Pokémon Scarlet & Violet: Is The Series Great Again?

The Pokémon series has suffered ever since its transition to the 3DS. With the exception of some spinoffs, opinions have gotten more and more divisive. It wasn’t until January 2022 when the series was saved by Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It changed a lot of mechanics while maintaining the franchise’s core philosophy: gotta catch ‘em all! It also has a decently seamless open-world design, and rudimentary JRPG mechanics that lay the groundwork for greatness. In that same year, GameFreak—in that classic Japanese overworkiness—had already released a new generation: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. This is an important installment for the series, for it will ultimately cement whether or not Pokémon as a whole is great again, or if Arceus was a fluke. I decided to play Pokémon Scarlet, since I realized I’ve played the latter installments of dual Pokémon games way too often.

In Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, you sign up for the prestigious Naranja Academy. Time to catch Pokémon and make some friends, such as a mysterious red/purple dinosaur that possesses superhuman strength. Oh, and go to school.

I don’t mean to go critical right off the bat, but… I really don’t like the school theme in these games. While it’s neat that the Pokémon school has a real purpose for once, it’s the exact antithesis of what you’d want in an open world game, which emphasizes freedom. For a Persona-like Pokémon spin-off, school would work, but not here. In fact, the school seems like an afterthought, since as soon as you get there, they skip months of in-game time just so their workaround for the school setting in the open world game kicks in: the Treasure Hunt. This is an independent study where all students leave school and do literally whatever they want, as long as it leads to them finding their true calling. It’s a cool idea, but it would’ve been just as good of an idea to have your character think there must be more to this provincial life, and heads out into the great wide somewhere. Unfortunately, in order to be able to keep playing after you beat it, your character never finds their “treasure”, meaning that you’re to be left an empty shell after all that transpires.

Fortunately, if there’s a good side of the story, it’s that of the antagonists in Team Star. Instead of a criminal organization, you have a group of students who were just misunderstood. They are perhaps the most relatable Team in the entire Pokémon series. The other thing that stands out is having the box-art Legendary—Koraidon/[Insert Boxart Legendary from Violet Here]—as a permanent traveling companion. This sandwich-guzzling fiend is just cool, whatever it is. Although there aren’t many scenes where you interact with it, this is still perhaps the most intimate relationship that the player can ever forge with a Pokémon.

The characters in Pokémon have been getting better… right? Well, it’s kind of hit-or-miss this time. The teachers at the school are pretty great, although a lot of your interactions with them are entirely optional. Your rival, Nemona, is… alright. They definitely gave up on making your rivals jerks, but this time, her quirk is an obsession with battling. There is a whole backstory with her (that you don’t get until after beating the game), but I don’t believe it justifies her addiction with beating people up. This dude named Arven is pretty cool; he has a heartwarming story where he wants to find legendary herbs to cure his dog. The headmaster of Naranja, Clavell… I mean, he’s okay, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Clive, who aids you in your battles with Team Star. Clive is just the coolest, and I’m not at all doing a bit to pretend that I don’t know that he’s obviously Clavell in disguise, because he’s not. He’s Clive. 

Unfortunately, that’s about it for positives. Everyone else has been more dumbed down than ever, which stinks because their character designs are up to snuff as usual. The Professor, Sada, is just someone who phones in on you every so often regarding one of the major questlines, and that’s about it for a while. The Gym Leaders, due to structuring mechanics, have been downgraded once more. You don’t even see them outside the Gym, not once, which sucks because a lot of them are actually really good going off of what little you see of them. I mean—come on—one of them might as well be the famous V-tuber Gawr Gura!

Before we get to gameplay, I must address the one thing that GameFreak will clearly never learn: graphics. Man… they cannot make good environments! There’s numerous bad textures, lag, pop-ins, and whatnot. What’s worse is that character animations have taken a step back as well; almost to PS1-era jank. Movements are stiff and awkward, plus the textures are even inconsistent. While important characters look fine enough, a lot of NPCs have bad textures and pudgy fingers that look like they’re from two console generations ago. GameFreak needs to learn from Nintendo and Platinum Games, who have made beautiful games using the Switch’s inferior hardware. At least the Pokémon themselves still look good. Heck, the crystal texture from the Terastallize ability is straight-up gorgeous. If they can make something like that, then why can’t they follow through with everything else?

