In the middle of a town square, a fierce Pokémon battle breaks out. In the foodie paradise of the city of Medali, filled with restaurants, a young trainer is trying to earn the right to face the leader of the local gym. With a stoic expression, his Hariyama unleashes a flurry of punches at his hated rival, bringing the enemy’s hit points into the red. It’s a dramatic battle, but the young coach is determined to win.
Then, right at the decisive moment, an aimless local wanders into the battle. All the tension in the scene is dissipated by his curiously warm smile and relaxed demeanor. The ease of his walk and the soft gleam in his eyes suggest a man at ease with himself. Perhaps this man – let’s call him Phil – is on his way to buy groceries or maybe just taking a leisurely walk around town.
Paralyzed by his constant confidence, I watch Phil walk from one end of the screen to the other, the ongoing pocket monster contest completely forgotten as his smooth wandering unfolds. Phil might be having a good day, but he’s ruined Pokemon.
Building on the open-world stages made in Pokémon Sword and Shield and Pokémon Legends Arceus, the world in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is the most ambitious yet. Filled with places to explore and Pokemon to catch, you can take a non-linear approach to its main story, which developer Game Freak has broken into three main quest chains.
Unfortunately, as promising as these changes themselves are, Game Freak has dropped the ball in terms of performance and optimization. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are riddled with framerate drops, performance issues, and more than the occasional bug. Texture overflow is common and animation speeds will slow to a crawl in all but the most sparsely populated areas. The game is full of magic, wonder and adventure. It’s also full of Phils.
travel the earth
Pokémon has always been about adventure, first and foremost. In that regard, Scarlet and Violet capture a fantasy near and dear to the hearts of Pokémon fans old and new, giving them the freedom to roam the continent of Paldea to their heart’s content. At its best, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feels like a playground, making a serious commitment to open-world exploration that pays off a lot.
The new “let’s go” feature not only lets you walk alongside your pocket buddies in the game world, it also lets you instruct your buddy to automatically battle nearby wild Pokemon, doing all the hard work for you while you watch. It’s a good way to earn XP and sits alongside a plethora of other quality of life improvements that Scarlet and Violet bring to the table. These improvements include an auto-heal button in the menu, as well as a TM Machine, which lets you customize your squad’s moves whenever you visit a Pokemon Center.
When opening up the world, you can now roam areas that are too high a level for you, adding a sense of mystery and danger. I often dared to venture into high-level areas, just to see what was out there. In one particularly foreboding cavern, I avoided errant terrain types in search of a path to a nearby town. I never knew I could find Dugtrio so scary. The sense of risk added something profound to the Pokémon experience that I didn’t know was missing.
The big change to battles in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is Terastelization—a new feature that lets you encase your Pokémon in crystal to change its type mid-battle. It has the potential to radically shake up battles, allowing you to change your Pokemon’s type on the fly is a big deal in a game that is all about typing combinations.
Unfortunately, Scarlet and Violet see the return of the usual one-type gym battles, where one Pokemon (or even one move) can carry the entire battle for you. As if to salt the wound, Gym Leaders in Scarlet and Violet will often use an unorthodox Ultimate Pokemon that they proceed to make orthodox by Terastelizing to the expected type.
There were hints of how Terastelizing could change the game, like when we battled the Elite Four, Paldea’s toughest trainers, and the opposing Donphan (a Ground-type Pokemon) launched a Poison attack, destroying my unsuspecting Grass-type. Suffice it to say, my unsuspecting Gogoat doesn’t stand a chance. The challenging mix forces me to think for myself, evoking true Pokémon magic. While Scarlet and Violet have far more of these dramatic twist moments than Sword and Shield, it’s clear Game Freak is still holding their own when it comes to pushing Pokemon’s battle systems to their full potential.
An entomologist’s nightmare
Regrettably, Scarlet and Violet fail to live up to their potential. The fundamentals of a great game are there, but they feel undercooked. Performance issues are very much the Cufant in the room, and with good reason. Framerates are low, animations are choppy, and open-world elements sometimes interact awkwardly with each other. For every great battle, dazzling skyline, and wonderful adventure, you’re likely to encounter a bug that will detract from your experience.
These bugs and shortcomings aren’t enough to completely ruin the experience, but they’re hard to ignore. In battles, the camera can cut through the floor, revealing a polygon mess underneath. Entry delays, while uncommon, can spell calamity in battle if you accidentally select the wrong move.
As was the case with gentle, sweet Phil as he cautiously wandered into a heated contest between two deadly supermonsters, these glitches and performance issues are sometimes as amusing as they are frustrating. However, it seems absurd for Nintendo to sign off on a product so riddled with problems. While these technical issues aren’t enough to rob the game of its joy and whimsy, they do cast a long shadow over the experience.