Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review - An incredible game plagued with avoidable issues

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cover art for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

As someone who has played Pokemon games since Red and Blue, I've been around the block with the franchise a few times. It holds a lot of my fondest childhood memories, and even to this day continues to be one of my favourite series out there.

But for the longest time, the format of the games has become predictable and repetitive. Only in recently has Game Freak decided to shift away from the standard formula. With the release of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, the games look to push this new formula to greater heights.

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But does it hold a candle to our standards for gaming today, or is the nostalgia factor making us see the series through rose-tinted glasses? Well, I'd say it's a bit of both. There's a lot to love about these games, but it's not without fault, and sadly, it feels like those faults could have been avoided.

New ways to play

There's a lot to talk about with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, but let's start with the biggest way that the game has changed from the originals. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet gives you an open-world sort of feel, giving you three major quest lines to complete, Victory Road, Starfall Street, and Path of Legends.

Victory Road is the classic. Travel around to the eight gyms in the region, get badges, and battle the Elite Four at the end. Starfall Street is your "Team Rocket" segment, where you're battling and defeating the five Team Star bosses. Path of Legends has you locating and finding five different Titan Pokemon across Paldea.

But the game takes things a step further in that you're able to take on these challenges in any order you wish. You can do any of the gyms in any order, you can fight any of the Titans or best any of the Team Star bosses in any order you choose. Sadly, this is only half-true. While you technically can go and do these activities in any order you wish, enemy levels won't scale to your strength.

This means that you'll have to be at the appropriate level to take on these challenges. If you want to take on these challenges efficiently, there will always be a "suggested" path to go on. A great concept, but without any sort of level scaling, you're going to spend a fair bit of time grinding if you really want to do these challenges in "any order".

Picture of the map in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet
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The story works

The story in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet actually is pretty good. It lends itself to the open-world exploration that the game promises rather well. You're a new student at Uva Academy. One of your main projects is to go out into the Paldea region in search of your "treasure".

Now, the story is fairly open-ended and vague throughout the main campaign, but it really starts to come together towards the end game. Most of the early and midgame story is character development for the main crew of characters and by the end of the game, I didn't want it to end.

The visuals are hit and miss

Visuals and graphics within the game were a mixed bag, to say the least. At times, the Paldea Region is a beautiful landscape of lush forests and plains, harsh deserts and icy mountains and tundras. Other times, it's a bit of a buggy mess, with uninspiring animations and graphical glitches.

For example, during many of the cutscenes where there are extra human character models on screen, the animations appear copied and pasted in sync with the other extras in the shot. Also, the animation of those extras is far from smooth in the slightest, almost as if you're watching them in a stop-motion film. Towns and cities did have some charm about them but most were pretty generic.

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One place where the visuals absolutely shine is in Tera Raids. The frame rate shoots up to what feels like 60 fps, the visual clarity and polish are stunning and it really makes me wish the rest of the game had this level of visual quality.

Something I can't overlook about this game from a visual perspective is how hard the graphical performance takes a hit at times, especially when the switch is docked and outputting to a TV or monitor. Frame rates crawl far below acceptable standards, and can often lead to the game lagging in larger cities.

It feels like the game just needed more time, which combined with the Switch's outdated hardware not being able to keep up delivers a less-than-ideal performance. I will say that some of the glitches in the game are absolutely hilarious to see, though. I guess there's that.

The majority of my playthrough was relatively smooth, but I just wish things were in place to allow this game to really feel modern.

Audio is stellar

The audio was a nice feature of the game, though. Music is one of the things that really sticks in my mind as one of the things Pokemon does well. There's always a catchy theme to be heard, whether it's in battle, a town, or the ever-familiar Pokemon Center theme. Scarlet and Violet take audio to new heights.

Music in all aspects of the game is incredible. Each biome in the world has a unique take on the main overworld theme of the game, and you can tell that the sound team took care to ensure that the music transitions smoothly. The boss battles and gym battles even all have catchy music, with my favourite being the Team Star boss battles. It's a guitar shred-fest and really feels appropriate to what's going on. A really nice touch was the credits music, which was done by Ed Sheeran and showcased in one of the promotional trailers.

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As for the other sounds in the game, well all of that was also done incredibly well. Travelling around the world, you get an appropriate level of environmental sounds, mixed with various Pokemon cries as you're passing by packs. Overall the audio in the game keeps you immersed in the world for hours and hours on end.

Picture of a tera raid and a terastalized pokemon in pokemon scarlet and violet

General Gameplay

General gameplay and world movement are very good. Battles are the same turn-based style of combat that we come to expect in Pokemon games. World traversal is quite fun, as you get your mount Pokemon fairly early on in the game. You upgrade it over time as well, which allows you to traverse different kinds of terrain and allows you what feels like true freedom to explore every nook and cranny of Paldea.

Each new generation of Pokemon comes with its own "gimmick". Some examples of these include Mega Evolutions, Dynamax and Z forms. The Paldean gimmick is called Terastalization. When a Pokemon Terastalizes, it gains a crystalline appearance and changes types depending on what its Tera type is. All Pokemon in the game can Terastalize, and can have very different Tera types to their original. For example, you can have a Gengar with a fire Tera type. Terastalization is a very cool mechanic, as it gives some additional depth to type effectiveness and battle planning.

Picture of the Tera Raid menu in pokemon scarlet and violet
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Multiplayer and post-game

Multiplayer functionality gets quite a bit of TLC in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, and it really shows. First off, the Union Circle allows up to four players to join up in a combined world. You can progress through the game's story together, or explore completely separately. This is a completely new experience in Pokemon and one that should continue to be in future games.

The typical Wonder Trade, or Surprise Trade, makes a return, and it's about as fun as you'd expect it to be. The other multiplayer feature that has returned? Raids. If you played Pokemon Sword and Shield or Pokemon GO, then you're familiar with these.

Essentially Tera raids are four-person boss battles, with an opportunity to catch the Pokemon you fight at the end. You are timed and if you can't beat the Pokemon in time, you lose the ability to catch it. There have been some great improvements to the raid system overall in Scarlet and Violet.

First of all, you're given a selection of eight posted raids that you can try to join. If you don't like what's offered, you can opt to join in a random raid entirely. This allows you to farm raids more effectively, as this all but ensures that you're going to get a team together. Additionally, if you hop into a raid and it starts with less than four players, the game will provide AI to fill the team so that the raid can fire.

Once you're in the raid, the combat is incredibly smooth. The developers have added a new quality-of-life function where you don't have to wait for your teammates to make a move before your move is used. This speeds up the pacing of combat quite a bit. This is also nice because you'll have to execute three attacks in a row to be able to Terastalize.

As for the post-game offerings, you do have a decent amount to do. Filling out the dex is something that's fairly attainable. You also have tons of raids to do, and let me tell you, five-star raids are difficult. You also have the Battle Stadium to fight other players, and there's also an endless PvE "tournament" system in the game that you'll be introduced to. While this may seem like a lot, I'm unsure if there's really enough content to sustain players until an expansion is released for the game.

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At the end of the day, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is a great game. I haven't been this addicted to a Pokemon game in quite some time, and I'm excited for what expansions are to come. There are some serious issues with the game sure, but hopefully, some of those can be ironed out with some additional patches to the game over the coming months. If you're a fan of the Pokemon franchise, then there are many hours of fun to be had in this game.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet - A great game plagued with avoidable issues
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is a great game, that shakes up the standard Pokemon formula to incredible success. Despite all the good, there are some glaring issues that were definitely avoidable.
Nintendo
Switch
Pokemon

Code was provided by the publisher.