The best Pokémon has to offer, despite the hiccups
Pokémon is a franchise we’re all pretty familiar with. I mean, being the biggest media franchise in the world, it’s no surprise, right? From the hardcore fans, to the more casual players, and even to the moms, dads & grandmas of the world…it really seems as though everyone has a certain set of expectations when it comes to Pokémon. Then, in walk Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.
During a console generation in which Pokémon games are continuously challenging the idea of what it means to be a Pokémon game, Scarlet and Violet are here to continue forward with the foundations that Sword/Shield and even Legends: Arceus established for the series.
The only question is, do these new games bring Pokémon into that bold new future Game Freak has been building up to? Or do they feel stuck in the past?
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet take place in the beautiful new region of Paldea, a brand new region set in an open world inspired by Spain and other Latin American countries. Just walking around the game’s overworld you start to get a real sense of the game’s Spanish inspirations from things like the big open countrysides, the vibrant color schemes in its architecture, the Spanglish lingo from its locals, and even down to the Pokémon themselves.
All of these factors work in service of making Paldea feel like one of the most inspired regions in a Pokémon game to date. There were many moments during my initial playthrough that made me feel motivated to explore the world around me, like the beautiful seaside market of Port Marinada, the future tech city of Levincia, and even the snowy ghostlike charms of Montenevera. Most importantly for these cities is that they all feel lived in, featuring equal amounts of people and Pokémon in any given scene from streets, sidewalks, to the insides of buildings.
It’s clear that this game’s world is trying to sell you on the idea that Pokémon are a big part of it, and it all adds to the believability of the region at large.
Speaking of Pokémon, the new creatures for this generation of games are all absolutely great! Arguably one of the most important parts of every new generation of Pokémon, the standout highlights when it comes to new games is always going to be the creatures that come along with it. Of course, this is all just going to be a matter of opinion, but I do feel that some of these new designs and names are among the coolest and most creative we’ve seen from Pokémon in a while, like Sprigatito!
Taking the English word “sprig” (small twig) and the Spanish word for “small cat” (gatito) and putting them together to make a small grass cat is just brilliant! Another one of my favorites is Arboliva, taking the Spanish word for tree (árbol) and combining that with the English word “Olive” to make this large Olive orchard-esque tree design is so good! Then there’s Flamigo, the new Flying/Fighting type Flamingo friend (amigo) whose body design is in the shape of a boxing glove!
All in all, I love the new designs on display here. There are certainly far more than will be mentioned in this review (103 to be exact), but they all work together towards that common goal of giving the Paldea region, and the games at large, a unique sense of identity for Pokémon’s 9th generation.
Perhaps the biggest change to the franchise in recent years comes from the steady phasing out of linearity in the pursuit of a truly open world. We saw this crop up first in 2019’s Sword and Shield, and even more recently with Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
While rather tame by comparison, these games’ “Wild Areas” certainly felt like Game Freak’s first foray into that open world design. Sort of like they were getting their feet wet, rather than fully diving in on the concept. Then, we come to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet whose whole brand exists within that open world. While it may be a turn off for some, especially in a world full of other games going for the same thing, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet really nail it with just how seamless it all tends to feel.
The biggest pain point for me with “open world” games is pointing somewhere in the distance with the intent to go there, just to be stopped by some invisible wall or loading screen, and it’s at those points when the whole experience starts to fall apart for me. Scarlet and Violet have none of that, and apart from the game’s opening prologue there’s virtually no limits to where you’re able to explore on the map. In my time playing and streaming the game, I’ve talked to many different people about their experiences so far and each response I get is totally different from the last. I have heard some people starting at completely different gyms than I did, different sections of the map, and even some individuals exploring the entire map while only having a few badges!
There seems to be a huge degree of agency the player has over crafting their own story with these games. Nothing that changes the actual narrative of the game obviously, however it is empowering to know that you have some say over whether to take on the bug gym that’s right next door, or the more challenging ghost type gym in the snowy mountains of the north.
In addition to having a large map to explore, you’re also able to tackle the entire thing in co-op thanks to Scarlet and Violet’s brand-new multiplayer mode! Accessed via the Union Room, players can host a lobby of up to 4 trainers that, once connected, are able to freely explore not only the map, but the entire game’s story as well.
