I’ve been playing Pokémon for 25 years. The immortal words of Professor Oak have always stuck with me: “A world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits! Let’s go!”
Oak was correct; Pokémon Red and Blue offer a wondrous world of adventures. Gold and Silver upped the ante, leaving me wondering how the franchise would keep topping itself and upping the ante. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Ruby and Sapphire were enjoyable but couldn’t match the legendary status of their predecessors.
As generations continued to release, the quality of the games would fall slightly. That’s not to say these games were bad; they were good, sometimes even great. Still, the massive expectations of the original games weren’t being met. The Pokémon series was starting to become stale until this January’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus changed the formula. Its open world gameplay delivered a new and exciting take on the series. Fans, myself included, were eager to see how the main series would adopt these gameplay innovations.
We don’t have to wait and see anymore with the release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. The open world formula is a core and essential part of gameplay. Unfortunately, most have quickly realized that technical issues, bugs, and poor visuals crush the excitement for a new way to play Pokémon. Of course, these could all be patched out down the line. This leads to a bigger issue and the real reason why Scarlet and Violet are such massive disappointments: Pokémon refuses to move forward and truly embrace a new identity.
The Biggest Problems With Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Are Fundamental, Not Technical
The open world region of Paldea feels like you’re putting a bandaid on a stress fracture. After the shine wears off, you’re left wondering why you’re even playing this game. If anything, it’s out of obligation; I’ve played Pokémon for two and a half decades, and I’ve already poured dozens of hours into this game. Why stop now?
It often feels like Pokémon preys on this style of thinking, evidenced by the fact that the game sold a whopping 10 million copies in just three days. Why truly change things up when you don’t need to? Just rearrange the deck chairs and call it a day. Sadly, when that deck is the Titanic, that’s just delaying the inevitable. The more I played through Scarlet and Violet, the more I hated myself.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the newest Pokémon experience features gym battles, filling your Pokédex, and defeating an evil team. It doesn’t matter if you can do this in a non-linear manner. It’s the same formula we’ve done over and over again.
The biggest difference is that this time, it feels like a bad, overproduced open world game that goes on sale for 40% off three weeks after release. Only that’s not going to happen here because Nintendo games never go on sale. Ever.
The sense of urgency in original Pokémon games came from a combination of novelty and accessibility. The holy trinity of collecting, training, and battling delivers an enjoyable gameplay loop. Best of all, everything seemed within reach and feasible to do. I wanted to fill my Pokédex because it felt possible, even with some hurdles involving trading with other players. As time goes on, that starts to feel less and less likely. Between having to go back and play older games and participate in special events from Nintendo, filling my Pokédex feels like a pipe dream, much to the chagrin of Professor Oak.
Isn’t that why we embarked on our original Pokémon journeys? Isn’t that the franchise’s tagline? How can we “catch ’em all” when we don’t have a fighting chance?
There Is So Much Potential Unrealized in These Games
If it feels like I’m being overly harsh on Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, it’s because the series continues to make important strides in other areas. I recall being impressed with the writing and story presentation in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It felt like I was playing a major JRPG franchise and not a Pokémon game. That’s not to say that the writing and stories in past Pokémon titles have been bad, but the genre has passed it by.
I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case anymore. For the most part, anyway.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feature the best writing the series has ever seen. The game’s stories, plots, and characters are incredibly well fleshed out and developed. Things go a little too all-in on introducing everything at once, resulting in an over-extended tutorial that drags on for too long. Once you’re in the open world, it’s a wonderful breath of fresh air. For a game that promised to reinvigorate the Pokémon franchise, it’s nice to see some aspects follow through.
Unfortunately, Scarlet and Violet’s lack of voice acting cannot be ignored. I’m struggling to remain invested, and the lack of immersion will be the nail in the coffin for many. There is an impressive amount to polish with certain aspects of the presentation. Character and environment design jump off the screen, and it’s clear that this is one aspect that didn’t see any cut corners during development. The Pokédex is satisfying to look at, and, no joke, the animation of a new entry is one of my favorite parts of the game. When it wants to be, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet can be a great looking game.
Sadly, it doesn’t want to most of the time.
95% of your time, the world of Scarlet and Violet is even more dated than its core gameplay. The visuals and graphics of the game are downright embarrassing. My wife would make comments occasionally and remark how bad textures looked.
Much has been made about whether or not the Nintendo Switch hardware is capable of running the game, yet Breath of the Wild is a beautiful looking game that was released at the system’s launch five years ago. There are ways to make games of this scale work, but Scarlet and Violet aren’t interested. It wants to rush out another product and sell an insane amount of games.
Mission accomplished, I guess.
I had high hopes for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. The potential to deliver a modern take on the Pokémon franchise is there. Pokémon Legends: Arceus provided that taking risks can reap incredible rewards. Sadly, Scarlet and Violet feel like kids who stick their toes into the water and run away when it’s too cold.
I’m not sure where the series goes from here. Other marquee Nintendo franchises are at the top of their class in terms of design, gameplay, and innovation. You’d figure that their most successful series would be the same. Alas, that’s not the case, as if it’s not a priority for the company.
Maybe one day we’ll play a definitive Pokémon experience that blows everything else out of the water. Perhaps one day, Pokémon will get its Breath of the Wild of Super Mario Odyssey. Sadly, today is not that day.