My first review of a new Pokemon mainline title here, yay!
Felt like i had to since i didn’t do so for Legends: Arceus or the Diamond/Pearl remake (as i previously explained), and we do need to talk about this one. Sternly, too.
I only wanna preface i won’t be considering the competitive aspect or balance there of as i honestly never cared too much for that even decades ago, less so today, meaning i can’t and won’t be giving a throughout evisceration of the meta, so to speak.
Fair warned be thee.
The first titles of Pokemon 9th generation, Scarlet/Violet take place in the Paldea region, heavily inspired by the Iberian peninsula, so if you felt the spanish and portoguese vibes from the trailers, you were correct. The story starts off with you reaching the school’s annual Treasure Hunt event in time to encounter your rival/friend (aka the pokemon rival equivalent of Son Goku from Dragon Ball), but interestingly (and as advertised) this lead to three story routes you can follow, which also include the regular old fashioned fights against Gym Leaders for badges leading to fight that region’s Elite Four equivalent and then the Champion.
The other ones involve a region-wide quest for mystics herbs protected by giant Pokemons, and the storyline that pits against an antagonistic team of trainers, in this case rebellious students that form a gang called Team Star, spread in various bases with a respective Leader ruling it.
I do like this approach to the story content, as it address the criticized lack of content in some of the later Pokemon mainline releases, and it fits the open world format, letting you pick and choose what to tackle first and what later, so even if you wanna first go very classic and beat up Gym Leaders, you don’t have to face them in a set order anymore, nor have to contend with a single storyline mashing all these three routes in a single, convoluted, bloated one.
These three eventually converge for the final act in the off-limits Area Zero at the center of the map, which verges about a different professor depending on the version picked.
It’s arguably the best story and narrative in the series, second to the original Sun and Moon release, because it lets the various sub-stories breath and the characters with them too, while also being the more consistent and realized , making for a comprehensive and organicly woven narrative.
Though i do start to wonder if isn’t time to actually introduce some voice acting to the series, i mean, given how much Game Freak and Nintendo are investing in these games and them keep breaking their own sales records every time… it won’t hurt to consider.
Despite claiming this is the first open world game in the series… it’s an obvious lie, as Game Freak, after doing baby steps in this regards, did manage to create a proper and solid take on the open world formula with Legends: Arceus, so – as many with eyes and logic could realize – Violet/Scarlet are built on the foundations laid out in Arceus.
Well, you could argue Arceus wasn’t a full open world but more like 5 big open world style areas with a hub connecting them, but still, we’re being a bit pedantic, it’s obvious Scarlet/Violet took that as the baseline to build on… when it does actually do that instead of “de-evolving”.
Yep, while i do understand some things had to be different, the short version it’s that you’ll wonder why Game Freak didn’t just kept all of the gameplay basic as they were in Arceus, as they didn’t need change or fixing. For example, say goodbye to just aiming a pokeball and catching pokemons by… lobbing them at the creatures, that was so efficient, fun and controlled well too.
Now you have instead an incredibly finnicky, unreliable and shitty lock-on system that doesn’t let you lob “them spheres” at the Pokemons, but you do get a new feature – surprisingly good too -, called Let’s Go, which means you can sick the first Pokemon in your party on a nearby pokemon so they can auto battle, with the types relationships and levels taken into consideration to determine the winner. Saves a lot of time, it’s useful to grind materials (more on that later), there’s no big drawback on the exp netted out, and it’s also useful to find out shiny pokemons, as your pokemon will refuse to autobattle these rare chromatic variants.
You can also just chill out with the Pokemon and walk about, if you go too fast the pokemon will go back into the Pokeball, but it’s a quite nice addition. Why did it have to come at the cost of things working as they did in previous Pokemon games, as in, worse, i don’t know.
I mean, speaking of the combat, there’s also no fuckin excuse to take out the excellent mastery system of Arceus, where you had Pokemon master moves and so access faster or stronger versions, a simple but great addition that helped give more depth to the combat… so of course it’s completely, randomly scrubbed, since you can still make a pokemon remember a move via a simple menù.
The other new major feature is this iteration’s take on the “transformation gimmick”, with Teracrystalization, meaning now pokemon have their type (or dual type) and can morph/turn into a different Teratype when crystalizing, or have the same base type and get a stab/power up.
