It’s hard not to hear about a new Pokemon release, even if you were actively trying. So if you’re here? We bet you know at least some about Pokemon Violet and Pokemon Scarlet. The new starters. The open-world concept. The… challenging technical state. And hey, all of that’s true. But how does it all hold together as an experience, and how rough is the tech stuff as we move further away from launch day?
In Pokemon Violet and Scarlet, you play the role of a student, though truly in name only. Everything about the game fights away from this premise, using the school only as a hub from which to start your expeditions. Students? They can be whoever, from tiny children to grizzled old adults like us. (We’d love for Game Freak to take this opportunity to let older players appear that way in game, but… nope.)
The actual classes are largely a waste of time, and you don’t need to attend them. You don’t get grades! No one seems to graduate! And if “find your treasure” is the extent of the curriculum, it sure does seem like the academy is a waste of space and resources.
What’s more, the “two versions” premise has never been less paper-thin. We’re not sure why it was important to have separate academies if they were identical, exist in separate realities and only change the color everyone has to wear. The only version exclusives, outside of post-game content, are older creatures; all the new designs are available in both. We understand the financial incentive of the approach, but future versions simply need to justify their existence better than this.
The structure of Pokemon Violet and Scarlet, much like Pokemon Legends Arceus, makes you want to “catch ‘em all” in a way earlier games simply didn’t. Catching feels easier, and every monster visible in the overworld means you can just walk right up to what you want and dodge what you don’t.
The way trainer battles work has changed, too. Instead of locking eyes, you have to actively choose to walk up and challenge someone. This does take some frustration away, but the lack of tension means that everything is increasingly frictionless. This has been a trend since Pokemon X and Y! Every mainline entry further polished away rough edges, taking interesting gameplay texture with it. That The Pokemon Company is actively hostile toward the notion of difficulty in its games is nothing new, but anyone hoping for a change of course should reconsider.
The open-world approach? Yeah, it works, for the most part. It’s a bit aimless at times, and the structure leads to some serious level spikes near the endgame as it keeps most of the world accessible without a robust level scaling system in place to make that work a bit better. It’s fun to wander around and find stuff, though, and the movement eventually feels as satisfying as Legends.
While the Pokemon themselves have been cute and endearing since the very beginning, Pokemon Violet and Scarlet manage to present a world of characters that earn our genuine empathy much more often than its recent predecessors. The characterizations are still rather paper-thin, but its core cast still manages some people we truly like. We’ll avoid spoilers so you can experience things yourself, but one gym leader in particular was exceedingly relatable. And the Arven storyline? Boy.
We can’t not talk about the tech issues, though. We experienced full freezes, massive slowdown and the incredibly obvious visual downgrades to make Game Freak’s open-world setup run at a decent speed. The visuals were a similar issue in Legends, so you know if you care about that. Here, though, there are more elements in the middle-to-far-distance to cause the incredibly slow animation countermeasures to kick in.
The crashing and such? It’s a larger issue. Alternating releases with an outsourced remake, like Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, is a setup a lot of larger franchises use to buy more development time. But instead? Game Freak made Pokemon Legends: Arceus. That ain’t enough time left to properly build a full entry, y’all! There’s too much money on the line, probably, but a Legends expansion pass for the 2022 holidays and these games pushed to next year might have been the better call for stability.
Scarlet and Violet front-load a lot of the technical issues, with crowded environments and story sequences. Much like Legends, the bulk of these games takes place in open areas. They can certainly be sparse and bland! But the game generally runs the way you want in these zones.
Game Freak tried to keep a lot of the smart changes from Legends! Like changing moves at any time. But implementing the new things and retaining the old things at the same time? Normal battles in uneven environments causing a ton of clipping and other visual glitches. Overworld quick battles to let you keep moving, but tech limitations restricting your movement radius before those just cancel and the monster returns. This is simply ambitious, and it’s no surprise that this thing breaks so much.
Pokemon Violet and Pokemon Scarlet certainly don’t put their best feet forward. They run rough. Visual downgrades are clear. But ultimately, once you settle in, they’re certainly full Pokemon games. We’re hoping some post-launch bug-squashing will help them run better, but in the long term, The Pokemon Company might need to implement a plan that offers Game Freak longer development windows for tentpole releases.
Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet launched November 18, 2022. Developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, it’s available on the Nintendo Switch.