Starting back with Pokémon Blue in 1999, I’ve been a fan of the series. Still, as I got older, I stopped collecting the trading cards and while I still enjoyed it, I grew a little bored of the standard Pokémon formula. That is until Pokémon Legends: Arceus shook things up and became my favorite Pokémon title yet. With Pokémon Scarlet/Violet said to implement many of the same ideas, my expectations were high. But did the game live up to them? I started playing Pokémon Violet to find out.
Sort Of Student Life
After designing my character, I was introduced to the Director of my new school, Uva Academy. Quite generously, they give each new student a Pokémon upon enrollment. Given a choice of Sprigatito (Grass), Fuecoco (Fire), and Quaxly (Water). I chose Sprigatito – admittedly just based on cuteness.
I met a few new friends along the way, including a very special one – Miraidon (Koraidon in Pokémon Scarlet). Having helped each other out, Miraidon joins us. This legendary Pokémon acts as a bicycle, letting us ride around and get places quickly. Between Miraidon and Sky Taxis (fast travel), the world is open to us.
My school life didn’t last long. While we can return to attend classes, we’re told it’s time to leave. Uva Academy had a tradition that all students will be sent out into the world for a time and told to find their ‘treasure’. It’s time to set out on an adventure – or four of them in fact.
One of the major changes to the series in Pokémon Scarlet/Violet is that it’s not just gym battles anymore. There are three separate branches to follow and then a final story. I found this to be a massive improvement, but not without a major downside: level scaling.
Pokémon Scarlet/Violet is open world and aside from the final story, it can be done in any order. So for example, you can go straight to the final gym, then challenge it. You would then be totally defeated by Glaseado Gym’s level 48 Pokémon if you even survived the wild Pokémon in that area. The game doesn’t give any indication of what order you should complete challenges in. This isn’t the worst thing in the world as losing a battle is often fairly low stakes, but can be frustrating.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
Before even thinking of taking on a major challenge, a little exploration and time to build a team is in order. In Pokémon Scarlet/Violet you can see Pokémon on the field and it’s fairly easy to choose which you’d like to encounter. Run into one and you enter a battle. Being able to pick and choose was really convenient, though some tiny Pokémon were accidentally stepped on.
The capture mechanics work the same as most mainline Pokémon games before it – enter a battle, weaken the wild Pokémon, then throw a Pokéball and hope to add them to your team. What was appreciated is that the game is very generous with Pokéballs early on and low-level Pokémon are incredibly easy to catch. I’d caught 13 unique ones before hitting the first gym and 40 before any of my capture attempts failed.
While unfortunately not optional, the entire team of six chosen Pokémon shares experience which helps build up for the challenges ahead without favoring the starter too much. There are also some other convenient features like auto-healing and being able to auto-battle and quickly defeat weaker Pokémon.
Victory Road – The Gym Challenge
One of the branches is a set of eight gym challenges, capped off with a battle against the Elite Four. It’s a tradition by this point and fairly self-explanatory, aside from the issue with the order already mentioned. It does bring in a fun mechanic here though – the Gym Test.
In older Pokémon games, players had to run a gauntlet of trainers and a simple puzzle to get to a gym leader. Here you need to complete a minigame. This sometimes does involve battling, but it mixes it up with others such as talking to other trainers to find clues or finding hidden Pokémon.
The gym leaders themselves are often quite unique. Iono is the standout, being a livestreamer who makes you entertain her fans and even gets donations while doing so. Quite a few were amusing though, including Larry who is so normal it’s a joke.
Nemona often makes an appearance in challenges along this route. She’s the student council president, already a Pokémon champion, and absolutely battle obsessed. Aside from that, she acts as a good friend and a supportive mentor on your road to the Pokémon League. I liked having her as a friendly rival, though I imagine she might get on some people’s nerves since she’s so obsessive about battling.
