Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: An Unfinished Masterpiece
So, I wanted to wait until I finished the main game before making an article about this gen and I think it was the right decision. This game has managed to somehow be the best Pokémon game I’ve ever played and the worst GameFreak has ever put out. Let me explain.
Disclaimer: I’m starting with the bad, but I promise there’s going to be a lot of good to say in this article, so please stick with me fellow fans.
So, if you’ve been in the community at all for Gen IX, there’s no doubt that you’ve seen pokémon stuck in walls, kids sitting in a classroom at 10 frames per second, and the weird animations on display. This game runs pretty bad at times and it really does pull you out of the game world. However, many of us in the community have made these things into memes and accept the quirks of the game because we love it regardless. To ignore them would be irresponsible, though, and I do believe that we as a community should ask for better of a series so beloved. I remember when we were giving Sword and Shield flak for the low-res trees and honestly, that game’s looking pretty polished in comparison.
During my time playing, one of the biggest problems I had was actually with the game’s lighting engine. It’s just out of whack and if you stand in certain places, you’ll get some weird sections lighting up where shadows should be. It was disorienting and was probably the one that messed with me the most. I had a lot of times where the camera went through the ground as well, which was just visually terrible to look at. Then there’s the texture pop-in, which is particularly egregious when you’re walking at a hill and the ground texture is moving in sync with you to load. The first time I saw it, I had to do a double-take and I just kept messing with it by walking back and forth to see it. The drops in frames can be borderline unplayable in some areas when a lot of effects are happening at once. The time this was the worst was with the Fairy Team Star base and I think it’s because it has moving water in the middle of it with a bunch of trainers and pokémon also trying to load at once. It even lagged in a cutscene! It was hilarious to me, but it is a problem and it should be ridiculed.
Then there’s the gameplay shortcomings. Team Star bases were honestly pretty underwhelming and I expected a different experience each time, but every base boils down to the same “challenge”, which really wasn’t difficult at all for me. I do have more to say about Team Star, but that’ll come later. Some of the gym challenges were also weird to me, like they had only a small amount of creative ones. One is literally just battling like old school gens, which generally isn’t a problem, but does show that they were running out of ideas. The last gym’s “challenge” is just skiing down the mountain you climbed with janky controls. The lack of creativity wasn’t an issue really, but I hoped for more after ones like: “chase this gym leader down to give him his wallet” and “battle for hints so you can order the correct food from this restaurant”. The last thing I’d like to mention in this portion is the weird way some pokémon evolve. The Let’s Go evolutions were strange, because they require you walk a certain amount of steps and then level up the creature while it’s out with you. HOWEVER, if you level up through an auto-battle, it doesn’t count. That’s really confusing and I wished it was clearer. Another is requiring that you level it up in Union Circle with another player. I guess you’re SOL if you don’t have anyone to play with.
Okay, now I’m going to step away from the negativity and talk about why this game is the best Pokémon game I’ve ever played.
Despite its flaws, this game manages to be the most engaging story GameFreak has ever told, and a world that lives and breathes more than any game that came before it. In Scarlet, I really felt like I was living among pokémon and not just being told that’s the case. You can see them everywhere, interact with them constantly, and see many with small plot importance. They feel like real beings this time around in a way Sword and Shield wished it felt. A little Charcadet named Charlos helps one of the Team Star leaders come to her senses in a really touching way. Koraidon (or Miraidon if you have Violet) is a constant in your journey, with a personality of its own. It felt like my friend and I was invested in its well being. Pokémon are deeply connected to this world and for the first time, I really feel like I’ve been able to immerse myself properly in this universe.
The story itself, with its branching paths, manages to be the most personal I’ve seen from the series. Nemona and her plotline with the gyms is more of a traditional format for the series, but you actually get to see the lives of the people who lead each gym. Every one of them has a life outside of the gyms and I like seeing them be passionate about things outside of battling. The league itself seems like a much more nurturing force this time around, being there to congratulate you and keep pushing you onward each time you win.
Team Star was a group I didn’t really feel much for at first, but it became a story of friendship and overcoming bullying, which is something I can always get behind. They’re a group of friends who desperately need help moving forward, but don’t want to lose what they created in the process. It’s heartwarming and honestly makes them the best team, tying only with Team Skull from Sun and Moon. (Guzma is a king, fight me). GameFreak made me care about this group of misfits and I love them for it.
Last but certainly not least is our best boy:
Arven is the best friend character the series has ever had. He’s an engaging guy with mysterious motives at the beginning of the game, but his story turned out to be the most emotional experience this series has ever given me. I will not spoil his storyline here for those who haven’t played it yet, but please trust me when I say he’s the best part of this game’s story hands-down.
Then there’s the actual gameplay. This game is open world, meaning you can explore a lot of places from the beginning, but I don’t want to mislead people: this game has a set order to its bases, gyms, and titans. Some have found this to be disappointing, but since I usually just get bored in open worlds due to a lack of direction, I did like knowing which way to head next. I followed a guide that gave a good list that made the game feel well-paced. Other than that, I did spend a lot of time in the spaces between tasks just filling out the pokédex and exploring everywhere for goodies.
Speaking of the dex: it’s the best one in the series. I’m not talking about pokémon included in it, but rather its presentation. It comes off as adding books to a library, paired with great pictures of each one. I’m in love with it and every time I add something to it, it gives me the good feelings.
The world itself has a lot to explore and I appreciated just running around on the back of Koraidon, taking in the sights. Despite its rough presentation at times, the world helps make you feel like you’re making tangible progress by giving new abilities to your legendary companion. Paths continue to open up for the player and I think it adds to the gameplay loop.
To top it all off, the last area of the game is the greatest experience I ever had at the end of a Pokémon game. The visuals, soundtrack, and story all come together to make a truly memorable experience that I couldn’t pull myself away from. Once again, I won’t spoil it here, but trust me when I say they put a lot of love and effort into it.
And just because I want to, another thing this game has going for it is:
No, I’m not going to explain this one. If you know, you know. We stan Larry here.
I’m going to end things here, because I feel like I can talk about this game, not to mention this series, forever. This game is a masterpiece with flaws that didn’t have to exist holding it back. In the future, I think the studio needs at least an extra 6 months to make sure everything is polished correctly. The game feels hastily put out, especially since it lacks any real post-game content, which I hope gets rectified in the DLC they’re going to put out.
If you’re on the fence about the game, but are interested in what is has to offer, please take the leap and get it. Yes, it’s a little broken, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it.