Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a “hit or miss” for fans of the series. The game did not have Pokemon Gyms or a Pokemon League. Instead, it experimented with new ways to play as a mainline game. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are undoubtfully the results of it.
The games heavily focus on a school theme. You’re to attend this Pokemon school and become the very best like no one ever was. It serves as an optional tutorial to learn the basics of Pokemon, but the actual gameplay kicks off when they set you free to roam the Paldea region. The excitement begins when you’re given three primary objectives: earn all gym badges and defeat the Pokemon League, take down Team Star, and defeat all Titan Pokemon to acquire Herba Mystica.
Completing these objectives reveals more of each character’s story. Expect to find heartwarming, sad, and sometimes even surprisingly shocking moments. It’s a Pokemon game’s story I am actually content with. Game Freak and The Pokemon Company portrayed that they’re open to new ideas that break away from the overused approach of beating all Pokemon Gyms, defeating the evil team, and becoming the Pokemon League champion.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet take notes from their earlier Pokemon Legends: Arceus sibling but focus primarily on the mainline gameplay aspects. It kicks things off with an overwhelming amount of content, but it’s pretty much all that you get out of the game. It’s sufficient to make exploring the world a thrilling experience but leaves much to desire, such as quests, as seen in Pokemon Legends: Arceus.
The world of Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet is a joy to explore. Wild Pokemon can be found individually or in packs walking in the overworld. There’s always a new set of Pokemon to discover the more you travel. The map is decently large. The high number of primary objectives and Pokemon to catch encourage exploration. Fast travel makes it convenient to jump from point to point. And let’s not forget the ability to mark destinations on the map, making traversing it user friendly.
The sneaking mechanic is a nifty addition to the games. Not taking advantage of sneaking makes some Pokemon tougher to catch. You also won’t have to sneak past Trainers inching for a battle since you must interact with them to trigger a match. I did like this after having mandatory battles with every Trainer I crossed paths with in the older Pokemon games.
Even though there’s a decent number of primary objectives scattered throughout the map, there’s an observable limit to them. The absence of quests, unlike Pokemon Legends: Arceus, is noticeable for those who have played the predecessor. These optional objectives could have expanded gameplay hours and offered additional tasks to complete to get more out of the world. The multitude of Tera Raid spots do help, but a single Pokemon-catching task isn’t always motivating.
There’s no shortage of materials and items you can gather while exploring Paldea. Looking out for small sparkles or glowing Poke balls in the overworld helps keep the motivation up while traversing the lands. It serves as an additional activity while seeking out new Pokemon or choosing the best path to your destination. While you won’t be able to craft Poke balls or other items with these materials, you can make TMs. These TMs can then be used to teach Pokemon new moves.
The Pokemon turn-based battle mechanics in Scarlet and Violet stay true to their mainline roots. The battle presentation is inherited from Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ battle style rather than the traditional Pokemon games. Triggering a battle no longer takes you to a new screen; it’s all done in the overworld. It’s a pleasant sight to gaze upon wild Pokemon in the background gathering around or just walking by during a battle. It can get a bit annoying if unwanted Pokemon line up for a piece of the action after. Some of them will rush up and engage you in combat soon after you’re done with the current battle, or you may mistakenly touch one of them when trying to move.
What surprised me was the challenge Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet could provide. I’ve sometimes had to keep a close eye on nearby Pokemon Centers, effectively use healing items, and pay attention to battles. As a Pokemon veteran, I can say it’s a dream come true to finally have a Pokemon game where you don’t sweep almost all opposing Pokemon with the starter. This difficulty level isn’t always maintained throughout the game and this is where I believe future titles could be improved if Game Freak and The Pokemon Company keep the open world approach.
The battle animations during Pokemon battles aren’t anything special but are still satisfying to watch. Pokemon roaring at the start of a match did pump me up for a battle. The Terastallize Pokemon form steal the spotlight with their gorgeous display. This new mechanic has the possibility to appealingly shake up the competitive scene, and it isn’t too overpowered like previous gimmicks. I find what they did with Titan Battles and Pokemon Star battles intriguing, but they have to figure out a way to balance the difficulty (see below).
