For players who have grown up with the Pokémon video game series, there has been some significant progress when it comes to the gameplay formula constantly being refined by Game Freak, even if the foundation remains essentially the same. And for the studio’s latest, Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, the most significant change comes in the form of an open-world experience, which is both a boon and bane in this new quest.
Set in the new region of Paldea, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet see players take a slightly altered route on the road to either being the strongest Trainer there is, becoming the foremost authority on all things Pokémon, or, more likely, somewhere in between. The Uva/Naranja Academy becomes a starting point, full of opportunities to chart your course towards a bright future filled with incredible creatures.
So which game do you pick? Well, aside from some version-specific Pokémon that can appear in one game and not the other (including the Legendary), the other difference is that in Scarlet, players attend Naranja Academy with its orange motif, while players of Violet go to the Uva Academy, which features a purple motif. The former also sees the appearance of Professor Sada with Professor Turo handling things for the latter.
Optional lessons can be attended during your starting hours, teaching you all the basics that make for good habits, from exploiting weaknesses to learning how to make the best sandwiches in one of the new features of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. There are also teachers to meet and build relationships with, as well as many other students that are always good for a nugget of information every once in a while. However, the school aspect isn’t the main attraction, and it doesn’t take that long before you are unleashed into the wider world as part of the schoolwide Treasure Hunt, where things can get a tad too overwhelming.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is all about the freedom to explore the Paldea region any way you like. But, breaking things down, there are essentially three main paths you can head out on. One is Victory Road, where it’s all about getting Gym Badges to prove you are the best; the Path of Legends which requires the vanquishing of Titan Pokémon and empowering the Legendary partner you’ll have in tow; or Starfall Street, with the dismantling of Team Star being your utmost priority.
How you choose to chase down those overarching objectives is entirely up to you, with the game taking a leaf out of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and going even bigger, providing a world that is gigantic, full of secrets and collectibles, and of course, plenty of Pokémon to fill your Pokédex with.
The weather can change, the terrain in different biomes offers various obstacles, and you can expect to meet different creatures as night changes into day, and vice versa. It is quite remarkable that we finally have a mainline open-world Pokémon game, and just like Arceus, gone are the days of walking in tall grass cautiously, as battles are yours to engage in or avoid.
Throwing a Pokéball at an unsuspecting enemy can startle them into giving you a turn advantage, and if you rather not go through the rigamarole of the standard battle process, you can let your lead Pokémon do some auto-battling on their own by releasing them from the Pokéball, as they go about finding trouble and the occasional item on the floor.
It is a fun extension of the open-world experiment, especially if you are confident in your team’s makeup to deal with the threats around, and exploration isn’t just about finding all sorts of new additions to the Pokédex, there are many treasures waiting to be found in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.
The game is extremely generous when it comes to freebies, giving players everything from healing items, berries, to even Rare Candy in the world. If you see something shiny, it will always be wise to pick them up and add them to your inventory.
The same goes for the Pokémon who are glowing brightly or crystal formations, which signify a Tera Raid waiting to be conquered. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet introduce the feature of Terastallizing, where Pokémon can take on one of 18 Tera Types, augmenting their powers while adopting a gem-like look. It is in line with other previous features like Gigantamax or Z-Moves, spicing things up against the tougher foam, and more likely to be more important in the competitive scene.
As for the Tera Raids, which can be done solo with AI companions or with up to three other players, you can cooperate to defeat a Terastallized Pokemon within a specific time limit, with the chance to capture them at the end. This represents a great way to farm Pokémon materials that work into the new TM system, and a great way to add creatures that may not necessarily appear early in the game.
Speaking of TMs, no longer are you restricted to single-use items to teach new moves to your newfound family. Instead, every new TM obtained will be added to a growing selection at the TM Machine, found conveniently at every Pokémon Centre throughout Paldea. Now, you can heal up, shop to your hearts’ content, and learn new moves by exchanging materials for the new LP currency, which can also be used instead of cash when buying stuff, another point of convenience in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.
All that adventuring will still require you to dive deeper into the abovementioned paths, so let’s start with Victory Road, the conventional way of enjoying Pokémon games. Once more, it will be up to you and your team to venture across the land, defeating the eight Gym leaders, and the order is entirely up to you.
