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Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review: Terrific games held back by technological troubles

While Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are fun games, they aren
While Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are fun games, they aren't without major flaws (Image via Game Freak)

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are finally here, and it’s safe to say that the Gen 9 games made an impression on fans right out of the gate. These are games that many were excited about, myself included. A long-time Pokemon fan, the prospect of an open-world adventure I could take on with my friends was a seriously exciting one.

Unfortunately, these games had some debilitating problems, even after a day-one patch. Many have reported crashes that not only reset their progress but even deleted their saved files. Hundreds of videos have surfaced of ridiculous, hilarious, and frustrating bugs/glitches.

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However, I feel like it’s worth noting that none of those game-breaking Pokemon Scarlet and Violet bugs surfaced in my 25+ hours with the games. That isn’t to deny their existence, or that they aren’t worth looking at.

I will still discuss these problems, as they are important talking points. With that said, I noticed several performance issues that will certainly be discussed in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.


Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is a genuine step forward for the franchise

It was such a pleasant change of pace for this generation of Pokemon games to have a coherent story that genuinely felt like it made sense. Why does your rival want to battle so badly all the time?

They’re a Champion-level Pokemon trainer and have nobody to battle against. When you show an aptitude for Pokemon battling, you become immediate friends. There’s a simple logic behind it.

All three Pokemon Scarlet and Violet storylines - Victory Road, Treasure Hunt, and Team Star - have plot beats that make perfect sense. The Team Star story in particular really stood out as my favorite.

Each storyline had its own gameplay style and story, and it all fit together nicely. While it is an open world, there is an ideal path to play through, to avoid over-leveling too badly as well.

Both games also have exclusive Pokemon to collect, and each version also has different forms of the Paradox Pokemon. Scarlet has ancient versions of Pokemon, and Violet has futuristic ones, so consider that before purchasing either of the games.

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Admittedly, I hoped the content would scale to wherever I went - that would make far more sense in open-world games. This is not the case. The protagonist goes to a huge Pokemon university, where they can tackle the three stories that are connected to NPCs at the school. You can even go take classes, midterms, and finals, similar to Persona. It’s a good idea to do these as well.

Yes, you also start with a Legendary right out of the gate, but you can’t use it in battle until the endgame. As you breeze through the Treasure Hunt storyline, your Koraidon/Miraidon will gain new abilities - surfing, gliding, high jump, and the ability to scale walls. It comes over time and does a lot to free the franchise from HMs.

Perhaps the best part is that while the game covers several sensitive and mature subjects like death, illness, and personal trauma, it does so with respect. These topics are not treated like jokes or silly concepts. It is far and away the best story Pokemon has ever told.

Show no fear in the face of the enemy, Psyduck! (Image via Game Freak)
Show no fear in the face of the enemy, Psyduck! (Image via Game Freak)

This facet is great in both games. The actual gameplay? It filled me with joy, and so did the story. I felt like it all made sense and was enjoyable to experience. However, it’s not all roses with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.


The gameplay is great, but the optimization is sub-par

I wanted to lead with some positives because while there are some negatives to go along with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, it’s not all bad news. In my personal experience with the games, I primarily had to deal with framerate drops.

Suddenly, for no reason, the games would move at about 10-12 FPS. I eventually learned that resetting the console or games after a few hours was a useful solution.

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The problem is, you shouldn’t have to do that just to enjoy video games. In addition, the draw distance was incredibly poor. NPCs and Pokemon spawn close or off in the distance, and move at two fps. They move with an annoying stutter like they’re puppets or hinge on stilts.

Wild Pokemon pop in with annoying regularity as well. That was the extent of my actual issues with the games, but there were so many more that appeared for others. I watched a friend of mine fall through the ground a few times.

In another instance, character sprites would suddenly become tall, long-limbed monstrosities when on their motorcycle. The number of body-horror-related sprite glitches is alarming. At least, those are pretty entertaining to look at. Pokemon will fly through your character while taking selfies as well.

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Perhaps the worst are the crashes that corrupt your save, ruining your playthrough. While some animations are weak, losing progress is far worse. Again, there’s a way to load a rescue save, but that shouldn’t be something you have to consider when playing a video game.


