By Isaac Espinosa
The vast region of Paldea holds a wide variety of potential journeys and mysteries to uncover. How can you choose just one way to play? Pokemon Scarlet and Violet were released on November 18th of this year for the Nintendo Switch, and are the beginning of the 9th Generation of the Pokémon franchise. With the premise of the first ever open-world Pokémon titles, did Game Freak deliver on the promise of a fresh take on Pokémon? The answer to this question means we have to not only acknowledge the good, but the bad and the ugly.
The story in the Paldea region begins with you starting your journey toward the Naranjan Academy, a school where students go to research the many wonders of the four provinces, including the Great Crater and Fury Falls.
Nemona, a kind but hyperactive Champion Ranked Trainer, guides you as you make your way to the academy. Once there, you learn about the school’s primary independent project, “A Treasure Hunt.” The philosophy of Naranjan Academy is to encourage students to go on their own travels, meet new people, catch new creatures, and find what they call their own “Treasure.” From this point forward, you have many choices before you on your adventure: Do you follow Nemona and take on the gym leaders to become a fellow Champion? Do you follow Arven, the son of the incredible Professor Sada of Scarlet, or Turo of Violet? Or do you follow the hooded Cassiopeia in her endeavor to disband the mischievous Team Star? Whatever it is you choose to do, it’s up to you to create your own experience.
Nemona’s path, “The Victory Road”, follows you as you challenge all eight Gym Leaders of the Paldea region and strive to become a champion just like Nemona! Along the way, you meet not only the engaging gym leaders and even Elite Four, but you also learn more about Nemona and her hyperactive nature. She’s genuine, kind, and doesn’t try to hide her excitement about fighting someone who’s on her level.
It’s very much standard Pokémon, but it still has beautiful moments scattered throughout. Arven’s path, “Path of Legends”, has you set out with the researcher on a quest to find Herba Mystica, an herb that’s said to restore health instantly. Finding Herba Mystica means taking down large Titan Pokemon that guard the rare substance, which is precisely why Arven needs your help. It’s an adventure that’ll take you across the Paldea region and test your might and break you into pieces with its incredible twists and heartwarming story. Starfall Street has you team up with Cassiopeia in order to decisively disband Team Star. Operation Starfall, as she calls it, requires you to take out every major boss of the team and force them to step down. And while Starfall Street may not seem as grand as the other missions, it holds important lore about the Academy’s history and the inner workings that made things the way they are today for both it and Team Star. It’s a wonderful story that might even surprise you with the way it ends.
The story of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is top notch. Not only is every single character lively and vibrant, but the entire tale connects perfectly within the underlying theme of finding an experience to call your “Treasure.” Whether it’s watching Nemona smile the more she sees you grow, following Arven and learning his motivation to collect the Herba Mystica, or seeing how the members of Team Star refuse to betray one another no matter what the circumstances, the game makes you appreciate how every cast member has their own drives and feelings.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet reveals a lot about the characters and their development, and that’s something that the series hasn’t always done. All this is captured by a score that seems unremarkable at first, but picks up quickly and doesn’t miss a beat, dropping awesome song after awesome song. And the game culminates in a thrilling sequence that ties everything together in a tidy, satisfying bow. I can absolutely say that it’s an experience you need to see with your own eyes.
The content of Scarlet and Violet also contributes highly to the enjoyment. Riding on your legendary partner Koraidon or Miraidon, you truly have the entire Paldea region to survey. There’s the fun in finding new Pokémon that you haven’t seen yet, and the excitement in being able to tackle any challenge in whatever order you please that really tempts you to get sidetracked toward something that isn’t your main objective. And while some areas have very strong Pokemon that would encourage you to explore earlier areas first, the game doesn’t entirely stop you from investigating those areas.
It’s a surprisingly well-executed blend of the usual Pokémon journey, where you have to strengthen your team throughout the adventure, and a limitless region that doesn’t entirely pin you down to the early game. I loved getting sidetracked and finding some new area to uncover, because it really made me feel like I was doing exactly what the game wanted me to do. There are tons of quality of life features that make the experience much smoothe: being able to use the scraps and materials you pick up to make technical machines that will teach your Pokémon moves, the generous scattering of Centers, and the return of experience candies that help keep you from getting outpaced.
Unfortunately, while I wish that were the end of my review, I can’t help but voice serious concern about the main issue with this game: its performance. Moreso than any Pokémon title to date, Scarlet and Violet are riddled with glitches that crash your game or make the experience unplayable, poor frame rate that tanks even further in certain areas, and an overall lack of prowess and polish to an almost unimaginable degree.
One search for #ScarletandViolet on Twitter and you’ll see many different examples of these issues. Considering that Game Freak is responsible for the highest grossing media franchise of all time, it’s inexcusable that a game with so many technical faults was released to the public. It also doesn’t help that the game, much like the more recent Pokémon titles such as Sword and Shield, doesn’t look as good as it could, considering the money Pokémon makes. Despite these faults, the game still sold over 10 million copies in 3 days, solidifying it as not only the fastest growing launch in series history, but also the fastest selling console exclusive ever, at Nintendo or elsewhere. Seeing these numbers, the cynic might think, why should Game Freak do anything differently, if they know that their games are going to sell regardless? It’s Pokémon, after all.
It’s truly a shame that these games are pinned down by the poor technical quality, because they have some of the best content the series has ever had, delivering an experience I would recommend to anyone. But even the most hardcore Pokémon fans, myself included, cannot and should not forgive Game Freak’s negligence in launching a game with this many glaring faults. Yes, eventually there was a patch that didn’t fix enough, and an explanation from Nintendo. But the apology should come from Game Freak, one that shows they are willing to lift the large weight of disappointment from Scarlet and Violet’s shoulders. One that shows they really care.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Along with being named the Circle’s first assistant mentor, Isaac also published his first story in The Verge.