Pokémon Scarlet & Violet – Review
Follow Genre: RPG
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Platform: Switch
Tested on: Switch

Pokémon Scarlet & Violet – Review

Site Score
7.4
Good: Exploring the open world is incredibly fun
Bad: Major performance issues and occasional crashes
User Score
5.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 5.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Time sure flies, doesn’t it? It has been a year since we looked at Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, and we’re already being treated to the newest pair of Pokémon titles, although we are treating both entries as a single game for the purposes of this review. Pokémon Scarlet & Violet heralds a new generation of monsters, of course, and according to the Pokémon Company itself, it also presents the “next gameplay evolution of the series”. Given that the games were announced pretty much simultaneously with the release of the spinoff title Pokémon Legends: Arceus, we were skeptical, however. It felt too soon. Now that the games are actually out in the wild, was Game Freak able to subvert our skepticism?

Story

Rather than sticking to a single story, Scarlet & Violet actually present players with three separate storylines that can be played at players’ own pace. Two of these three stories aren’t anything new: the main quest involves traveling around Paldea, beating the region’s eight gym leaders, and becoming the champion, and the secondary storyline involves dealing with a villainous team to stop them from performing nefarious deeds. These two plotlines have been present in pretty much every main Pokémon title. Where Scarlet & Violet’s narrative shines is with the third storyline: early on, you’ll run into the game’s cover legendary monster, Miraidon or Koraidon depending on your version. The creature is severely weakened and unable to fend for itself, but you quickly gain its trust. In order to restore it to its full strength, you team up with Arven to track down special herbs. Each herb restores part of the legendary monster’s powers, allowing you to explore more of Paldea, but before you can obtain it, you need to deal with a Titan Pokémon, which are very similar to Pokémon Sun & Moon’s Totem Pokémon. None of the three stories are particularly innovative, although the Titan storyline certainly pulls your heartstrings at times. No matter how you choose to tackle Scarlet & Violet though, you’ll need to complete all three story paths before you get to see the end credits roll.

Graphics

With a history spanning more than two decades, Pokémon has established its aesthetic style. The franchise never focused on delivering cutting-edge graphics, and Scarlet & Violet doesn’t stray away from this. The cartoony visuals are in line with what we’ve come to expect and even though some of the new monsters and character designs are questionable, you could look at any given screenshot and immediately recognize that this is a Pokémon game. That said, Scarlet & Violet suffers from major performance issues in terms of visuals. Despite the relatively underwhelming visuals, the game cannot hold a steady frame rate, especially when you’re traveling around the overworld. Given that we’ve recently seen how well the Switch handles franchises like Bayonetta or Xenoblade Chronicles, which are all way more taxing on the hardware, it’s hard not to look at developer Game Freak’s poor optimization instead of underpowered hardware.

Sound

Rather than just stick to in-house audio, Game Freak looked at Undertale’s Toby Fox as a guest composer for the field music. The tracks composed by Fox blend in wonderfully with the music composed by series regulars like Junichi Masuda and Minako Adachi, with the OST capturing the Pokémon atmosphere we’ve come to know and love. The obvious outlier here is the inclusion of Celestial, a song composed by Ed Sheeran, which was specifically written for the game. The fact that this song has audible lyrics further highlights how the Pokémon series lacks voice acting, which becomes more jarring with every generation. Likewise, the cries of the Pokémon themselves haven’t been updated either. We do hope that the next entry finally breaks free from the series’ outdated soundscape philosophy.

Gameplay

At this point, it feels like we shouldn’t have to explain Pokémon’s core game formula anymore, as it hasn’t really changed since the original release of Red & Blue. You’re once again thrust into a region inhabited by hundreds of monsters that you can collect and do battle with, and your ultimate goal is to become the champion. It’s a tried and true formula that simply works. Each new mainline entry introduces new monsters and gimmicks to shake things up. This time around, the biggest change is the introduction of an open-world concept, where you are free to explore to your heart’s content and tackle the three main storylines at your own pace. The Paldea region is massive and filled with secrets to discover, and exploration is perhaps Scarlet & Violet’s strongest suit. While we’re still miles away from that Pokémon MMORPG that the fan base is clamoring for, Scarlet & Violet introduces multiplayer where you can actually link up with a friend’s game and catch, battle and raid together online with up to four friends. While setting everything up is as convoluted as ever, requiring multiple menus and link codes, once the connection is set up, it works like a charm.

