Disclaimer: Writer is an investor in Nintendo.
In my original review of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, I mentioned that the game design was pushed to new heights but held back by absolutely horrible performance.
What I didn’t mention were my hopes that some future updates would come along and improve things.. Besides, Nintendo loves to patch bugs and even apologized for the performance issues. They’ve been pushing the occasional patches since then, but no major improvements have been made. However, if there’s any time to really fix a game, it’s when a bunch of players will be returning to play through some DLC, which was announced earlier this year.
This review covers the first of two waves, in which you adventure away from the Paldea region with some students to the land of Kitakami. So, did this morsel of downloadable content to be enjoyed by humans and its corresponding update turn Pokémon Scarlet and Violet into everything I thought it could be?
No. No, it did not. Alas, while some bugs have indeed been fixed, there haven’t really been any notable performance improvements within the last 10 months, even in this big update. I hadn’t touched this game in a while, and going back after playing… literally anything else on my Switch was like jumping into a pool of cold water. You’re still going to watch in frustration as the game chugs while the camera clips into the ground. I’m not going to go on and on about it, just don’t get your hopes up that this game runs any differently then it did last November.
However. The strongest parts of Paldea were not in its software efficiency but rather design and story. I hoped Kitakami would be the same, and I do think the world design just about matched the base game. It’s not nearly as big and varied, of course, but has got some pretty good landmarks and secrets hidden about. Whether I was venturing through Oni Mountain’s caverns or making my way along the lush Apple Hills, I never felt as though it didn’t fit in the Pokémon world or that Paldea was being re-hashed. If only things rendered in a high resolution…
Concerning the story, while I don’t think it was necessarily bad, it sort of seemed in line with the less interesting ones of past games. As soon as you arrive in Kitakami’s only town, you’re met by Carmine, a girl with an attitude who doesn’t want outsiders stopping by. Lo and behold, she challenges you to a Pokémon battle which you’ll probably crush with your team from the main game. She has a shy little brother, Kieran, with whom you later venture around Kitakami with.
These are the only two characters integral to the adventure, and with the shorter playtime they don’t get to develop very much. Sure, you’ll find Carmine gets more fond of you as time goes on, and Kieran will have some mood swings, but nothing that tugs at your heart like the main game. I will admit that these characters do actually play into the narrative of the second part of the DLC, so I can’t say that things won’t get more interesting with them later, especially considering the small character arc that happens at the end.
When it comes to the history and Pokémon of Kitakami, things get a bit more interesting. It’s possibly based off some rural areas in the Tōhoku region of Japan, and some folks there (including yourself) don a jinbei. You’ll get to take part in some traditions such as the Festival of Masks and Ogre Oustin’, a decently fun minigame that has you running around gathering berries.
While venturing around with Kieran, you come across three different sign boards that tell the tale of an ogre who invaded town and the “Loyal Three” who gave their lives in defense. In an effort to limit spoilers, I’ll just say that you get to hear all about the backstory of the ogre and Kieran’s family, in addition to (of course) eventually capturing the Pokémon for yourself. It has a pretty cool gimmick that lets you build it in a couple different ways and benefits especially from Terastallization.
From a faith perspective
For this short review, I have a lot to talk about from a faith perspective.
It’s revealed early on that the ogre donned a mask to hide its true appearance from the villagers. While it may seem silly and unrealistic that people would act so differently with such a simple change, it’s in reality quite accurate. In efforts to fit in and be liked, people often just change the way they act and dress.
I currently attend a college that is located in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the United States, hands down. You’ve got people from every corner of the world with the craziest backgrounds and stories, from countries I’ve never even heard of. I really do love this and it makes for a much more interesting experience than if everyone had the same childhood. But for all the supposed diversity, so many of them behave and even dress in the exact same way. Obsessed with sex and money, constantly swearing – all the usual American college student stuff. It doesn’t matter much where they came from, I see this behavior with people from almost everywhere.
Now, it very much makes sense for people to change some of their behaviors upon moving to a new area. It’s certainly not a bad thing for an American immigrant to start having July 4th cookouts wearing red white and blue, and go to baseball games. The problems arise when one starts to imitate the bad aspects of a culture, especially just to fit in. Humans are complicated creatures, and in turn so is our society. I love American holidays and pastimes, but if I go to the Super Bowl I’m probably going to find lots of people in skimpy clothing and be listening to songs celebrating perversion during halftime. It’d be OK for me to enjoy Football, but not the treatment of others as objects.
All too often we Christians find ourselves having difficulty treading that fine line. It’s much easier to just be like everyone else and assimilate everything from culture at once instead of individually evaluating what’s good and what’s harmful. Don’t put on the same boring mask that so many people wear, hiding the best parts of themselves.
“All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies”
– Bl. Carlo Acutis
That’s about all I have to say about the first wave of DLC. It’s nothing too crazy, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to those who only bought Scarlet/Violet to experience the next generation of Pokémon. The performance isn’t any better, and there isn’t anything that tops the highs of the main game. Of course, if you’re like me and simply enjoy catching all the new Pokémon (there’s a few more in addition to the ogre and about 100 returning oldies) then there’s probably a good 7-10 hours to be had. Otherwise, I would recommend holding off for now and waiting to see how things wrap up in the final wave, The Indigo Disk. I’ll put a link to my review after it launches.
Gameplay: 4/5 (New Pokemon are always appreciated)
Story: 3.5/5 (Not as good as the main game)
Music: 5/5 (Some new bangers)
Graphics: 3/5 (Frame drops and stutters are frequent. Many textures load in at low resolutions and stay that way. It is brought up by awesome trainer animations and world design.)
Essentially the same as the base game (even down to the required lying, actually) so I’m just going to copy-paste for a refresher. Only new thing I can think of is that Carmine ain’t super nice to her brother.
…and if you saw some people online talking about a supposed gender-neutral bathroom, the direct Japanese translation seems to suggest it’s simply an accessibility/multipurpose restroom. Just the usual internet overreaction.
Violence: While Pokémon do battle each other, everything remains cartoony. All Pokémon faint when they run out of HP instead of dying. You do hear of the death of characters and see unusually injured Pokémon throughout the story but nothing graphic is shown. You may hear of Pokémon harming people or other Pokémon in their dex entries.
Sex/Nudity: Most characters are dressed quite modestly, save for a few characters including a female team star boss who is a wrestler & has a short top and shorts. Professor Sada in Scarlet Version is similar. Players choose male or female characters at the beginning of the game but can customize them with any hairstyles, lipstick etc. they want even if it’s meant for the opposite gender. Finally, while there’s no mention of homosexual or trans characters, you will see some males with several feminine styles (such as nail polish and mascara) and the ice type gym leader in particular looks a lot like a female but is referenced as male.
Magic/Occult: Several Pokémon are based off of ghosts & have psychic moves. Bramblin’s Pokédex entry in Scarlet version states that it was originally a soul unable to move on to the afterlife and Medicham’s states it gained psychic power from yoga. Many other entries have similar themes. Some Pokémon have also been revered as deities in times past or present.
Online connectivity: You can connect with other players online which of course means a risk of running into inappropriate usernames. Seeing as you can also set custom profile pictures with the camera feature, I’m sure people will find ways to make inappropriate pictures as well. This feature can easily be avoided or turned off, however.
Misc. There is a section in the game which requires the player to lie to a character (albeit over a pretty small matter) and some characters complain/talk about the poor qualities of their parents & suffering they have endured, such as being left alone for long periods of time.