shortcomings.
- Strong story for a Pokemon adventure with a superb ending sequence.
- Open-world model is done well.
- Some of the best Pokemon designs in a long time.
- Three story paths instead of one adds substance to the gameplay.
- Multiplayer actually works well.
- Obvious graphical and technical issues.
- Towns and cities are remarkably boring.
- Outfit customization has taken a big step backwards.
- Catching mechanic from Pokemon Legends: Arceus is gone.