In many ways, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet are beautiful works of art. Crafted from start to finish with unique flairs, colors, and styles, some of which won’t appeal to everyone. Some stroke choices are rather strange and controversial, while others are gorgeous and welcoming. Nonetheless, there is no denying the beauty that Game Freak created with these games.
The problem lies in the conflicted nature of Pokemon Scarlet & Violet. At every turn, something contradicts itself, from the graphics to the gameplay to the world itself. Even still, Generation 9 jumps from the segmented open worlds of Pokemon Legends Arceus and the open Wild Areas of Sword & Shield to make a fully open world experience.
In the process, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet feel like the mix between Breath of the Wild’s open world and Sword & Shield’s gameplay. It is by far the most fun I’ve ever had with a Pokemon game, even as someone who has been there since the beginning. However, as with any art, this enjoyment comes at a hefty cost that won’t be for everyone.
Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
At one point in a particular side story in Pokemon Scarlet & Violet, there is a moment that happens at the academy. During this scene, a Pokemon Scarlet & Violet character notes the age-old saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Such is the exact phrase that I would use to describe Pokemon Scarlet & Violet.
The Gen 9 games blast open the doors with an entire region at your fingertips to explore. Once you finish the fairly linear story prologue, you’re free to roam the world in whatever order you choose and do whatever you want.
Various biomes are sprinkled throughout the Paldea region, ranging from luscious forests to isolated snowy mountains. There is a significant emphasis on deserts and rocky areas, which I didn’t prefer, but there is a lot of beauty to be found in the open world.
This is especially true in the, sadly, limited interior sections where the game is able to perform its best and show the Switch-defining graphics that are occasionally on display. Of course, there is a lot of ugly mixed throughout, too.
For every gorgeous vista or screenshot I was able to discover, there were half a dozen awkward clippings of the environment, textures not fully loading in, and Pokemon falling through the world. The resolution is particularly awful at times, especially when playing on TV.
Even on my more recent OLED Switch, there’s no denying that the colors pop and look vibrant, but the graphics still leave much to be desired due to the woeful performance of the Switch. Pokemon Scarlet & Violet screams the need for a Switch successor more than any other Switch game to date.
An Evolutionary Soundtrack
While the graphics are sometimes mixed, the same can’t be said for the tremendous soundtrack. Easily the best in the series, every track throughout the open-world RPG captures the ebb and flow of a true Treasure Hunt, which is the entire point of the game.
Battles have bombastic music and thrilling melodies, while the open-world exploration has relaxed, almost low-fi music that keeps you entertained and not too lonely in the vast areas. A special note should be made for the final area of the game, which has some of my favorite exploration and battle music in any game ever.
I won’t spoil too much, but there is this near-perfect blend of chill exploration music that seamlessly transitions into a full-on sped-up band version in the battles that you have to experience.
Open World Is the Future of Pokemon
Where I was most impressed with the Generation 9 games was in the open world itself. The Pokemon Company touts that you are able to go anywhere that you want and do anything that you’d like in these games, and that pretty much rings true in the actual games.
Once you beat the prologue, you are tasked with going on a Treasure Hunt for the school of your particular game (yes, they differ for some reason). This is composed of three different main story paths that boil down to 18 unique tasks you must complete in total, one for every Pokemon typing in the series.
At this point, you can complete any of the 18 in any order you’d like. There are the five Path of Legends Titan Pokemon you can fight, five Team Star evil bases you need to clear out, and the typical eight Gym Badges you need to earn to enter the Pokemon League and become a Champion.
This amount of choice is overwhelming and unprecedented for the series, and I absolutely loved every minute of the progression through the open world. The issue that holds the open world progression back some is the lack of level scaling.
Every one of the 18 tasks you need to do for the main story has a set level indicated for them. With this in mind, you could immediately skip to the Ice-type Gym Leader but you’d be in for a rough battle against the highest-level Pokemon that any Gym Leader has to offer.
In this way, the game is pretty much designed in a way to encourage you to follow a particular path level-wise, but you can deviate from this if you wish, which I just so happened to do. Let me tell you, it takes quite a bit of grinding to make it happen, but it was so worth it to make the story my own.
After beating the first set of tasks from each of the three main stories, I branched off and started exploring the world, grinding, and learning as I went. In the end, I actually completed the most brutal Gym Leader as my fourth one for that particular storyline. From there, I jumped around the map, completing tasks whenever I felt like it.
What I love about the end of the game is that it shows the exact order of how you went about beating the game. The bottom line is if you want to skip to the snowy area and immediately catch the new pseudo-legendary Dragon evolutionary line, you can. You’ll just have to work extra hard to make it happen. While not perfect, this level of choice is a welcome change of pace for the series.
Welcome New Features and Missing Older Ones
By and large, the gameplay of Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is roughly the same as what we’ve come to expect from the series, minus the aforementioned open-world formula that I adored. The gameplay is still turn-based here, with a straightforward system similar to Gen 8.
