After clocking up 55 hours playing Pokemon Scarlet, it’s about time I review this flawed but incredibly enjoyable game.
Pokemon has long been a familiar, and sometimes tiresome, format. Although each Generation has welcomed innovation, the bare bones of the game has remained much the same.
As much as I love Pokemon, I wasn’t that excited about Gen IX. I’d found Pokemon Sword & Shield extremely lacklustre, even after the DLC, so my hope for anything different was minimal.
But Pokemon Scarlet & Violet promised change – open world gameplay, the ability to determine how you play the story, new Pokemon, different Academies, it all sounded exactly what the franchise needed.
Yet, its reception has been mixed, sometimes downright frosty, and the game has many issues it desperately needs to address.
It’s fallen short for a lot of fans, undeniably snatching away its chance to join the hallowed halls of the best (main series) Pokemon games.
It all begs the question, where does this leave the Pokemon franchise moving forward?
What we love (there’s a lot to like, actually)
I know many – many – players are going to disagree with this, but Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is a good game. In fact, in some ways it’s a great game.
There’s plenty to love about what this new Generation brings to the table.
The End Game story is exceptionally powerful.
In my humble opinion, each storyline had plenty of merit, but The Way Home was exceptional.
I cried. Seriously. I sat and cried because it had such emotion, far more than I’ve seen from a Pokemon game before, alongside a bittersweet ending; not everyone found their way home.
Area Zero opened up the region so much, yet it inhabits such a small portion of the map. By the time I headed down into its depth, I half expected it to end within mere minutes: we’d save Professor Sada, we’d all have a big hug, and that’s that.
How wrong I was.
We actually fought Professor Sada, well, her AI version, in a brutal battle that kept on giving. Pokeballs were locked, Terastallizing proved impossible in the final act, and Koridon finally faced its demons.
Nobody can play this section of the game and walk away thinking it’s bad.
Carve your own path to becoming a Pokemon Master
Let’s face it, the previous main series Pokemon games have been pretty darn linear. Even my beloved Pokemon Silver (which is S tier, in my opinion) had a set path you couldn’t deviate from.
But Pokemon Scarlet & Violet changed that.
From the moment you leave the Academy, you’re allowed to choose which of the three main pathways you wish to tackle first. That felt incredibly refreshing.
For once, we were allowed to postpone our destined date with the Pokemon League and explore what else the region had to offer. Even when we approached the Gyms first, we were able to do them in whatever order we deemed fit; I challenged Katy first, while Brandon met Brassius.
I didn’t have to worry that I was straying too far off the beaten path because there wasn’t one – when Brandon headed east, I headed west.
We were both playing the same game (albeit, Brandon is Team Violet), yet we had markedly different experiences beyond the inevitable version exclusives.
Say bye-bye to throwaway, typical “bad guys”
Every Pokemon game has a team of bad guys: Team Rocket, Team Plasma, Team Flare, they were all bad news. The archetypal villains to defeat.
Then Pokemon started introducing throwaway bad guys, like Team Yell, who serve no real purpose or have a clear aim. Yes, they want to prevent Marnie’s rivals from beating her, but that’s hardly on par with the world domination we saw in previous Gens.
The bad guys were toned down to the point of being nothing more than comedic fodder.
However, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet decided to introduce a team that actually posed a challenge, and that stood for something more than being hooligans. Oh, and, plot twist, they’re not actually bad!
I’m not saying I loved Team Star, but nobody can deny they’re better than whatever Team Yell was meant to be. Plus, it added depth in a way that challenged players to question whether anyone is fundamentally good or bad.
What lets the game down
Look, a lot of games have bugs that need patching. But boy oh boy, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet has way too many for its price tag!
The graphics leave a lot to be desired
If you thought Sonic Frontiers had bad graphics, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet has it beat.
It pains me to say this, because I don’t think graphics are the be all and end all – I can play my old best Gameboy games and still love what I see. But arguably nostalgia heavily plays a part, something that Pokemon Scarlet & Violet can’t claim.
For a £50 game, in 2022, on a console that bought stunning graphics like in Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, there’s no excuse.
I’d watch as a Slowpoke randomly spawned in front of me, to see its angular body awkwardly crawl across my screen. Don’t get me wrong, Slowpoke is still adorable, but I was essentially seeing a gloried pink cube on legs.
Sadly, this wasn’t the only graphical issue. The landscape and scenery lacked texture, often looking like a bad photoshop job, and my character would regularly clip through the floor during battles.
NPCs who jut across the screen thanks to low FPS
I wish I was joking, but the FPS is like something from the late 90s.
Background NPCs who move like rusty robots, made all the more obvious when they attempt to tackle a hilly landscape. Oh, and sometimes they just disappear entirely!
What we should see are NPCs who move with the same agility as my character, which isn’t saying a lot when I’d occasionally just glide like a Dalek from one spot to the next. But you get the idea, there’s meant to be fluidity.
Don’t tell me the Switch can’t handle a higher FPS because we all know that isn’t true, do I really need to mention Breath of The Wild again?
The Switch may not be as visually sharp as the Xbox or Playstation, but it can handle more than what Pokemon Scarlet & Violet delivered. To blame the console is nothing more than a poor excuse for rushing a game that obviously needs further work.
There’s just too many empty spaces
Although cities can feel vast and empty, in a Pokemon game that isn’t what you want. Sure, the odd dead end is true to life, but when that’s all you find, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
I wanted to still be able to just waltz into someone’s house, like the good ol’ days. Instead, I just looked at roads lined with buildings, all of which held no secrets, NPC trades, or a hidden TM.
It felt soulless.
Once you left the main high street or plaza, all that was left was visual filler. I understand that every door being a secret could prove overwhelming to some, but let’s face it, we expect it from Pokemon. In truth, we demand it.
We want to be rewarded for our curiosity – don’t provide an open world that’s only slightly ajar, give me an underground passage that’s lined with trainers pounce on the unsuspecting protagonist. For the love of Pikachu, surprise me!
Retro Dodo’s Final Verdict
There’s a lot more I could say, but as much as I can write another 1,000 words, I doubt you’ll read them.
However, while my review has only skimmed the surface, it’s demonstrated that Pokemon Scarlet & Violet has great potential. Its ambition is as vibrant as Paldea itself, but it’s let down by a lack of polish.
Players shouldn’t condemn it quite so harshly as they have, however, it’s not difficult to understand why they’ve reacted so fiercely – we expected and deserved more.
You can’t promise to change the game, yet only deliver the rough outline, you need to give us a final product worthy of The Pokemon Company and Game Freak brands. To do anything less is to diminish a legacy decades in the making.
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Emma has loved video games ever since she first saw Alex Kidd platforming across her TV screen. Since then, the 32 year old has dedicated an obscene number of hours to playing as many games as possible. When she isn’t obsessing over games, she spends her time honing her vinyl collection.