When Pokémon Scarlet and Violet were announced at the early part of this year for a holiday 2022 release, people were floored. That announcement came literally weeks after the release of Pokémon Legends Arceus, and there was no reason to believe it could come out before the end of the year, especially with everything the game promised content-wise. Well, for better or for worse, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company pulled it off.
What Is It?
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the latest entries in the mainline Pokémon franchise, representing the its 9th generation of iterations dating back to its original (North American) Game Boy release in 1998. Scarlet and Violet mark the second time an original mainline entry has released on the Nintendo Switch, succeeding 2019’s Pokémon Sword and Shield.
Plenty of fans have expressed confusion about why The Pokémon Company has released this new adventure so soon after the last one, but it’s worth noting that the mainline Pokémon games have sort of been following at least a three-year cadence between releases–at least dating back to Generation VI with Pokémon X and Y on the 3DS, so it’s right on time when looking at it that way.
Why Should I Care?
Scarlet and Violet‘s claim to fame is the fact that it’s the first open world Pokémon game in the series. Some might think Pokémon Legends Arceus deserve that distinction, but while that game separated the places to explore into zones you picked from a menu, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet actually represent a truly open world experience. Of course, being a Pokémon game means it’s aimed at children, and whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a perennial Pokémon Master, players will have to fall victim to its introductory handholding for at least an hour, but it’s mostly smooth sailing once you get beyond that. Hopefully.
At its core, it’s the same song and dance. You’re a kid born into the world of Pokémon, and you’re given an option of three starting Pokémon to begin your journey with in the new Paldea region. The curve ball here is that the series sort of takes a Persona or Fire Emblem: Three Houses turn by having your primary role in the game be as a student in the Naranja (in Scarlet) or Uva (in Violet) Academy. During this time of year, students take part in an annual “treasure hunt” where students are encouraged to find something they treasure by exploring the region with their Pokémon. From here, the player has the option of getting their journey started (if you know what you’re doing) or taking part in some of the school’s lessons and sidequests, but in all honesty, none of the latter is actually important.
This is where the game opens up. You have the entire Paldea region at your fingertips, and you have three main quests to take part in–Victory Road, which is about getting all eight gym badges and challenging the Elite Four to become the champion (traditional Pokémon fare); Starfall Street, which has the player infiltrating various bases operated by Team Star (sort of the antagonists in the story) to help some shy classmate; and Path of Legends, sort of a research journey where you help out a fellow student as he learns about the mysterious “Titan Pokémon” all while helping a legendary Pokémon you find at the beginning of the game.
You can do any of the objectives from either of those main quests in absolutely any order, and all points of interest are marked on your map. Like Pokémon Legends Arceus, all wild Pokémon are out in the open, and you can choose to battle or catch whatever you see out there, and you’ll earn experience doing whatever you want. When I first started, I ventured out to every Pokémon Center I saw so I could mark them as quick travel places for later, and whenever I saw items (marked by a beam of light) or a Pokémon I wanted to catch, I just ran over there and did whatever I wanted. Having all this freedom in Pokémon is an awesome experience.
Making journeying more fun and accessible are the abilities you have because of your legendary friend Koraidon (Scarlet) or Miraidon (Violet). As you finish objects in the Path of Legends, these partner Pokémon gain abilities to enhance your exploration arsenal. At first, you’ll only be able to ride on Koraidon or Miraidon’s back, but eventually, they’ll be able to swim, glide short distances, and hover for a period of time. This should all sound familiar to those that played Legends Arceus, as it’s the same idea.
As awesome as it is to finally have an open world Pokémon at the palm of our hands, the action does get bogged down by poor performance that seems to be a result of both the game feeling rushed as well as the Switch being underpowered. Sure, this is a Pokémon game, but don’t let the kiddy look fool you–this game’s open world environments are quite active, sometimes too active. When you come across a trainer battle or even one with an active Pokémon in the open world area, you’ll often see some other wild Pokémon just continue to run around. This is because unlike the older Pokémon games, everything is happening at the same time, yet it’s all just there to distract you. So if you want to battle a Pikachu near a cliff next to some Digletts, you’ll definitely fight the Pikachu, but you’ll see the Digletts move around for no reason rent free as you’re engaged in battle. None of that has to be there, as it’s pretty distracting and takes away from the battle experience.
Speaking of the battle experience, while it’s cool to have various features streamlined such as using the X button to go through your PokéBalls instead of going to your items first, the fact that you have to go through every single Pokémon animation really bogs down the experience. Sometimes, you just want start a battle, kill, and move on, but it’s harder to do that when you’re forced to watch Fury Attack over and over. So while Scarlet and Violet make a lot of quality of life improvements, there’s still some stuff in there that’ll make you scratch your head.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
This is a really hard question to answer, because by most meaningful accounts, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are probably the best and most accessible games in the series, and it’s easily the most fun I’ve had with a Pokémon game since Generation II. That’s right; it’s been over 20 years since a Pokémon game has been the good, but that’s where the reality comes in: It’s marred by its technical issues.
The game is absolutely fantastic but hampered down by issues that are too inconsistent. I’m one of the apparently few players that had no issues with crashing, while a lot of other people I’ve spoken to have had their game crash at least eight times, and we don’t know if Nintendo is actually going to do anything about it. If garbage frame rate, jaggies, and terrible draw distance keep you from enjoying the game, then this is probably a game you’ll want to ignore until Nintendo decides to do something about it. But if you don’t mind what often looks like stop motion animation, painful jaggies, and just weird polygonal issues, you’ll find a Pokémon game that’s generationally unrivaled, which is a big statement in its own right.