Gaming

Pokémon Violet and Scarlet: A Game-Changing Evolution in the Pokémon Series

When I entered my hourlong Pokémon Violet and Scarlet demo, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Game Freak, the developer, had shown its dedication to shaking up the franchise with Pokémon Legends Arceus, but that was more of an experimental spinoff. Scarlet and Violet, on the other hand, were the mainline entries that would determine the future of the series. The question was, would they truly reinvent the Pokémon formula or play it safe with incremental changes?

After getting hands-on with Scarlet, I can confidently say that it’s definitely the former. These upcoming RPGs are a complete overhaul of the Pokémon formula, embracing a new direction in a way that exceeded my expectations. While Sword and Shield attempted to integrate open-world elements into the series, Scarlet and Violet take it a step further by seamlessly blending the various systems and ideas of Pokémon into an expansive open-world game.

Truly Embracing the Open World

During my demo, I had the freedom to explore a specific area of the game’s map. While there were three quests I could undertake, I also had the option to freely roam and soak in the environment. Rest assured, this is not just a rehashed Wild Area. Scarlet and Violet are true open-world games, allowing players to smoothly traverse a map teeming with Pokémon waiting to be caught.

To maintain the immersive experience, Game Freak took measures to avoid interrupting gameplay. Wild Pokémon battles no longer transport players to a separate battle arena; instead, they commence right in the open world, with other Pokémon going about their own activities in the background. Pokémon Centers and shops have also undergone changes, transforming into outdoor kiosks that are easily accessible while exploring. Even encountering trainers in the wild requires active interaction instead of them initiating battles spontaneously.

The world design is reminiscent of Arceus, with its detailed towns being the standout features. However, the basic grass and rock terrains that make up a significant portion of the environment lack visual distinctiveness. While this didn’t bother me during the demo, it did leave me curious about the rest of the world. I hope to encounter more intricately designed areas similar to Sword and Shield’s Isle of Armor, which remains the best exploration space Game Freak has created thus far.

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The similarities with Arceus extend beyond visuals. Scarlet and Violet adopt several mechanics from that game, including transportation. The game’s legendary lizards, which double as motorcycles, can climb cliffs, glide, and swim. Drawing inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, these additions enhance the sense of accomplishment when scaling cliffs and discovering vibrant Pokémon habitats atop them.

Amidst these obvious changes, one small but significant detail caught my attention. While traversing the world, I could send out a Pokémon to scout the area, picking up items and engaging in auto-battles with nearby Pokémon for reduced XP. This compromise finally addresses the challenge of striking a balance Game Freak has faced for years. It’s an excellent feature for young or casual players who prefer a less demanding experience. Best of all, it’s implemented in an optional manner that doesn’t detract from the overall experience for those who wish to avoid it.

Design decisions like these have me more excited about the future of the series than any major changes. If Game Freak continues to allow players to tailor their difficulty preferences without explicit difficulty modes, it could be Scarlet and Violet’s most significant contribution to the Pokémon series.

Three Quests, Three Different Experiences

As for the in-game activities, my experience struck a balance between familiarity and innovation. Instead of following a linear storyline, my map featured three quests that showcased the game’s revamped narrative structure. The first quest resembled the traditional gym storyline, where collecting badges by defeating trainers is key. However, the progression unfolded in a different way.

To challenge the gym leader, I had to register for a battle after arriving in town on my bike. But before I could participate, I had to complete a unique challenge. In this case, I had to find and bring back ten Sunflora to a pen, adding a hide-and-seek minigame element. This departure from the typical trainer battles added freshness to the gym experience, and I’m eager to see what other unique gym requirements lie in store.

The standout quest for me was the Starfall Street story arc, which separates the traditional Pokémon villain plot into its own separate storyline. To reach the end boss, I had to infiltrate a Team Star stronghold. The structure mirrored gym battles, as an initial challenge had to be completed prior. In this case, I had to defeat multiple Pokémon, primarily fire types, within a time limit using the auto-battle feature. I strategically deployed my team to various packs of Pokémon, feeling like a commander in a strategy game. The quest culminated in a surprising trainer battle that I won’t spoil here.

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I didn’t get a complete sense of the Path of Legends arc, where I had to chase down a giant Klawf in a multipart battle. Only one battle was available in the demo, which resembled a standard one-on-one encounter with a larger Pokémon, falling somewhere between a regular encounter and a raid battle. In the final game, I hope these missions offer more depth, especially in terms of tracking down and pursuing creatures throughout the map.

The remainder of the game’s world and its activities were harder to discern. It’s unclear whether these quests comprise the entirety of the game’s content or if there are hidden organic challenges in between. Pokémon catching may fill this gap, but I’m unsure if that alone will make the world feel like a true open-world playground. Nevertheless, the inclusion of three primary quests ensures that there is always something to do in any given area.

And That’s Not All!

Despite spending a significant amount of time with Pokémon Scarlet, there are still aspects of the game I haven’t seen. For example, I had the chance to try out the Terastallize function, the game’s main battle gimmick. This feature transforms Pokémon into crystallized versions of themselves during battles, altering their types. I witnessed this firsthand during a gym battle, where the leader’s Sudowoodo became a grass type, a playful nod to one of the series’ oldest jokes. This new element adds complexity to battles, as opponents can no longer be easily countered based on their party or type preference.

Terastallized Pokémon also introduce an additional hunting aspect to the game. Crystallized monsters can be found in the wild and caught, offering players the opportunity to discover creatures with unique forms that may prove to be secret weapons in their party.

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I’m particularly enamored with the game’s picnic function, which allows players to sit down with their Pokémon team and craft sandwiches. It’s a delightful mini-game reminiscent of Cooking Mama, where players stack ingredients like tomatoes and lettuce on bread, resulting in comical toppling sandwiches. I embarrassingly created a bacon and chorizo sandwich where almost everything fell off the bread, but this became my favorite part of the entire demo.

Nevertheless, there are still unanswered questions. The demo provided me with a specific portion of the game world to explore, leaving me curious about its true open-endedness. While gyms can be challenged in any order, it appears that gym leaders do not scale in difficulty based on the player’s level. Additionally, winning a gym battle grants a badge that limits the level of trained Pokémon. It doesn’t seem feasible to tackle gyms out of order, which makes me wonder if there are hidden guardrails in place, even if they’re less apparent.

I’m also keeping a close eye on the game’s technical aspects. This was an early build, so I expected some unfinished visuals during the demo. However, similar to Arceus, there were instances where the world lacked detail at a distance, especially when flying. I don’t anticipate this will be different in the final game, so I hope that the strength of the open-world exploration compensates for any visual imperfections.

Final judgments will have to wait, especially since I haven’t had the chance to try the multiplayer aspects beyond one raid battle. Nonetheless, I find myself more engrossed by the extensive changes in Scarlet and Violet than I initially expected. Rather than serving as a mere stopgap between Sword/Shield and Arceus, these games represent a significant leap forward for the Pokémon series. For those craving a breath of fresh air, Scarlet and Violet deliver exactly that.

Pokémon Violet and Scarlet will be released on November 18, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.

Editors’ Recommendations:
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  • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s DLC expands the world beyond Paldea
  • Pokémon demonstrated its unstoppable nature in 2022
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