Fortunately, Scarlet and Violet are so damn amazing and addictive that you probably won’t notice the bad graphics for too long. Right off the bat, there are more quality-of-life improvements than ever. The U.I. is easy, the map has SO many details, nicknames can be changed at any time from the Pokémon menu, moves can be freely relearned from that same menu, and battles are even faster than ever. Pokémon Centers are just kiosks now, meaning no more loading zones just to heal or shop. However, the biggest, most important improvement of all is… THAT THEY FINALLY GOT RID OF THE TEN MINUTE POKÉBALL TUTORIAL! NOW IT’S JUST TWO TEXT BOXES THAT TAKE THIRTY SECONDS TO READ!

Of course, the elephant in the room with Scarlet & Violet is its full open-world map. While I bet there’ll be a lot of memes along the lines of “Is this Pokélder Scrolls?”, the region of Paldea doesn’t quite hold a candle to its open world contemporaries, especially Breath of the Wild. However, Paldea is easily the best region that the Pokémon series has ever had in and of itself. There’s tons of slopes, ledges, bodies of water… it only took three years for GameFreak to finally do it right! It’s a truly beautiful world… well, it would be if they understood the hardware, but you know what I mean.

There is a LOT to do in Paldea. For starters, there’s Pokémon, Trainers, and loot pretty much everywhere. There are also hidden Gimmighouls who give you their coins (that are really important for a specific purpose). Most importantly, however, are the three major quest lines. You not only have the classic Gym challenge, but you also have the five Titan Pokémon and the five admins of Team Star. It’s a lot, but for the first time, they can be tackled in any order.

Towns are the best they have ever been, at least in a long time. Each has unique characteristics, and thoughtful designs that make them feel live-in-able. I was concerned with them at first, since the early ones didn’t have good shop variety outside of food (which is a whole other thing). Fortunately, the later towns start having really powerful shops; you’ll be able to buy competitive hold items and even Nature-changing Mints, which you would otherwise have to grind BP. Unfortunately, they have something I really am torn on: Gym Tests. Instead of a puzzle room with Trainers, each town with a Gym essentially has the town become the Gym. It’s a cool idea, but I feel like some of them are just padding. 

The Team Star bases kind of suck, gameplay-wise. Basically, you assemble three Pokémon with an advantage over the Type that Squad uses, then mash R. It can only be hard if you don’t have an advantage, but they give you tons of time to defeat enough enemies. I can appreciate the streamlined process, but it still feels like a waste of time when there is almost no chance of failure. The boss fights themselves are great, at least.

The Titan Pokémon are the most straightforward. You go to their location and fight them twice, that’s it. The second time is fun because Arven assists with a friend of his own. Your reward for each is a new field ability for your steed. Unfortunately, the Titans don’t show their level, meaning if you get bodied by one, there’s no way to gauge if it was your fault or if it was just too strong.

Battling Pokémon is easier than ever. In addition to touching them in the overworld, Arceus mechanics return in full force. You can hide in the grass, and throw your lead Pokémon’s Pokéball to engage in battle. Also, like in Arceus, you can strike Pokémons’ backsides to give yourself a free turn. Do you not even want to bother fighting but still want XP? Simple! Just press R to send your lead Pokémon on a murder spree, where it’ll instantly destroy any opposition in its way, provided that it has the proper advantages. 

Unfortunately, TMs have been nerfed. They’re all back to being single-use again! That means doing an entire playthrough all over again just to teach a Pokémon Earthquake—Psyche! TMs are consumables, but they are REALLY easy to come by. They are lying just about everywhere in the world, and Pokémon also drop materials with which to make more. You can track up to five TMs whose materials you need.

In battle, everything is pretty much the same. Well, except for the latest gimmick: Terastallizing. Aesthetically, I love it. Pokémon become crystal, and it looks really pretty; like they’re unleashing their inner Magical Girl. Mechanically, it might actually be my new favorite gimmick; it’s not too broken, but can turn the tide if used wisely. Basically, what it does is change the Pokémon to its Tera Type, and give a STAB bonus much bigger than regular STAB. This is a meta mechanic for numerous reasons, such as changing the Pokémon’s type to something completely different in some cases. Also, all Tera Types are pure Types, meaning that this state can potentially erase a Pokémon’s quad-weaknesses. Just have fun building a competitive team around this, because the mechanic to change a Pokémon’s Tera Type requires farming for an obnoxious amount of Tera Shards.

