Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review – The Treasure Hunt We’ve All Been Waiting For

The newest installment from Game Freak is a mismatch of promise, potential, and imperfection.

by Kara Phillips

From the initial announcement of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, an air of excitement has resonated among new and old trainers. The concept of an open-world Pokemon game was something childhood Trainers had been dreaming of since their first starter selection. Having that almost tangible was an apparent reason to get excited. If the Pokemon logo on a new product wasn’t exciting enough, a new concept for such a household name had players rejoicing. 

However, alongside the excitement came an air of skepticism. Although the launch remained highly anticipated, there was a concern among most trainers. Most trailers showcased new and exciting features for players to look forward to, introducing us to a case of lovable critters and gently promoting a new region to inspire adventure. However, the appearance was slightly lackluster on occasion. Windmills turned at a static stop-motion pace, and the movement animation seemed less than fluid, but there was still room for improvement before release day. But were the necessary changes made?

The popularity of The Pokemon Company means that regardless of the quality or content of a game, it will be played, and most of all — it will be talked about. The promise of a new region seemed like a breath of fresh air from Hisui, Galar, and the re-release of Sinnoh, and Paldea is one that we were all keen to explore. Within the confines of its Spain-inspired map, a whole new adventure would present itself to trainers old and new, and the amount of expectations players had going off the trailers meant there were some big boots to fill.

A New Twist on an Old Story

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Pokemon Scarlet and Violet take the formula of Pokemon games we have known and loved for the last few decades and completely turn it onto its head. Instead of being restricted to a single linear story which many may believe has grown stagnant and repetitive over the years — facing eight gym leaders before becoming the Pokemon Champion and inevitably taking down the bad guys along the way — your main aim is to discover what you love about the franchise. So whether you’d prefer to focus on battle, research, or becoming a champion, the world is your Cloyster.

Each path you can take, be it Path of Legends, Starfall Street, or the classic formula of Victory Road, is filled with a unique identity to separate it from the others. Although Victory Road and Path of Legends have a more robust stream of content to sink your teeth into, Starfall Street is one of the purest and most memorable teams of “bad guys” we have experienced. As a result, there’s a huge encouragement to invest yourself in each storyline, and the characters you meet make it significantly easier.

At first, there was a lot of skepticism about how this game could pull off three storylines without the majority lacking in detail, but you rapidly become engrossed in each. Between the rich content, memorable characters, and remarkably emotional and unvisited mature themes for a Pokemon title, Scarlet and Violet encourage players to pour hours into finding their treasureEach time you face a titan, a gym leader, or a Team Star Boss, you’re reminded of what exactly you’re fighting for, making it incredibly hard to put the game down and helping you completely disregard the majority of its jittery performance.

An Open World with Linear Restrictions

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One of my main issues with following these three storylines was the lack of level scaling alongside each battle. Although the beginning of the game promotes a self-directed adventure, there is a significant emphasis on following the correct pattern. You are, of course, free to face the enemies in whichever order you like, but you’ll need to be at a certain level for things to work. The same can be said for encountering wild Pokemon that don’t level alongside your progression. So, you are free to explore Glaseado Mountain from the moment you’re sent on your treasure hunt, but there’s a strong chance you won’t get anything done until you’re nearly ready to face the Elite 4.

The lack of scaling undeniably shatters the illusion of an open-world self-directed exploration while you follow your chosen storyline. However, when it comes to post-game exploring, Paradox Pokemon, and Pokedex bulking, the open-world nature of the experience is embraced with open arms. In a way, it’s hard to expect a Pokemon game that is so devoted to leveling to stray from its traditional, one-after-another battle approach.

An Adventure to Be Shared

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Regardless of the juxtaposing linear open-world progression, as expected, the game is filled with a cast of lovable, charismatic characters to accompany your adventure. In several instances, the dialogue made me audibly chuckle, and characters like Clive left you with a smug look until the very end. It’s easy to say that the characters within the Paldea region are some of the strongest personalities within the entire Pokemon franchise. Even before you know the ins and outs of Team Star, they are an intriguing and charismatic bunch to face.

Alongside an interesting representation of personality, I’d suggest that the appearance of characters is potentially the strongest of the franchise. Aside from colorful and instantly recognizable character design and costume, the animations accompanying each battle sequence ooze with individuality. From Rika spinning with the force of her throw to Larry nonchalantly tossing some of his strongest Pokemon onto the field, each character has their personality injected into even the most subtle animations. In a way, it feels like the energy lost in designing the environment was poured into character creation, and most of the time, it’s not something you can turn your nose up to.

Outside of the in-game characters to accompany your adventure, the introduction of co-op is an enjoyable addition to the franchise, and being able to explore the region alongside some friends adds to the community-building nature of the game. Rather than focusing on becoming the best trainer or taking down the big guys, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feel like the rekindling of community for a franchise so well-loved by all ages. It drops the title’s competitive nature and builds a sense of friendship between real-world and in-game characters unseen by a prior title. 