That’s right, not only does the game give you the freedom to access the entire map independently, and without the need to stay within proximity of one another, it also gives you the freedom to play through the game’s story as well. This means that no matter what your other 3 friends are doing at any given time, you are still able to tackle gyms, play out cutscenes, whatever your heart desires and all without losing any progress.
You don’t even need to be the host of the lobby either, all 4 players have total control over the multiplayer experience they want to have, all at any given time. I personally had low expectations for this mode going into Scarlet and Violet, as my mind was occupied by thoughts like “Alright, but what CAN’T I do?”, to which the answer is nothing, it’s all available to you.
Having this much freedom in a multiplayer session is fantastic and a huge step in the right direction towards a truly cooperative experience for Pokémon. While you can’t battle gym leaders cooperatively or make appearances together in the game’s cutscenes, there are certainly a lot of doors that open just by having this feature available, and I am loving playing together with friends. Cooperative shiny hunting, anyone?
Of course, if you’re reading this near the time of review then I’d feel like it’d be remiss of me to NOT talk about the games’ various technical issues.
Tons of videos have cropped up over the last week showcasing so many weird bugs, glitches, and other visual oddities. My personal favorite has been the Jigglypuff flying away in the wind. I can only speak from my personal experience of course, and in my first campaign play though, I’ve only experienced the occasional game crash, which while frustrating isn’t exactly exclusive to Scarlet and Violet. I’ve had the same thing happen to me across multiple other games like Splatoon 3, and even some other first party games though it’s only ever sparingly.
To Game Freak’s credit, this could have been way more frustrating for me if not for the fact that the game auto saves relatively frequently so I only lose small amounts of progress. This experience is helped by just how fast Scarlet and Violet boot up after completely resetting the software. Outside of game crashes there are also things like framerate issues, and other graphical oddities that can certainly break the immersion for some but for me a lot of this just felt like a non-issue. I was simply too busy enjoying my time with the game’s story, catching Pokémon or who knows what to feel that my enjoyment was being hampered by the occasional dip in frame rate.
This is something that’s going to vary wildly depending on who you ask, but for me this did little to nothing to harsh my experience with the games, though I do feel they could use a general performance patch or two to smooth things out for all of us.
Another factor that plays into the game’s nearly 60-hour campaign is the story, which is quite honestly one of, if not the best storyline the series has ever seen
Throughout my first playthrough of the game, I found myself shifting from an attitude of “Oh okay, I know where this is going” to one of “They put THIS in a Pokémon game?!”. Without getting too much into the specifics, these games’ story is one of the darkest and more surprising narratives we’ve seen yet from a Pokémon game, that all culminates in the biggest, most bombastic ending sequence that the franchise has ever seen. While subtly weaving its way through some pretty tough themes, the games do a phenomenal job at keeping the player engaged from start to finish, thanks in large part to its vibrant cast of characters.
Now, when it comes to Pokémon characters over the years, a lot of them can tend to feel pretty one dimensional, at least in the grand scheme of things. In Scarlet and Violet, you can get a mixed bag as well, but the main cast featured throughout the game’s 3 storylines are as strong as ever. I don’t think we need to go analyze every single character, though if there’s one role that is always subject to the most criticism, it’s the player’s rival and this time around? She’s actually really cool!
Nemona is the academy’s Student Council President, she’s your hometown neighbor, and she really wants to battle you. I mean she really, really REALLY wants to battle you. On the surface she may seem a bit one note in that regard, though as the story unfolds, the player begins to learn more about why she is the way she is and why she’s so obsessed with the idea of challenging you. Outside of details locked behind story progression, one thing about her is made immediately apparent and it’s that even in her defeat, she’s always cheering for you to do and be better. I found this to be particularly endearing as nobody likes having a rival who is also a sore loser.
After 25+ years of constant (albeit slow) evolution, the Pokémon franchise is getting a huge step in a brand-new direction with Scarlet and Violet. Despite its technical hiccups, these new games offer so much value to new players and longtime fans alike. From its fantastic art direction, brilliant storytelling, and Pokémon designs that are just as charming as ever, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are no doubt the best Pokémon games on the platform and certainly among the best in the franchise.
At the end of the day, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet evolves from the foundations of games’ past to bring forth a new generation of Pokémon games that fans will still be discussing far into the future, and for years to come.