Developed By: Game Freak
Published By: Nintendo / The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
With record-breaking sales of 10 million copies sold in the first 3 days, we’re staring at the beginning of a new, ambitious, and content-rich Pokemon game dynasty, and also witnessing the end of the Nintendo Switch era. It’s a brew of mixed feelings, really. Because while the contents are great and easily justify the sales number, the actual gaming experience itself is quite painful no thanks to the Switch’s badly aged hardware. The situation is so dire that Nintendo is actually refunding those who want their money back, which is embarrassing.
But for hardcore Pokemon fans, Scarlet and Violet (SV) represent a new milestone in evolution since the brand’s Sword and Shield (SS) release. We saw in SS how the franchise experimented with the open-world concept and a series of real-time events to great success and then the release of Pokemon Legends Arceus which saw an even more adventurous side of the franchise. SV incorporates the findings of both SS and Arceus and then overlays them on a traditional Pokemon game template in the studio’s bid to refresh the series even more and it worked.
If I have to describe the gameplay experience in SV in one word, that word would be ‘Broad’. There’s just so much a Poke-fanatic can do in the game, especially with the ‘Breeding’ element making a comeback now after its brief absence in Arceus. The Tera Raid system, which is just a renamed version of Sword and Shield’s Max Raid battles is back and presents a good online co-op play opportunity despite its old and janky UI. For those of you who enjoy a Pokemon bout with friends, there are also online co-op functions where up to 3 other players can join the host’s session and explore the game’s huge open world together.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet takes place in the Paldea region which is loosely based on Spain but otherwise starts the same as any typical Pokemon game. You wake up in a nice house, all dressed and ready to make a name for yourself as a Pokemon trainer, leave the house, and almost instantly get greeted by a friend-rival figure before embarking on an adventure to be the very best there is.
Unlike previous Pokemon games where they can only obtain the Legendary Pokemon on the cover at the end of the game’s story, Scarlet and Violet let players team up with Koraidon or Miraidon (depending on which edition you get) early on but their usage is only limited as a mode of transport. As you progress in the game, your legendary ride will unlock more features like – Gliding, Climbing, Water Surfing, Higher Jump, and Dash abilities to ease your traveling. Their battle forms, however, will remain locked until after the story ends.
But like the Pokemon games that came before it, Scarlet and Violet carry a simple storyline. As a student of a reputable Pokemon Academy, players can explore the campus building and attend classes the academy offers. I expected more from this classroom environment setting but sadly, they turn out to be no more than tutorial classes with extra steps. But completing the lessons and getting closer to the teachers do yield some mini side-quests that give out small rewards. The main purpose of the academy in the storyline is to set the player out on a “Treasure Hunt” where the player, in their adventure, would discover what their inner treasure truly is.
It’s rather philosophical than practical but the theme works for me. The said Treasure Hunt opens up three paths that form the bulk of the game’s main storyline. Victory Road is the normal Gym-beating route that earns you a badge that increases the level of Pokemon you can catch and command more easily. Going down this path will lead players to fight the Elite Four trainers of the Pokemon league. Path of Legends is where players would go hunting for gigantic Pokemons that’d earn them upgrades for their Miraidon / Koraidon, and of course, the Starfall Street path where we’d go beat up a team of ruffians called Team Star that’ll earn us TMs and materials to craft them. There’d be 3 interesting NPC characters, each with their own quirks and motivation that’d drive the player towards each of the respective paths.
This is different from the standard old linear approach where players faithfully follow a single-route storyline that is honestly speaking, boring and the usual rival figure who was just annoying. The new 3-paths system isn’t exactly exclusive from one another either and players can actually do all 3 in any order they wish (Even challenging Gyms of higher levels first although it’d be suicidal). To complete the game, a player must complete all 3 paths to unlock the final area and the final boss. Each of the missions in the 3 paths when visited comprises two phases – the pre-fight activity or mini-game, and the actual boss fights itself. Some of the mini-games on Victory Path are quite fun to engage in and they are usually light-hearted content like rolling a gigantic seed over an obstacle course or seeking out hidden Sunfloras, or even aerobic style exercises.
The freedom this new system gives is something I find pleasure in because it works well with the huge open-world layout. Whatever it is that I wanted to do, I can do so at my own pace and have the freedom to choose which I want to do first. If I wanted to unlock more features for my Miraidon, I can just go and focus on the Titan path first until I hit a roadblock that requires higher-level Pokemons that I can then go challenge Gyms to unlock. But this is me speaking as a seasonal Pokemon game player. A colleague of mine who plays Violet in his first Pokemon game shared with me how he seemed lost in the game and that the lack of guidance and direction was something that troubled him.
