After months and months of anticipation, we can all finally explore the luscious land of Paldea in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Quite honestly, since the initial announcement of generation nine in January this year, the suspense of what to expect in this Spanish-inspired world has been killing me. As a lifelong Pokémon fan, it’s fair to say that this is my event of the year, especially after my journey through Pokémon Legends: Arceus left me hungry for more.
Before I dive into what I consider to be a tale of two halves, I need to stress that this is a review in progress due to not having had enough time with the game to reach a part in which I’m satisfied with giving my complete definitive thoughts. Instead, this is from the opening hours, which frankly are so eye-opening that I can’t see my opinion changing too drastically in a short space of time.
Okay, let me start with the positives. Without a doubt, when it comes to gameplay, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the revitalisation that the series sorely needs. For years now, the lack of innovation in mechanics and general gameplay has made the series rather stale, though Arceus certainly took huge strides in the right direction earlier this year, a trend that generation nine manages to maintain.
As you explore an admittedly pretty open world (even if its impact is marred by performance issues, more on that later), you can see the hordes of ‘mon as they walk the land, something I greatly appreciate, as it’s one of my favourite features from Arceus, and I’m thrilled to see it as a mainstay addition to the series. Not only is it a joy to see these wonderful creatures in their natural habitats, but the scaling of them is spot on – it’s fantastic to see how tall I am in comparison to Smoliv. Hint, I’m so much bigger than the ‘mon that I frequently encounter it by accident, though this can be somewhat irritating at times. What’s with all the small creatures in gen nine?
Then there are the battles themselves. While nothing too new takes place in Scarlet and Violet, pitting your ‘mon against those in the wild or against other trainers remains a fun experience, though my one small complaint is that animations for different attacks could be more exciting, but this doesn’t diminish my enjoyment. In fact, when you consider some additions, such as the Let’s Go mechanic, it becomes a non-issue.
The Let’s Go mechanic is a great way for you to harvest some quick XP and materials, as you can throw one of your buddies out to walk alongside you, but instead of just going for a lovely stroll, they take it upon themselves to kick some butt as they run around beating up random ‘mon. Granted, the XP gains aren’t huge, but that’s not really the main purpose of this feature. Rather, it’s to collect materials and items that you can use to create TMs at Pokémon centres.
Another interesting feature is the terastallizing mechanic, Paldea’s version of dynamaxing from generation eight. With this feature, your Pokémon gets a crystallised form which I hate. I’m not sorry, but some crystal balloon above my Talonflame’s head isn’t a winner for me. However, I can certainly acknowledge its innovation as when terraformed some creatures utilise a different type. For example, I’ve come across a Toxel that’s an ice-type when terraformed, as opposed to its usual electric and poison combination.
Of course, when it comes to catching Pokémon, not much has changed. You wear them down, throw a ball, and hope for the best. And with nearly 300 Pokémon in Paldea’s pokédex, I suggest you make the most out of the vast open world as you can find all sorts of pokéballs out there unless you’d rather splash your cash and become the don of the place.
The primary reason to catch these creatures, besides the old adage ‘gotta catch ‘em all’, is because you need them in order to battle against other people, such as trainers, gym leaders, Team Star, and titan Pokémon. The latter three of which serve as the primary figures in each of the campaigns on offer. The gym challenge is a longstanding feature that appears in every mainline Pokémon game, so any fan of the series already knows what to expect here.
However, one different aspect of this campaign in Scarlet and Violet is that there’s no set path to follow in terms of challenging these gyms. Paldea is an open region, one that allows you to dictate your own journey. Yes, the game drops hints at which gym leaders are more accessible at the beginning, but you don’t have to follow this advice. On the contrary, you can choose to pursue the titan Pokémon or Team Star first, both of which ensure your team of Pokémon are more than experienced enough to lay waste to any gym leader. I am yet to tackle a Team Star boss or titan Pokémon, so I can’t comment much on them at this time, but I will when it’s time to release my full review.
The freedom you have in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is honestly one of my favourite things about the games. I love being able to jump on the back of Miriadon (yes, I’m playing the purple version), though the fact that it moves about as quickly as the queue at real-life Pokémon centres is hardly ideal. Yes, I love exploring and the gimmick of riding the legendary ‘mon, but until it speeds up, you’re honestly better off walking around as you search for items and creatures.
Speaking of things that irritate me, it’s time that I move on to the many issues that mar what should be a fantastic game. Seriously, I don’t even know where to begin, there are that many problems with the game’s performance. Okay, let’s start with the melting hills and mountains. No, I’m not joking. As you near the edge of cliffs and what have you, they appear to be melting. The best comparison I can make is to when the haunted house makes the walls bleed in the first Simpsons Halloween special.
It’s quite trippy and very hard to ignore, but you know what’s even harder to ignore? The abysmal framerate drops, especially for things that are a distance away from you – background characters look like those street performers that move slowly in hopes of you dropping some money in the hat. It’s a disappointing display from the biggest videogame franchise in the world, especially when you consider the frequency with which the framerate drops in general.
Oh, and while I happily concede that Paldea is beautiful, the textures that enshroud it certainly aren’t. In fact, sometimes PSOne games look better than what is in front of me on a Nintendo Switch OLED, and frankly, that isn’t good enough. It’s a poor showing in quality that’s inexcusable. Scarlet and Violet are in a sorry state regarding performance, and while the gameplay is incredible and fun, I can’t make any concessions here.
I’m only roughly ten hours in at this point, perhaps a few more, but unless a patch comes out in the next couple of days, I’m highly unlikely to shift my view on the game’s performance. However, I certainly can’t wait to unravel the mystery of Team Star, attend a few classes at school, hunt down some titan Pokémon, and continue on my quest to become a champion via the gym challenge.