Lessons for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet From A 20 Year Old Game

With generation 9 of Pokémon on the horizon I find myself looking back at some of the older entries in the series, Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness. Despite being 20 years old, can Pokémon Scarlet and Violet learn anything from them?

Lessons for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet From A 20 Year Old Game

Pokémon Colosseum, and its sequel Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness were the first 3D home-console story-based Pokémon games, released all the way back in 2003 and 2005. These games weren’t perfect, but they did so much right, and have gained a cult-like following over the years as some of the more interesting games in the Pokémon franchise. Yet gamefreak seems determined to completely ignore their existence, despite these games getting some things very right. Here are 4 lessons Pokémon Scarlet & Violet could learn from Pokémon Colosseum, and the potential features that could come from those lessons. 

Lesson 1: A Completely Different Story

Developed by Genius sonority in collaboration with the Pokémon company, Pokémon Colosseum, and to a lesser extent XD, were the first and last Pokémon games to truly disrupt the Pokémon formula, and offer a completely different view into the world of Pokémon (other than Pokémon ranger, but that is a topic for a different article). The games take place in Orre, a very sparsely populated desert region largely devoid of Pokémon. All of the Pokémon in the region come from elsewhere, and they are in high demand. As a result, extremely aggressive shadow Pokémon have recently surfaced in the region. You play as Wes, a boy in his late teens who has recently renounced his life of crime. After stealing the snag machine, a device which lets you catch other trainers’ Pokémon, you vow to recapture and purify all of the shadow Pokémon that you previously helped to spread. 

To those of you that haven’t actually played or heard of the game, this probably sounds like the plot of a fangame, yet I assure you this was a licensed Pokémon product. It is hard to imagine a modern Game Freak giving this game the green light. The themes of Pokémon abuse and actual theft seem like things Game Freak wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, yet they make the game something completely different from anything that came before and anything that has come since. The story isn’t perfect, but most of the themes are handled well and don’t feel too forced. The game strikes just the right balance. It is a real exploration of the Pokémon world in a way that we have never seen before or since.

What Do I Mean By Different?

Most Pokémon regions are essentially reskins of each other, and the story plays out relatively similarly every time. Go from gym to gym, fight an evil team that is trying to take over the world, become the Pokémon league champion. After so many repetitions, the formula leaves you feeling a bit hollow when playing a new game. I have played every main series Pokémon game, and I don’t remember the story of Pokémon Sword & Shield. It felt like a recombination of the same elements that I had already seen before, just with very slight variations.  

Pokémon Colosseum has no gyms, it has no Pokémon league, and the evil team has already won. The story feels much more like a traditional JRPG. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but to me the most important thing is that it is actually different! Do I want every Pokémon game to be more like Colosseum and deal with slightly more mature subject matter? Not necessarily, but I would like to see Pokémon at least take a step outside of the box sometimes and actually try to tell a story that is significantly different from everything that has come before. 

Moving forward

Thankfully Game Freak seems to finally be learning their lesson in this regard. Legends: Arceus and Scarlet & Violet are attempting to make much more open worlds, which should make the games at least mechanically quite different from their predecessors. In terms of the story I am not quite so hopeful. I am expecting another bland gym challenge montage from Scarlet & Violet, possibly with even less story since in an open world they can’t really know where you will go next. I expect a lot of returning to a hub to progress the story before going out adventuring again. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but I prefer the story to be more integrated into the world. Games like Shadow of the Colossus deliver very satisfying stories while being completely open world, but something tells me Game Freak isn’t keen on the minimalist approach to storytelling.

The open world of Legends: Arceus is a good start, but narratively and in terms of subject matter it is still a fairly standard Pokémon experience.

The open world of Legends: Arceus is a good start, but narratively and in terms of subject matter it is still a fairly standard Pokémon experience.

Lesson 2: A More Difficult Experience

Since shadow Pokémon are the only Pokémon available to capture, your options for team members are quite limited. This makes the game much more difficult, as you must work around what the game gives you. The result is a very different experience from the normal Pokémon game. You have to make the best of what you are given, and in your first playthrough you don’t know what you are going to get. This mechanical choice alongside the harsh terrain of the Orre region really makes you feel like you are surviving in a challenging environment rather than adventuring freely. It isn’t for everyone, but I see it as a breath of fresh air compared to the usual Pokémon experience.

The main series Pokémon games already dabbled with difficulty settings in Black & White 2. I would love to see that feature come back for Pokémon scarlet and violet. The addition of a dedicated nuzlocke mode seems to also be something that many Pokémon inspired games such as Coromon are willing to provide. With the popularity of alternative styles of play growing, hopefully Game Freak will learn their lesson, listen to their community, and consider offering some options in Pokémon scarlet & violet.

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 offered difficulty settings. Why haven't more recent entries?

