Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is a game I truly want to love. I’m not exaggerating when I say these could quite well be the best Pokemon games on The Switch. The open world is fun, the models look legitimately improved and the story and character were surprisingly fun and memorable.
This is all let down though by the game’s performance. Scarlet and Violet are not well-optimized and have several issues when it comes to frame rates and pop-in. I will say, I don’t think these issues completely ruin the game and it’s still worth playing for fans of the series but they are very distracting and turn what should be the next big step for the series into a bumpier road trip than it should have been.
Welcome to Paldea
Like with most pokemon games, you start as a new kid moving to a new region called Paldea. You’ve been enrolled in Naranja (in Scarlet) or Uva (in Violet) Academy, a school that teaches you how to train Pokemon. For their annual ‘treasure hunt’ your taste with finding your own personal ‘treasure’.
From here you’re free to roam the region as you please complete one of three main quests:
- Victory Road – beating the gyms, the Pokemon league, and your rival Nemona. Doing so allows you to control pokemon at higher levels.
- Path of Legends – helping your Senior Arven search for the Herba Mystica guarded by giant “titan pokemon. Completing these grants your legendary bike pokemon Koraidon or Miraidon more abilities to traverse the world.
- Starfall Street – fighting against a group of school delinquents called Team Star with assistance from a quiet girl named Penny. Doing these gets you more recipes for TMs.
For a Pokemon game, the story is actually pretty fun. The beginning is a bit of a drag, with a long introduction section but once you get to the open world, it starts to pick up. Overarching plots are simple but they make up for their fun characters and dialogue.
I especially like the main companion character for each quest. Nemona is a great rival. She’s your senpai who’s already beaten the league and become a champion trainer. She pushes you to beat the league so you can be on her level and give her a good battle. As such fights with her feel less like salty rival fights and more like a coach testing your progress. It’s pretty refreshing, especially for a more friendly rival-type character.
Arven and Penny likewise feel more fleshed out than most Pokemon characters. The former is both pretty funny and quite tragic, while the latter has some great reveals later in her mission.
Ok, let’s address the Donphan in the room. The performance of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is bad. There are frequent frame drops for even the smaller transitions like entering a battle or throwing a Pokeball. There’s a reoccurring pop-in with Pokemon suddenly existing just a few meters away from you or clipping through walls or the floor. There are even issues of background characters runnings at below 10 fps until you get closer to them. It’s a mess and I truly hope that these issues are patched out later down the line.
I will say however it’s not completely unplayable. The jank is very distracting and happens far too regularly but the game never outright crashed or put me in a situation where it was too unbearable to keep playing. A lot of the absolute worst of the glitches that have been circulating on social media like falling through the floor or characters breaking model, also never happened to me throughout my playthrough.
How much you’ll enjoy this game will really depend on how much you can tolerate the performance. Personally, I was able to put up with it. As previously stated, the jank never got to a point where it was seriously affecting the gameplay and I found I was still getting into the game regardless. That isn’t an excuse for it though. It’s a major issue that the developers of such a large IP should have ironed out before release.
The New Pokemon
The jank is also a shame because I think these are the best models 3D Pokemon has ever had. The Pokemon are now more detailed, better animated and have better textures. Dog and Cat pokemon now have detailed fur, rock pokemon have creases and crevices across their body, while steel types are sleek and shiny. It makes it more interesting to come across them in the new open world since they look so much nicer.
The Generation 9 Pokemon in general are also an interesting bunch. While each new batch of Pokemon will have its ups and downs, overall I like how creative and experimental the new designs are: a superhero dolphin, a tokusatsu-inspired grasshopper, and a graffiti painting Aye-Aye, all of which are animals that hadn’t gotten pokemon equivalents until now.
You also have a new feature called Picnics that allows you to bring out all your Pokemon for a meal anywhere from the main menu. You can wash them, play with them, and overall hang out. Here you can make different sandwiches that offer different stat buffs. It’s very cute and runs surprisingly well even with seven pokemon (your party + the legendary) out at the same time.
I also think the game has the best Pokedex in the series with beautiful pamphlets like pictures for each entry that show off more of the monster’s personality, almost like a mini wildlife brochure.
The Open World
Speaking of the open world, it truly is open. Once you are out of the tutorial, you’re free to roam around as you please. The box legendaries, Koraidon or Miraidon will act as a bike, letting you quickly travel around the landscape. You can do whichever quest you want and jump between the three of them as you please not to mention finding new monsters and items on the overworld. It’s fun as ever to just run around seeing what pokemon you can find and catch.
There is a downside in that each mission, regardless of which quest it’s from, has a set level. This means that certain gyms, for example, will always be easier than others. I can see some people not liking this and believing it undermines the ability to do whatever you want. That being said, there’s is something nice about challenging a gym far stronger than you and trying to strategize around it, even if it means you get a breather boss for the next one.
While the landscape is a little bland, I also think the cities and architecture look nice. The world is highly vibrant and feels authentic to its Spanish inspiration. There’s also a good amount of variety with deserts, lakes, and snow-capped mountains that naturally fit together.
In terms of other features, in an interesting turn, TMs can once again only be used once, however, you can create more at the Pokemon centers by finding certain crafting items from wild pokemon. It’s another nice incentive to explore and battle.
The game also has a number of quality-of-life aspects. You can now access your Pokemon storage to swap up party members from anywhere. You also have an auto-battle feature that allows you to send out a pokemon to take out wild monsters. It’s a great tool for those that want to quickly level grind and is mandatory when in the Starfall Street mission.
The combat is mostly standard Pokemon fair. Turn-based combat, with six pokemon with rock paper scissor-style battles. The big change here is like in Legends Acreus, battles take place on the overworld. While this isn’t quite as kinetic as Arceus, it’s still a lot faster than previous games, getting you in and out of battles relatively quickly. Every trainer battle in the game is also optional as you can need to walk and speak to them to initiate the fight. I like these changes as it means you can play it at your own pace. If you’d prefer to explore or want to find a specific pokemon, you no longer have a bunch of NPCs interrupting you for a battle.
The big new addition to combat is terastalization which turns pokemon into a crystal-like form. Every pokemon has a terastal type which they turn into. For example, if you have a Pikachu with a ground terastal type, it will turn into a ground type which includes the type’s strengths and weaknesses. If your pokemon’s regular type and terastal type are the same, it can make their stab moves even stronger. It’s a cool system that allows for a lot of strategy with your pokemon with a number of customizable options that are likely to keep the competitive scene happy.
You can find terrastillized pokemon roaming the overworld and in special raid battles where you can work with four friends or strange online defeat them. The online connection is surprisingly good and unlike Sword and Shield, you don’t have to wait for everyone else to attack before you can again.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have so much going for them. The open-world design is perfect for Pokemon and provides an addicting gameplay loop that allows you to catch, explore and fight at your own pace. Likewise, the pokemon themselves look great and there’s more you can do with them both socially and comparatively through picnics and terastallizing.
It’s a real tragedy the performance pulls the game down and makes it less enjoyable. To put it bluntly, If these technical issues were fixed, I’d probably give the games the same, if not a higher score than Pokemon Legends Arceus but I can’t in the state they’re currently in. I sincerely hope there’ll be a patch down the road but as of right now, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are good, innovative new Pokemon games whose weaknesses stop them from being super effective.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are available for Nintendo Switch.