With the launch of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet on the Nintendo Switch in November 2022, the highest grossing multimedia franchise of all time officially entered its ninth generation. Boasting an update in graphics, a fully explorable open world, and – as always – a whole host of new monsters to collect; fans around the world were excited to step into the Paldea Region and see what adventure awaited them.
However, older fans of the series saw worrying signs in developer Game Freak’s other Pokémon outings on the Switch. Those worries that weren’t at all subdued with each new trailer release. The game released to a rather mixed reception, though that common opinion was not at all reflected in the sales. Nintendo reported selling over 10 million units in the first three days. While sales might be better than most of the generations that came before it, not everything is that way. Let’s start with the bad.
One of the biggest selling points with each new generation of Pokémon is the Box Art Legendaries. AKA the Pokémon featured on the front of the box.
Generation 9 is no exception, with the Scarlet and Violet box art featuring the new Legendaries Koraidon and Miraidon respectively. It soon became clear that these Legendaries were not going to get the same treatment as those of years prior. Koraidon and Miraidon just showed up one day. No rich backstory in Paldea, or stories from the locals. Oh, and they like sandwiches.
While the ultimate reveal of what they are and where they came from are interesting, it pales in comparison to Legends of old; like the battle between Kyogre and Groudon settled by Rayquaza in Generation 3, Arceus creating Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina in Generation 4; or the Legendary Dragon that created Unova being split into Reshiram, Zekrom, & Kyurem in Generation 5. Also, it is hard to view the new duo as Legendaries when they spend a majority of the game being glorified HM Pokémon. However, the four hidden Legendary beings all have interesting backstories and designs, which saves this from being higher on the list.
Back to School
Somehow, Game Freak forgot the core concept that made Pokémon games so appealing to kids around the globe.
Every kid dreams of being able to skip school and go on grand adventures with their friends. If that wasn’t the case, then kids wouldn’t want to be astronauts, pirates, and secret agents when they grow up. And that’s what Pokémon provided. They got to play as a 10-14 year old kid and go on an epic journey throughout colorful worlds filled with whimsical creatures, unforgettable locations, and memorable characters with nary a mention of school, homework, or tests.
Then Scarlet & Violet roll around, and the entire game is revealed to be nothing more than the main character’s school assignment. The protagonist is burdened with the school uniform throughout the whole journey – limiting the great customization system featured in Gens 6 through 8 – along with being able to take classes in Biology, History, Math, and more subjects that kids are desperate to escape from. Most of the teachers being good characters with interesting designs and personalities, along with the Persona-esque bonding system, help keep it low on the list. But losing the charm of being a kid’s ultimate adventure fantasy is one of the many things weighing these games down.
This is less an issue with Generation 9 specifically, and more an ongoing issue since Generation 7.
From Generation 1, every single Generation of games brought with them an evil group trying to achieve some twisted goal. More often than not involving that game’s Legendary. All the evil teams from the first six generations are memorable in their own right – Rocket, Aqua & Magma, Galactic, Plasma, & Flare – though Game Freak seemingly forgot how to write Evil Teams starting in Generation 7, as they quickly went from a highlight to a low light.
Gen 7’s Team Skull was mostly a distraction from the real villains, though neither were very good. Gen 8’s Team Yell was nothing more than a fan club. And Gen 9’s Team Star is little more than Pokémon’s Cobra Kai. Some of the team leaders are cool, and they’re the only ones to use a Pokémon that no one else can actually catch or use, but their story is very predictable and ultimately falls short of its potential.
Many people’s biggest complaint with this game, but it’s only second worst here.
To put it politely, Pokémon Scarlet & Violet run at an average of Microsoft PowerPoint Frames Per Second. The game chugs along like a snail climbing a hill. Constant environment and Pokémon pop-ins mere inches away from the player, and moving objects more than a couple feet away being visibly reduced to no more than two frames. Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t challenge any of the Team Star bases when it’s raining in Paldea.
While the Switch’s power is comparable to the average smart phone, the system is not entirely to blame here. Much bigger games like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey run a whole lot smoother. It’s also worth mentioning that both games came out within the first year of the Nintendo Switch’s release. Sword & Shield and Legends: Arceus had similar performance issues, but the main problem is that they only seem to be getting worse with time. Let’s Go Pikachu & Let’s Go Eevee were the first Pokémon games released on the Switch, and they both look and run better than all that have come after them.
World Wide Shut
“Explore the Paldea Region in any order you want,” they lied.
Much like how it sometimes seems like Game Freak has never seen an RPG before, it seems like they’ve never seen an open world game before. Seriously, Pokémon has been around for 26 years and they still don’t have a difficulty setting. While it is true that the game is less linear than games prior in layout, it is just as rigid and linear in every other aspect. See, in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, levels do not scale. That’s right, an open world game where levels do not scale to match the player.