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 offered difficulty settings. Why haven’t more recent entries?

Lesson 3: Postgame Features

The postgame for Pokémon Colosseum is extensive, and continues the plot. Although the climax was at the end of the main story, you spend the postgame tying up loose ends. This extra content takes roughly 30-40% as long to complete as the main story, but doesn’t feel forced or irrelevant. It is just a little bit extra for those that loved the story and want to play a bit more. There is also the option of the standard very long battle challenge if that is your thing. This is exactly what Pokémon postgame should be in my opinion.

Generation 3 was definitely the peak of postgame content for Pokémon. Fire Red & Leaf Green had a similar albeit shorter post game where you hunt down team rocket in the Sevii islands, and emerald had the legendary battle frontier. This is an aspect that Pokémon Colosseum absolutely nails, and that I think is sorely lacking from modern Pokémon games. I want Game Freak to learn from the success of earlier postgames, and implement a strong postgame with all of these features in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. I don’t want a half-assed attempt at a new story that lasts 30 minutes at most like Swordward and Shieldbert.

The Sevii Islands, and generation 3 postgames in general, were on point. They added so much extra content beyond what was accessible in the main game and had their own short stories.

The Sevii Islands, and generation 3 postgames in general, were on point. They added so much extra content beyond what was accessible in the main game and had their own short stories.

Lesson 4: More Care Given To Assets In General

Battle Environments

Pokémon colosseum feels like it has a lot of time and care put into it, something that I think is lacking from the more recent Pokémon games. All of the battle locations have individually modelled backgrounds containing the local landmarks. Several areas are only used in 3 or 4 battles, but Genius Sonority still cared enough to make them. Even though the capacity has existed to make custom battle environments in the main series since generation 6, you often find yourself just battling over some kind of weird disc thing with a generic picture as the background.

Just a generic background for the area, with the Pokémon standing on coloured discs.

Just a generic background for the area, with the Pokémon standing on coloured discs.

Sword and Shield made use of custom environments in some battles, but the gym arenas are all reskins. The latest feature trailer for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet actually gives me some hope in this regard. The footage showcases a custom battle arena, and I can only hope that the other areas are of similar quality.

Models and animations

The models themselves are similar to those in sword and shield, albeit with slightly fewer pixels. The battle animations are much more impactful in general. Death and hit animations are custom for each Pokémon and are believable, rather than the bland knockback that every Pokémon gets in Sword & Shield. Unfortunately Scarlet & Violet seem to have similar battle animations to Sword and Shield looking at the trailer above. In Colosseum and XD the animations for moves like earthquake and surf are epic, and give a great sense of the scale of the damage inflicted by these whole-map attacks. They are better in almost every way than their modern counterparts. 

After playing Colosseum it is hard not to notice the relative absence of unique animations in the more modern games. The level of polish and care that has gone into Pokémon colosseum is obvious. There is a lesson to learn here for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, the devil is in the details. Flashy new gimmicks are all well and good, but If you want your game to last the test of time, you have to put in the extra effort to make it as polished as possible, even in the areas you think no one will notice.

Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness

I think Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness deserves its own short section. XD is a direct sequel to Pokémon Colosseum. In many ways it is halfway between Colosseum and your standard Pokémon game. The game is certainly much softer around the edges than colosseum, both literally and metaphorically. The protagonist is Michael, a much more uncomplicated character who is significantly younger than Wes, which leads to a toning down of some of the more mature themes. The graphics are also much smoother, especially the trainer models and menu design.

The battle menus for XD have a much smoother aesthetic than those in Colosseum.

The battle menus for XD have a much smoother aesthetic than those in Colosseum.

The story directly follows on from the events of Pokémon Colosseum, and is in no way disappointing. Many characters are familiar, and new areas exist where you can encounter wild Pokémon. It is really more of the same with slightly more QoL and graphical polish. In many ways it is a lesson in what can be done to bring Pokémon Colosseum slightly closer to the standard formula without completely losing the soul of what made it so unique.

Conclusions and Potential Remakes?

At a bare minimum Pokémon Colosseum and XD deserve a remaster and re-release on the switch. They have never been re-released on any platform, the GameCube versions are the only versions available. This makes them near impossible to obtain legally, especially XD, which was one of the last games released for the GameCube, and as such received a very limited print run. There is still a lot to be enjoyed in these games, even for the new Pokémon audience. Are they going to be everyone’s favourite Pokémon games? Probably not, they are significantly different from any other story based Pokémon game. That said, they have a lot of good aspects that could be implemented as features in Pokémon scarlet & violet.

I have tried not to spoil anything in this article. If you have the means to play these games and haven’t yet, play them! They offer a Pokémon experience like no other! If you have played them, what do you think? Do they deserve a bit more love and attention? Are there any valuable lessons to be found here for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet

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