Each new generation of Pokémon promises tweaks and iterations to the long-standing franchise formula. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet kick off the ninth generation of Pokémon games, offering some of the biggest changes to date. An open world, four-player co-op, and other additions effectively propel the series forward in meaningful ways, but technical shortcomings often break immersion and temper an otherwise strong Pokémon game.
The Pokémon formula remains mostly intact through Scarlet and Violet. Your main goals include catching, training, and battling Pokémon that are still out in the world. But this time, you do so in the series’ first true open world, expanding the formula in unprecedented ways. The Paldea region is ripe for exploration, with diverse biomes and various nooks and crannies in which to hunt. Thanks to a wide range of Pokémon from species new and old, I always felt rewarded for traveling off the beaten path. I often applauded the design when I discovered a brand new monster, making this batch one of my favorite new generations in a long time.
Thanks to this open world approach, most combat is now optional. Trainers take over the world, but you have to start a fight with them to get started. I like this approach, because it lets me skip fights I might not otherwise want to, although the money, experience, and rewards often make them worthwhile. The same can be said about wild Pokémon encounters, which only happen if you bump into them; The random encounters are completely gone this time around. If you’re just looking for quick experience and crafting materials, you can also make use of the new Let’s Go mechanic, where you send your lead Pokémon into auto-battles.
Unfortunately, the big world comes at a cost, as Pokémon Scarlet and Violet suffer from poor performance across the board. Characters keep popping in front of your eyes, textures appear in extremely low resolution, and the frame rate skips at every turn. Game Freak shot for the stars with its first open world, but it’s clear it still has a ways to go when it comes to working on the Switch.
Once you’re in battle, longtime Pokémon players will feel right at home, as it switches to a traditional turn-based format, where types’ strengths and weaknesses create compelling rock-paper-scissors-style matchups. Huh. The new Terrastalization mechanic, where an in-battle Pokémon takes on a gem-like appearance and moves to its specific Terra type, enhances the type match-up system; Some Pokémon also change type when they Terralize. While a Pokémon’s Tera type moves are boosted, they are hardly overpowered, and since Terastalizing is limited to one trip per Pokémon Center, it adds an extra layer of strategy. The Terastalized forms look equally goofy, but Terastallization is my favorite generational battle gimmick in the history of the series.
Players can explore this new, open Paldia region together for up to four-player co-operative play. Once players join a host’s instance, they can freely explore, capture new Pokémon, battle in Tera Raids, and even trade with each other. can do. I regret that there isn’t much interaction between players in these sessions (you can’t even see the battles unfold), but the freedom offered by co-op makes up for the shortcoming.
The open-world design also enables you to choose the order in which you access the three main quest lines. Victory Road offers the series’ traditional eight-gym conquest with the goal of taking down the Elite Four, while Starfall Street lets you attack bases held by Team Star, this entry’s rival group. Gym challenges before each leader battle add variety to the leads, but they’re either mundane or revert to the traditional trainer-gauntlet style. Team Star base attacks are easy affairs, where you need to use the Let’s Go mechanic to defeat 30 Pokémon in 10 minutes before an often challenging boss fight. Path of Legends, a third quest, delivers engaging battles against giant Titan Pokémon, offers the best rewards, and offers a touching story. I enjoyed each individual quest, and while they differ in nature, they translate into meaningful endings and post-game content.
Of course, the constant mission to fill your Pokédex is present alongside those three story quests. This mission just got more satisfying than ever, thanks to an awesome redesign that treats your Pokédex like a shelf of an encyclopedia. I’d love to see the shelf fill up with each new encounter, but I’m disappointed that Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ goals, which required you to study Pokémon before entry, have disappeared.
Despite technical shortcomings and some filler content, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are packed with worthwhile additions to one of gaming’s most popular franchises. At worst, these games are stepping stones to the Pokémon game that players have clamored for, but more often, they serve as effective thesis statements about where the series goes from here. Either way, I can’t wait to see where Game Freak develops the experience from this point.