Available On: Switch
Played On: Switch
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the first truly open world Pokémon games, and it’s been a long time coming. The series has moved at a glacial pace when it comes to modern expectations, often at the frustrations of veteran players.
The ninth generation represent one of the biggest leaps forward in world building for the long-running series. The results are impressive and magical, but not without some growing pains.
Travel Across the Land, Searching Far and Wide
Fresh trainers begin the journey, as always, by choosing one of three cute starter Pokémon and setting off on the world to be a Pokémon Trainer.
The island region of Paldea is loosely based on Spain and Portugal, with swamps, river deltas, snowy peaks, and sandy deserts. It’s essentially shaped like a big donut, with an endgame crater in the middle, and players starting at the bottom.
Almost immediately we’re introduced to one of Scar-Vi’s best ideas: our signature cover Pokémon Koraidon or Miraidon. In previous Pokémon games, we wouldn’t see the big Legendary cover Pokémon until the very end of the game. While our ride-mon doesn’t technically join our party roster until later, they’re an ever-present member of the team. By hitting the plus button, we hop on our motorcycle Pokémon to zoom around Paldea’s awesome world (and eventually, swim and glide).
Exploring Paldea is an absolute joy. It shouldn’t be a surprise: awesome open world games have been around for over a decade. The designers know to always put something interesting in the distance, whether it’s an item, a watchtower, some ruins, or the next big biome. The world features a ton of variety and verticality.
Most importantly: it feels rewarding to explore every nook and cranny, with Tera Raid battle spots, rare Terra Pokémon spawns, hidden TM drops, and the sheer amount and variety of Pokémon that roam each area. Both games include 400 Pokémon (including over 100 new Pokémon), and for the first time in forever, I really set out to catch ’em all.
Of course, there’s still a campaign to tackle.
Gyms, Titans, and Rebellious Teens
For the first time in a mainline game, Scarlet and Violet features three main storylines and quest chains, each of which can be tackled in any order — though there’s a clear “correct” order due to the lack of level scaling.
The most traditional quest is Victory Road. Trainers travel around the world battling themed gym leaders, and earn badges, until they tackle the Elite Four. As is a modern trend in Pokémon games, the gym leaders are easily exploitable pushovers, and the preceding gym tests range from really stupid (push a giant olive around a small area) to notably interesting (solve a multi-step puzzle riddle for a restaurant).
In Path of Legends, trainers seek out five Titan Pokémon around the region, battling gigantic versions of those Pokémon. Clearly inspired by Pokémon Legend: Arceus, these battles are vastly improved from Arceus, though still a bit on the easy side. The rewards are fantastic, however, upgrading our ever-present ride Pokémon with new traversal abilities, such as gliding, swimming, and dashing. It also features a surprisingly emotional and personal story.
Finally there’s Starfall Street, where trainers battle the rebellious villains in Paldea. Starfall Street uses Gen 9’s new “Let’s Go” feature: tossing Pokémon out to auto-battle wild Pokémon around them. That feature works well in mass outbreaks to farm shiny Pokémon or to grind XP, but otherwise it’s a bit boring, and auto-battling waves of same-Type enemies during the Starfall Street battles is pretty lame. I actually longed for traditional trainer battles instead.
Victory Road suffers the most from the lack of level scaling, which is overall Scar-Vi’s biggest sin. The level of Pokémon are tied to their geographical location. Lower level Pokémon are found in the southern regions, while Pokémon grow stronger as you head north.
Unfortunately due to the donut shape, you’ll want to warp back and forth between both sides as you head north, to avoid being massively over-leveled. Even then, thanks to the ever-present XP share (and XP gains from capturing), you’ll probably be over-leveled soon anyway. Some form of limited level scaling would have gone a long way to fixing this problem, while still leaving the game accessible for younger and newer audiences.
The games also suffer from some technical difficulties, including framerate drops, ground-clipping, and draw distance pop-ins. I also experienced a few crashes while playing in local co-op, which is a shame as roaming Paldea with friends and family is remarkably fun.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are rated E for Everyone, with Mild Fantasy Violence. The Pokémon series remains as kid-friendly as ever, but the lack of voice acting demands a solid reading level to get through story and dialogue.
Don’t let Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s technical hiccups or open world missteps deter you: this is the most compelling Pokémon game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played ’em all. Scarlet and Violet build on some of the best features of Sword and Shield and Arceus to create a memorable, lasting Pokémon world. Hopefully the series will continue to improve and find its footing in this exciting new era.