If you’ve been following my latest Pokémon reviews (Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl & Legends Arceus) then you’ll know that the series has been through some rough patches lately – but Legends Arceus and its revisions of traditional series mechanics was a nice surprise that satisfied my wants for the series. Well, the 9th generation of Pokémon is already here and boasting a “true” open-world design. While I’m quite hopeful going in, I do have some concerns seeing as it was developed alongside Legends Arceus, as well as after watching the trailers.
Oh, and I realized I didn’t exactly explain the basics of Pokémon in the last two reviews – seeing as one of my goals for the site is to be very accessible and this is an entirely new generation, I will be explaining some things in a little more detail for the few newcomers who aren’t already familiar with the series – but won’t go on for too long.
Now, prepare yourself to read a hardcore Pokémon fan’s thoughts on Pokémon Scarlet & Violet with a wonderfully Catholic view. Vamos!
Welcome to the Paldea region
For those that are new to Pokémon, allow me to quickly summarize: It’s an RPG (role-playing-game) created with kids in mind that has you going around collecting a bunch of Pokémon creatures with different “types” and creating a team that you use to fight other Pokémon. While the first four games were based on different areas of Japan, since generation V the game’s locales, characters, and Pokémon have been based on different places around the world: New York, France, Hawaii, and most recently, the United Kingdom in Pokémon Sword & Shield. This time around the game is inspired by Spain, (known as the Paldea region in-game) and the theming runs strong throughout. Pokémon designs take cues from local wildlife, so you’ll be seeing new creatures based on Spanish pigs, bulls, grasshoppers and the like – but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
What is the deal here? Are we a new trainer from a small town hoping to tackle the gym challenges and conquer the Pokémon league like past games? Well, yes, that is something you do in this game but it’s only a part of it. This time around you are also a student at either the Naranja or Uva academy, based on if you choose the Scarlet or Violet version respectively. Here you meet interesting teachers and can actually take classes in different subjects relating to Pokémon! You’ll learn things like the chance of finding a shiny or landing a critical hit when using a move. They aren’t super involved or anything – mostly just listening to professors talk – but hey, plenty of my college classes are the same. Veteran players might want to skip out on these but some less-educated newcomers might want to check them out if they don’t watch a lot of YouTube.
Going to class isn’t all you do though. There’s three main stories to follow in this game, so let me take you through them.
As you may be able to infer from the name, Victory Road is the traditional challenge that has you tackle 8 gyms that focus on different Pokémon types ending with a gauntlet against the Elite Four to become Champion. What’s great about the gyms in Paldea though is they all have unique challenges that don’t amount to simply beating a number of trainers before battling the leader like past games. For example, the grass-type gym has you going around and collecting several of the Pokémon Sunflora while another has you rolling a giant olive around into a goal. These can be of differing quality but all of them were at the very least fun.
Path of Legends
The Path of Legends is the first gauntlet unique to Paldea. You and your acquaintance Arven battle “Titan Pokémon” that are unusually large and powerful due to their consumption of mysterious herbs. This is probably the least exciting route gameplay-wise, but as you venture further and uncover more about your partner the story quickly gets interesting.
Team Star is this game’s version of Team Rocket, aka the rebel group every game has that is causing trouble around town. It’s been reported they are causing unrest for the University, and students that join them are frequently skipping class. They’ve got bases set up all around Paldea, so with the help of a mysterious hacker and a familiar face you set off to take them down. Raiding the bases involves taking down 30 of Team Star’s Pokémon with the new “Let’s Go” feature, which allows your team to automatically battle Pokémon by simply facing one and pressing R.
Seeing as this feature was primarily intended to help you quickly defeat low-level Pokémon while exploring, I don’t see much of a reason why it needed to be included here. It’s really just an easy, button-mashing fest until you reach the leader of the base, who challenges you to a regular Pokémon battle. Thankfully, the short time it takes to make it to the boss along with progressing the storyline means it remains an enjoyable process.
All of these stories end in charming manners with decent cutscenes, and come together afterwards in a conclusion that was more epic and awesome than anything I’ve seen in a Pokémon game before. I won’t spoil anything, but the scope the developers set themselves was huge compared to the past titles and I’m happy to say they hit the mark on this one.
Now that I’ve covered the big objectives of this game, it’s time to take a closer look at the gameplay to get a broader picture of how this entry differs from past Pokémon titles.
