If you have even a passing interest in video games, you’re probably aware of Pokemon. It’s the single highest-grossing media franchise in human history, and each entry in the mainline RPG series sells millions of copies. The highly addictive game features collectible monsters, turn-based combat, and endearing characters that make it one of the most consistently enjoyable long-running game series ever.
The most recent entries, Scarlet and Violet, are the best in the series so far. While they’re not the most graphically impressive video games ever made, they more than make up for a lack of visual polish with extremely fun gameplay and an inspired set of new creative creatures. Oh, and this time it’s an open-world game. No, really!
Many reviewers were left cold by Scarlet and Violet’s technical shortcomings. Many have dismissed the game as little more than a “step in the right direction” for the over-25-year-old RPG series. These reviewers, frankly, are full of it. The newest entries aren’t just the best games in the Pokemon series – they might be the best games to hit any console this year, and they’re in the running to take the top spot as the best Switch title to yet grace the system.
From the moment the game opens, two things are clear: Scarlet and Violet are extremely bold in their push to open up the stale Pokemon formula… and they are also visually quite rough. The visuals have never really been the draw in this series, but their glaring issues here took many reviewers out of the experience before it got started in earnest. From the opening cutscene, you can see jagged edges and stuttering framerates.
These issues are perhaps more pronounced because Scarlet and Violet go for a level of graphical fidelity that previous entries in the franchise have avoided. In some ways, SV is as pretty as Pokemon has ever looked. Clothing textures are well-defined, Pokemon in the overworld all have unique animations, and the lighting is really impressive (when it works). As such, there are more pinch points for both the game’s code and the Switch’s hardware, so when things break they break very prominently.
Some players have pointed out that the game seems to run more smoothly if you’re playing it from your Switch’s system memory or from a physical game card. Those who store the game on a slower SD card could find themselves running into more issues than others. Speaking personally, in my over 80 hours with the game since its launch, I’ve noticed a few frame drops and one complete crash, but nothing close to the borderline-unplayable mess that other reviewers reported experiencing.
What’s Going On With Game Freak?
The technical issues that plague SV can’t be fully blamed on the Switch. After all, Breath of the Wild didn’t have these issues, and it was released on the system five years ago. Developer Game Freak has theoretically had plenty of time to polish this title and get it looking perfect before launch. Or, they would have, if they weren’t pushing to release at least one mainline Pokemon title every year.
It’s easy to forget since 2022 has been such a huge year for games, that Pokemon Legends Arceus came out in January. It speaks to the company’s jam-packed schedule that two massive open-world Pokemon titles hit the shelves in the same calendar year. Many fans have speculated that SV might have looked significantly better had it not been for a rushed production schedule.
In fact, the game might benefit from some post-release patches. After all, many of the most glaring visual issues might be related to genuine bugs in the code. Characters using their lower framerate walking animations too close to the player, for example, could be remedied by a new prioritization system. The important thing, though, is that the core of the game’s design is as genuinely fun and breathtaking as Pokemon has ever been, and it’s a shame that so many people have missed that with the discussion of SV’s technical issues.
Addictive as Ever
The original Game Boy titles Pokemon Red and Blue arrived in a form that is still recognizable to Pokemon fans to this day. The addictive gameplay loop of setting out into the wilderness to battle wild monsters, tame them, and then use them against your rivals was just as fun in the 90s as it is now. Still, in the intervening years, the original formula started to show some rust.
Every time you battled a monster, for instance, you would have no idea which one you’d be fighting until you were on the battle screen. To make matters worse, players had next to no selection when it came to encountering creatures. If you were looking for a favorite rare Pokemon, you had to just be persistent and keep walking around its preferred spawning area until you randomly encountered it.
With SV, Game Freak has done a lot to shave off the rougher edges of the old gameplay style. Wild Pokemon are now visible in the overworld, allowing players to pick and choose which they want to battle and capture. The Pokemon storage boxes and the ability to shuffle your creatures’ move lists have also been shifted to appear in the pause menu, which keeps the focus on exploration and adventure instead of sending hardcore players back and forth between Pokemon Centers.
Streamlined in Every Way but One
The only place where this streamlining comes to a stop is in the actual turn-based battle system. This system is clearly still running on the same code that has powered the game’s tactical combat since at least the third generation of the titles, which themselves hit store shelves 20 years ago. Every little thing in combat is a dialogue box. If your Pokemon becomes confused, prepare to read a little sentence about that status condition every turn until it shakes the confusion off.
And Arceus himself can’t save you if the two competing Pokemon have a series of abilities that alter their stats. One remarkable (and unskippable) interaction can go on for upwards of ten seconds as various abilities trigger and the game insists on reading out every step of this byzantine process to the player. It makes what could be a snappy and precise turn-based system into a genuine slog in some cases, grinding the otherwise-superb experience to a screeching halt.
This is a shame, given the number of other ways the developers clearly went out of their way to sand off Pokemon’s roughest edges. Even the laborious process of fully training Pokemon has been shortened with the help of items dedicated to boosting their experience points and statistics. And, thankfully, you no longer need to visit a daycare center to get your Pokemon to breed. Just set up a “picnic” with your party and the critters you want to duplicate – you’ll have a brand-new Pokemon egg in your inventory in no time.
Inventive New Cast
Every time a new Pokemon generation comes out, fans argue about the quality of the new creatures. Most fans are concerned with the monster’s visual designs, while more hardcore players are also interested in more niche qualities like their “types,” abilities, and statistics. In both regards, SV has knocked it out of the park with the new slew of Pokemon available in the Paldea region.
From hammer-toting fairies to flaming suits of armor, this generation is slammed full of creative and enjoyable designs. If you don’t giggle a bit when you see “Dududunsparce,” the newly-elonged evolution of the fan-favorite creature “Dunsparce,” then you have a rock where your heart should be.
In addition to the slew of new creatures, there are also several memorable characters in the game’s main story. This time around, players are tasked with taking down the eight gym leaders of the Paldeo region and also raiding the five bases of the villainous Team Star. Likewise, an enjoyable side quest involves tackling five “Titan Pokemon,” gigantic forms of iconic creatures who guard mystical herbs that can enhance the player’s partner Pokemon.
Best Pokemon Games Yet
Yes, Scarlet and Violet have some rough graphical issues that mar an otherwise excellent experience. Some of the battle animations are a bit underwhelming, and the game could have benefited from a slightly longer development cycle to bring it up to the signature Nintendo level of polish.
However, it’s hard to stay mad at a game that feels this fresh, this fun, and this much like the next evolution of the Pokemon franchise. This isn’t a “step in the right direction”; this is a new phase for the iconic series. What we’re seeing with Scarlet and Violet will hopefully be the new normal for the series going forward.
Moreover, Game Freak took nearly all of the fan complaints regarding Sword and Shield to heart and implemented them across Legends: Arceus and Scarlet and Violet. If they make a few small tweaks to the graphics and battle display, the next mainline Pokemon games are sure to hit an even higher mark than this generation.