Review – Pokémon Scarlet
The release of a new Pokémon generation is always exciting. The months preceding said game’s released are always filled to the brim with trailers, theories, massive expectations. The moment I found out that Pokémon Scarlet (the one I reviewed) and Violet were going to be set in a region analogous to the Iberian Peninsula, I even made an article with some designs based on cultural and biological elements from that region that could become some neat pokémon designs. I even got like five or so right! But new designs weren’t what we were the most excited about. It was the fact that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet were going to be the first truly open world Pokémon games in the franchise’s history. Exciting, but worrisome at the same time.
The reason for said worries? Two words: Game Freak. Yes, they are responsible for one of the most revolutionary games of all time, arguably the reason Westerners are patient enough to play JRPGs these days, but they are not great developers in the TECHNICAL sense of the word. Pokémon games have never had to push visual and technological boundaries. They have never needed to expand in size and scope. When they did, with a game such as Legends: Arceus, results were indeed great, but at the cost of hideous visuals. Bear in mind that Arceus was a pseudo-open world game, like a Monster Hunter title. Scarlet and Violet were going to be the Breath of the Wild of the franchise, on the other hand.
Pokémon Scarlet feels like a wish granted by a monkey’s paw, or should I say, a Mankey’s paw. There are lots of fantastic improvements to the franchise’s formula, but they all came at the cost of something else. Be it technical, design-wise, performance-wise, this is easily the most divisive generation I have played. It doesn’t mean it’s my least favorite (the Alola games still take the cake, and Sword/Shield haven’t aged as well), but it’s the one I have had the most issues with. This time around, most of them stemming from how ugly and unpolished the game is as a whole.
Let’s start off with the obvious: this is one of the, if not the ugliest first-party game available on the Switch. I commend the fact the Paldea region is immense, with a crapton to do, but at what cost? A game that looks uglier than most GameCube titles (let’s not even mention the fact that the GameCube Pokémon game, Colosseum, looked awesome for the time) and runs disgracefully. The framerate is already a meme at this point, and with good reason: it’s bad. In docked mode, expect inconsistent 15 to 30 frames per second at random, with terrible framerate pacing. In portable, things are mitigated a bit, but are still noticeable.
It hurts because we are both getting an ugly game and an unstable game. Arceus wasn’t a looker, far from it, but it ran incredibly well. It was a caveat worth having. In Scarlet, we are not getting anything good out of it. Even though the brand new designs are great (more on that later), there is very little in Scarlet and Violet that can be considered “good looking”. The battle animations have been reduced to wet farts of special effects, lacking the pizazz the series has always been known for. NPCs have, and I am not joking, like four frames of animations, looking more robotic than a Porygon. And the world itself, while colorful, looks like what happens when you try to run The Witcher 3 on a Windows XP computer.
With that said, this might actually be the first Pokémon generation- possibly since Black and White- where I actually liked the majority of the new monsters included in the roster. Highlights include Armarouge (essentially a Mega Man villain boasting a hardcore Fire/Psychic typing), Houndstone (a literal skeleton Portuguese Water Dog with an insane exclusive move), Quaquaval (a samba dancer), Skeledirge (a mix between a Day of the Dead skull, a Parc Güell lizard, a fire crocodile, and a ghost), and Kingambit (a new evolution for Bisharp, essentially a Sekiro boss). There is variety, both in looks and strategies. Speaking of…
The brand new gameplay gimmick in Scarlet and Violet is being to “terastalize” your pokémon. Once per battle, you can throw a special orb onto your pokémon, allowing it to completely change its type to something else, its “hidden” tera-type. In essence, it’s the substitute to Hidden Power, but changing your monster’s type as a whole in the process. It’s not a game changer, but I feel it’s a lot less intrusive and way more interesting than the dumb Z-Moves or Gigantamax forms from previous games. It’s also not relying on nostalgia, something that plagued Gigantamaxing and Mega forms. Scarlet isn’t trying to pander to old-school fans so desperately this time around, and I honestly feel this is one of its main highlights. There are new evolutions of older pokémon like Girafarig, Primeape, and Dunsparce, but the game is very much trying to be its own thing.
It also tries to be its own thing with its open-ended gameplay. Well, sort of. There is still a beginning, a middle, and an end to the game’s main story, with the open-ended part being the middle, which takes about 90% of the total runtime. At first, there is a very boring tutorial section. Once you reach the Naranja Academy (the big boarding school designed after the Sagrada Familia cathedral), you are told to explore the world as part of your curriculum (odd, but let’s not get into details, at least kids go to school in Paldea). This is when you’re given three main quests to complete, in any given order.
