The Media Man Reviews: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
Pokémon certainly has been busy lately, hasn't it? We had the Diamond and Pearl remakes last November, we got Legends Arceus all the way back in January and now we're getting another mainstream pair of games before this year is done!
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have had A LOT of hype and advertising going into them. And for good reason too. They're the first truly open-world Pokémon games we've ever had (and the adverts REALLY want to emphasize that point!), the region it's set in looks interesting and awesome to explore, Ed Sheeran made a kickass song to go along with it with "Celestial" and overall, it just looked like no Pokémon game we've ever played before. Naturally, the fandom was hyped to the max and even I couldn't wait to get my hands on the games and play them.
The games have already made history for being the most pre-ordered titles in Pokémon history and the fastest selling too with 10 million copies sold in 3 days. But they've also garnered some backlash for technical issues and some have gone so far as to refund their copies to Nintendo as a result. Like really, it's that bad for these people?
So what do I think? Are Scarlet and Violet worthy treasures to seek in this treasure hunt? Or should we let Team Star trash them? Let's hop on aboard our Legendary Pokémon and ride through Paldea as I review Pokémon Scarlet and Violet...
Section 1: The Story
"Story" is the wrong word here as this game doesn't have just one story, but THREE. The stories are Victory Road, Path of Legends and Starfall in which one covers your journey to the Pokémon League, one sees you teaming up with Arven to fight Titan Pokémon and the third sees you battling against Team Star in order to disband their operations and bring peace back to the school. Already this is an interesting idea for a Pokémon game as Pokémon has never really had multiple storylines to play through before. They usually have one singular plot and that's it but not this game.
In terms of story, this game is already a step-up from Sword and Shield's rather miniscule excuse for a story. As much as I love those games, even I can't deny the story is the weakest part of Sword and Shield. Scarlet and Violet however don't have this problem. Victory Road is by far the weakest of the three stories as it really isn't much of a story to begin with. It's just your typical "beat the Gym Leaders and win the Pokémon League". That's it. The other two storylines are where the real meat of the story lies.
Path of Legends gets surprisingly emotional when we find out the real reason why Arven wanted us to take up this quest and what he wants the Herb Mysticas for and Starfall serves as a very relevant and topical commentary on bullying in schools and how the school system is so hideously flawed that the victims are often the ones who are punished instead of the actual bullies. Both these storylines surprised me by how deep they were and how they're beyond your typical Pokémon story. Granted, titles like Black and White and Sun and Moon also have pretty deep stories by Pokémon standards but it's nice to see this kind of story-telling again in Scarlet and Violet and it's quite effective as a result. The trailers did a good job in hiding the true details of these plots for they ended up being more interesting as a result. I'm not saying they're the grandest plots in video game history of course but by Pokémon standards, they are still very much beyond what we usually expect from this franchise.
And as usual, the game excels in what Pokémon excels at in every game: world-building. The Paldea region feels rich with history, culture and details that makes it interesting to explore and the characters populating it all add something to the world at large whether it's the staff at the academy the player attends, Team Star as a whole, Area Zero and what lies inside and much more. I especially love how this region has a unique take on the whole Pokémon Champion concept in how "Champion" in this sense is more of a rank than a title with Champion Ranked trainers and a "Top Champion" reigning above them all. Sadly, this concept is a rather underused as we only see one Champion Ranked Trainer in the whole game, and that's Nemona. Still, I give them credit for adding new things to make this region stand out from the others. Even the whole Paradox Pokémon concept is something brand new for this region and something I hope will get expanded on in later games...
Another thing about the story is that it gets um...crazy shall we say? No joke, there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns that I definitely didn't see coming, particularly the last story with the professors and the Paradox Pokémon stuff...speaking of the latter, I hope we get more of this Paradox Pokémon stuff as this concept NEEDS to be explored more. It's too cool to be as surface level as it is here.
Aside from Victory Road being the lightest in terms of plot, I don't really have much to criticize about the story here. There's not much wrong with them aside from the ending to Starfall in where the whole thing could've been sorted out if certain characters explained things to each other instead of going through this elaborate scheme that they went through. Also like Sword and Shield, the game's a bit of a slow starter in how it takes a good while before we even get the plots going. We're stuck with some lengthy tutorials and exposition and it just feels a bit much in order to start the game off, is all. Still, they tell these three stories well and give us some unexpected twists that really throw us for a loop, especially at the end. Not much else to say other than the writing is above average for Pokémon and the game ends up being more enjoyable as a result.
