The speed and turnaround of Gen 9 has caught a lot of us off guard.
Sword and Shield got the conclusion fans were hoping for with so many added to the roster via the DLC but with just over two years since Crown Tundra released with a Gen 4 remake arriving last year and an all new take in Arceus releasing earlier this year, amazingly, us fans are still eating very, very well.
Over 100 new Pokémon added to the game with a lot of old favourites once again returning to the forefront, Scarlet and Violet is likely to be the last mainline Pokémon game on Nintendo Switch, and it might just be the most important in years.
Sword and Shield gave us the first real glimpse of what an open world mainline game could look like while still maintaining linearity. Arceus took that a step further by really opening up the environment. Gen 9 combines the two and takes the series in the most exciting direction yet.
Over the years, the story in Pokémon games has followed a familiar convention. Work to be the greatest trainer by amassing a group of the toughest Pokémon around, visit every gym and beat the leader within them. And if you feel so inclined, you can complete your dex to show the world you’re a master collector.
Not too much has changed here as you can still do exactly that, fighting the various gyms in the Paldea Region, level up your Pokémon by engaging in battles with other trainers and wild creatures, and become the most renowned name in town.
This time, though, you’ve joined the Naranja or Uva Academy as an aspiring student looking to make an impression and you’ve joined around one of the Academy’s biggest occasions. Everybody is in the hunt for their ‘treasure’ which is what you make it.
So, yes, you can go around doing as you’ve always done, taking down Gym Leaders and gaining badges. But the game is also opened up to other possibilities. You can also fight Titan Pokémon who are causing problems in the world, gathering some of their essences, or take down Team Star who have a reputation for trouble.
The point is your journey is open to you, however you see fit. Which is huge because it logically expands on where Sword and Shield were taking the series but also how you differentiate the mainline games going forward.
You have multiple points of interest open on the map which you can visit at any point. There is a desired route, of course, as some areas are going to have Pokémon at a much higher level than you and therefore it’ll make traversal that much more difficult, likewise some trainers and enemies nigh on impossible to defeat.
But the game doesn’t stop you from trying, provided you can get past the initial trials and make your way through treacherous environments. Fortunately, riding either the Koraidon or Miraidon makes it easier for you to whizz past enemies, climb mountains and even walk on water, opening up the map even further.
It’s incredibly liberating for a Pokémon game and ensures your playthrough can stay fresh, seeing you encounter all kinds of different Pokémon at different stages. So if you want to see more ice-based creatures, you can make that detour whenever you’re ready and try to catch them.
But this also makes this one of the toughest Pokémon games. In previous releases, your starter is usually so powered up compared to everything else that you’ll eat through competition mercilessly, beating them in a few hits. Now you can actually have much closer battles with Trainers, Titans and Mons around the same level as you, if not higher.
It certainly keeps you on your toes a lot more, but also makes you more cautious in who you’re bumping into, when you attempt to do certain things but also thinking about matchups. This is one of the first Pokémon games where I’ve regularly changed in party members to make sure I’m winning my battles rather than relying on my starter.
The other big change is Terastallizing which crystalises your Pokémon and empowers their moveset which adds a nice tactical layer as in a battle of margins it can be the difference in tipping the scales in your favor. You also can’t just spam it as a win button, so need to be careful how and when to use it.
With a lot of bug types and smaller species in the overworld, as well as the pop in at close range, sometimes it was hard to see where I was going and I often accidentally instigated battles, many of which I struggled to get away from. This did cause some frustrations, especially in zones where I was a little bit overmatched.
As with Sword and Shield, Tera Battles are back so you can fight against enlarged, more powerful forms with other trainers around the world. Lobbies are rapid and you can usually find yourself standing alongside others quickly, but even if you don’t, you can get some AI companions in sharp order.
You can even bring buddies into your Paldea and explore together which is a really neat inclusion that opens the game up even further than ever and sets an exciting precedent for how Pokémon games will be played in the future.
What is clear is that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the most interesting, varied game in the series yet, full of ambition, smart ideas, well-implemented execution and the most stunning visuals the franchise has seen to date. But we can’t ignore the Phanpy in the plains- the performance.
This game really struggles on Switch with stuttering, texture breakups, slowdown and even stagnant character animations in the backdrops. At times, the frame rate is some of the worst I’ve seen on Switch and some Pokemons seem to get stuck in the walls or just randomly disappear.
You do get used to it. It’s not a dealbreaker for the wealth of experience offered and there’s hours of gameplay here, with loads of Pokémon to find. Actually, there’s few thrills more enjoyable than clocking a Shiny in the Overworld, doubting and questioning whether your eyes are deceiving you, then nervously trying to catch it, hoping it doesn’t run away.
On that note, my only other issue with the game is that identifying Shiny Pokémon is really difficult as some of the color gradients are slight and, as mentioned, some Pokémon are so small on the screen that unless you’re zoomed right in, spotting them is difficult. This is all made worse by the fact there’s no noticeable sparkle or gleam to make it obvious they are Shiny and you can only tell either by knowing or seeing the Shiny symbol next to them in your Collection box.
But Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is an impressive, enjoyable, epic experience that charts a promising new direction for the future of the franchise. There’s so much to see, do, and discover, and you feel like the game is only just starting to open up with years of potential ahead. One can only hope work is incoming to help fix the performance, though.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the revolution the franchise needs. Years of work has built up to this moment with an open world, flexibility in questing, and an interesting collection of monsters to gather and fight with. Multiplayer possibilities, with a renewed focus on matchups and fresh ways to fight ensure the foundations and cores of the series are as strong and intact as ever. But as well nuanced as it all is, performance, exploration restrictions and some aesthetic issues hold the game back from its full potential.
+ A wonderful world to explore, rich with content
+ Multiplayer possibilities make this the most interactive Pokémon yet
+ Playing your way makes for a more exciting, enjoyable journey
+ Good collection of Pokémon
– Performance issues do hinder the experience
– Shinies can be difficult to spot for some players
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is out now on Nintendo Switch
Played on Switch OLED
Code Kindly Provided by Nintendo
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