You still have only six Pokemon you carry at once (though you can switch from your boxes on the fly), four moves for every Pokemon, and only being able to catch Pokemon through battles (no Legends Arceus stuff here). The unique quirk to battles this time around is Terastallizing.
This generation’s equivalent of Dynamaxing or Mega Evolution, Terastallizing involves a unique third typing that every Pokemon inherently has. You can switch to that typing for a Pokemon once per battle, and that new typing will take the place of their old one(s) defensively.
However, it will also add to their already existing typings offensively. For instance, if you have a Normal/Grass Smoliv and its Tera type is Grass, its Grass moves will become more powerful but still retain its boost to Normal attacks. The bonus is that it won’t have the extra weakness of Fighting, though.
On the other hand, if that same Smoliv has a Tera typing of Fire, it will gain a boost to Fire attacks, in addition to keeping the Normal and Grass boosts. Plus, it will no longer be weak to Fire while Terastallizing. It sounds confusing to talk about but it is actually quite easy to figure out and fun to execute. This is the second-best battle gimmick in the series after Mega Evolution, which is a considerable step up from the last couple of generations.
In fact, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet are full of neat features like Terastallizing that it introduces, such as the ability to auto-battle in the overworld for chaining Pokemon for shinies. But there are some steps back at the same time.
Picnics replace the camping from Gen 8, which is fine, but it also takes the place of Daycares and breeding. This new system of finding eggs is wonky and slow at times. I also would have preferred the option to catch Pokemon in the overworld the way that Legends Arceus optionally allowed.
Also, where the heck are the indoor areas and customization options? Sure, the avatar hairstyles and other options are much better this time around, but the clothing is abysmal. You are a student, so you must wear a school uniform the entire time, which is a bold but ultimately horrible decision.
This could be to add some realism of how school is near the Japan-based Game Freak (though this is based in Spain and Portugal), but there aren’t even options for common uniform items like actual blazers or skirts.
And don’t get me started on the lack of buildings you can enter. Outside of Gyms and stores, there are almost no buildings you can enter throughout the many massive, unique cities begging to be explored more. This is especially an issue after seeing how detailed and stunning the interior of your starting home is.
Riddled With Problems
If you couldn’t tell, it seems that Gen 9 is meant to be the growing pains game in the series. I always thought Game Freak would wait for Gen 10 to go fully open world, but it seems this decision was made earlier to get the major issues out of the way to address them in Gen 10 then possibly.
Everything about playing Pokemon Scarlet & Violet Is filled with issues. None of them truly took away from my enjoyment or love of these games, but they could for some players. Besides the frame rate problems, there are frame rate drops often, though the game does attempt to prioritize its performance at the very least.
There were times the game would get choppy in an open-world battle and times that it would stutter transitioning between sequences. There was even one hard freeze that happened in the loading after a Titan battle that forced me to restart my game. Thankfully, with autosave on, I didn’t lose any progress.
Everything about Pokemon Scarlet & Violet tells me that they were meant for new hardware that could truly execute the brilliant vision that Game Freak had for them.
But one area that absolutely nailed the vision in a surprising fashion is multiplayer, both online and offline. I was stunned by how well the multiplayer worked, especially after the travesty that was playing together in Sword & Shield.
It’s almost like a light MMO in a way, with the ability to traverse the entire world with up to three other players in a party of four. I played almost the whole game together with a family member, and the best part was that we could do whatever we wanted.
We might be in the same game together, but one of us might be on the south side of the map just starting the story while the other is taking on a Team Star base in the northeastern corner of the Paldea region. Your story progression stays no matter whose world you’re in, and there are almost no restrictions whatsoever.
There is something special about going about your lives, occasionally running raids together, and showing off the Pokemon you captured.
A Mixed Bag of New Pokemon
Speaking of new Pokemon, there are just over 100 new Pokemon to enjoy in Pokemon Scarlet & Violet. Overall, I would say that this is one of the weaker lineups in recent memory, about on the same level as Sword & Shield. There are some excellent Pokemon here, like the base three starters and Koraidon and Miraidon, but a ton of duds, too.
Sure, it doesn’t have nearly as many filler Pokemon as Gen 5, for instance, but there are still quite a lot of useless Pocket Monsters. Even still, the standouts in the crowd have instantly become some of my favorites of all time.
The Sprigatito final evolution, in particular, has absolutely snuck its way into my top 10 favorites. I would even say the same can be said for Ceruledge and a certain legendary Pokemon I won’t reveal. There is definitely a lack of regional forms this time around that could have filled out the Pokédex with more fun additions, and I can’t say I love the whole convergent Pokemon deal. Even still, it’s a solid new set of Pokémon.