Section 2: The Characters
Pokémon never fails to make memorable, interesting or fun characters (or a combination of the three) and these games are no exception to that.
Let's start off with our rival and the instigator of the Victory Road plot, Nemona. Calling her our "rival" is a big of a stretch since she acts nothing like an actual rival and acts more akin to our big sister or a mentor figure to us. Nemona is a bundle of fun and is instantly likeable for her enthusiastic, friendly and overly battle-hungry personality but aside from that, she hasn't got much else going for her. We can clearly see she comes from a wealthy family as she lives in a big mansion and her dad runs a Rotom phone company but it doesn't say anything about her character other than "oh, she's rich" and it's all surface-level stuff about her. Also her inability to read the room at times can be a little annoying. Still, she's likeable enough but as a character, she sums up Victory Road as a whole: fun to do but lacking any substance below the surface.
She pales in comparison to the far more interesting Arven and Penny. Arven is the instigator for Path of Legends and Penny is the instigator for Starfall. Arven sets off a pretty bad first impression as this needlessly confrontational guy who has a chip on his shoulder but as time goes on, you understand why he's like this and even feel sorry for the guy. I did NOT expect him to be one of the most interesting characters in the game but here we are.
Penny on the other hand is a pretty obvious twist villain, although calling her a "villain" is hardly the right word as she's not even villainous at all. She is the one who founded Team Star and had formed them as a means for them to fight back against their bullies but their efforts made them come off as bad as the bullies themselves, which in turn made them seem like the villains in all this. I accidentally spoiled the twist on Penny being Team Star's founder but to be honest, I would've called it even if I didn't already know that because they make it pretty damn obvious. The game doesn't even try to make it subtle that it's Penny the whole time. As a character, she's still likeable for her shy, introverted personality and her fear of confrontation I could easily imagine resonating with some players. Also she gets some pretty funny lines during the final story so that's fun.
We have our resident Champion of the region, Geeta. While it is nice to have another female Champion in the games...she is no Cynthia. Not only is she the blandest Champion in terms of personality, but she barely even qualifies as a boss fight as her team consists of a random hodgepodge of Pokémon that don't feel like Pokémon a Champion would use and her team is so poorly balanced that anyone who picked Fuecoco as their starter could sweep through five out of six Pokémon on her team with just that Pokémon! I get it, she's not the actual Final Boss of the game, but they should've at least made her look Champion worthy! I am at least grateful that they didn't make her a twist villain as that would've been too much like Chairman Rose from Sword and Shield.
There's also Director Clavell who is your typical Reasonable Authority Figure. I wish more principals and teachers in schools could be like this guy because he actually tries to get to the bottom of things going on in his school and wants to sort out the bullying problem that's plagued Team Star and led to its creation. It is also really funny with him trying to pretend to be a student and everyone can clearly see through his disguise. XD And he's also a surprise boss fight too, that's always fun.
And then we have the resident villainous team of the game, Team Star. When the trailers revealed them, I rolled my eyes and scoffed so loudly at them. I mean come on, rebellious school students? THAT'S our evil team for this generation? And yet Team Star ended up being one of the most interesting things about the story here. I even found myself surprisingly sympathising with these guys and I'm so glad they went above and beyond just making them typical vandals with no motivation behind them. Though I do have to wonder why every evil team after Team Flare has to be "Not evil, just misunderstood" these days. This is the third time in a row you've done this GameFreak, can we go back to having actual villainous teams to fight again please?
We also have Professor Sada and Professor Turo. Which one you meet is dependent on which game you play. At first, they don't have much of a role to play. But come the last story, that all changes in ways you would never have expected...
There are some weak characters in the game but thankfully, there are far more great ones by comparison. We have a likeable selection to choose from and they'll give us something to enjoy and remember about the Paldea region by the time our adventure is over...
Section 3: The Gameplay
Hoo boy, this'll be fun. This might be the part where I sound like I'm repeating what everyone else is saying but we'll get to that when we get to that.
But first, let's cover the GOOD parts of the gameplay. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet once again bring with them the quality-of-life improvements that have made the games from X & Y onwards more of a breeze to play through than the pre 3-D era of Pokémon games. The EXP share system is still around, there are no HMs with the closest thing to that being your Legendary ride's abilities you unlock as you beat the Titan Pokémon, remembering moves doesn't require an item anymore (and unlike Sword and Shield, you can do it yourself now with no NPCs needed for the job) and all that kind of stuff. As a result, Scarlet and Violet continues the trend of Pokémon games feeling less tedious to play through now grinding and travelling is made much easier than before, which is especially necessary for the open-world gameplay we have here.