Pokemon catching is the same as in the Pre-Arceus days. That being said, the convenience afforded in Arceus where we can just throw a ball and hope for a catch without the hassle of triggering combat first is not present in SV. Funnily, however, the crouch / stealth mode is retained from Arceus although it is only good for catching a Pokemon off-guard, giving you an extra round in the turn-based combat system. But even with 400 Pokemons, one can register in the Pokedex, that number still seemed stingy compared to the vast region of Paldea. It can be disheartening to still see the same type of Pokemons even after you’ve crossed 3 areas in the game.
In the combat department, things are largely the same as before except for how battles are noticeably more difficult than in Arceus near the end game. Players still keep 6 Pokemons in a party with the ability to switch them in and out of their Pokemon boxes whenever they are not in battle. To save time and the hassle of completing battles for Exp and Loots, players in SV can utilize the Let’s Go function that allows their lead Pokemon to be deployed like a drone during normal exploration. The lead Pokemon can be commanded to pick up loot or even engage in battles on their own with instantaneous results, though, this method would yield far lesser exp than doing the battles yourself. I also enjoyed the fact that battles with NPC Trainers no longer trigger automatically whenever our gazes met, instead, they have to be manually initiated with a coloured highlight over their textbox smartly labeling an available battle.
Candy farmers will be disappointed to know that Candies can only be consistently obtained via Tera Raids, a feature that is fun at first but quickly feels exhausting due to the game’s primitive system that boots the player back to the game world after every raid, as opposed to bouncing back to the Raid menu to swiftly continue with another one if they want to. Primitive UI and navigation systems and their inconvenience are a recurring theme in SV. Its map, for example, was a disaster. It takes a while for the map to pop up when the input is given and to make things worse, the orientation of the map does not stay static when a player zooms in/out when they need to make a mental note of certain landmarks or find directions. This creates a lot of confusion and unnecessary mental exercise to just do something that should have been simple and straightforward in the first place. For some reason, the Pokedex library is also featured together with the map instead of just sitting in the menu with the other vital features like bags, boxes, settings, etc.
By now, you should have heard that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are a mess both visually and technical quality wise and I wish this review could tell you any different. I’ve spent 40 hours into the game thinking I would get used to it but I didn’t. I thought by that time I felt ready to review it, the game would have received some good updates that fixes things and made it look better but here we are. To be brief, this game should not have been released on the current-gen Nintendo Switch because it’s obvious that the hardware simply cannot keep up. The game runs okay most of the time but anyone who’s playing it will tell you the experience has been at the absolute bare minimum. There is nothing eye-pleasing at all, if anything, the game’s build quality presents a continuous challenge to anyone hoping to stay for long.
Frame rates have been horrible – unstable and stuttering most of the time. It isn’t an uncommon sight to see NPCs mini-teleporting when they are supposed to be walking. Objects load reluctantly to the point they can suddenly disappear/appear in front of players. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve run into a Pokemon and triggered an unwanted encounter because it suddenly appeared in front of my way. Game crashing and freezing is a norm and If anyone told me this game was made 15 years ago, I’d believe it. To make things worse, there may never be a fix for this because the problem is also with the console itself, not just the game. The Nintendo Switch is old and if no new console gets released soon, we will continue to get these eye-sore quality Pokemon games in the future.
What I liked about the game
- Impressive open-world size and seamless exploration
- Breeding is back
- Refreshing main storyline
- Online co-op function is fun
What I wish was better
- UI needs major improvements
- Visually horrible
- More Pokemons would be great considering the open-world’s size
- Crashes and Freezes should not have happened in this established franchise
There are many good things to be said about Pokemon Scarlet and Violet and there would have been more of them if the bad sides of the game didn’t prove to be so darn challenging. Was the game fun? Content-wise, yes. But overall experience-wise, no. The potential that Scarlet and Violet presents is honestly exciting and I was glad to witness the game’s progressive evolution for the better. But the fact remains that this is a game meant for the next-gen Nintendo console and having it forcibly released on this gen have robbed so much away from both the players and the franchise’s reputation itself. They did one thing right at least, which was to give a refund but I’m afraid Scarlet and Violet will forever be remembered for this infamy. This review doesn’t recommend a purchase but if you are all about Pokemon and couldn’t care less about what people say about it and you are willing to pay full price for a game that doesn’t deserve half of it, then go ahead and get it.
Final Score – 5/10