A Surprisingly Heartfelt Tale of Treasure
The most vital part of Pokemon Scarlet & Violet isn’t the gameplay and open world, though those are some of the best the series has ever seen. In fact, it is actually the narrative which is not only the best in the series but also triumphs well over Gen 5’s fantastic story. In the process, it sets a standard for the franchise as a whole.
When I say that the story rivals that of the JRPG genre greats, I mean it. There were many times that Pokemon Scarlet & Violet’s story felt like I was playing through the main story of Final Fantasy XIV in all the best ways possible.
It is largely due to the best and most well-written cast of characters in the series. All of your rivals, teachers, and villains have the time and resources dedicated to making them feel like real characters, not shoe-horned in to carry along the plot.
Characters like Arven, Director Clavell, and Penny easily destroy the paper-thin personalities and moments that some of the fan favorites in the series, like Cynthia, had. Even this Elite Four group is my favorite to date because you get to know all of them in a meaningful way beyond some obligatory introductory scene. The Treasure Hunt plot is heartfelt, self-aware, goofy, and executed so well that the story stuck with me long after the musical credits rolled.
The final section of the story, in particular, is one of my favorite ending sequences in any game ever, with the music, banter, and plot coming together so well, reminding me of FFXIV time and time again. There is even the opportunity to expand the story by spending time with your teachers at school, a la Persona 5, and raising your bond with them.
In this way, Scarlet & Violet move the series forward in a way that it can never go back to the generic afterthought execution that Sword & Shield’s plot was.
While Pokemon Scarlet & Violet will keep you plenty busy for many hours to come, even past the credits rolling, all great things must come to an end. Here are a few alternatives you should consider:
- Persona 5: Scarlet & Violet finally takes after Persona’s school and character-driven plot, so this is an even more apt alternative than ever before.
- Shin Megami Tensei series: I particularly recommend IV and Apocalypse, but V is easily available on Switch.
- Final Fantasy XIV: The plot and characters remind me so much of this masterful MMO.
- Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Complete Edition: A pair of excellent games, especially Hacker’s Memory, that feels a lot like Scarlet & Violet in their turn-based gameplay, monster collecting, and character-first story.
- Monster Hunter Stories 2: This Switch console exclusive is far better than the original, refining the Pokemon-inspired turn-based gameplay with a fun and colorful world. If you want a Switch Pokemon-like game with better performance, this is the one.
Pokemon Scarlett & Violet Review: FAQs
Question: Is there a difference between Pokemon Scarlet & Violet?
Answer: Yes, there are quite a few differences. The clothing, school, some characters, and several Pokemon are different based on which game you play. Both are excellent, so just base it mainly on which legendary you prefer between Koraidon and Miraidon and which aesthetic you prefer between orange and purple. I know that I am glad that I picked Violet because I wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing all of the oranges everywhere.
Question: Can Pokemon Scarlet play with Violet?
Answer: Yes! This is highly recommended, as it is possible to have someone with the opposite game version be the host for you and then be able to catch the version exclusives in their world that you usually wouldn’t get without trading with someone.
Question: Can you catch Pokemon without battling in Pokemon Scarlet & Violet?
Answer: Sadly, no, you can’t catch Pokemon without battling. Unlike Legends Arceus and the Let’s Go games, you must battle to catch Pokemon.
Pokemon Scarlett & Violet Review: The Verdict
Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is almost everything I’ve ever wanted from a Pokemon game. The truly open-world theme is finally here, and it works so well paired with the nearly limitless MMO-lite multiplayer. The turn-based gameplay is back and swifter than ever, the challenge is there as the most demanding games in the series for me due to my path, and several of the new Pokemon are instant favorites for me.
Pokemon Scarlet & Violet falls apart some when it comes to its plethora of technical and visual problems and the lack of critical features. However, these issues do little to take away from the most fun I’ve ever had with a Pokemon game.
It is easily my second-favorite game in the series and would have been the best game in the series on proper hardware. It is for this reason that I look forward to a suddenly bright future for a franchise that only recently felt dull, repetitive, and heading downhill.
- Scarlet & Violet reinvents the Pokemon formula with surprisingly well-done open-world gameplay
- The story is the heart of this game, rivaling the best tales in the JRPG genre
- Characters are given the attention and love they deserve
- New features like Terastallizing, Union Circle multiplayer, and auto-battling are fantastic
- A tremendous best-in-class soundtrack
- The game has beauty, but the Switch can’t handle it, offering terrible resolutions in both handheld and TV modes
- Performance is smooth at times but horrible out of nowhere with infrequent frame rate drops
- Lack of crucial features like clothing customization and interior sections to explore
Cody played roughly 40 hours of Pokemon Violet, specifically, with some referencing back to Scarlet through the help of a family member.
He completed the main story, including all three main paths, the final section of the story, and a solid portion of the postgame as well. There are still more Pokemon to capture to fill out the Pokédex and a little bit more postgame to complete, but he’s seen almost everything Paldea has to offer.
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