What that means, is that your journey through Paldea will be one of three things. A series of trials-and-errors as you attempt to find the next mission that matches your current level. A series of asking the Pokémon Center Lady to tell you where to go next. Or grinding up against trainers and wild Pokémon until you’re at a good level for the area you’re in. Only to find out later that levels don’t scale, and now you’re over leveled. It’s impressive how much Game Freak managed to mess up such a common video game genre by removing one thing.
Now we can get a bit more positive.
This is most definitely the most subjective entry on this list, hence its placement at the bottom of the best.
No matter how good or bad a Pokémon game may be, fans will always eagerly anticipate exploring the new region and seeing all the new monsters they can catch and train. While people accuse Game Freak of running out of Pokémon ideas every Generation, each new batch produces at least a few new stars. Gen 9 was no exception; introducing creatures like Tinkaton, Fidough, Lechonk, and Maushold that quickly became fan favorites. Along with ones that carried new type combinations like the Fire/Grass Scovillain and the Electric/Fighting Pawmot. Not to mention new evolutions for old Pokémon like Farigiraf, Annihilape, Kingambit, and Dudunsparce. Furthermore, Game Freak finally showed some love to flamingos and dolphins. Overall, though, there are very few outright bad or uninspired designs. Which is especially impressive given that Gen 9 brings the total amount of Pocket Monsters to 1,008.
Gym Leading the Pack
We continue on the trend of good characters boosting an otherwise bad decision, however this one does it so well that it becomes one of the best aspects of the game.
Throughout many Generations of Pokémon, a lot of the Gym Leaders blend together. More often than not, they are one-dimensional characters only important for the brief time you occupy their town, then they promptly disappear after you get their gym badge. While there are some exceptions – Norman from Gen 3 immediately springs to mind – it is more-or-less the standard formula. And, believe it or not, Gen 9 sticks to that formula almost exactly. The key word being almost. While it’s hard to find a Gym Leader who’s relevant after you beat them, they are almost all memorable.
As they did in Generation 5, Game Freak decided that every Gym Leader would also have another profession that somehow tied into their role as a Leader. So you get Tulip the beaty-obsessed fashion model and Larry the blue collar everyman instead of just Tulip the Psychic Type Gym Leader and Larry the Normal Type Gym Leader. It gives them an extra layer that makes their dialogue and interactions with the player much more memorable, and makes you actively want to seek out the next one to see what they are like.
Pokémon Professor Family Tree
Another classic staple of the Pokémon series is the Pokémon Professor.
They usually give the protagonist their first Pokémon and send them on a journey to fill out the Pokédex. Occasionally they’ll have moments of importance after that, but it’s unlikely. Generation 9 completely flips that on its head with Professors Sada and Turo. The first version-exclusive professors. It seemed obvious from the get-go that they were going to be more important than the average Professor. And while they do still stick to the sidelines for a majority of the game, the sequence centered on them is arguably the highest point in the game’s story. Featuring a genuinely shocking development unexpected from a studio seemingly terrified of dynamic storytelling. It also doesn’t hurt that they have more design beyond “person in a lab coat.”
You may have to chug along through the Paldea Region, but at least you don’t have to do it alone.
They took the idea of walking beside your Pokémon further in Generation 9 with the introduction of Auto Battles. It’s necessary for anyone who wants to craft TMs. Also, it’s also a great way to grind up levels quick. On top of that, it’s a quick way to detect Shiny Pokémon. Since Game Freak decided to remove every overworld sign of them. There are incentives to doing it, as certain Pokémon will only evolve if they’ve walked a certain number of steps. As if exploring with your animal friend wasn’t incentive enough.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All!
The famous and impossible catchphrase.
While odds are there will never be a game that allows players to capture all 1,008 Pokémon, Game Freak certainly made it fun to capture the 400 that Scarlet & Violet have to offer. While previous Generations were limited to random tall grass encounters, Gen 9 has Pokémon roaming all over the open world. Giving an unrivaled feeling of exploration as you feel driven to catch each new creature you come across. The stylistic choice of representing Pokédex entries as books on shelf is also a nice touch. It creates that extra itch to make you want to finish your collection. Catching Pokémon is near-impossible to mess up, and Generation 9 is the perfect showcase for how fun it can be.
While Pokémon Scarlet & Violet are not the mythical “perfect” Pokémon games that may never come, and certainly have their fair share of issues, it is wrong to say that the game does nothing right. However, the highlights don’t excuse the lowlights, creating excuses will enable developers to release games in progressively less finished states. In summary, another year in the oven could’ve evolved Pokémon Scarlet & Violet from a raw Fidough into a perfectly cooked Dachsbun.