Tera Raid Battles are also a big improvement over the Dynamax ones. The A.I. for people who have no friends is more competent, and the fights themselves are faster. There is no limit to Pokémon that can faint, but it does run down the time limit, which is not a limit on turns taken, but a literal clock that trickles away in real time. These battles encourage fast and smart plays, and the faster pacing complements this a lot. Unfortunately, they are kind of buggy, at least solo. Stuff happens so fast that the game can’t seem to keep up with it; sometimes a fainted Pokémon will continue to act, or it will faint while it still has health left. Still works better than Skyrim, at least.

My biggest concern with the transition to open world was that Scarlet & Violet would be a repeat of Gold & Silver: abysmal level scaling to account for doing things in any order because apparently programming enemies to grow dynamically with the player is impossible (obvious sarcasm there). Does that actually happen? Well… sadly… kind of. There is a clear recommended order to do things in, and as a result, your journey will be all over the place, with difficulty being anywhere from really challenging to a mind-numbingly easy victory. Nuzlockes are a must if you want actual difficulty, maybe even hardcore nuzlockes since the games give you so many free items in the overworld—including Ethers and Elixirs! However, that would of course ruin the sense of discovery in a new generation of Pokémon. Additionally, nuzlockes can be unfair, since unwittingly running into something above your pay grade will cut your run short, and you have to start the whole game all over again. I thought that asking Nurse Joy for advice would clue you in on the intended path, but she seems to recommend random events, regardless of if you’re actually capable of taking it on or not. The descriptions of some of these objectives can give you hints on the pathing, but the key word is “some”. It doesn’t help that the actual intended path makes absolutely no sense from a game design standpoint. Boy, I’m sure doing a good job making these games look appealing, aren’t I?

Well, I might as well commit. Furthermore, the cooking mechanic is worse than ever. I feel like they become more excessive and complicated with each Generation. On the positive side, the minigame is fun. You basically have to painstakingly build a sandwich piece-by-piece with the added challenge of no drop shadow. However, the foods themselves are where it gets excessive. There are hundreds of sandwiches, among other cuisines, sold at the many, MANY eateries and food carts throughout the world. The buffs from them apply to specific Pokémon Types, making each buff situational. The real kicker is that every item has several buffs and they’re distributed across the foods like a hodge-podge with no rhyme nor reason. While you don’t need these at all unless you want to min-max, it’s still sad that cooking in Pokémon has never once felt practical for core gameplay. There is also a washing mechanic for when Pokémon get dirty. However, I had no idea about this mechanic for the vast majority of the game, and when I used it for the first time, none of my party actually looked dirty. What doesn’t help is that some Pokémon don’t even want a bath at all, and there’s no way of knowing which ones that applies to!

Also, when I said that the school felt like an afterthought, I meant it. Although, that’s definitely because I’m biased against all school-based mechanics in videogames. Unfortunately, taking every single class is actually worth it. All you have to do is answer various quiz questions, and you get rewards for passing each class’ exams. The classes actually give you good hints on game mechanics (especially if you’re not a Pokémon veteran), plus the history class actually helps with foreshadowing and worldbuilding. Speaking of building, you can also build your relationship with teachers through special events (indicated by an exclamation mark over their rooms), thus allowing you to… fuse higher-ranked Personas? Well, you do get various rewards for seeing these events through to the end, and more time with the teachers whom I praise so much is definitely a good thing.

If there’s one thing that’s both a blessing and a curse, it’s that they have a really good selection of new Pokémon. I ended up shuffling my team a lot in my playthrough—mainly because I didn’t plan on replaying either of the games in the near future if at all—but also because a lot of the Pokémon are really good. They have great designs and work well in battle. Also, one other collectible in the overworld consists of thirty-two black stakes. They come in four sets of eight, and finding all of a set awards you with a Legendary Pokémon. That’s FOUR Legendaries that you can obtain before the credits roll!