The main one is your classic “eight gyms and an Elite Four” route, called Victory Road. For as much as I appreciate the return of the Elite Four, and some of the new gym leaders are really cool, I hated what Game Freak did to the gyms themselves. Again, Mankey’s paw. We have gyms, but no battles against trainers or in-gym puzzle solving. We do a dumb minigame, such as ordering a specific kind of food or throwing an olive-shaped balloon into a goal, then fighting the gym leader. No buildup, no nothing. Battles are also super easy, given how each leader’s last pokémon is just a terastalized beast boasting the type of said gym, like a Grass-type Sudowoodo or Bug-type Teddyursa.
There is a storyline focused on taking down Team Star, Paldea’s “evil” team. Well, they aren’t evil at all, and to be fair, I actually liked this storyline. They are just a gang of misfits who didn’t fit with their school’s inner circle. Each leader has a nice backstory and a surprisingly touching message behind it. Battles themselves were easy, with the player having to destroy their souped-up, Mad Max-esque cars in the process, not unlike the Pokéstar Studios from Black and White, but the pizazz was there. The cool soundtrack was there. For a brief moment, Scarlet and Violet punch above their weight during these sections.
The third storyline revolves around taking down Titan pokémon, just like the Totem monsters from Sun and Moon. They are hard to take down, overleveled, and gimmicky, but that’s not the main point behind the storyline. It’s the story itself, with some shockingly deep and emotional undertones that I wasn’t expecting from a Pokémon game at all. Suffice to say, I loved them. It helps that completing these battles gives your ride pokémon new abilities as well.
Oh yeah, you do have access to the box art legendary pokémon from the start… but not for combat. They are traumatized, weakened, and terrified, so you mainly use them as the makeshift motorcycle they look like. For the vast majority of the game’s runtime, they are just that; weakened rides that can be upgraded by beating Titans. Once all three storylines are completed, the game’s last bit starts, which is focused on the legendary pokémon of choice. And boy oh boy, is it weird.
I am not going to dive into spoilers but I’ll just say that the last chapter of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet felt like an amalgamation of Xenoblade Chronicles, Nier: Automata, and the final third of Metal Gear Solid 2. You read that right. It’s weird. It makes no damn sense within the franchise’s atmosphere. But was it epic. Engaging as all hell. Lore-heavy, theme-heavy, challenging, and with huge stakes. The music went above and beyond in terms of epicness, with the sound design only being hampered by long cutscenes on mute, even though characters all open their mouths. Once the game truly ends, and you’re “gifted” with an Ed Sheeran song in the credits (no, really), you’ll look back at the campaign and realize it was worth it BECAUSE of the final stretch. It didn’t make up for the technical hindrances, but it was so out of place I couldn’t help but commend Game Freak for their lunacy.
But here’s the issue once you beat the game: its postgame content is minute. That’s a sad reality we live in since the dawn of Pokémon season passes: postgame content will be DLC. There are a handful of hard legendaries to catch, you can explore the final chapter’s area at will and catch some version exclusives, and you can battle gym leaders again. But that’s it. No Delta Chapter, no battle against Giovanni. Once Pokémon Scarlet ended, I proceded to fill in my Pokédex, with little incentive to replay the game or touch it properly until the release of its expansions. But I don’t think they should be Game Freak’s priority right now. The game needs to be fixed.
I still don’t understand why Pokémon Scarlet and Violet were even released in 2022. There was no need for them to come out in the same year as Legends: Arceus. The announcement of said games completely stole that other game’s relevance in the spotlight. The game feels utterly rushed and unfinished. It could have been released in January or March, giving Game Freak more time to make it, at the very least, run like a half-decent Switch game.
As it stands, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the most divisive games in the series. I love the open world design, but hate its visuals. I love the inclusion of multiple routes and storylines, but despised the brand new gym battles. I loved the new pokémon designs, but didn’t care that much about its new gameplay gimmick, as usual. It was released before it was ready, before the hype caused by Legends: Arceus could calm down a bit. That being said, it’s Pokémon: it will still sell, it will still be really fun for those into the franchise’s gameplay loop, and Game Freak will surely release a new generation in a few years without caring about fan feedback, as usual. Such is the world we live in, but hey, at least the story is completely bonkers this time around, I guess.
Pathetic. Despite some new designs, the game is really ugly, battle animations lack pizazz, NPC animations are nonexistent, and the framerate is a joke.
The open world gameplay is heavily hampered by the awful framerate, even though, in theory, it’s pretty good. The core gameplay still works, gym challenges aside. They are the worst they have ever been.
Not as good as the soundtrack from Sword / Shield, but still impactful and dynamic. The lack of voice acting is noticeable, given the amount of cutscenes on mute, but with characters opening their mouths to talk.
Scarlet and Violet are the least polished mainline Pokémon games since the first generation released 26 years ago. But it’s still Pokémon, and it’s still tons of fun. The core gameplay loop is unparalleled.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Pokémon Scarlet is available now on Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.