- Solid gameplay mechanics
- Continuing to evolve mainstay mechanics
- Updated textures
- Terastalizing changes up competitive play
- Solid end-game content with more to come
- Poorly optimised
- More bugs and glitches than Pokémon
- No Shiny sound effects
- Missed voice acting opportunities
- Unskippable in-game cut scenes
- Poor texture placements
Nine generations and 1008 Pokémon in, it’s safe to say that the monster-collecting franchise is maintaining its place as the world’s most valuable multimedia intellectual property. From the moment Pokémon launched its multifrontal attack on pop culture, it never went away. There have been calls for developer Game Freak to change the formula of mainline titles in recent years, which they have slowly come around to.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the first attempt by the legendary developer to go open world, with previous attempts at mixing up gameplay never really committing to a bold change. We’ve seen “Let’s Go! Pickachu and Eevee” (2018) change up catching mechanics alongside “Sword and Shield” (2019), dipping its toes into large, controlled environments like the wild area, but nothing signaling a new beginning for Pokémon gameplay.
Paldea holds a true open-world experience that follows Naranja or Uva Academy students taking the independent study assignment, “The Treasure Hunt”. This single task soon splits into three separate narratives for trainers to tackle:
Victory Road: The vanilla Pokémon mainline game experience of hunting down gyms, beating their leaders, and receiving a badge. Collecting all eight badges grants trainers access to the Pokémon League and a chance at becoming a Paldea Champion.
Path of Legends: Discover and defeat Titan Pokémon while uncovering Herba Mystica’s mysteries and regaining certain Pokémons abilities.
Starfall Street: A group of Misfit Students has created outposts throughout Paldea, forming Team Star. Trainers can use multiple Pokémon to take down these outposts, culminating in all-out fights against crew leaders.
Gameplay is the one thing Game Freak tends to nail, with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet as good examples of the Pokémon creators creating solid mechanics. The three main narratives play out side by side, often resulting in trainers needing to hunt down a certain titan to gain an extra ability to reach an area. This may result in trainers needing to take down a Team Star outpost to access their next gym.
Much like “Legends: Arceus” (2022), Koraidon or Miraidon can run, jump, fly and swim through Paldea without needing different Pokémon to do different things.
This is one of many ways a playthrough may roll out, with the change of pace making the experience overall feel somewhat complete. Sick of taking on gyms? Go and find a massive Pokémon and learn how to fly. The gameplay loop is unique as far as Pokémon games go, and it’s a welcome addition.
Veteran trainers will remember the pain of saving a Pokémon team slot for a HM slave to get around the relevant region for the time being. This is well and truly a thing of the past and has been for several games. Scarlet and Violet remedy this by having a Legendary Pokémon as a permanent ride Pokémon solution.
Much like “Legends: Arceus” (2022), Koraidon or Miraidon can run, jump, fly and swim through Paldea without needing different Pokémon to do different things. It’s a bold move by Game Freak that pays off, making Paldea a joy to explore. If trainers can see it, they can climb or fly off it whilst being rewarded with an item or Pokémon or find one of the game’s hidden surprises.
Rewarding For Every Type Of Trainer
The best part of playing Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is that none of the mechanics or exploration feels like a chore. There’s something for every kind of trainer here, from item hunting to catching one of the vanilla games’ 400 Pokémon. This is likely to increase in the future as Pokémon HOME compatibility rolls out and downloadable content releases.
Terastalising is the new gimmick for Scarlet and Violet, allowing playing to transform their Pokémon with buffed stats and a Tera-Typing. This has turned battling on its head thanks to all Pokémon being able to have any typing they want whilst Terastalised. This can’t be changed on the fly but after collecting 50 Tera Shards of the desired type and going to a specific NPC to change it. It works well and it’s another fresh take on the standard Pokémon gameplay mechanics.
The post-game is also solid, with players being able to compete in high-level tournaments, hunt down legendaries, complete the Pokédex, and much more. These post-game events and challenges never feel out of reach but provide a good challenge to round out a trainer’s playthrough.
Scarlet and Violet has altered how Pokémon Breeding works. Players simply need to have both applicable Pokémon in their party and set up a picnic.
Any dropped eggs will appear in the picnic basket, cutting the standard daycare time and letting trainers crack on with hatching and building said Pokémon up.
Collecting 999 Gimmighoul coins to evolve one into the coveted 1000th Pokémon Gholdengo would be a good example. It’s not soul-destroying like finding Korok Seeds in “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (2017) thanks to Gimmighoul chest forms being located in easy-to-spot watchtowers and cliff faces throughout Paldea. This form gives out 40-60 coins at a time, with the Roaming Forms of Gimmighoul being harder to find and giving out a couple of coins.