Speaking of that, the advertisements really, really wanted to emphasize the fact this is Pokémon's first truly open-world game and they certainly delivered on that front! The Paldea region is absolutely HUGE in scale and there is a lot to see and explore in that region from the various towns and cities to the towering mountains or the far reaching grasslands, deserts and high hilltops. Paldea feels like the most alive region ever created in Pokémon as a result of this huge size and the fact there's just so much to see and do there. There's hordes of Pokémon running around in the wild, there's people everywhere in the towns and cities or even the wilderness and the fully three-dimensional world and rotating camera makes it feel like a world you're actually in and that this place is truly alive as a result. Legends Arceus set the foundations for this game with what it achieved and it's truly beautiful to see the results of this game and how we've achieved full open world gameplay for a Pokémon game at long last. I have a lot of fun riding on the Legendary Pokémon and just exploring this world and as you unlock more abilities for the ride Pokémon (i.e. gliding, boosting, climbing and swimming), you get to explore more areas that you couldn't before. The gliding isn't all that great but the other features work at least.
However, it feels like they still need to sort something out with the open world gameplay here because of one big problem: no level scaling. Wild Pokémon can have an inconsistent number of levels with some being really weak or really powerful which can catch you off-guard and despite the game saying "you can do the storylines in any order"...you really can't. The levels of each boss you face are scaled as such that there's a clear order you're meant to do them in, which makes me wonder why they didn't just make it so you have to do them in that order anyway or at least made the bosses level scale to your Pokémon so you can face them in any order. For those curious, the definitive order as many video game blogs and websites have discussed is as follows:
1: Bug Gym Leader Katy
2: Stony Cliff Titan
3: Grass Gym Leader Brassius
4: The Open Sky Titan
5: Team Star Dark Crew
6: Electric Gym Leader Iono
7: Team Star Fire Crew
8: The Lurking Steel Titan
9: Water Gym Leader Kofu
10: Team Star Poison Crew
11: Gym Leader Larry
12: Gym Leader Ryme
13: The Quaking Earth Titan
14: Gym Leader Tulip
15: Gym leader Grusha
16: Team Star Fairy Crew
17: The False Dragon Titan
18: Team Star Fighting Crew
19: The Elite Four and Champion
20: Nemona Champion Fight
21: Poco Lighthouse Battle
22: Team Star's Leader
This is clearly the order the game's meant to be played in, which kinda defeats the purpose of it being freedom of choice and playing in any order you want. Like, why couldn't GameFreak have just included level-scaling here to really give what they advertised instead of making it so there's a clear, obvious order of events in which we have to play the game? As a result, it can make the game too easy if you're going in over-levelled or too hard if you go in thinking they'll be easy only to find you're disastrously under levelled. Hopefully they'll fix this issue for later games.
Another thing that annoys me about the gameplay is that TMs are back to being single-use again. Like why are we backtracking on this? People wanted TMs to be usable all the time and come Black and White, we got it but from Sword and Shield onwards, we've now gone back to single use TMs again with Sword and Shield having TMs which are multi-use and TRs which are single use, and then Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl made them single use again and it's still the case here. What's even more annoying is you can't just buy TMs either. You need to collect Pokémon materials in order to make specific TMs and you pay in League Points rather than money so you're screwed if you don't have either. Pokémon materials are easy to find at least thanks to there being plenty of Pokémon to battle but some are rarer than others so you might be stuck on getting certain materials for certain TMs and you cna only get League Points through doing certain missions, trading materials for them or doing Tera Raids. Why the developers thought we needed this needlessly convoluted system to make and obtain TMs, I will never understand.
On the subject of Tera Raids...THANK YOU GAMEFREAK FOR MAKING THEM EASIER THAN DYNAMAX RAIDS! No joke, the AI is considerably smarter here than in Sword and Shield and they use better Pokémon as well with some Tera Raids even giving you NPCs that have Pokémon with a type-advantage over the Tera Pokémon so they're more helpful as a result. You can also faint as many times as you want in a Tera Raid and not lose as the event is time limited. It gives these events a fast-paced feel to them as a result and you're not having to beat the Pokémon as fast as you can. You can cheer for your team to boost attack, defences or replenish health, which also helps and the cheers work every time so that makes it even better. You have one-star raids being the easiest and seven-star raids being the hardest but thankfully, the harder raids are still manageable even if you're playing alone with NPCs. The five, six and seven star raids are hard to do solo though so it's best recommended to do those with other players. For those like me that play solo though, there is a way around this. Many players recommend using Iron Hands with Belly Drum to maximize its attack and that usually makes those raids way easier as a result.
