One Day in Paldea: A Review of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

27 Nov 2022

Nostalgic Pokemon trainers will be delighted that the latest main-line duo of games in the Pokemon series are now out. Returning to modern times from the pre-history of Legends: Arceus, Scarlet and Violet keep much of the traditional winning formula while still managing the next step towards evolution into an open-world setup.

First, the bad news

It’s undeniable that there are graphical issues in the game. Not game-breaking bugs, but occasional clipping errors with pokemon popping up from underground unexpectedly (that is, ones that aren’t meant to), framerate drops, and various other glitches. These are common, and noticeable, but lean more towards the slightly annoying than truly damaging to the experience.

There’s also the sandwich-eating animation which can be generously described as surreal.

What was in that sandwich?

Then, the good news

Many will be relieved that Scarlet and Violet have gone back to introducing a bucket-load of new pokemon, with over a hundred, including some brand-new legendaries . Along with this there are hundreds of old friends making a comeback, some with new evolutions. One of the biggest complaints about some previous games was the decimation of the pokedex. Even though the new games don’t include everything, with a listing of over 400 there are plenty to catch and train.

Including the obligatory new starters.

Wild Roaming Pokemon

One of the most positive features of the recent games, having wild pokemon hanging around in the world rather than invisible in the long grass, is not only back but improved. Herds of early-evolution pokemon can be spotted in the wild with the later evolutions escorting them. Aggressive pokemon will chase after the player if they notice them, while passive ones will watch them pass with curiosity (and question marks hanging overhead), and others will run away.

Overall the changes in the way wild pokemon are spawned and treated in the world make it feel much more natural, at least as much as a game filled with implausible and fantastical creatures can feel natural. The wild pokemon that spawn in each area are appropriate, and change based on a smooth day/night cycle and shifting weather patterns in a way that makes some degree of sense.

New Pokemon Center Design

The cities feel more expansive, despite low populations making every area feel like it’s a holiday season. The Pokemon Centers are, of course, ever-present, now set up as booths spread throughout the world with a shop and a TM vending machine to complete the set.

Many also have league representatives standing by to reward the player for completing trainer battles in the area - a good incentive as the trainers hanging around in the wild no longer force battles the moment eye contact is made.

The new multi-purpose Pokemon Center booth setup

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Open World Mechanics

While the game does not feel completely open, it is much more so than Arceus and I’ve yet to encounter severe blocks preventing access to areas. It’s clear that the storylines running through the game (at least three that could be counted as main stories) are each intended to be completed in a certain order, but this is only enforced by the difficulty of beating a gym while wildly under-levelled for the area.

Equally some areas are physically off-limits until certain advancements are made, but there are very few meaningless invisible walls. So far, the only ones known are around the evil organisation bases - jumping directly into a Team Star base from a convenient mountain will have the player told off for trying to invade the base improperly, and instructed to go ring the bell at the gate if they want to take over.

There are some beautiful vistas to enjoy.

It’s perfectly possible for players to enter an area utterly beyond their level with no hope of winning, but with fast travel unlocked from the beginning of the game to landmarks and Pokemon Centers that have already been visited no one should end up stuck in a hopeless situation for long.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Game Mechanics and Gimmicks Teaming up to take on a Tera Raid

Making a comeback are raid battles, with glowing crystals dotted around requiring teams of four trainers each with the lead pokemon of their team taking on powered-up wild monsters. The multiplayer version is smooth, with a quick exchange of a code to join someone else’s raid taking much less time than the previous approach of sending invites, and if no friends are available then AI trainers are dropped in quickly and smoothly to provide much-needed support.

Outside of raiding, you can use the Union Circle mode to appear in your friend’s world. While there are some technical oddities to how this works, what most players will be pleased to know is that completing the story and picking up items while in this mode won’t steal them from your friends.

Tied into the raid battles, and threaded through the game, there’s also the now-obligatory powerup energy type. The new version is called Tera, and unlike in previous games every pokemon can be impacted by it to temporarily upgrade to a Terastallized form, with a type that may or may not match their usual. Visually, the effect works oddly well, with a crystal-like skin applied to the pokemon and a growth sprouting from their peak displaying their Tera type.

Then of course there’s the new transport-type pokemon. Both Scarlet and Violet provide a sort of dragon-bike, with Scarlet being a traditional red dragon (Koraidon) and Violet providing what appears to be a purple cyberpunk construct based off the same form (Miraidon). The names, of course, carry hints to their nature with Korai being Japanese for ancient, or past, while Mirai refers to the future.

Finally, the games are much more accessible to new players or those who don’t wish to take the time to memorise the mechanics of pokemon. Those who want a more relaxing and less taxing experience will welcome the notes about effective move types (which appear only after the first time you fight any pokemon), and the ability to listen to your pokemon’s own advice on which moves to replace and whether to learn a new one. As with so many things in the new games, it’s very much the player’s choice whether to pay attention to this guidance.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Setting

It’s reasonably established now that the region of Paldea is based on Spain. The player’s cooking skills are limited to various kinds of sandwiches (bocadillo or bocata), made with various ingredients, eaten on picnics with the player’s team of pokemon, and with recipes discoverable throughout the world. Unusually for a pokemon game, the sandwiches themselves supply boosts to the player rather than their creatures. Upgrades to catching chances, finding particular pokemon types, and others making up a varied list of boosts.

Sandwich-making is a difficult skill to master

Final Verdict 7/10

Overall the new games are unmistakably pokemon, with the same formulae and plots running through. Despite this, the expansiveness of the world and providing players the opportunity to race ahead of their capabilities and get into trouble without being hauled back by invisible walls and guards on tunnels gives it a feeling of openness and autonomy that has long been lacking from the series.

While the plotlines may still be on railroads, giving players the ability to choose their stops and simply take time to explore is a welcome evolution of the series. The main character archetypes are very much recognisable, though the rivalry character is much more supportive and less brash than they have been in previous games. The story arcs are very much recognisable, with enough novelty that they feel freshly made with familiar ingredients rather than simply reheated.

Anyone who enjoyed the original games and wants to dive into nostalgia is likely to find comfort in these new games, while anyone new to the series will appreciate the supportive guidance that means years of mechanics do not need to be memorised. Nothing is new and completely transformative, which given the legacy of pokemon games is not unwelcome. The changes that have been incorporated make the whole experience feel much more individual than in previous generations, which can only be a good thing.