Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are the latest main series games in a franchise that’s become beleaguered with issues. While Pokemon still sells, decisions around the game series have been criticized over the last few years. In particular, the “Dexit” controversy made many fans feel like Game Freak doesn’t care anymore. The positive reception of Pokemon Legends: Arceus made it seem like things might be turning around, but Scarlet and Violet show that there are still major issues afoot, despite it being the most fun I’ve had with a Pokemon game in years.
This time around, things are a bit more complicated. As a student of a prestigious Pokemon academy in Paldea’s biggest city, Mesadoza, you’re tasked with going on a “Treasure Hunt” to accomplish a goal you find truly meaningful. In addition to the standard Pokemon League challenge, you’re also tasked with taking down rampaging titan Pokemon and fighting the notorious Team Star.
Early access vibes
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feels like an alpha of a really great game — the best entry in the series since the 3DS days. You can see that all the pieces are there to craft the Pokemon adventure fans have been craving. But, unfortunately, it could have used a couple more years in the oven.
Graphical glitches are everywhere. There are rampant frame drops, lag spikes, and pop-in. The model collision is terrible, and it’s not unusual to see Pokemon hovering in the air if they’re standing on any sort of incline.
Switch games always get a pass because the hardware is behind the times. However, Game Freak has had issues with optimization since the DS days, and it’s only gotten worse since the series transitioned to 3D. However, Scarlet and Violet make Sword and Shield and Arceus look like Breath of the Wild.
Game Freak is basically a first-party Nintendo developer at this point, and Pokemon is one of the best-selling and most popular franchises of all time. Given the series’ history and bank-rolling sales, there is no excuse for Scarlet and Violet to be pushed out with such performance issues, especially considering Game Freak already removed content like the national dex to make development easier.
Lack of progress
But Scarlet and Violet’s greatest sin, and one that destroys the momentum of the game midway through, is the lack of level scaling. In theory, you can tackle any gym, titan, or Team Star hideout you want at any time. In practice, though, there are two paths almost everyone is going to take.
When you get through the intro and are sent on your Treasure Hunt, you can leave Mesagoza through either the east or west gate. What lies beyond is a series of gyms, hideouts, and titans that rise in level as you follow a semi-circular path toward the north of Paldea.
The odd part is that the east and west path level progression is the exact same. So, by the time you’ve made your way to the halfway mark and are rocking a level 40-50 team, you have to go back to the path you didn’t take and face gym leaders with level 15-25 Pokemon.
Alternatively, you could alternate between east and west in an attempt to keep the challenge somewhat balanced. However, you’ll just end up even more overleveled if you choose this route.
Of course, this whole issue could have been solved if at least the trainer Pokemon scaled with you. If that were the case, I might be a bit afraid when I have to go face down the Bug-Type gym with my level 50 Meowscarada. As it is, by that point, I can stomp my way through it even if I just use Grass-Type moves.
Stuck in the past
But there are also many good things about Scarlet and Violet’s design. This is the series’ first genuinely open-world entry, and it was an absolutely fantastic move to finally ditch the series’ linear paths. Pokemon is supposed to be about adventure and exploration, and you never really got that sense of wonder and scale when you’re moving down a narrow path from point A to point B. Now you do, even if there’s still some work to be done — you still end up heading in a straight line between gyms, hideouts, and titans.
You also still need badges to control Pokemon over a certain level. Suppose you accidentally stray too far the wrong way — in that case, you might catch Pokemon that completely ignore you when you try to command them in battle. It’s not like there’s a delicately-crafted difficulty scale here, so if you can manage to catch a Pokemon, you should be able to use it unrestricted.
This issue permeates almost every aspect of the game. For example, you can change your character’s shoes, socks, hat, glasses, face, hair color, hairstyle, gloves, backpack, and phone case in the game. However, you can only choose one of four seasonal school uniforms. The game received early praise for outfits not being gender-locked, but that’s really just a half-truth. You can’t customize your outfit anymore, only your accessories.
It all adds up to a Pokemon game that is so close to getting it right, but stumbles at almost every turn. If Game Freak refines the concept it laid out here, we could be on to something great for the future of the series — however, given that we said the same thing about Arceus, it’s disappointing that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet isn’t the big step forward we’re impatiently waiting for.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review: The Final Verdict
Unfortunately, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet didn’t get the development time they deserved. It’s hard to see a franchise that means so much to me finally start heading in the right direction only to come up short. I sincerely hope that Game Freak and Nintendo will start listening to fans and critics and turn things around.