In a franchise infamous for reusing its role-playing formula of battling gyms, catching Pokémon and defeating a chaos-causing syndicate, Game Freak Co. Ltd. shook things up with its newest generation of Pokémon games, Scarlet and Violet. The Paldea region, the Spain-like setting of the games, introduces new twists and a compelling storyline to the series’ otherwise cookie-cutter gameplay.
Unlike other Pokémon games, the journey begins by befriending the legendary Pokémon, allowing you to bond with the region’s champion as opposed to being an alienated end-game deity. Your trainer creates deep bonds with their rivals, and each have great character arcs and fun interactions. The games do a much better job of acquainting you with those you interact with. Characters feel real, and for once, your trainer doesn’t seem alone.
Scarlet and Violet manage to balance beloved features with new options. The traditional gym and champion system is carried over from previous titles. Team Starr plays the role of the chaotic troublemakers and the adventure in battling Titan Pokémon is reminiscent of the Nobles in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. With the open world of Paldea, trainers can take on these paths in whatever order they please.
Game Freak finally gave players fully open-world mainline series games this time. However, the highly-requested feature comes at the price of world optimization and exposes the games to hardware limitations of the Nintendo Switch. Overworld Pokémon often appear boxy, and constant frame rate dips hurt immersion while traversing the region. The games also appear rushed because of numerous bugs and glitches.
It’s not uncommon for AAA games to release in an unpolished state — Cyberpunk 2077 for example — but little has changed since the games’ launch on Nov. 18, 2022. While players have to intentionally cause most glitches, major ones like the laggy box system and Pokémon getting trapped behind walls occur very frequently and impact many players. The Pokémon Company International announced an update slated for late February to address bug fixes and add functionality, but it is unknown to what degree this will fix the games.
Despite flaws, Scarlet and Violet take major steps in the right direction both gameplay and story-wise.
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Scarlet and Violet include an in-game university that teaches new and experienced players alike about Pokémon. New tools in Pokémon sets and items added to the iconic battle system add methods to outwit your opponent. The game cuts between scenes less, and the seamless transitions while interacting with the world are easier to follow.
The final act of the game alone is worth the playthrough. Area Zero is gorgeous — exploring the habitat’s prismatic caves, glittering air and sparkling water while listening to Toby Fox’s beautiful score puts you in the trainer’s shoes. The final discovery employs a dark and poetic twist that leaves the player satisfied and shocked.
The Paldea experience ranks highly above the standard Pokémon journey. Game Freak still has time to polish the game, and the performance issues aren’t severe enough to dampen the otherwise enjoyable playthrough.