It’s almost there. Maybe next time!
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, the latest entry in Nintendo's pocket-monster-collecting franchise, brings the venerable gaming series further into the 21st century with a total reimagining of its design structure. But rather than taking players on a mostly tried-and-true linear romp through eight Pokemon gyms with a gauntlet of endgame master trainers to fight, it’s now a free-wheeling open-world game.
And it’s mostly a great time! Strolling through the grassy plains and treacherous mountains of the Spain-inspired Paldea region at your own pace is a really nice shake-up for the series. As I’ve covered already, you even get your very own legendary Pokémon to ride around on, making traversal a breeze.
The only problem is that this isn’t a total modernization of the series, which has stubbornly stuck to its many traditions for about 25 years now. I’m sympathetic to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument, but there are some things about Pokémon Scarlet & Violet (such as the pace of battle and interface design) that could still use some tweaks going forward.
Raise your speed stat
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet may have altered the basics of how you traverse the world of Pokémon, but the combat is mostly the same as it ever was. It’s pure, 1-on-1 turn-based fighting that hasn’t fundamentally changed since the Game Boy era.
To be clear, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Developer Game Freak has always managed to squeeze the most depth possible out of a simple formula, producing games that 8-year-olds can enjoy casually while adults go all-in on the competitive scene. There’s just one problem: It’s still too slow.
More specifically, the game still doles out battle information one text box at a time. For example, here’s what it looks like when a Pokémon is poisoned and takes damage from another attack on the same turn:
- “Quaxly uses Water Pulse!”
- [an animation of the attack]
- “It’s super effective!”
- [an animation of Fuecoco taking a bit of damage from the poison]
- “Fuecoco was hurt by poison!”
One turn can entail two damage animations and three text boxes, none of which can be skipped, buttoned-through, or sped-up in any meaningful way. You have to see every step of the process slowly laid out every time.
I understand these games are made with kids in mind and I don’t want to be one of those adult jerks who tries to take control over something that isn’t intended for me. Kids need things clearly spelled out, so I get the thinking behind this design choice. However, it can be changed without compromising the integrity of the battle system.
Other turn-based games like Dragon Quest XI let you optionally fast-forward through battle animations, for instance. That would be an ideal choice; something you could toggle on and off in the options menu depending on your needs. Game development is hard, so there may be a reason why this isn’t the case. That said, I’d really love it if next time around, something could be done to alleviate this problem.
Who has time to remember all this?
Staying on the topic of interface design and menus, Scarlet & Violet smartly sticks with the formula — first established in Sun & Moon and continued in Sword & Shield — of letting you know a move’s effectiveness against your opponent before you use it, so long as you’ve fought that Pokémon before. As the Pokédex gets stuffed with a couple hundred new little freaks every few years, it’s become harder and harder for casual players to remember which moves are strong against which Pokémon.
Sadly, this philosophy of clarification doesn’t extend as far as it could. This game desperately needs a clear, in-game type chart that you can reference on the fly. Even as someone who’s been into Pokémon on-and-off since the late '90s, I have trouble remembering whether or not a Fairy-type move will be effective against a Steel-type Pokémon. There are 18 different types of Pokémon, meaning there are more than 300 different potential outcomes to a turn in battle.
That math might be iffy, but stick with me here.
I find myself constantly pulling out my phone while playing Scarlet & Violet to Google each type's strengths and weaknesses (because I am an adult and I just can’t remember everything there is to remember anymore). Thankfully, there are comprehensive resources online dedicated to this exact pursuit, because of course there are. I just wish that chart was in the game. If it is, I haven’t found it yet.
I’ll even compromise and say you shouldn’t be allowed to pull it up in battle. But please, just make it easily accessible outside of that.
Switch is sweatin’
Last but not least is something that Game Freak unfortunately has no control over. The Nintendo Switch is almost six years old, which is pretty long in the tooth for any game console. It shows in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.
Put simply, the Switch can’t really handle the game’s open-world splendor. Performance issues (namely, slowdown) are frequent and can be pretty distracting. Remember how I said the turn-based battles are too slow? They’re even slower when the whole game is running in slow-mo because there are too many objects onscreen.
It’s a shame because this is really a nice-looking game. Character models are the best they’ve ever been in this series, and Paldea has some nice vistas to check out from the tops of towers and mountains. The Pokémon themselves also look sharp and detailed. Depressingly, the Switch just isn’t cut out for this type of thing anymore. Bayonetta 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, a couple of other games from Nintendo itself, also displayed this problem this year.
It’s time to move on to new hardware, Nintendo. Pokémon Scarlet & Violet deserve it.
Overall, Pokémon Scarlet & Violet are really positive entries in the series. This is a total step in the right direction, one that feels more like a genuine adventure than the more linear games that came before it. I found it thrilling to just run, jump, climb, and glide around Paldea while finding horrible areas filled with powerful, annoying Pokemon who kicked my ass routinely.
Like I said, it’s almost there. Just a few more tune-ups and Pokémon will be just right for the modern world.
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