Path of Legends – Defeat the Titans
Another path involves traveling around and defeating five Titans – giant Pokémon that are incredibly strong. These present themselves as two-stage boss battles, which can be quite challenging if not leveled up enough.
The goal behind defeating the Titans is to retrieve the Herba Mystica, five powerful herbs that have made these Pokémon grow. Arven joins us for this – he’s initially quite surly, but turns out to be a rather nice guy. I’ll leave the reasoning unmentioned, but the path of legends has quite a touching story that made me want to reach the next part quickly.
As well as being part of the story, Herba Mystica takes the place of the series HMs. For those less familiar, they’re essentially upgrades that help you reach new areas. In Pokémon Scarlet/Violet, they give Koraidon/Miraidon new abilities. As well as being able to access some inaccessible areas, it helped to give a feeling of progression.
Starfall Street – Raid Team Star
Early on in the story, we encounter members of Team Star trying to forcibly recruit someone. This gets the mysterious Cassiopeia interested enough to hack our phone and ask us to break up this band of trouble-making students.
Each Team Star leader specializes in a Pokémon type, as do gym leaders. The difference here is that we need to raid their bases, which involves walking straight in the front door and defeating everyone in our way.
This uses the ‘Let’s Go’ features, which is being able to release your Pokémon out into the world. They’ll then run and defeat nearby Pokémon without a traditional turn-based battle. Usually, this is limited to one at a time, but for Team Star raids it’s three at once. After defeating 30, then it turns into a more standard battle with the boss. There’s another nice story here, which is revealed as you defeat each leader.
I enjoyed this quite a lot, but the ‘Let’s Go’ function isn’t exactly accurate when throwing which did hinder things somewhat. But the whole concept of essentially walking in the front door and raiding the base was a lot of fun.
Taking on the Team Star bases grants you TMs to teach your Pokémon new moves, materials to create more, and some currency. It’s useful to help raise a powerful team.
The Way Home – The Final Story
After completing all three branches, it unlocks the final quest – The Way Home. This is completely unlike the others in that it has much more focus on the story and it’s very directed with an obvious route to follow. It reveals a lot of backstory for the characters and some of the events that have happened until this point. I won’t go into specifics to avoid spoilers, but things that had been hinted at get more explicitly spelled out, and some surprising revelations are made.
I enjoyed all the routes, but having more story and the commentary from friends met along the way here made this the best part for me.
After completing this, it unlocks quite a good amount of post-game content. Unlike some titles, the end isn’t really the end here.
Explore The Pokémon World
With four storylines to complete, you might be surprised to read that I enjoyed most of my time just exploring. The world is a bit empty but big and we travel quickly so it never felt that way to me.
Walking through a desert, climbing up icy mountains, or having a picnic on grasslands – I went to quite a few different places and found many things. Mysterious stakes with a secret behind them, trainers along routes and hidden away, different shops in each city, and even items to pick up all over. It felt like there was always something to find, even beyond tracking down and capturing new species of Pokémon.
That said, finding new types of Pokémon was the main attraction. Each new area seemed to bring different types to find and capture. There were even a few surprises like finding Ditto quite early on, which unlocked easier Pokémon breeding. And as a new feature for the series, it’s even possible to have a friend join in co-op to explore with you.
The New Gimmick and Battling
Many Pokémon games have a battle gimmick and this one is to terastallize your Pokémon. While it’s not as flashy as some of the previous gimmicks, I found it to bring a lot of hype to gym battles in particular – each one will use this with their final Pokémon.
The idea is that you can use a rechargeable one-shot item to ‘boost’ a certain Pokémon type. With most Pokémon, their Tera type will be the same as their initial type. So my grass-type Sprigatito can use a temporary grass boost, which makes their grass-type moves even stronger. It can change up things quite a bit though as some Pokémon can come with other types (and it’s possible if difficult to change them too).
