Pokémon Scarlet/Violet: Two steps forward, one step back
Is Pokemon declining? The answer is a resounding no.
The holiday season marks the almost yearly release of a new Pokemon title, and this year’s Pokemon Scarlet and Violet did not seem to disappoint; at least when it came to meeting this deadline. The newest entries to the series are an ambitious set of games; with the recent Pokemon Legends Arceus introducing a shift in the series’ formula, fans’ expectations on these generation 9 games were higher than ever. They wanted to see a bunch of things improved from Legends Arceus, and even new things done to the old and tired formula that made Sword and Shield, the previous generation, a rather tepid experience. Did Scarlet and Violet deliver? Well, in my opinion, it delivered in the most important areas.
The most fun Pokemon game since the series’ inception
I know that is a bold claim, but I wholeheartedly believe that Scarlet and Violet breathe life into the series in ways no other mainline entry has done before. From basic exploration and map design, to story progression, battling features, and Pokemon designs, generation 9 refreshes the series formula in many ways and literally creates a sprawling open world where you are free to explore as you please. The game gives you access to the box legendary immediately after completing the tutorial, however they are your mount and serve as the replacement for bikes and HMs. This system allows you to progress through the story in a non-linear manner, and explore the world as you see fit, if you’re willing to take the risks of sometimes coming across a level 50 pokemon with your fledgling team. It echoes the design philosophies of Elden Ring’s open world, where you’re free to go and do as you please with very little interruption or arbitrary locked areas, so long as you have the means to deal with both the environment and the Pokemon that come with it. I personally got lost for hours on end, just exploring and making accidental discoveries and finding hidden items, TMs, and new Pokemon just around every nook and cranny. It was an exhilarating experience just traversing the open world.
Catching, training, and battling all got major quality of life updates as well. They introduced auto battling, where you send out your pokemon in the overworld against another wild pokemon, and they battle that awards you experience and crafting materials. It’s a fast, fun way of grinding experience and resources passively while you’re busy exploring the environment. Training your pokemon is easier with experience candies ranging from XS, S, M, L, and XL scattered throughout the world, incentivizing you to just pick up and level up each new poke that you come across! Personally, I had more than ten team composition switches throughout the 40 hours it took to complete the main story; it was that easy and convenient to onboard and try new additions to your team, and I appreciate that.
Raid battles make a return, this time focusing around the terrastalizing gimmick in the game. You can catch Pokemon with different terra-types that allows you to create unique typing combinations and strategies to circumvent previous weaknesses for your favorite mons! It’s a fun system, both casually and competitively, and I think it isn’t terribly broken either. Overall, I feel that the game takes major steps forward in revitalizing the series’ old design quirks and introduces new ones that I’m hoping stays for the long term.
Fun but unfinished
I wish that I could say that the game wasn’t broken either, but it has its fair share of visual and technical hiccups that might be deal breakers for some, so I must highlight these as well as the good. First, the framerate can be abysmal. I played mostly on handheld, and even on docked, some areas would chug so needlessly that I was wondering if my Switch was dying or not, the textures would load in after seeing them, and lots of pop-in and pop-out is still persistent. These are issues that were already in Sword and Shield, that seemingly got addressed in Legends Arceus, but persist in generation 9; rather disappointing. Graphics are a step down from Legends Arceus as well, with environments not only being laggy but can also be low poly and feels hastily made a lot of the time, even with reuse of assets.
It’s clear that, even with a day one patch as big as 1GB, the game remains rushed and rather unfinished. I believe that the developers really wanted to iron out as many kinks as possible, but alas company deadlines had to be met, and November just couldn’t roll around without a new Pokemon game in people’s hands. I am holding out hope that in the future, they iron out the kinks and make this a truly wonderful Nintendo Switch staple, as well as cementing it as an undeniably positive turning point for the series.