It’s bewildering to think that Pokemon Legends Arceus released this year. Just ten months ago we saw the biggest shake-up to the Pokemon series we’ve ever had, and it’s probably fair to say that, because of that, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have a lot riding on them. That’s a pun by the way, because of the Legendary bike pokemon you get. Look, you get it; let’s move on.
As ever with these games, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet take control of a school age kid at the beginning of a great journey to become the very best Pokémon trainer in the region. This time around though, you’re not going into the wild for no reason: you’re going to school. Seriously, there are classes and teachers and everything, and the classes help teach you about the world of Pokémon.
Of course, going to school would be pretty dull, so after a few weeks (you skip them, don’t worry) you get sent out on an adventure to find treasure. What this essentially means, is that you’re thrown into the open world of the games to take on three different storylines at your own pace. Of course, before all of that, you do end up rescuing a legendary Pokemon who is weirdly happy to serve as your transport throughout your journey, transforming into a bike, glider, or helping to scale cliff faces.
Your rival and creepily over-eager classmate Nemona wants you to challenge the gym leaders to become a Pokemon Champion. The mysterious Cassiopeia demands the kind of justice that can only be attained by taking down Team Star, this generation’s villainous group. Finally, Arven, who I harbour a deep and terrible hatred of, is on the hunt for special herbs, which means you have to hunt down titan Pokemon.
It’s a fun take on things that is much more freeform than any Pokémon we’ve had before, carrying on from Pokémon Sword & Shield and Pokémon Legends Arceus in opening up the world to players. That said, you won’t quite be able to take things on in any order, as level gating helps keep a more traditional sense of progression.
You can take on gyms in any order you want now, but you’ll first need to complete a challenge, which could be just about anything, including tracking down ten Sunflora for some reason. Team Star is found in special bases around the world, where you have to run around throwing your Pokemon into auto battles before challenging a Team Star boss and ultimately end up fighting things like a giant car.
There are so many interesting ideas at play here. The fork (triple-pronged) approach to the objectives is wonderful; being able to throw your Pokemon out to battle wildlife on its own and still get exp and materials is excellent, and being able to ride around on a bike Pokémon is great. However, nothing’s going to be perfect, so let’s dig into the game’s main downfall: the performance on Nintendo Switch.
Pokemon models in the Pokedex take anywhere up to three seconds to load. NPCs more than ten feet away have their frame rate roughly halved. Shadows flicker in and out of existence even as you’re standing in them, and the potential smoothness of the open-world experience is hampered by sluggish transitions between battles. I loathe marking games down for their performance issues, but Pokémon is one of the best-selling franchises in existence and these kinds of issues shouldn’t be acceptable. Then you’ve got the lack of voice acting, the incredibly mixed graphical fidelity across the board, and a weirdly clunky UI to boot.
All of these issues feel like constantly being kicked in the shins while you’re trying to enjoy what could be the best Pokemon game so far. This series needs to be taking these bold steps, because other monster-catching games are just more interesting at this point, but it’s undercut by the technical deficiencies.
It’s even more annoying because the monster designs this time around are wonderful, and so are the characters. This is a world filled with lovable creatures and people, but enjoying it feels arduous, and that’s just not how it should be.