Pokémon goes open-world
Although Pokémon Legends Arceus introduced the idea of a Pokémon game that takes place entirely in the overworld (past games would change scene every time you battled) and has no random encounters, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet fully realize this concept …more or less. There is one singular map that covers the whole region, and every location is available after the first hour or so. There are a few towns and places that require you to sit through loading screens unlike The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, but they aren’t common enough that I feel like the game loses points. Plus, all the needed methods of traversal for exploring a big world are here. You can instantly warp to major locations & Pokémon Centers you’ve been to and run, climb, and glide when atop a Legendary Pokémon that joins you at the beginning of the game. Note that you can’t use it in battle until after beating the main stories, so it doesn’t break the game or anything.
What I would consider the best parts of this new gameplay style though is the exploration and Pokémon catching. I now have no doubt in my mind that open-word is the right path to take the series, because holy cow this is SO much better than walking through small and cramped individual routes of the past. You’re constantly surrounded by Pokémon, and since they all appear on the overworld instead of through random encounters in the grass you never have to battle ones you don’t like – unless you accidentally run into them, which admittedly happens a bit too often in this game. I think this is because they appear in larger groups and are only battled one at a time unlike Legends Arceus.
Another annoyance that wasn’t present in the last game is the load of text you have to sit through during battles. We have returned to the annoying individual text boxes that appear each time a Pokémon’s stats change or a super effective move is landed. Pokémon have 5 individual stats that can be changed in battle and a separate text box appears for each one. Seeing as there are several moves/abilities that affect all 5 and plenty more that affect at least 2, you’ll frequently be mashing the A button hopelessly and wishing the game would just go ON already, I know what this move does because I’ve used it TWO DOZEN TIMES BEFORE!!
Despite these grievances, running around and catching ‘mons was a blast as always and it was a challenge for me to stay on a singular path for very long because I was always seeing something that caught my interest – which wasn’t always a Pokémon. Items are strewn about everywhere, there are occasional mysterious structures and plenty of raid dens that allow you to take on a special battle against a Terastallized Pokémon with up to four other players.
Yes, similarly to Pokémon Sword and Shield, this game has plenty of social features along with a main gimmick that runs throughout. While the Galar region let your Pokémon grow huge and transform, the Paldea region allows your Pokémon to change their type in the midst of battle! For the newcomers out there, Pokémon types make up their strengths and weaknesses – grass type pokemon are strong against water but weak against fire, fire’s weak to water but strong to grass etc. With Terastallization you can flip these type matchups on their head and turn your fire type Pokémon into water type! Oh, and if your Pokémon’s “tera type” (the type they turn into when Terastallizing) matches their base type then attacks become extra powerful. I’m not going to go into more detail about all this, so just know that it’s very fun and brings a good deal of extra strategy to an already interesting gameplay formula.
To top it all off, the social features and online connectivity have been improved in this game. Not only can you easily trade & battle with your friends but now you can explore as well! Up to four other players from either version can join together and adventure around the Paldea region. I’ll admit, it’s not anything groundbreaking, but even just being able to see where your friends are on the map and emote or take pictures together (yeah, that’s also a thing) is cool.
I tried it out with TheGoodHoms for a bit – eventually we set up a picnic and tried making a sandwich together. I’d say it turned out pretty well… right?
New designs & Graphics
I’m happy to say that, as pretty much always, the new Pokémon designs are great. I quickly ran out of spaces on my team and refused to swap any of them out for older guys even after finding my first shiny (a rare Pokémon with different colors than usual.) Additionally, both the new and returning Pokémon models have been upgraded to include more detailed texturing like the kind seen in New Pokémon Snap and seem to have a couple new animations for things like swimming, eating berries and sleeping like we saw in Pokémon Legends Arceus.
Even more improved though are the models for trainers and NPCs. They look straight-up amazing and allow for more intricate customization than we’ve ever seen in a Pokémon game – although you are limited to wearing school uniforms (the authentic experience) you can customize your trainer’s facial features like never before. The trainer also has a robust library of their own smooth animations and even just watching them run is pleasant. Unfortunately, this is where the pleasantness of Generation 9 ends and the biggest issue of this game rears its ugly head.
If you’ve seen anyone play this game already, then you probably know where this is headed, so I’m just going to say it.
This game… runs absolutely horribly.
It’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. The biggest thing that brings this game down is by far the performance. Seriously, nothing else in the game even comes close to causing such problems. The maximum frame rate is 30 fps, which is understandable except the game can’t even manage to keep that for more than a few seconds at a time. It’s constantly stuttering, dropping frames, and at its worst, literally running in slow motion (watch the video below).
