Introduce to Pokemon Scarlet & Violet
Pokemon Legends: Arceus gave a small taste of what an open-world Pokemon game could be like. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, on the other hand, go all in on the idea. This new twist on the tried-and-true Pokemon formula gives the main series a new lease on life and makes for one of the hardest and most rewarding Pokemon adventures to date. But they really shine when things don’t go in a straight line. Scarlet and Violet try to lead you to certain places in a subtle way, but in the end, it’s how you find your own way through the exciting new area of Paldea that makes it so memorable.
Scarlet and Violet start out like most mainline Pokemon games: you wake up at home, meet your rival, choose one of three starters, and soon you’re out exploring the world and catching all kinds of monsters. Even though the tutorial moves quickly, long-time fans might still find it a bit too much. Nemona, your bouncy, battle-hungry rival, will soon let you go, and you’ll be able to explore a big part of the map, fight trainers whenever you want, and catch wild Pokemon. It does slow down a bit as characters and the three main questlines are introduced, but soon after that you can go anywhere in Paldea.
Scarlet and Violet’s strength comes from their freedom, which goes beyond the open world they live in. At the start, you can choose from three different paths: The Path of Legends, where you have to find and defeat Pokemon that are unusually big; Operation Starfall, where you have to deal with this generation’s Team Rocket; and the familiar Victory Road, where you have to beat eight gym leaders. In contrast to other games, there is no set way to go through the story. Even though trainers and wild Pokemon get tougher the farther you get from Mesagoza, Paldea’s main city, there’s nothing stopping you from walking up to one of the game’s toughest gym leaders and challenging them to a battle. In Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, you don’t even know how hard a certain area is until you get there.
This lack of clarity might seem strange in a level-based RPG, but it made me go off the beaten path and check out places that a normal Pokemon game would have blocked off. This kind of exploration is also made easier by the lack of chance meetings. Every square inch of the map is full of Pokemon. The cute new electric-type rodent, Pawmi, travels in groups. Psyducks stroll through fields and sometimes take a dip in a nearby stream. Pichus are often found sleeping under trees with lots of shade. Like in Arceus, I often went after new Pokemon I saw in the distance until I ended up in an area I wasn’t quite ready for. Sometimes, these random adventures would wipe out my team, but other times, I’d get a powerful new Pokemon to add to my roster.
Game Freak has finally taken the training wheels off of Pokemon.
In a lot of ways, it feels like Game Freak has finally taken Pokemon off of its training wheels. During most of my adventure, I felt like I was always beating up on gym leaders, Titan Pokemon, and Team Star bosses who were much stronger than I was. Most of the time, my Pokemon were lower levels than theirs, so I had to think outside of the usual rock-paper-scissors matchups. Natures, abilities, and held items, which I rarely think about during the main story of a Pokemon game, would often give me just enough of a boost to beat a trainer I would have lost to otherwise.
Terastallizing makes the problem even harder. Most important trainers you go up against will Terastallize their last Pokemon, which can change the type of a Pokemon. In the Paldea region, every Pokemon has a Tera type in addition to its normal type or types. Most of the time, a Pokemon’s Tera type is the same as one of its normal types. Some Pokemon, though, will have a Tera type that is different from their normal type. For example, Brassius, the Grass-type gym leader, uses the Rock-type Pokemon Sudowoodo, but his Sudowoodo has the Grass Tera type. Once this Sudowoodo Terastallizes, attacks like Water or Grass that usually work well against it won’t work as well. Most gym leaders use Terastallizing to hide their weaknesses. This makes the final push a little harder if you aren’t ready or your level isn’t high enough.
You don’t have to play Scarlet and Violet the same way I did, but you can if you want to. You can look for challenges that are right for your level and train in places that are safer. This is still a much more interesting way to play Pokemon than the old way, because there are many places to explore, many different Pokemon to catch, and a few main goals to complete wherever you go. Even when I was too low level for some of the harder points of interest, I rarely felt like the only way to level up was to fight wild Pokemon over and over again.
What Are News
The “Let’s Go” mechanic has made grinding much less boring than it used to be. This lets the first Pokemon in your party fight wild Pokemon without you having to do anything. Auto-battle doesn’t give you as much experience as a regular battle, but you can fight a lot of Pokemon in a short amount of time because the battle is over in seconds.
Scarlet and Violet try to lead you to certain places in a subtle way, but it’s how you find your own way through the exciting new area of Paldea that makes it so memorable.
TM crafting is also linked to auto-battle. Unlike in previous games, once you find or get a TM, you can make copies of it at Pokemon Centers. When you defeat a wild Pokemon, it drops crafting materials. Auto-battle is a much better way to get these crafting materials. But even though auto battles make it easier to make TMs than it would be without them, I’d much rather be able to buy the ones I want. All TMs need parts from certain Pokemon, which means you have to go out of your way to find that Pokemon and fight it a few times.
