As sure as the sun rises, another Pokémon game is out and as the resident Pokémon guy, it’s on me to review the latest one. This is it folks, the next generation of Pokémon!
Guess what? In this Pokémon game you’re a kid that moves to a new region in the world of Pokémon, shocker! Paldea is a different region in that it actually forces its Pokémon trainers to go to a school and the school is the pride of the region. You receive your new Pokémon and arrive at the school to find out this years assignment is to go out of the school grounds and explore Paldea and find a treasure that is important to you.
Right out of the gate, Scarlet and Violet (Which we refer to as Scarlet going forward) brings in one change that I wanted to see with the series, a school system. As your character is sent out to represent the school a few strands of story open up. First is Victory Road, you meet Nemona, a Champion level trainer who takes you under her wing as she points you towards the Pokémon League, and demands you become her rival and face her as a fellow Champion. This is your bread and butter Pokémon game, 8 badges and an Elite Four. Next up we meet Arven, who tasks you with hunting down massive Titan Pokémon causing havoc around the region and find the mysterious herb that grows near them. Finally, we get a call from Cassiopeia who informs us about a group of bullies called Team Star who need dealing with.
While Victory Road may receive the least amount of attention, it’s the other two story segments that end up being quite engrossing and touching. It’s a shame they’re so short because they’re great. Once this is all wrapped up, you enter the endgame. In the middle of Paldea there is a huge crater called Area 0 and your crew is tasked with solving a mystery deep inside and this is where Pokémon Scarlet shines. This last area is excellent and invokes the best of a Studio Ghibli movie and brings about a melancholic and beautiful finale which stands as the best in the series. It’s a shame the rest of the game is so messy because this finale is what the entire game should have been and going forward, this is what I expect from Pokémon.
As far as gameplay goes, the biggest change is the open world. Pokémon Legends: Arceus teased us with large open zones but this time, the entire map opens up very early on allowing you to explore at will. This lets you choose how difficult the game will be and that freedom is incredible, unfortunately that means cleaning up lower level areas is a cakewalk but hey, Pokémon can also be a power fantasy. Traversing this world is done via a ride Pokémon, as you complete tasks it unlocks more abilities and by the end you are storming through the world at lightning speeds.
As far as battling goes, this is classic Pokémon, team of six, four moves, you know the drill. Unlike Legends, you can’t catch Pokémon without battling and the dual damage type feature has been removed, but you still have the bread and butter formula that will always remain engaging. The new gimmick this time is the Tera system. As we all know Pokémon are split into different types (Fire, Water etc.) and have up to two of these types. The Tera system allows a Pokémon to temporarily gain a third type (or power up one of their established ones) which drastically changes the balancing of the game. This means if you face a fire Pokémon with a water type, it can turn into grass and destroy you. Other than that there’s not much new. Sandwiches replace curries, Tera dungeons replace Dynamax dungeons, there’s full co-op and you can now craft TM’s.
This brings us to the technical state of the game and it’s a complete embarrassment. The game looks hideous at all times, clearly rushed out of the door. There are some frame dips and stutters and poor anti-aliasing that are mild annoyances, but acceptable, however the pop in and awful frame rate on distant objects is eye searingly bad. One scene takes place in a classroom and all of the character models are lagging at 10FPS at most, it’s something even a PS2 game can handle, which proves this game was dragged out of the oven half cooked. Thankfully the soundtrack is excellent and drives everything you do with whimsy. The absence of voice acting is felt more than ever here. The principal of the school gives an empowering speech and the fact it’s played out in silence is embarrassing, if someone walked past you playing the game, they’d laugh at how stupid it is. There are plenty of examples of horrendous bugs online, thankfully I didn’t run into any besides the camera, which doesn’t even try to position itself right and clips through everything.
Let’s get down to it, this is a mess. On the one hand, as the story reaches its climax, it’s the best in the series. The gameplay formula is great and open world is the way to go moving forward. If you’ve read my reviews you know, I’m forgiving of bugs and technical shortcomings, but I’m sorry Pokémon doesn’t get a free pass. There is ample room in the budget and this is a rushed game and I know the developers aren’t proud of the release state. Patches may help, but I have serious doubts on how effective they’ll be. People are blaming the Switch for being too weak and that is not the case here, 2017’s Breath of the Wild blows this out of the water. There’s some great stuff here and if you’re a Pokémon fan, you’ve already picked this up. For everyone else, you’ll get a good experience and if you want to get through 30 hours of a rushed and ugly game to get the delicious dessert, know you’ll be treated well, for anyone else I’d understand skipping this iteration.
Pokémon Scarlet was reviewed using a copy purchased by the reviewer.
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Game Freak Release Date: 18th November 2022 Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch