Friday, December 9, 2022

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Review

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $60
Version Played: Scarlet

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet mark the beginning of the 9th generation of Pokemon. They introduce 107 new Pokemon and take place in the new region of Paldea, which is inspired by Spain. The game drops a lot of clues about Kalos, and, like Spain, it looks like Paldea is connected to something on the NE side, so I’d guess it’s somewhere near Kalos, the region Pokemon X and Y took place in, which was inspired by France. This game features a new online co-op mode for up to 4 players, 400 Pokemon with more on the way, a 3rd person camera in all the outdoor areas, and a new “open world” structure. It’s a very ambitious game, but feels like it could have used a few more months of development time, at least.
Let’s get this out of the way; this game is a technical mess. It’s not just blurry textures, N64 trees, or a framerate dips below 30 here and there. This game feels downright unfinished. The game crashes a lot, the online raids are so laggy, you might think your game has crashed, the LOD is so close to the camera, mountain sides look like they’re melting, Pokemon boxes take about 5 seconds to load all the icons, and the camera is constantly clipping through the floors and walls. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I have never seen a Nintendo published game release in such a sorry state. Game Freak needs to keep working on this game.
Pokemon SV's marketing says it's an open world game, but I think that’s a little misleading. SV gives you a lot more freedom than Pokemon Legends: Arceus, but this feels more like Pokemon catching up to what other RPGs have been doing for years to me. Sure, you can do the Gyms in any order, but there is no level scaling in the game at all, so good luck even getting to the Gyms farthest away from the starting area with your level 5 Sprigatito. You can’t just go straight to the Elite Four without getting the 8 badges either. This ain't BotW. This really isn’t much different from being able to choose from a few different towns to go to in a Dragon Quest game. Even if you can do 2 or 3 different things at any given moment, there is still a general path the game wants you to follow.
There are 3 different paths to play through in the game; Victory Road, The Path of Legends, and Starfall Street. You have to complete them all to beat the game, so it's not like you can just do one and ignore the rest. Victory Road is your usual quest to collect all the Gym badges, beat the Elite Four, and be the very best, like no one ever was. There’s nothing really special about it, but it's fun, and people seem to really like the rival character, Nemona. She’s the regional champion, but loses to you and your level 5 Pokemon at the beginning of the game. Her excuse is that she’s holding back until the Pokemon League, but I don’t buy it. My favorite Gym leader was Iono. She's the Electric type Gym leader and she's basically a V-Tuber come to life. She calls your battle a "collab", she gets donations from viewers, and she's constantly talking about likes and referencing internet culture. She's hilarious.
The Path of Legends is the story of the Herba Mysticas, or HMs. Don’t worry, HMs are not back. Herba Mysticas are just how you upgrade your legendary mount, Koraidon or Miraidon. You fight boss battles against powerful Pokemon and discover the locations of Herba Mysticas all over Paldea. There’s HMs for dashing, swimming, gliding, climbing, and a high jump. No flying. There are a few places where you need some of these abilities to get to a new Gym, so you can’t ignore this path while doing the Gyms. Weirdly enough, this path has a really emotional story and it’s by far the best story I’ve ever seen in a Pokemon game.
Starfall Street is sort of like a Team Rocket story. It has you going from camp to camp and auto battling 30 Pokemon and then battling a Team Star member. Completing these camps unlocks TMs at the Pokemon Centers, which can be crafted with materials that Pokemon drop after battles. The auto battling mechanic allows you to press R and send a Pokemon out to fight on its own. The battles end very quickly, but they don’t give you any EVs or much XP. Auto Battling is more for when you just want to clear an area and don’t care about that stuff. The Team Star story is kind of bad, if you ask me. Some of the Team Star bosses are cool, and I’m sure many people can relate to the subject of bullying in schools, but the story is very predictable and feels kind of drawn out.
Terastallizing is the new battle mechanic in SV and it is as interesting as it is confusing. I don’t think most people really understand what it does. The Pokemon people pick in raids is evidence of that. Terastallizing is mechanically similar to Mega Evolutions and Gigantamaxing, but it isn’t a straightforward stat boost, it’s all about the STAB. No, there is no new backstab move in Pokemon. STAB stands for “same type attack bonus”. That means that when Pikachu uses Electric attacks, they do 50% more damage because it is an Electric Pokemon. Terastallizing changes a Pokemon’s typing, so say Pikachu Terastallizes into a Water type, its Surf will do 50% more damage. If Pikachu Terastallizes into Electric type; however, it gets a 50% attack bonus on top of its original STAB. Terastallizing doesn’t change your original typing’s attack bonus, but it does change your defensive attributes into the Tera type’s, so you could use this defensively, or you could Terastallize yourself into a 1 shot KO if you’re not careful.