For example, Meowscarade is Grass/Dark but has a Grass Teratype by default, meaning it loses its weakness to Fighting (among others) type moves.
It doesn’t work like Gigamax did in Sword/Shield so the moves don’t transform into special versions when the pokemon Teracrystalizes, and it’s a lot less flashy, but it opens up more strategic opportunities, as you will want to get your hands on Pokemons with specific Teratypes, by either using a specific NPC that can change the Teratypes for a price, or by doing the Teraraids.
The latter are a revised version of the Raids seen in Sword/Shield, now with a timer instead of a limited number of turns and the ability to come back to the fight after a small amount of time, but they work the same, and are useful to gather a lot of valuable items, from Rare Candies to treasures, and this time materials gotten off the defeated Pokemon, as now the TMS are all mono-use, can be found but also crafted by using money and specific dropped materials of a Pokemon.
Oddly, one instance where i’m ok with the changes it’s the crafting, as in here it’s de-evolved and you don’t need to gather materials to even craft your pokeballs, which was easier, encouraged by the cost and scarcity of premade pokeballs in shops and the whole “survival” angle.
Here it’s mostly optional and i’m not exactly crying about it, since it could have been a New Horizons style situation. But to be extra clear… it is NOT.
The Raids also net you League Points, a new currency added in Scarlet/Violet for the aforementioned TM crafting, which often can be used instead of the old “pokedollars/pokepounds”, and no, there’s NO microtransaction system built in or about to exploit these two types of currencies, it’s just there for your convenience. Not that anybody expect to… for now.
What has been streamlined for the better is the mount Pokemons, as now they’re fused into the legendary, Miraidon/Koraidon, which it’s basically a motorbike pokemon, it’s given to you early on, and will expand his traversal abilities by doing the Mystical Herbs storyline, eventually letting you plane over and jump on walls to scale mountains.
I think the flying ability was better in Arceus, but it’s fine, obviously it wasn’t gonna work like Latios/Latias in the ORAS remakes, even in the post game it would have been “broken”. Maybe.
The open world itself it’s quite good, expanding from Arceus but keeping exploration satisfying in a moment-to-moment basis, with plenty of items to pick up, new pokemon to discover in new areas, or swarms that warrant going there for some shiny hunts, with the “restoration areas” (functioning as warp points and having integrated easy access/drive-in style Pokemon Center, Market and TM crafting machine all-in-one) well spaced, you never feel too far away from them.
On the downside, the town areas are surprisingly a lot less interesting, as they mostly exist to host the Gym Leaders, which have an unique entrance exam and then go straight to the Gym Leader fight, no random fodder trainers to fight before taking on the head honchos.
They feel stripped, even more as most of the shops you can enter being just a menu selection of foodstuffs to buy, so only a few selected shops have interiors you can see and explore, and by that i mostly mean the “poke Subways” locations, which is sad since the “panini crafting” aspect it’s a lot less interesting than the curry cooking was in Sword and Shield, and feels like a downgrade.
To me at least, since it’s still a very simple minigame, though i like the absurd customization poured into this thing, like you can buy toys swords as toothpicks to “staple” the panini together.
Also, now camping/picnicking also serves for pokemon breeding… which i had to find out by searching online, since i didn’t encounter a single Day Care-style facility, and guess what, it’s because this time you produce eggs by doing picnicks, having pokemon with compatible eggs groups in the team, waiting some time, then eventually finding eggs in the picnic basket.
In terms of new monsters, i would dare say Scarlet/Violet has some of the best new designs the series has seen in years, with some really good new ones, some that kinda feel out of place but are so weird or cool that you don’t care (like Ceruledge that won’t feel out of place in a Mega Man X game or Nacli’s evolutionary line feeling like a Minecraft monster design), and some are so plain stupid or matter of fact that it’s hard not to love them, like the flamingo pokemon being… just a flamingo, or my beloved Dunsparce getting a “joke evolution”. XD
Though the game bitterly indulges on the modern Pokemon trend of the “regional versions”, as here some pokemons have specific regional variants but are still the same, while having some that are basically the same but now classified as new species entirely (looking at you, speedrunner landlubber Tentacool), to say nothing of the Paradox Pokemons you meet in the Area Zero.
