After 20 years of Pokémon games, Pokémon Sword and Shield’s release on the Nintendo Switch introduced a massive change to the series formula: open area sections. This change was further built on in Pokémon Legends Arceus, where the open environments were made larger and your options were widened. Now, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have taken that change one step further, with a full open world design and the ability to pursue any objective whenever you want. It’s an opening in freedom that unfortunately comes with the rosy technical performance of any Pokémon game to date.
While I normally open my reviews with some information about the game I’m writing about, the level of technical woes in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet need to discussed before anything else. If you want a game that is anything close to stable in performance, you’ll have to skip this release. The game’s framerate constantly drops and stays at around the 20fps mark, and it feels incredibly frustrating as you slog your way through molasses for extended periods. This isn’t limited to a couple of moments in the game, but is constantly present at all points through the game. In fact, some massive areas don’t feel like they ever manage to hit 30fps. It’s bad enough that speed runners of the game have developed techniques (staring at the floor or sky) to alleviate the issue as much as they can.
On top of the horrible framerate, there are also a myriad of glitches throughout the game. The camera in-battle constantly clips through the ground and walls, as do some Pokémon on the field. Sounds will sometimes not play, some Pokémon/trainers will sometimes mysteriously float and the animation rate of background characters is so incredibly low as such a short distance that even in cutscenes you’ll have characters looking like they were animated at 10fps. Throw in some hard crashes and other random glitches along the way (such as flying out of a town and then magically getting flung back to it) and it’s clear that these games weren’t even close to being ready for release.
Why did I need to discuss these issues first? Because if it weren’t for them, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet would be legitimately great games. The open world design chosen has led to a true rejuvenation of the franchise. It allows for a massive range of Pokémon to be available to the player right from the start, giving you the ability to build your team much earlier than in past games. The freedom to chose your order of progression allows you to decide what storyline’s to follow, but also gives you the option to change tac if you hit a challenge that is a bit overwhelming. While you’re effectively still grinding, doing so by continuing another storyline stops it from becoming dull or annoying.
It helps that the cast of characters in the game feel genuinely interesting and fleshed out. Previously, characters in Pokémon games are largely just there to push you along, and their lack of personality and character development show it. Here though, we have supporting characters who go through meaningful development as we progress (although that isn’t true of everyone). Arven’s journey is particularly satisfying, as you learn about his past, his reasons for pursuing the Titan Pokémon and about his life in general. I was honestly emotional by the time his story came to its end, which is something I can’t say has ever happened with a mainline Pokémon game in the past. There’s more here than ever before, and it points to a maturing or deepening in the series writing which is incredibly welcome.
Visually, the games are somewhat of a mixed bag. The main characters and Pokémon look fantastic, with plenty of detail in their models and textures, but the same can’t be said for the environments or NPCs. Ground textures in the open world continue to be utterly terrible in the series, and the repetition of shop and building fronts (sometimes next to each other) is just frustrating. While the Switch is underpowered compared to other current and past systems, other open world games on the system have done all of these things better, so it’s clear that the problem comes from either the design or development itself at Gamefreak.
Finally, there are a couple of new additions and changes to the Pokémon formula here. Raids are back, with the welcome change of allowing everyone to act in real-time instead of waiting ages for all turn selections to be input before a turn started. The removal of annoying (and constant) shields is also a breath of fresh air. With that said, there’s some incredibly common glitches that occur during these, like damage not coming off the raid boss’s health bar (but being visible when selecting an attack) or them getting an extra attack after being defeated. Co-op is another welcome addition. Although it can have some of the same connection issues we’ve become all too familiar with in Splatoon 3, the simple act of exploring a Pokémon open world with friends is heaps of fun.
Another addition to that open world is the Let’s Go feature, which allows you to send off your lead Pokémon to take on enemies and pick up items on their on. While the feature sounds amazing on paper, the actual implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Pokémon will often do nothing if you don’t quite aim them in the right direction and if you wander a surprisingly short distance from them, they’ll zip back into their pokeball. Throw in reduced experience gain in the mode compared to normal battles and it’s really not all it was cracked up to be.
In the end, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet present a fascinating glimpse of the future of the series, albeit through broken lenses. No matter how enjoyable the rest of the game might be, the technical issues are simply too numerous for a recommendation of purchasing the game at present. After a few patches and the technical issues are ironed out though, these will be two of the best Pokemon games in years.
- Most open Pokemon game yet - Much wider variety of Pokemon in the early game - Some actual character arcs
- Technical performance is horrendous - Plenty of glitches everywhere you look - Lower NPC animation rates than some decades old games - Familiarly low texture quality