Tera Raids are pretty much the same idea as raids in Sword and Shield except they have Terastallized Pokemon in them instead of Gigantamaxed Pokemon. There have been some pretty huge improvements to them, though. First of all, you don’t have to wait for other players to pick moves anymore. You and the Tera boss take turns just like in a regular battle, and everyone else is on their own timer based on their speed stat. The problem is that these online raids are in a rough state. They’re very laggy, desynced, and every time someone else does a move, your menu either freezes or disappears entirely. Sometimes the game just skips your turn. It really sucks. It works much better offline, though. The NPC trainers are actually halfway decent this time, too. The other big improvement is that Pokemon always have a 100% chance catch rate, so you can use whatever ball you want to catch them and it’ll always work. Tera raids are also available pretty much everywhere in the overworld. They’re not exclusive to a “Wild Area'' anymore. The whole world is the Wild Area.
Pokemon SV has also made some pretty big improvements over SwSh when it comes to training and customizing your Pokemon. For example, you don’t have to go to some NPC to forget and remember moves anymore, you can just do it from the menu. All the EV training bracelets are available in the same town your school is in, too, so you can get perfect EVs on your starter right away. Other useful items, like Nature Mints and Ability Capsules, also drop pretty frequently from raids and aren’t exclusive to the endgame. You can even buy all that stuff in shops.
Character customization; however, is a huge disappointment. There are still a bunch of clothing stores in which you can buy hats, gloves, shoes, and accessories, but you can never get out of your uniform. You get 4 styles of uniforms, but you’re still always wearing one with the same shirt and pants. I hate it. My character always looks like a total dork. I wore a uniform for the majority of my school years and I don’t want to relive those days in a game! I really hope they add more clothes in an update.
Picnics are Pokemon SV's version of SwSh's camps. You can talk to your Pokemon, play with them, and make sandwiches in them. Sandwiches are kind of like SwSh's curry, except they're actually useful. They don't just heal your Pokemon, they also give you a wide variety of buffs. You can make a sandwich to get more loot from raids, hatch Pokemon eggs faster, spawn more Pokemon of a certain type, and even increase your shiny encounter rate. I have over 150 recipes unlocked. You can also make your own. Most of the ingredients can be bought in stores, but the Herba Mysticas that give you the best buffs, like shiny encounters, are rare drops from endgame raids. Making sandwiches has its own minigame, too. You don't just pick ingredients from a menu, you have to make the sandwich by hand. This minigame has sandwich physics, so location matters. The whole thing could fall apart if you set your picnic on a slope or drop the top bun on top of a round ingredient. That's why Paldeans love open face sandwiches.
Breeding has also undergone some major changes. There are no Pokemon daycares anymore. All breeding is done in picnics. You just bring the 2 Pokemon you want to breed, make an egg power sandwich, wait, and check the picnic basket for eggs every few minutes. All the eggs automatically go to your boxes. You can't hatch them while picnicking. It's super boring. I usually do the breeding while doing something else, like cooking. Hatching works the same as always, though. It sucks that they've separated the two like this. It was much more efficient to ride your bike around while hatching as you waited for more eggs from the daycare.
I think the soundtrack in SV is fantastic. I usually like Pokemon soundtracks, but this one blows them all away. I just love the songs with acoustic guitars and tambourines. They remind me of the Gerudo Valley theme from Zelda OOT. It's not just traditional Spanish instruments, though. There's all kinds of stuff, including some really great remixes of classic Pokemon tunes and some stuff that reminds me of Advance Wars music.

I really love this game. They've done so many good things here. We finally have a fully 3D mainline Pokemon RPG, the raids are greatly improved, there's co-op, EV training isn't treated like some dark secret, and most importantly, the game no longer feels like Dragon Quest on rails. The technical issues really hurt the game, though. Raids are a pain to play online, the framerate can get so bad, the game feels like it's in slow motion, and I'm constantly worried about the game crashing. These are things that affect the gameplay and they drag the game down.