Pokemon Gyms have returned, but before you can challenge a Gym Leader, you must first pass their test. It’s an interesting concept that breaks the tradition of fighting a series of trainers before the Gym Leader. The idea is nothing new, as it first originated in Pokemon Sun and Moon, but it’s good to see it being incorporated into these two new entries. An example of a gym test is a round of hide and seek where you must search and find the hidden Pokemon in town. Although most of the ideas greatly vary, “hide and seek” was the sole idea that has been reused, but they did attempt to remake it in an original way.
Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet are open world games, which means you’re free to challenge Gym Leaders in any particular order you desire. This sounds like a step up from the way it’s always been done in the past, but the Gym Leader’s Pokemon are unfortunately level locked. There’s the possibility of fighting a Level 15 Teddiursa with your LV 50 Talonflame. Sweeping all of the Gym Leader’s Pokemon with a single move isn’t pleasurable in the slightest, and unfortunately, this extends to Titan Battles and Pokemon Star bosses. A more dynamic approach to Levels would have gone a long way.
If you have played Pokemon Sword and Shield, you should be familiar with Max Raid Battles. Tera Raids are similar; up to four players fight a super strong Pokemon either alone, with NPCs, or with online friends. Sword and Shield had Gigantamax or Dynamax forms, but Scarlet and Violet introduced a new Terastallized form.
These pillars of light are scattered across the map of Paldea, making Tera Raids simple to find. It’s a nice co-op mode to play alongside friends, discover new Pokemon, and gather a substantial number of items. Without Tera Raids, there wouldn’t have been much replay value after completing the main objectives and catching all of the Pokemon (minus online play).
All of the major online functions are back in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. You can battle players, trade Pokemon with friends or a surprise partner, search for Mystery Gifts from The Pokemon Company, and participate in co-op Tera Raid battles. Link Codes also make a return to filter who you can communicate with. Match a Link Code with someone at the same time and you will be able to battle or trade with them.
New to these games are the Union Circle and Rental Teams. The Union Circle allows up to four players to play in a single world. You can continue your journey while 3 friends tag along. What’s interesting about Union Circle is that you see your friends in real time walking alongside you. Rental Teams, on the other hand, lets you share and borrow Pokemon from other players who share them. These shared Pokemon can then be used for online matches.
Graphics and Performance
Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet are great games and wonderful additions to the Pokemon series, but their graphics and performance do hold them back. The games aren’t broken enough to be unplayable, but it’s certainly not something that can go without criticism. Character motion can be janky, one-third of the screen can show an upside-down sky, your bike can turn invisible, characters can vanish and reappear repeatedly with the blink of an eye, and the list just keeps on growing.
The graphics aren’t eye candy in these games, but some of the character models are surprisingly different which I’m sure will catch some eyes. Thankfully, though, there aren’t a lot of framerate drops during gameplay. Going in and out of battle is smooth. Running or riding during heavy weather causes minor framerate drops, but nothing too severe to worry about. The game has crashed several times during my playthrough, but auto save was a blessing to combat this.
Changing your appearance has been a feature of Pokemon games for a while now. There’s a high level of customization for facial features. Additionally, you’re given the ability to change your clothing. The good news is, clothing is no longer gender locked in these games. It’s just a shame the protagonist is locked into four different types of school uniforms. The good news is, uniforms have color and pattern alternatives.
Bags, hats, gloves, socks, and shoes can be changed to your heart’s content. There’s a satisfactory number of options to choose from and more will become available as you progress further in the game. Even the Rotom phone has awesome new designs to choose from, provided you have the in-game money to afford it.
There’s no surprise here when I say the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet soundtrack is nice. It’s been a relaxing ride listening to fantastic tunes while exploring the Paldea region. The battle themes do not disappoint, either. They always manage to fire me up for a battle. The boss theme music displays the significance of these battles pretty well too.
It’s a shame that Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet are riddled with performance issues and bugs. Despite this, there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had with these games. It mixes elements from Pokemon Legends: Arceus and the mainline Pokemon games well. The open world feels a bit deceitful with lots of room for improvement. I do wish they had added quests to expand gameplay hours and further encourage exploration rather than leaving it up to catching new, wild Pokemon.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet get a 7/10.