However, before you even get near the Gym leaders, each location will feature a different Gym Test, whether it be finding a wayward leader or pushing a giant olive into a basket, these are certainly interesting ways to introduce players to the role that the Gym Leaders play in their community, and the towns and cities in which they are located. Is it necessarily engaging to put these supposed obstacles in front of players who are eager to prove their might? Perhaps not so, but it plays into how Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have to balance the gameplay experience for newcomers and veterans alike.
As for the Path of Legends, it leans more heavily into the exploratory nature of players, tasking Trainers to aid Arven on his quest to gather the Herba Mystica, which Titan Pokémon are guarding. Think giant-sized gatekeepers of the creatures that you might see on your travels, and each battle is similar to a Tera Raid. The most vital thing is that once they are vanquished, the sandwich crafted by Arven will grant your Legendary Pokémon companion more power in traversing the world.
Yes, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet do subvert your expectations by providing access to the legendaries that are Koraidon and Miraidon respectively, but they are not yours to use in battle in the beginning. Instead, they become invaluable tools for navigating around the huge world and gaining more utility with every Herba Mystica sandwich consumed. As you head down the Path of Legends, you will soon be mastering land, air, and sea, and it is quite cool to see this departure from the norm, while also providing a more than decent explanation of why things are unfolding this way in the first place.
Lastly, we have Starfall Street, the path to take if you are keen on taking down Team Star, the school delinquents who are actually more nuanced characters than most will give them credit for. As more of their backstories are revealed during the course of your journey, it provides a further taste of how Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are taking things a little differently in storytelling, and for the better.
That said, they are still nuisances that need to be removed. Located in various bases around Paldea, the road to defeating the various Squad Bosses takes a different form as well. With just a trio of your team to count on, you best be hoping the strengths work against the weaknesses during auto battles against the legions of Pokémon fielded by the grunts, before a more standard affair against the bosses’ kooky Starmobiles, each corresponding to a certain Pokémon type, ends things off.
And suppose that’s not enough to keep you occupied, you can always just explore the big outdoors, catching whichever Pokémon that you fancy, levelling up and fighting more formidable opponents, as well as find the time to sit down, relax, and have a picnic or two while trying to put together the perfect stat-boosting sandwich.
As one can see, there is simply tons to do in the world of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, and that can be a good thing for those with a taste for freedom, but also crippling for those hoping to have a more structured experience. Being able to go wherever you want to is great in concept, but not when you are obviously underpowered in the more challenging regions. There seems to be a proper order to do things, but it remains the player’s responsibility to find out just how, which doesn’t always play out.
There also feels like missed opportunities simply because of the hardware limitations of the Nintendo Switch. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the best-looking entry in the series thus far, with its vistas, towns, cities, and all of the associated Pokémon looks and animation, but there are often cracks to be found in the facade.
Draw distance remains a pain point, with environmental objects popping into view as you get nearer, while wild Pokémon often make surprise appearances here and there. It doesn’t help that the Poké Ball throwing mechanics are less accurate here, either – unlike Arceus’ gyro support and aim-and-throw feature, the game only allows you to throw Poké Balls in a general direction, which can sometimes lead to the targeting of the wrong Pokémon especially when they are in group.
Shops in the city might have an interior you can explore, or they might just be a menu screen, and get ready for plenty of loading anytime you transition from one thing to another. Things look better when you are gaming on the go, although putting Pokémon Scarlet and Violet on the big screen isn’t too shabby either. Certain areas, such as the back paths to caves, valleys, and out-of-sight locations or even the vast grass fields can also do with more environmental detail, so that the landscape doesn’t appear too barren.
There also appear to be isolated cases where logic, even by Pokémon standards, gets thrown out the window. In several encounters, a wild Pokémon weakened to critical health managed to evade a normal Pokéball, a Great Ball, and an Ultra Ball, and only got caught after another barrage of Pokéballs. Consider the fact that we were well-equipped with Gym Badges that upped our limit on catching powerful Pokémon, and things can get frustrating quickly.
Thankfully, that is usually the exception to the norm, and that applies to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet as a whole. Do the latest Pokémon games get everything right? Not always, but when they do, therein lie adventures that is giving players the keys to crafting their own experiences in a wonderful world filled with fantastic creatures. Whether you are chasing down the title of the best in the land or hoping to detail the hundreds of Pokémon out there, there is always something fun waiting for you down the line, and that’s a world we can all agree is one that is exciting to be a part of, much less a key figure in.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet go all in on the open-world expansion to a tried-and-tested formula, and largely satisfies the wants and needs of all Pokémon fans, new and old.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 7.5/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 8/10