However, there is one Pokémon in my playthrough whom I ended up feeling at odds with. So, spoiler warning for a whopping one Pokémon that was probably announced or showed off in the leak: Toedscool and Toedscruel. This is a Ground-Grass regional variant of the Tentacool family. Toedscruel is really fast and boasts the same great special defense as Tentacruel. It also learns Spore. However, its ability is what makes it really awkward as a team member: Mycelium Might. This ability gives it minus priority when using status moves, but those moves ignore abilities. This sounds great, but I feel like there are almost no situations where this works out in its favor. It doesn’t ignore Safeguard nor Misty Terrain since those aren’t Abilities, and I presume it won’t work when Uproar is in effect for the same reason. I also used Spore on a Pokémon with Vital Spirit. While the move successfully puts it to sleep, I learned that Vital Spirit also checks if the Pokémon is somehow put to sleep anyway, and thus makes it wake up immediately after the turn ends. The minus priority also means that Toedscruel’s opponent can attack, and potentially one-shot it since it’s physically squishy (quad weakness to Ice doesn’t help either). As a Spore user, it’s still great for catching Legendaries, but Mycelium Might is too situational for the minus priority to feel like a good trade-off. Who knows, maybe Chuggaaconroy will prove me wrong when he plays through these games on his channel in ten years.

In any case, another plus with the newcomers is that I feel like their evolutionary conditions aren’t as BS as Galar. I remember having to look up almost all of the evolution conditions for Sword and Shield. This time, however, I only looked up a few, and those cases were actually ones where I was doing the right thing but I just didn’t do it enough times. Most of them evolve from level up, and pretty early too. Unlike the usual throwaway early game Pokémon, a lot of these very quick evolutions are really good, including the new Wooper’s evolution. The only late boomer is—as tradition—the new Pseudo-Legendary. Fortunately, it’s no Hydreigon (and I hope nothing ever will be).

I always have to discuss the post-game last, because—well—it’s the last part of the game, and the post-game content of Pokémon is always VERY important. You start by fighting every Gym again (without having to take another test, thankfully), and they’re way harder. After that, you can unlock a boss gauntlet that refreshes daily. Once this is unlocked, beating enough 5-star difficulty Tera Raid battles will unlock EXTRA difficult battles indicated by black crystals; you WILL need a team of four human, M.L.G. gamers to take these on.. You can also catch a second instance of the box-art Legendary, which mainly serves to trade to someone who owns the other game and help complete each other’s Pokedexes.

Hey, that’s a perfect time to complain about Gen 9 not being Arceus! You don’t get the other box-art Legendary, you don’t get the other two Starters, you don’t get Link Cables… Nope, you’re back to completing the Pokédex the old fashion way: by—*gasp*—socializing with people, and hoping they like Pokémon (which is really hard for adults since a lot of them are still very harsh on the series). Boy… Arceus was really great.

With that little aside out of the way, there’s a bit of a caveat at this juncture. Every single time I think I’ve done all the post-game content, there’s something I miss and never find out about. This time, I’m dead certain that there’s more than what I wrote above. Scratch that, I KNOW there is because… sadly, I was spoiled of it in the thumbnail of one of Tom Fawkes’ stream VODs (however I still would’ve had a feeling based on the Scarlet Book (or presumably Violet Book?) containing Pokémon that you don’t see in the endgame). Anyway, as of this post’s publication, I have not started this remaining post-game content. I have a feeling that it might actually be an Oracle of Ages/Seasons situation where you need to beat both to unlock whatever this content is; if I’m right, then that’s just mean. If the prerequisite really has anything to do with playing the other game as well, then that would be kind of BS, since these are probably the longest main games in the series and I doubt a lot of adults would even have the time unless they were gamers by profession. Also, the target demographic—kids—would probably not be able to convince their parents to spend over $100USD on both games. Whatever it would’ve been, however, I would not want to discuss it due to spoilers, so it won’t change the review anyway. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.35/10

Pokémon Scarlet, despite its ugliness and other issues, has perhaps been the greatest main series Pokémon experience I’ve ever had, at least since my nostalgic days of Black & White 2. It does a LOT right for the series, but sadly, I don’t think it’ll save Pokémon from its critics. People’s obsession with 8k 240fps graphics are already enough to give Gen 9 a bad reputation, but knowing the Pokémon fandom, they’ll take any flaw with these games and balloon them to make it sound like GameFreak are gaming blasphemers. In any case, I highly recommend you play at least one of these two games, provided that you are capable of enjoying Pokémon.

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