It’s manageable, achievable, and fun to hunt them down. It feels like mechanics such as this were implemented to make trainers explore every inch of Paldea, and it’s another string to Scarlet and Violet’s bow.
Except for making trainers walk around a large open area toward the end of the game, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have great pacing and plenty to do without it feeling overwhelming for trainers. Something a lot of open-world RPGs don’t nail down in today’s industry. The one thing that really needs fixing at the time of writing is Tera Raid battles. Health Bars of opposing Pokémon don’t display accurately, with six and seven-star raids randomly generating more health without updating the health bar, which is frustrating. Whilst the offline/online feature isn’t broken, it lacks polish and should be addressed in future updates.
On a lighter note, Game Freak is improving it’s mainstay mechanics with every generation. Scarlet and Violet has altered how Pokémon Breeding works. Players simply need to have both applicable Pokémon in their party and set up a picnic. Any dropped eggs will appear in the picnic basket, cutting the standard daycare time and letting trainers crack on with hatching and building said Pokémon up.
Someone Forgot To Pay The Voice Actors
Unfortunately, the move to full open-world gameplay hasn’t prompted Game Freak to get any voice acting done. Breath of the Wild is a perfect example of how to include voice acting in a game without moving away from a series roots of having a silent protagonist. It truly is a missed opportunity, with a certain rapping Gym Leader feeling like an awkward blasting of ridiculous dialogue.
The soundtrack is a weird one this time around. More recent Pokémon soundtracks go for the nation its region takes inspiration from, with Alola from Sun/Ultra Sun and Moon/Ultra Moon (2016/2017) being a Poké-Hawaii, for example. We’re hearing something a bit different this time around.
It seems Game Freak has ignored the theme of the land for now and concentrated on a solid soundtrack that works for the game’s theme. When Pokémon Terastalise for example, the soundtrack features crowd singing and chanting that is ripped straight out of the Sword and Shield (2019) playbook. It’s not necessarily a problem, but it’s a bit jarring for long-time Pokémon trainers, especially when hearing oriental instruments and pacing when uncovering certain Pokémon. Perhaps this is a clue for the highly anticipated DLC?
Effects wise it’s as immersive as ever. Menus bleep and blop, Pokémon moves sound crisp and defined, and traversing around Paldea sounds authentic. Whilst the sound design works for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, it would have been nice for Shiny Pokémon sounds to return from Galar, certainly from an accessibility point of view. Shinies can be spotted in the wild, but not everyone can see a full spectrum of colors. Also, let’s face it, some color changes aren’t exactly creative.
The Big Let Down
It’s no secret that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are poorly optimized out of the box. Whilst downloadable updates can fix performance issues and bugs, a highly anticipated game such as Scarlet and Violet shouldn’t launch in a state like this. It’s playable, but there are certain scenarios where frame rates drop below what’s playable.
Towns and built-up areas are the worst culprits, with frames dropping well below 20 which we would conifer as a worst-case scenario. This puts trainers off exploring the towns and cities of Paldea as it’s a chore getting in and out of them.
We’ve also experienced the odd collision issue, with trainers falling through the side of rock faces where they join onto the floor for example. There’s a common glitch when trainers are in Pokémon battles with the camera at a low angle. Trainers can literally see under the floor and the geometry in place underneath alongside plenty of Pokéball developer placeholders knocking around.
Whilst on the subject of appearance, Pokémon and NPC models have had a major overhaul. Making the jump from anime-style toy texture to realistic furs, scales and materials, Pokémon is beginning to feel like a lived-in world. The issue is implementation; rock faces for example have detailed textures, but the mapping is terrible. Using a small tile followed by going ham on Ctrl+V isn’t a good look and can sometimes break immersion.
One of the big features of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is exploring Paldea online with up to three other friends. This isn’t a great way to play thanks to the unpolished state the games are in right now. Frame rates and performance takes a big dip just with two trainers. The situation worsens with more trainers joining the team, which is disappointing.
Whilst there’s an option to skip cut scenes in the option menu, this option only skips pre-rendered cinematics and doesn’t allow the skipping of in-engine cut-scenes. These are the scenes trainers will likely want to skip and can become a bit of a time sink at times.
At the time of writing, Game Freak has confirmed patch 1.03 will drop at the end of February 2023 to address bugs and fixes. Whilst this is great news, waiting nearly four months for a first bug fix patch isn’t acceptable. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are indeed playable, but right now it’s at its best playing in single-player mode and making sure the game is saved on a Nintendo Switch’s onboard storage instead of on a Micro SD card.
A Promising Work In Progress
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet represent multiple steps in the right direction with equal trips and falls. Whilst it implements some fantastic gameplay mechanics and provides one of the best narratives in years, it needed more time and polish. It’s a must-play with a patch on the way, so let’s hope Game Freak gets some development help next time.