The Pokedex situation is the same as in Sword Shield, as in you have a 400 numbered regional Pokedex, no National Dex, so nothing that hasn’t been documented and expected by now.
Getting back to exploration, i need to stress how the cities feel smaller and emptier than before, so they end up being forgettable, which is a huge step down from previous Pokemon games.
It feels like a byproduct of streamlining or optimizing so many features that previously were handled by NPCs you could find only in certain towns or buildings within those, as it just feels like something it’s missing, like they didn’t expect that you should add something else in the “cake mix” to balance things you removed for one reason or another.
I’m not saying the cities are pointless, no, there are still some unique attractions or useful NPC to find (like the ones that tell you the “friendship rate”), like the auction market in Cascarraffa City, some pharmacies, but there’s pretty much little to no interiors, like come on, it’s Pokemon, i wanna enter/bust into random people’s houses to trade, receive shit or hear them say something.
The problem also extends to the open world, though to a far lesser extent, as in, i feel having some proper quests happen organically in the various open areas between cities or whatever would have made the exploration better. The formula still remains engaging since the main gameplay loop of catching pokemons, entering raids to obtain rare versions with different Tera types is still useful for the stuff you get (even outside of the materials needed to craft Mts), and there is stuff to do regarding the aforementioned “catch n explore”, it just need a bit more.
I’m not asking for those Ubisoft icon infested maps with regurgitate activities/busywork.
Almost forgot, since you’re technically enlisted in an academy, you CAN actually attend various lessons that become available, but they’re basically just cutscenes and the school doesn’t have much to do in its areas, aside from building up relationshipwith the teachers and the likes by talking to them, and while it sounds kinda Persona-y, it amounts to some events and some rewards, not much.
I mean, it’s kinda telling the first big thing you do regarding the school… is getting out of class and instantly being pushed into the open world, getting told basically “go nuts”.
Okay, we waited long enough, let’s get to the residential pachiderm of Scarlet/Violet.
As in the unquestionable truth of this being more than just a “rushed” release, as in, the game launched exactly in the same technical state as Cyberpunk 2077 did.
Many others have said this already, but it must be pointed out that’s NOT hyperbole, the game was clearly years away from being ready to ship, and even though i had worries when this one was announced mere months after Legends Arceus came out, i didn’t expect it to be this bad.
I mean, Sword and Shield wasn’t good looking of a game, but Arceus did improve on that and at least had a very good art direction to make up for it, so how could anyone expect the new mainline entry to look even worse than Sword/Shield AND run like complete ass?
I didn’t play Cyberpunk 2077 at launch, but by the many videos and copious patch notes, even if Pokemon was slightly better as in simply far more playable even in its launch state, this shouldn’t be the new “acceptable”, the new substandard we know expect from big names games.
You know, saying it struggles to run at 30 FPS for second implies it does mostly run at 30 fps, but that it’s not the case. The framerate is abysmal, the game struggles and chugs for everything that happens on screen, the texture are of very low qualities, the pokemon models more often than not remind me of PS2 era games, NPCs often move at the framerate of stop motions figures for an old Sellick movie, there’s a galore of graphical glitches to find, enough that people have made multiple compilations cataloging the smorgasboard of weird clipping, eyes bulging out, etc.
It’s a shit show made worse by a fierce pop-up that rivals the early Dynasty Warriors games, and a bad camera, a killer combo that evolves into a triple hit when you consider a lot of pokemon (especially the new ones that are the first stage of their evolutionary line) are very small so you’ll often accidentally run into them and trigger a fight, and the lag is so abundant that it might as well be a co-protagonist.
To what i surmised i’ve got one of the better experiences, as it just crashed once and i never got my save randomly corrupted (otherwise this review would have been delayed to next year for sure), but even with a first patch and allegedly more on the way, i don’t see thing improving much, not until we got anything less than a No Man Sky “mega patch”, and given how Nintendo it’s set on having annual Pokemon releases, i do not foresee this happening.
Also, while this goose is far from cooked (or even slightly crisp), even if it run perfectly it would look ugly and dated as hell, which isn’t a quick fix, the art style feels like a step back from both Arceus or Sword/Shield, and there are some design problems anyway, like the already discussed walking back from Legends Arceus of many features that fixed many long running issues or antiquated annoyances, odd compromises with the new features that often feel undercooked as well.