Let’s Talk About the Donphan in the Room

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But one, if not the only, gripe Trainers alike have had with the title is how it plays. There’s no denying that there are some serious bugs, lag, and frame rate issues throughout the entire adventure, and while, at first, this feels detrimental to gameplay, if you sit with the title for long enough, it becomes part of the experience. Also, of course, jumping on the back of a legendary to be greeted with what feels like a stop-motion animation rather than a single fluid motion is jarring, but if it were that disastrous, the title wouldn’t have nearly the same replayability as it does. 

It’s unfair to blame the hardware for a prevalent issue across prior Pokemon releases. While games like The Witcher: Wild Hunt and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 seem to play with next to no problems, Pokemon Legends: Arceus faces input lag, and the appearance of Sword and Shield is far from inspiring. Regardless, thousands of players still sat for hours to complete their experience with every Pokemon title, so Game Freak must be doing something right. 

But, the presentation and playability of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is an evident, half-baked effort from Game Freak, which massively lets the title down. During my time with Paldea, I faced issues toward the minimal end of the scale while other players fell through the map or watched their Pokemon slowly descend into nothingness, but that’s not to say it didn’t affect my initial enjoyment. 

As for the environment and general visuals within the game, there are certainly some elements of laziness that shine through. For example, textures feel stretched across landscapes, evident as you run toward a hill, and the ground beneath your feet appears to breathe. Likewise, there’s no use commenting on the appearance of trees, as I think the entire Pokemon fanbase has something to say about that. But you can’t deny that exploring the various landscapes, such as the rocky environment of the Southern Province to the peaks of Glasrsdo Mountain, isn’t fun. Sure, things are choppy, and environments could do with a little more attention, but there’s still something incredibly gripping about wandering among the lives of Pokemon, which keeps you coming back. 

But What Does it Mean for New Players? 

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An adventure through the Paldean Region may be the first experience many Trainers have with the franchise. Unfortunately, from the perspective of someone who has been insatiably obsessed with Pokemon since I was old enough to fawn over cute characters, I can see that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet plays more into nostalgia than it does being accessible for new players. Sure, since it’s an all-new take on the franchise, you’d think more people would be able to pick it up and gel with the storylines and characters, but there are a few too many nods to previous games and a lot of assumptions that you immediately know what you’re doing, to make it entirely accessible.

If you don’t have a history with the Pokemon franchise, the performance is the thing that will prevent you from picking up the next game. It’s hard to recommend new players pick up the title when everything feels remarkably unfinished, which is why it doesn’t feel as accessible as games like Diamond and Pearl or Heart Gold and Soul Silver do. In a way, you almost have to pre-emptively warn them that it’s not the greatest appearance-wise, but the story and general experience are worthwhile. At a time when graphics are so realistic, it’s almost like you can reach through your screen and grab characters or elements of environments, it just doesn’t take the biscuit.

That being said, there is an element of new-player bewilderment from even veteran Pokemon Trainers when you step foot into the title. Since every mechanic feels new, alongside a new generation of monsters and a new region, every knowledge you carry across from your experience with previous games is essentially void. Of course, you’ll still have the upper hand in trainer battles through type matchups. In addition, you’ll probably know how to evolve most Pokemon without the help of evolution guides or in-game hints. Still, you will be experiencing the game the same way as entirely new players, which is something pretty special. It’s almost impossible to receive the opportunity to experience something as expansive as Pokemon for the first time, a second time, which Scarlet and Violet somehow manage to achieve.

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The Verdict

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is an audacious experiment toward the franchise’s future and hosts a lot of potential to grow into something that changes everything we know about Pokemon for the better. It has a lot of issues in performance which could do with some tender love and care, but that doesn’t stray from the fact it’s a solid, wholesome Pokemon game down to its core. It welcomes players with open arms and introduces us to a cast of characters who are diverse and individual rather than run-of-the-mill carbon copies of previous games. It carves a unique identity through its content, alongside its numerous bugs, and even though it’s far from perfect, it’s hard to imply it’s not an enjoyable experience.

There is a lot that needs to be done to improve the Quality of Life aspect of the game, which takes away from the full enjoyment, but if Game Freak takes every positive from Scarlet and Violet and builds upon it to create the Breath of the Wild-like Pokemon game Trainers have been desperate for, patching out the issues along the way rather than releasing an almost half-baked effort, then there could be a bright future for Pokemon. Of course, there needs to be a lot of attention to detail before we get there, and maybe Game Freak should listen to their audience before releasing the next title.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are available on Nintendo Switch. 

- This article was updated on November 30th, 2022

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  • Score: 3 / 5
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch
  • Published By: Nintendo
  • Developed By: Game Freak
  • Genre: Adventure RPG
  • US Release Date: November 18, 2022
  • Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
  • Quote: "Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is an audacious experiment toward the franchise's future and hosts a lot of potential to grow into something that changes everything we know about Pokemon for the better. It has a lot of issues in performance which could do with some tender love and care, but that doesn't stray from the fact it's a solid, wholesome Pokemon game down to its core."
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