As another example, my electric Pikachu has a flying Tera-type. This then changes their strengths and weaknesses against other types of moves, as well as potentially letting them use an unexpected element to attack with.
It’s possible to be quite tactical with this in the late-game, adding a type that resists a Pokémon’s normal weakness or something that attacks the more common tactics to take out a particular Pokémon. This does make knowledge of the Pokémon types and weaknesses even more important, especially for competitive play online. It can be possible to practically eliminate weaknesses in some cases though, which does feel a little unbalanced.
Pokémon with different Tera types can typically be found in Tera raids. These are co-op battles with random people online, friends, or AI teammates. Later ones are really challenging and best done with a team you know, but earlier ones are quite easy and let you collect a ton of Pokémon early on, even beyond the normal method of catching them. I did come across some connection issues while doing this at times though.
Great Game, But Terrible Performance
In terms of gameplay, Pokémon Scarlet/Violet is amazing aside from the few issues mentioned. What does let it down in a major way is the performance and graphical issues.
From the very start, I noticed a low framerate and skipped frames whenever the camera is turned. There are some really low-quality textures and the shadows are blocky. Some of the animations are just terrible. Lighting sometimes suddenly changes, with it suddenly lighting up an area and then just as quickly returning to darkness. Pop-in is a major issue too. It’s even crashed to the home screen and from what I hear, I’m fairly lucky that it’s only happened to me once in the approximately forty hours it took me to complete the game.
As a note, this all happened both in handheld and docked modes. I’ve not found any difference from tricks like putting it all on system memory instead of the MicroSD card.
Some of this affects gameplay too. For example, riding around the world and I don’t see a Pokémon in time due to pop-in, so I end up running into it. Or the Pokémon model just isn’t detailed enough, so I can’t recognize it without getting really close. I appreciate nice graphics but don’t usually mind them too much. But when it starts to make playing more difficult, it’s a problem.
That said, it’s the performance that really breaks immersion here. On top of the graphical issues and lack of smooth gameplay, it often just seems to take several seconds of waiting to complete actions like coming out of a battle.
I don’t know whether it’s the low specs of the aging Nintendo Switch, the lack of time that Game Freak had to work on the game to get it out for the holiday season, or something else, but it really does have a huge negative effect.
Cameras and Clipping
I didn’t notice anything major myself, but some people have reported quite a few bugs with the game. Some are quite comical ones that people have shared videos of online. In my case, I’ve not had anything much worse than other Pokémon and people walking through while I’m battling and the occasional terrible default angle that sees through the ground.
As a minor gameplay annoyance, but a fair one, I sometimes did get dragged into a series of battles. As other Pokémon can walk into you when battling, it’s also possible that they happen to be where you’re standing when one battle ends. There was no escape without defeating an entire crowd on rare occasions. I say fair because it does make sense in a way to get attacked by other Pokémon nearby, even if it wasn’t intended.
Sounds of Pokémon Battle
While Pokémon Scarlet/Violet certainly lacks in terms of graphics and performance, in terms of music it’s great. Featuring the talents of several people including Toby Fox from Undertale, there’s a wide variety of music for different types of fields, battles, and more. There wasn’t a single one I disliked. The Tera Raid battle stood out as particularly great.
I don’t expect it at this point, but it would be nice to see voice acting added in the next generation of Pokémon. The final stage of the story in particular could have really benefited from it and the promotional video for one of the gyms would’ve been amazing to see in-game, with more like it.
Pokémon Scarlet/Violet is a potential 10/10 game, trapped behind severe issues. I personally had some of the most fun I’ve had with any game all year and even happily played for ten hours straight on day one, but there’s a lot to criticize and it certainly shouldn’t have been released in the state it was. It does bring up a conflict in terms of scoring and not everyone will agree, but I feel recommending it is still fair due to all the positives and the sheer amount of fun I had with it – if not at such a high rating.
POKÉMON SCARLET/VIOLET IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Nintendo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.