Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Review-in-Progress

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

Before I began Pokemon Scarlet, and Violet, I wasn’t sure if they would let me go in the direction Game Freak said. Despite the more open Pokemon games Sword and Shield, this RPG series has remained a linear RPG series with a clear path and set of plot points. Then I took my Fuecoco with me to the Paldea region. My disbelief was completely broken. 

Game Freak, after years of testing the Switch, has finally found an open-world formula that reinvents Pokemon’s gameplay. It also retains the childhood dream of adventure, exploration, and cute monster hunting. This is the transformation I have been waiting for. However, the incredibly poor performance has made this an uninteresting design evolution.

After a lengthy opening and some explanation about how you go to school to learn Pokemon, there are three main story paths you can follow. Each has a number of objectives that you can tackle in any order. It’s similar to The Legend of Zelda : Breath of Wild’s structure of opening four Divine Beasts simultaneously – and like heading straight for Hyrule Castle and fighting Ganon, it’s possible to walk out of your school to run straight to the most difficult gym and challenge it. However, I wouldn’t recommend that.

Why a “Review-in-Progress”?

The review embargo lifted for Pokemon Scarlett and Violet. While I have finished the main story, we are opting to wait until launch to score our final review. The first is the inability to test online features prior to release. This has been true for most Pokemon reviews. However, online trading and battling has always been limited. Scarlet and Violet were able to explore the vast open world together with up to three players, which was one of its key new features. 

Online is not turned on so I don’t know what kind of activities players can do together, nor how the game runs. It would be difficult to score Scarlett and Violet without trying it out. We’ll wait to make our final decision until we have had time to play with it after launch.
New Screenshots of Pokemon Scarlett and Violet – Oct. 21      

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Review-in-Progress

The review embargo that we signed to get early code from Nintendo was also strict. It limited what Pokemon we could use in our video reviews, including limiting the number of Pokemon that we could show (even a Pokemon that is quite common on the first route). We are also unable to tell you the length of the story. This is a crucial piece of information we try to include in all our reviews. We decided to spend a little more time with Scarlett and Violet, given the short time they had (code arrived less then a week before the embargo was lifted), so that we could share all our thoughts in a score review next week.

Level scaling is not available for Pokemon Scarlett and Violet. You’ll be destroyed as soon as you start following the “intended” paths. If you try to complete objectives in the exact order they were given, you will have to do some tedious zigging and zigging across the vast Paldea map. Instead, Scarlet and Violet seem to encourage, and that’s what I loved so much about them. 

My journey involved accidentally walking into a slightly-too-difficult area early on, but using strategy and care to power through anyway. My first half of the adventure was extremely difficult, but rewarding. After I was done with the area I missed, I steamrolled several more before I could tackle higher-level challenges.

Although I wasn’t keen to take on a gym of level 15 Pokemon and a team full of level 35s, the inconsistent difficulty didn’t stop me from enjoying the game. It’s partly because Scarlet’s and Violet’s three story lines are complex and fascinating on their own (especially when compared to the truncated stories Sword, Shield and Arceus), but also because exploring the vast world was its own delight. Game Freak is making another great step forward with Scarlett and Violet.

They have created a realistic, creatures-filled wilderness with a Regional Pokedex that was large enough to not miss any National Dex Pokemon. Even though I was overleveled in certain areas, I still enjoyed hunting for items and using Autobattler Let’s Go to train weaker monsters or barreling through Mudbray. The wild behaviors and animations for Pokemon have also been improved. Magikarp can swim to the shoreline and then flop on the beach.

Psyduck clusters are curious to see you battle and Klawf will dive bomb you from their perches high up on cliff faces. Sword and Shield’s Wild Area seemed more like someone had accidentally spilled random Pokemon all over the place, but Scarlet and Violet have monsters that travel in herds. They cluster around water’s edge or hide up trees more closely to real animals. It was difficult to resist the urge to spend hours looking through Paldea’s vast “areas” (the more open evolution of previous games’ “routes”) in search for the monsters hidden there.

Apart from the amazing shift to an open world, there is one major lesson I have learned from my experience with Pokemon Scarlett and Violet: they are a technical disaster. They are a technical mess.

Even though only a few effects, such as weather or flowing water, the framerate drops to an alarmingly low level. A few feet away, character models pop in and out of the screen, sometimes very quickly, but they also chug along at slow motion animation speeds. 

Everything has a strange, shimmery blurred appearance. Shadows often disappear and reappearance suddenly and illogically. Pokemon can clip in and out from walls and floors at strange angles or get stuck entirely in them – I spent an entire Gym Battle with one Pokemon half-buried in the ground. Sometimes the camera will clip mountainsides and show a full view in a videogamey void.

This can sometimes ruin cool moments, such as the evolution of my Wooper. All things lag, battles included. Two guides writers experienced severe game crashes. This is the most frustrating Pokemon game I have ever seen and one of the most difficult AAA games I have played on Switch. This is with day one patch.These games are so good that there isn’t one moment where I would say Pokemon Scarlet or Violet run well. “

The saddest thing about this is that it often takes away from Scarlet and Violet’s best, most memorable moments. It’s amazing to be able stand on top of a massive snowy mountain in the middle of a Pokemon area and see a bright light show of a gym in one direction, a sparkling water in another and a red mesa in the other still. I know that I can take a leap and go to all three places without any loading screens. It’s a dream come true for Pokemon fans. I briefly thought that I would be able just to enjoy the multitude of design choices and leave all technicalities behind.

The problems are always there and can interrupt any moment that is meant to be dramatic, emotional, or fun. One example is the Paldea region’s most beautiful and well-designed city, where many major story moments are set. It is also one of the most technically janky. It’s almost impossible to run for more than a few minutes on any grassy field without being caught off guard by Pokemon models appearing and disappearing or things suddenly slowing down. It’s all offline. What happens when I go online on launch day with three of my friends?

I hope that some patches in the early stages of development can fix this mess and bring it back to (I can’t believe this is being said) closer to Arceus or Sword and Shield. Those games had technical problems, but were far more forgivable than this one. It’s a joy to play Scarlet and Violet , and Game Freak seems to have figured how to make the open-world design work for the series. The game is a modern RPG, but it delivers the Pokemon fantasy. While I cringed at NPCs soaring down huge staircases and disappearing halfway, I was enjoying Scarlet and Violet’s amazing story, characters and world. I would love to see more Pokemon games like this.

While I still look forward to spending more time in Paldea, I’m also excited to see how the online multiplayer functions once it launches. It was beautiful, expansive, and Pokemon-stuffed. I wish it was not the Paldea that the designers and artists tried to show me and the slow-moving, dimly-lit Paldea that I have been trying to navigate my way through the last week.

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