As for gimmicks, the Paldea region has the Tera Phenomenon. This gimmick allows us to terastallize our Pokémon with the result covering our Pokémon with a shiny, crystalline coat, some kind of head gear and depending on what the Pokémon's tera type is, their type will be anything. For example, a Fire-type Pokémon who's tera type is Fire could terastallize into a Fire type but a Fire-type whose Tera Type is Dragon could terastallize into a Dragon-type. This can be handy in throwing opponents off their games if they come at you with a Pokémon that has a type-advantage over you but then you change its type via terastallizing so now the type-advantage is gone. The best example of this is Iono who has a Mismagius that terastallizes into an Electric-type. Not only does Mismagius have the Levitate ability so Ground-types don't work but because it's now an Electric-type, it has no weaknesses to expoloit anymore. This feature is also useful in getting rid of certain weaknesses or even turning a double weakness into a single weakness, which can allow for some unpredictable battle styles to pull off. Sadly, Iono's the only one who's really clever in her use of this gimmick for the other Gym Leaders just terastallize a Pokémon into their type which doesn't exactly make it any harder to beat any of them.
This brings me to the difficulty level. Those that think modern Pokémon games are too easy might be disappointed with this game as it's still relatively easy. I even mentioned that the raids here are easier than Dynamax raids in Sword and Shield. But it is a little more challenging than Sword and Shield and the Let's Go games I'll say. You have the Titans that are easy even when they get a power boost but you have the Gym Leaders where they're mostly easy with some surprises and then you have Team Star which are surprisingly the most challenging of them all. Seriously, their beefed up Starmobiles are a lot stronger than they look! But disappointingly, you have the Elite Four and the Champion in where they're probably the easiest bunch in all of Pokémon. You have the Elite Four in where a strong Ice-type can cover three of them at least and then you have Geeta in whereas mentioned before, her team is so poorly structured that players who use Skeledirge can sweep through almost her entire team with it. She even terastallizes her ace into a pure Rock-type for crying out loud! Were they even TRYING to make Geeta challenging here?! I don't care if she's not the final boss, that's no reason for her to be so weak! The actual final boss is at least more interesting and somewhat challenging thanks to the use of Paradox Pokémon and their Legendary is stronger than your own until you can terastallize it to finish the job. As is, the game is still pretty easy so those who are looking for a challenge might be disappointed.
Another feature I enjoy in this game is the picnic feature. This feels like an improved version of the camping feature in Sword and Shield. Here, not only is it all done in real time but you get to actually interact with your Pokémon instead of viewing the whole thing through a first person camera, you get to give them a wash and watch them play together while also making sandwiches which can have an effect on your gameplay whether it's increasing encounters of a certain type of Pokémon or the EXP gain when defeating certain types of Pokémon. I'm so glad they brought this feature back and even improved on it for this game.
And now that's everything, it's time to address the elephant-in-the-room...the technical issues. People have complained endlessly about them and while I personally think people exaggerate how bad they are, I can't deny there are definitely some that are pretty hard to overlook. Inconsistent framerates are abound here with some areas running smoother than others and it can get pretty distracting whenever that happens. Sometimes the loading screens are slow and take a while to happen to the point I worried my game had crashed (thankfully it didn't), there was a time I tried to trigger a Tera Raid but it wouldn't work and sometimes Pokémon will just vanish into thin air. The game clearly needed some polish, yes, but it's certainly NOT an unplayable mess like people exaggerate it to be. I can still play it just fine with not that many glitches happening. But still, you'd expect better from a multi-billion dollar company that is home to the highest grossing brand in the world. They really should slow down in making these games if they want to avoid these technical issues.
Despite some bugs in it, the gameplay is overall a solid Pokémon experience that continues giving us what we enjoy about the franchise while evolving it to the next level and despite some annoying decisions made here, I still found the game a fun play overall and I hope we see more of this in future titles...minus the technical issues naturally. XD
Section 4: The Graphics
Pokémon's never been known for stellar graphics, at least in the mainline games. But ever since making the jump to 3-D, they've been improving their craft overtime and have been making them look pretty good for the most part with the Let's Go games, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl and Sword and Shield all looking good with their graphics and Scarlet and Violet is another example of how they've been improving their graphics for these new Pokémon games.
