Pokémon Scarlet and Violet shift expectations for franchise

4 out of 5 stars

Pokémon is one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises and the world’s most valuable media franchise as of January 2021, grossing upward of one hundred billion dollars throughout its eight generations.

On Nov. 18, Pokémon launched its ninth generation with two new role-playing video games: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. As a long-time Pokémon fan, I bought the games on release day and spent all weekend journeying into the magical Paldea region.

Like most core series games in the franchise, Scarlet and Violet are two versions of the same basic game, this time designed around the concepts of past and future.

You begin the game by choosing your starter Pokémon and enrolling in an academy, where you’ll meet a wide cast of characters including the buff, cavewoman-themed Professor Sada in Scarlet or the handsome, tech-oriented Professor Turo in Violet.

This generation brings in the Terastal phenomenon, a battle mechanic that boosts the power of Pokémon’s attacks based on their type. You’ll also meet Paradox Pokémon that represent alternate past and future variations of several familiar Pokémon from previous generations, which are exclusive to their respective versions of the game.

The games’ story requires you to complete three paths, in any order you choose: battling your way through Pokémon gyms to become a champion, defeating the evil Team Star and restoring the lost powers of your legendary Pokémon — Koraidon in Scarlet and Miraidon in Violet. Unlike in previous games, you befriend the legendary Pokémon early on and travel the massive open-world region by riding on its back.

I began my journey in Pokémon Scarlet with the grass-type starter, Sprigatito. I loved that the open world field of the game allowed me to change camera perspectives to see everything around me.

Besides the multiple new features, Scarlet and Violet also carry over and improve on many elements from recent generations.

Players of the eighth generation, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, will remember the controversy surrounding the lack of a National Pokédex, a registry of all available Pokémon in the franchise now totaling 1008. Scarlet and Violet introduced 104 new Pokémon and brought back 296 old ones for a total of 400 in its Regional Pokédex.

Overworld encounters are another returning feature, allowing the player to encounter Pokémon while wandering around the vast open spaces of the Paldean region, which I found enjoyable. Seeing Pokémon in the wild adds an element of fun when I’m hunting for a certain Pokémon.

I also loved the interactive overworld battles and the new auto-battle feature, which allows you to level up your Pokémon with less hassle. Glowing graphics make it easy to find items in the overworld while your Pokémon are battling on their own.

Shiny-hunting is also significantly easier. Within the first day of gameplay, I encountered and caught a shiny Hoppip. These special Pokémon now appear in the overworld like they did in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu, Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Pokémon Legends Arceus, but here, you won’t see the telltale sparkle until you begin a battle. It’s up to seasoned players to notice the color difference to find a shiny Pokémon.

As far as customization goes, you won’t be disappointed by the hundreds of options for eye color, hair and mouth style. However, there are fewer clothing styles than in previous games.

For me, the only drawbacks were the difficulty of the battles and the fact that it takes so long to unlock the game’s ending. The low quality distant frame rate is also an issue, but hopefully, the Pokémon Company will patch it in the near future.

Scarlet and Violet are a breath of fresh air in the Pokémon franchise. Despite the lack of a National Pokédex, they offer a great selection of Pokémon, especially ghost types, as well as engaging new features. This generation isn’t for the battle-shy players, but the gameplay style is fun and interesting.

Photo from cnet.com.