See the limited wandering option offered by the Let’s go feature, or the whole “team Star base capture system”, which sounds sounds great, but basically boils down to having the first 3 pokemon of your squad come out and being given a very lax time limit to knock out the pokemons thrown out by the grunts… by spamming the autobattle shoulder button or the other one to summon them back, until you defeat enough Pokemon and then face the Team Star division leader in a normal battle.
Yeah, you still have to consider the types weaknesses and resistances for autobattles, but it feels that so MUCH more could have been done with the idea, maybe a RTS type thingie. I dunno.
Same applies to the dominant Pokemons face-offs, aside from the the flying one that caused a rock tumbling cascade down a mountain there’s no mini-challenges in order to even get to the Dominant pokemons themselves, which after a first phase they move into a nearby cave and power up for the second and final battle.A missed opportunity to design some proper small dungeons/trials around them, expanding on what was done in Ultra Sun /Moon… or – again – do like Arceus did.
Touching briefly on another subject, while i’m glad there is no level scaling in the overworld, i wouldn’t have been against the game scaling the difficulty of the gym leaders or team Star bosses or dominant pokemons with the levelled pokemon in your squad, you’d think they would take into account the fact you can tackle any big story quest in any order you want and stuff.
One last aspect that has also de-evolved from previous iterations but might not be as obvious as everything else is the player character customization, taking a big step back from SW/SH as now with the school excuse (i guess(you’re very limited in the kind of attire you can wear and well.. not combine, since you can swap between kinds of school niforms but not quite mix and match clothing pieces. And unsurprisingly this extends to the cities having almost no clothing shops at all.
Music is excellent as always, though, that hasn’t changed or been hampered by this game being SEVERELY undercooked on a technical level, actually it’s even more bitter how amazing the themes are this type around, Game Freak has some incredibly skilled composers, big kudos.
I still prefer SW/SH compositions to some extent, but still, some incredible quality work.
The story takes close to 40 hours to see the finale, and in terms of post-game, you get Gym Leader rematches, a school wide tournament, a handful of new pokemon in the now more freely explorable Area Zero (but not many, and frankly i feel like Violet players/buyers got mostly the shittier end of the stick, since the “future” Paradox Pokemons designs are kinda meh, kinda generic “but now robotic” designs honestly), Team Star rematches, higher tier Crystal Raids showing up, etc.
There’s also stuff you could stumble/find before finishing the game but that makes more sense after, like hunting for Ghimmigouls scattered about to get the coins needed to evolve it, alongside 4 sub-legendaries to find and the expected stuff for competitive, like the ability to check IV, items for shiny hunting or for easier breeding of pokemons for the competitive side.
Speaking of which, now the competitive, co-op and trading aspects are relegated/moved to the Pokeportal menu option, and yes, this time you can actually play with a group up to 4 players in the whole thing, instead of the walled garden in SW/SH.
In conclusion, Pokemon Scarlet Violet it’s kinda depressing because it had the chops to be the better Pokemon game in a while, that picks up and refines or reworks some previously attempted but never followed through idea/concepts from previous gens, we could have something special if if Nintendo didn’t force Game Freak to crank out Pokemon games on less than annual bases.
But instead we have a game that not only it’s clearly underbaked and rushed to market a year (or years) before it was actually finished, incredibly dated and ugly in terms of looks, beyond just “a bit buggy”, running on a framerate that it’s closer to a zoatrope than a modern 2022 videogame, AND with a lot of questionable design choices, with some of the new cool features that feel underbaked or not fully developed and plenty of walking back stuff that really should have been kept as it worked in Legends Arceus and expanded upon, instead of “regressed back”.
It’s a fuckin mess that at least proves the open world format it’s actually beneficial to the Pokemon formula and not a massive waste of time by desperate producers chasing saturated trends, a mess that can be somewhat enjoyed despite the horrible, unbelievable performance (or lack there of), thanks to some fun new additions to the classic – and still captivating -formula, one of the best accomplished stories in the franchise, likeable characters, a good selection of newly designed pokemons (and some stupid fun new regional variants), even a fun new gimmick transformation.
Pity it’s a broken, undercooked goose of a game.