The other main gimmick here is called Terastalizing, which replaces Sword & Shield’s Dynamaxing mechanic and X & Y’s Mega Evolution mechanic. This time around, your Pokémon can Terastalize, turning them into a crystalized version, which powers up attacks of their Tera type. For most Pokémon, their Tera type matches one of their own types, but through raids and occasional wild encounters, you’ll run into special Tera Pokémon that can change type when they Terastalize. We weren’t a fan of the gimmick initially, mainly because of how garish it looks, but the additional strategies introduced with type changing turned out to be very enjoyable, as it opened up battles in a way we hadn’t experienced before.

Throughout our time with the game, we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that it could have used a little more time in the oven. Apart from the aforementioned visual performance issues, we’ve had several instances where the game outright crashed for us. Although we didn’t run into any of the deformed character model glitches that we’ve seen around the internet, we can’t quite remember any Pokémon game releasing in such an unpolished state. Of course, there could be performance patches down the line, but ultimately, Scarlet & Violet feel like rushed releases. We would have probably preferred it had Game Freak reserved Legends: Arceus for the holiday season instead of dropping it in January, so that more time could have been spent ironing out the kinks here.

Even discounting some of the more egregious bugs and glitches, there are areas that we feel could have been improved upon. The open world concept is fantastic but the world itself feels rather empty, for starters. Another thing that would have massively improved Scarlet & Violet would have been level scaling. Right now, you could simply travel to any gym in Paldea and take it on, regardless of how prepared you are. That does mean that you could stumble upon a gym where opposing trainers use monsters of level 40+ while your team is only in the 20s. Likewise, it’s easy to accidentally skip a low-level gym. The first gym we tackled, for example, happened to be the grass gym, but if you’re looking at how “difficult” the gyms are supposed to be, this one should be the second. We didn’t even realize that we had skipped the easiest gym until we took it on and found our mons to be overleveled. This begs the question of course, of why you’d introduce an open-world concept if you’re not going to adapt the world to player progress? Why not tie the level, and perhaps even the lineup of gym leaders, to the amount of badges obtained? There is very little point in making Pokémon open world if there is still an order in which to best do things.

So why then are we still giving Scarlet & Violet a positive score? Because, despite all of those flaws, it’s still an incredibly fun game. Pokémon’s core formula has often been imitated but never exactly replicated, and there is a good reason why every new entry becomes a top seller. If you’re a Pokémon fan, you already know what to expect, and let’s not kid ourselves here, you’ve probably already picked it up. While we do feel that Scarlet & Violet is a step back from Legends: Arceus in terms of gameplay, this latest entry is still a lot better than Pokémon Sword & Shield, and had the game’s performance been optimized, we would have definitely awarded a higher score. Hopefully, when we return to the game in a few months, after support for Pokémon Home and Pokémon Go is implemented, Scarlet & Violet will have received plenty of polish, ahead of late 2023’s inevitable DLC expansion.

Conclusion

If it was up to us, we would’ve postponed the release of Scarlet & Violet. We can’t recall ever having seen a Pokémon title being released in such a messy state, from the visual performance to random game crashes, and a concept that works in theory but could have used improvements in practice. It’s clear that the game was rushed so that it could be on the shelves in time for Christmas. Still, despite this, what’s present here is just undeniably fun. The game sticks to what made the Pokémon formula great and is a step forward from Sword & Shield. We do hope that there are performance patches down the line, but for now Scarlet & Violet are good, but not great.

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Rating: 5.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Pokémon Scarlet & Violet - Review, 5.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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