Technical issues aside, Pokemon Scarlet/Violet moves the series in a direction I was hoping for

It came from my parents’ basement

There’s a casket in my parents’ basement. But unlike all the other caskets, this one doesn’t have human remains in it. It contains all my old Pokemon stuff. All of my cards and figures, the Pokemon Power mini-issues that Nintendo Power printed when the first game was approaching release, stickers I printed from Pokemon Snap at a Blockbuster kiosk, the first two movies on DVD; pretty much everything I collected back then, all in this plastic bin.

I didn’t realize it until recently; I had buried this part of my childhood right next to my Star Wars stuff. Back in the day, I was there on day one when Pokemon Red/Blue dropped. Eventually, I fell out of love with it, and it wasn’t just the inexorable march of time eroding my soul; it’s the fact that Pokemon never changed. When I played Pokemon Red back in 1998, I looked at its various abstractions like random battles, as a way to fit the game’s concept within the confines of the Game Boy’s limitations. Surely it was going to bloom into the wonderfully immersive world that the cartoons promised.

It didn’t, but we’re getting there.

Pokemon Scarlet/Violet Vista

Trapped behind a contact lens

I’m not here to change your mind on whether or not Pokemon Scarlet/Violet are any good. As much as I appreciate the changes it has made, it’s undeniably a rough transition. I heard about the bugs and graphical issues as we headed toward the launch. “I play experimental indie and pre-release games,” I told myself. “Surely, I’ve seen worse.” Maybe I have, but I struggled to fathom it as the world around me seemed to teeter on the precipice of breaking down.

There are many possible reasons for the state of these games, and I’m neither interested in theorizing about nor defending them. Everyone involved can and should do better. However, whether or not the state of its release is acceptable or not, I’m happy to see the series finally move in a more open direction.

One of the most maddening moments I encountered with the series was in Pokemon X/Y, when I was unable to proceed because someone lost a contact lens. An NPC had dropped it in the sand, and wouldn’t let you pass until it was found. Of course, they would perpetually seek it unless you completed objectives in the town. It was an artificial barrier that prevented me from exploring or continuing past what the game expected of me. I couldn’t understand why, fifteen years after I experienced the first game, I was still getting stopped at town limits until I had completed the mandated checklist of activities. Why were there still 8 gyms? Why did it feel like I had to endure the game’s runtime to get to the fun endgame?

Pokemon Scarlet/Violet finally dropped that. There’s still a pretty obvious underlying structure to it, but if I want to set off and get stomped by the last gym leader, I’m free to do so off the hop. That’s all I want: just let me get stomped. To start with, at least.

Pokemon Gold and Silver Map

Familiar horizons

The Pokemon formula has always been very rigid. Eight gyms, a dream of becoming a Pokemon master, and sometimes an existential threat. Pokemon Gold/Silver threw in the entire landscape of the original game, presenting an additional eight gyms, but that was something that the series seemed to have no interest in committing to, along with other unique features that made it one of the most beloved generations. I’m just reminded that instead of larger games, we’re just getting biannual remakes. That’s a depressing realization.

It definitely makes sense from a financial standpoint, as both design and assets can be carried over and resold. However, it’s a decidedly consumer-unfriendly approach. Rather than get bigger and better games, we’re forced to pay for new content. Each new feature, landscape, and narrative is packaged separately. I hate to say it, but a games-as-a-service framework might work better for Pokemon. I’m not a fan of the concept, but is a unified platform really worse than paying for another separate piece of content each time?

If next year, a representation of the Kanto region was released for Pokemon Scarlet/Violet, and that was followed up by Johto the year after, I’d be happy to pay whatever price they put on that sort of expansion. You know, as long as they fix some of the issues that are already present. I just want off this treadmill.

Pokemon Scarlet/Violet Wersh Rotom

A better connection

I’m just tentatively appreciative. With both Pokemon Legends: Arceus and Pokemon Scarlet/Violet finally testing the waters at shaking up the formula, I’m left with a mixture of optimism and skepticism. As much as I’m happy with the fact that they’re finally loosening their grip on the linear structure, they obviously stumbled hard on doing so. There’s still work to be done, and not least of all is the need to re-evaluate the release schedule.

I’d also like to see them change some of the holdovers from previous games. For example, I don’t really think Pokemon narratives have ever been very good, and I can only remember them to varying degrees. I also think that dropping the level 1-100 system would allow some of the actual strategy and challenge to return to the game while allowing it to be an even more open experience. There would still need to be progression when it comes to training your party, but it being a linear path from weak to strong isn’t the only answer.

It would be nice to get more activities that immerse us. We finally have an open world, and the best they can think of to connect us with it is making sandwiches? Pokemon Gold/Silver let you decorate your bedroom, and how often did you actually visit it?

Bug-type

Pokemon Scarlet/Violet are both more and less than I anticipated. It’s a bolder experiment than I expected from a mainline title, but it’s also quite a bit rougher and more stubborn in places. It’s a small net gain, but it needs to continue in this direction and, more importantly, get its shit together before I’d ever think about digging up its coffin.

I also recognize that part of the reason for the series’ slow change is that there’s a large community that likes its classic formula. A subset of competitors and collectors who are comfortable in the original systems and really dig far into the meat it provides. I understand the need to satisfy both those who enjoy the classic formula, as well as those who are hungry to see the franchise evolve. I’m hopeful that Game Freak and the Pokemon Company can find a satisfactory solution under all those bugs.

Zoey Handley
Zoey is a gadabout gaming hobbyist. She's been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. She enjoys digging in the dirt and picking out the games that are perfectly fine if you clean them up a bit.