The new Tera system is a great addition to Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

Combat remains the same in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, with one notable exception. Now all Pokemon start with a “Tera” type. Usually, it’s going to be the same type they are by default (Fuecoco being Fire, and also having a Fire Tera Type). You can find glowing Pokemon in the wild that will have a different Tera type as well.

When you activate a Tera Orb, the lead Pokemon will undergo a transformation, and their base type will change to their Tera type. You could have a Gengar that’s a Dragon, a Gothita that’s a Steel type or any other wild combination. It’s a brand-new way to battle, and though you have to recharge the Tera Orb at a Pokemon center, it’s a valuable combat tool in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.

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You can turn a battle where you have a disadvantageous typing into a useful edge, and that’s a wonderful feature. It makes combat far more tactical, which is something the games benefit from.

On the topic of Tera types, there are also Tera raids in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, which serve a similar purpose. Tera raids are four-player raids that Pokemon players are familiar with, but now it’s a powerful wild Pokemon with a different Tera type. These are so important to cover, not only for your Pokedex but for the rewards they give. Don't ignore these, if you’re looking to level up weaker Pokemon since they reward EXP Candies.

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You can even change a Pokemon’s Tera type at a restaurant in the Paldea Region. It’s a new feature that will not be too heavy-handed or frustrating, not as far as I can see.


How is the open-world experience in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet?

Pokemon litter the world, and while sometimes I thought they didn’t make much sense, it was really a fascinating experience. While battling a Pokemon, others might crowd around the fight and watch. I witnessed flying types come soaring down from the skies to try and fight me, and even aquatic Pokemon make a beeline to fight if it’s an aggressive creature.

Not all Pokemon were aggressive, though. They also often roamed in groups, which is great considering Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have an auto-battle feature. You can send your frontliner out to battle foes, and if you have a type advantage and a decent level, you’ll just win, and your entire team gets EXP.

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If you are outmatched, your Pokemon will retreat after taking damage. Just keep the right Pokemon in the squad for the area you’re in, and it’s an effective, easy way to farm EXP for your team. Overall, it was easy to go wherever I wanted and play the game as I pleased, but I do again wish that the game scaled. You still have a fair amount of options on what to do and when to do it.

That said, I don’t recommend going into the mountains to battle Grusha or Ryme early on. They still pack level 40+ Pokemon and will send you back to Uva Academy with a bruised ego and a roughed-up squad.

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Overall, the change to an open world was a smooth one, other than the technological issues. I hope they are ironed out with patches, or something of that nature. It was easy to group up and play, battle, trade, or just cycle around the world and find some Pokemon to bully.


Incredible music in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, but disappointing graphics

I didn’t hate the visuals for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, but I expected more. I suppose it’s fair to say. The towns all felt different to me. The main hub town for Uva Academy felt impossibly huge, however. I wasn't a fan of that design one bit.

For years now, there has been little innovation in the graphics of the Pokemon franchise. I know it’s not a franchise built on intense graphics, but it’s time for something new in that department. Technical limitations can't be a roadblock, either, as the Nintendo Switch has dozens of excellent 3D games that run perfectly.

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While the graphics of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet were a letdown, the music was beautiful. There were so many unique tracks that immediately caught my attention. The battle tracks, town music, and everything fits the setting. It might be one of my favorite Pokemon soundtracks.


In Conclusion

While I love this Generation of Pokemon games, it disappoints in the actual performance. The story and characters in it? Fantastic. Gameplay? It’s high-quality stuff. But the graphics and performance really hurt the overall enjoyment.

I could live with the graphics being weaker if the game plays at a reliable framerate. There were simply too many frame rate dips for me, and the draw distance was so incredibly distracting. I couldn’t help but gawk at characters staggering off in the distance, every single time.

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Pokemon Scarlet and Violet aren't terrible games, but they need some major updates. It hasn’t stopped me from having fun with my friends, but I cannot simply overlook the major issues, even if they didn’t happen to me.


Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

Though flawed, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet was still an enjoyable experience (Image via Sportskeeda)
Though flawed, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet was still an enjoyable experience (Image via Sportskeeda)

Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch (code provided by Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Developer: Game Freak

Publisher: Nintendo/Game Freak

Release Date: November 18, 2022

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Edited by Sijo Samuel Paul
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