Yeah. It’s bad. Pop-in is also a constant problem, Pokémon models take a long time to fully load in and I’ve even been through battles where the opponent’s Pokémon stays in its low-poly render unless I move the camera super close to it. Not to mention the virtual lack of anti aliasing (what keeps things from looking jagged), the low resolution textures, and shadows that are continually messing up and jumping around. This is genuinely the worst-performing Nintendo Switch game I’ve ever played except maybe Fortnite, which was not designed for the console in the first place.
I’m honestly pretty shocked at this because aside from this the game really doesn’t have many flaws. There’s plenty of content, the stories and cutscenes are very good, and if the game ran well, it wouldn’t feel rushed at all. I can tell that the developers dumped a ton of money into this project, but have to assume they ran out of time to finish optimization or something like that because this is clearly not right.
There have been some reports on differing performance across different consoles, but I don’t believe anyone’s quite sure why just yet. For the record, I played on an OLED model that’s about 6 months old.
Seeing as I’d like not to end the gameplay section on a low note… it’s time to talk about the thing that has, in my mind, remained consistently awesome throughout the entire series.
Pokémon’s music is praised widely across the fanbase, and for good reason. Almost every song played in battle slaps, and while I usually don’t care much for themes that play in the field, a good number of the ones in this game caught my attention. They even change depending on the area you are currently in, and subtly shift into the battle music when entering a fight which makes transitions incredibly smooth.
I suspect my praise for these beats could have something to do with Toby Fox’s (the creator of UNDERTALE and DELTARUNE) involvement in the soundtrack. I’ve always loved his musical works and you can really hear the dude’s style come through in the tera raid dens. I wish I could embed a Spotify preview here but Pokémon has yet to release their music on any streaming platforms.
A Faith Perspective on Team Star
There’s enough going on in Team Star’s story that I think a quick reflection from a Catholic point of view is warranted. We quickly learn towards the beginning that Team Star was created by a group of students undergoing severe bullying at the academy. It’s not really discussed exactly what they were intending to do aside from becoming strong by learning from each other, but nonetheless they were successful and it actually led the bullies to unenroll, freeing the school of its problem. Whether that was truly the best possible outcome, I’m not sure it can be known without more information, but let’s move on assuming it was and the bullies learned a lesson.
Team Star accomplished something good here – but at a cost. Not only have they been avoiding class for over a year but they’ve been influencing others to do the same. Also, I’m not sure how they got ahold of the pieces of land they built bases upon, but they’re in such random places I’d have to assume it was stolen. Team Star has seemingly succumbed to the thought held by many today that “the ends justify the means”. This is simply not true. When discussing good and evil acts, paragraph 1756 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.”
To summarize, the morality of an action is not determined solely by the outcome or circumstances; certain things are never justifiable and therefore are still sinful even if they are done to achieve good ends. It then lists some examples of these, like murder (you cannot kill an innocent child even if it’s to save another).
While Team Star (thankfully) wasn’t doing anything close to murder or something that couldn’t be justified (skipping some classes could be necessary to deal with bullying, and while it would be hard to justify, I can see situations where it would be OK to take land.) However, it’s clear that they had no good reason to do these things and encourage others to do so – especially when you consider that the bullies were… at the school. Not to mention that the construction of bases seems completely unnecessary because you can just meet at somebody’s house or in a public place.
We must remember as Catholics that our good intentions for the world become tainted if we sin trying to make them come true. Don’t be like Team Star and assume everything’s game when something needs to happen.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are easily the best in the series so far design-wise, but are brought down severely by technical flaws. If you’re able to deal with the low framerate, stuttering and similar issues you’ll have one heck of a time. I therefore recommend this to most Pokémon fans, and if you aren’t super into the series I might recommend you consider playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Elden Ring if you haven’t already to get a smoother open-world experience. Pokémon Legends Arceus would also be a nice substitution and should be available for a cheaper price if you look for a physical copy, used or otherwise.
Priestly comment by Fr. Samuel Beardslee:
Pokémon and open world finally meet and the play experience is great. If you can overlook graphical shortcomings, this is an immersive game that will provide a wonderful adventure. As always, Pokémon is best when shared, especially with those who are able to point out the dangers that some of these Pokémon represent.
Gameplay: 4/5 (Open world is amazing, but optimizations to speed up battle are still lacking)
Story: 5/5 (Far better than anything Pokémon has seen yet)
Music: 5/5 (Toby Fox. And Ed Sheeran apparently)
Graphics: 3/5 (Frame drops and stutters are frequent. Many textures load in at low resolutions and stay that way. Is brought up by awesome trainer animations and cutscenes)
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.
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.