I'm not saying these are the best graphics ever of course for they have some technical issues as well. Sometimes characters or Pokémon will phase through objects and walls, Arven's hair clips through his shoulders numerous times, they still can't properly animate certain actions and just cheat by going to black, the Legendary will lick Penny's face but no actual tongue is animated when it does so, certain animations don't match up to the attacks that are being used (again), not all the textures look convincing and when battling at certain angles in the environment, you'll get weird things like some of the ground disappearing. I am fully aware that the graphics have their issues too. But that doesn't stop the game from looking really good regardless.
The Pokémon models are all given an upgrade in how they have better animations on them, some flying Pokémon have actual proper idle poses and stances to take such as Charizard and Tropius (but not Dragonite weirdly enough), the lighting on them looks even more realistic (ESPECIALLY on Steel-type Pokémon such as the Pawniard line) and the Pokémon are all rendered with actual textures on them be it fur, scales, feathers or metal depending on the species. Sometimes giving cartoony creatures realistic textures looks odd but, on the Pokémon, it somehow doesn't and ends up making them look even better than before. Like no joke, these are some of the best looking 3-D models the Pokémon have ever had and it's so cool to see them looking like this.
The world of Paldea also looks incredible thanks to these graphics with every area looking well designed and well lit with the realistic lighting and with how big the region is, there's lots of details in just about everything you see. Graphical issues aside, we're in Scenery Porn levels of great looking environments here! A lot of the fun I had in playing this game came from me just getting lost exploring everywhere and enjoying doing so because of how great the region looks!
I also like the character designs as usual. Pokémon always makes great looking characters and the ones here are no exception. The player characters look very bland but thankfully we can fix that as the game lets you decide what your character can look like from the beginning with choices for eyes, mouths, hairstyles, hair colour and more so you can at least make them look better. The player character is also very expressive, following on from Legends Arceus in how they did a better job on making the player expressive. Most of the time they'll show the right reactions or expressions to what's happening and don't just take everything in with a blank, smiling stare like in the 3-DS titles. Each character is animated with their own pose and animations when battling, which showcases a tonne of character from just about anyone you face and avoids making everyone feel samey as a result. I especially love the lively energetic movements of Iono, the hammy gestures of Ryme as she raps or Nemona's battle-hungry personality and Penny's shy, introverted nature being conveyed through these expressive character models. GameFreak really are getting good with these animations and I love it.
When it comes to the new Pokémon in this game, the designs are...hit-and-miss to sum up. Some like the starter Pokémon, Baxcalibur, Cetitan, Kingambit, Palafin, Mabosstiff, Lokix, Tinkaton and Ceruledge look incredible while some others like Tandemaus, Dudunsparce, Espartha, Bellibolt, Gholdengo and ESPECIALLY Wiglett and Wugtrio have you wondering what they were thinking with these designs. Thankfully, there are more good looking new Pokémon than bad here. It's just I'll never understand why they thought Dunsparce needed an evolution or why we needed an eel version of Diglett...
The Paradox Pokémon are worth mentioning too. Scarlet gives us prehistoric themed versions of pre-existing mons while Violet gives us futuristic themed versions. The designs look awesome, especially the Violet exclusive ones that have this robot theme going on for them. It makes me wonder what a Cyberpunk Pokémon world would be like...
Overall, the graphics are like the gameplay: they have their issues but are otherwise pretty solid for the most part. If GameFreak keep this up, we're in for some truly good looking games in the future...
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have their flaws but are otherwise solid new entries in the Pokémon franchise. The story is above average in terms of writing for Pokémon, the characters are fun and enjoyable, the gameplay may have technical issues but is still fun to play and has many enjoyable things about it and the graphics, while not game-changing, are still some of the best looking so far. If these games had been given another year in development, they could've ironed out the creases some more and made them even better. Still, I enjoyed them immensely and I'd say the wait was worth it for them. Here's hoping these games will take the franchise even further beyond what they've done before in the future...
And that's all I have for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Do you enjoy the games? Do you not enjoy them? Feel free to share your thoughts down below. Join mem again later this week as I review Disney's new animated film, Strange World. See you then everyone!