You can change your Pokemon’s moves at any time, which is good news. If you replaced a move by mistake, you can go into a Pokemon’s summary menu and teach it the move again. This is also true for TMs. If you use a TM on a Pokemon, that move will always be in its move pool. It’s a small change, but it’s a good one because it makes it easier to try out different movesets on the fly.
Breeding is also changed by Scarlet and Violet for the first time since Gold and Silver. Even though it still takes time to breed the perfect Pokemon, Pokemon Daycares are no longer in either game. Now, if you have a picnic with two Pokemon that get along, they will leave several eggs in a basket. Yes, this is dirty, but it saves a lot of time. Eggs you collect at a picnic will automatically go into your boxes, so you don’t have to rearrange your party every time you get a new egg. Within 15 minutes of not doing anything at a picnic, I had more than a dozen eggs that were automatically put into my Pokemon box. This was a much easier and faster way to get eggs than riding a bike around a daycare and waiting for them to show up.
Because the process of breeding Pokemon has been sped up, it might also be easier to get shiny Pokemon. Even though I don’t know how to increase my chances of getting a shiny yet, it seems like the whole process could be a lot less painful than it used to be.
It’s hard to talk about competition without talking about battles. Things will be different after terastallizing, but it’s hard to say how at this point. In theory, this mechanic could help a good team cover a lot more weaknesses. With six Pokemon in a team, and each Pokemon having two standard types and a third, different Tera type, you could have one party that has one of each of the 18 types. Since typing is such an important part of building a team, I hope it will lead to a much more varied group of competitive Pokemon and new, creative ways to use them.
The Draw Back
Even though I can’t wait to try out these plans, Scarlet and Violet don’t have a Battle Tower. There are some fun challenges after the game, but since there isn’t a proper Battle Tower, it’s hard to try out different teams and new strategies in a low-stakes competitive setting.
The Battle Tower may have been taken out because Scarlet and Violet have more online features. Cooperative play is the big new thing in Scarlet and Violet. Paldea can be seen with up to three other people. While your friends are on the other side of the map, you can battle trainers, catch wild Pokemon, and complete story quests. If one player starts a Tera Raid battle, every other player in the session is notified and can join with the click of a button. It’s a nice addition, but it doesn’t seem very deep. You can’t just walk up to another player and start a trade or battle with them. Instead, you need to open the Poke Portal menu and start a trade from there. Even if you join the other game, you can’t catch Pokemon from that game. It seems that when people play together, bugs and glitches are more likely to happen. Aside from a few connection problems, everything has gone well for me so far, but that could change as I play more in the coming weeks. It’s fun to see your friends run around in your world, but it doesn’t really change much.
The good news is that the multiplayer parts from Sword and Shield are back, and they work better here. With a few button presses, you can connect to the servers and start fighting, trading, getting mystery gifts, or making surprise trades. Nintendo and Pokemon games still have a ways to go before they can match the online experience of their competitors, but getting there is easy.
Scarlet and Violet have a lot of freedom, but it comes at a high price, especially in the way they look. These look like rough games. You have to follow your rival to the top of a lighthouse early on. Whether it was planned or not, it feels like this is the part of every open-world game where you can look around and see how big the world is. The moment was ruined by the muddy pictures, though. In the distance, Mesagoza looks like a bunch of off-white shapes, the trees look more like green blobs than trees, and the Poke Ball that spins above the Pokemon Center only moves a few frames per second.
Even though the Pokemon and the main characters look good, not much else does. Textures are missing, objects in the distance are pixelated and jittery, Pokemon and NPCs are constantly popping in and out because of bad draw distances, and battles on uneven ground often cause the camera to clip through the ground.
This year, the Switch has really shown its age with games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Bayonetta 3, but Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feel like they are being crushed by the hardware. Pokemon Legends: Arceus had a few problems with how it looked, but not this bad. Whether you play Scarlet and Violet on the go or in a dock, they are hard on the eyes.
Scarlet and Violet can run pretty well, which is good news. Don’t expect a smooth 60 frames per second, but I haven’t seen any slowdowns or big drops in the frame rate in my time with the games. Even though a game like Pokemon doesn’t need rock-solid performance, it’s nice to see that, despite all the rough spots in the graphics, performance is still pretty good.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are still the best mainline Pokemon games in years, even though their presentation and graphics aren’t as good as they could be. They build on Pokemon Legends: Arceus’s open-ended design in some clever and surprising ways, and they keep the same level of depth that the main series is known for.