On November 18, 2022, Pokemon began Generation IX with the release of their latest games, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. Players arrive in the Paldea region, where they attend Naranja Academy (my version was Scarlet). There, they are assigned an independent study project known as the Treasure Hunt. Three different stories diverge from there; compared to previous installments, players are able to accomplish their tasks in any order.
As per the series’ tradition, the player chooses one of three Pokémon as their partner for the adventure. They are Sprigatito the Grass Cat Pokémon, Fuecoco the Fire Croc Pokémon, and Quaxly the Duckling Pokémon. All three are adorable critters exuding a lot of personality and establish the energetic, friendly tone of Paldea.
A Pristine Presentation of Paldea
Paldea has some of the best character designs in the series for humans and Pokémon alike. For the human characters, they break many of the series’ conventions when designing their physical appearances. Characters like Grusha, Penny, Atticus, and Rika are notable for having features typical for the opposite gender, providing relatability for players who do not follow traditional gender presentation.
For the new Pokémon, they demonstrate a lot of creativity in their concepts and gameplay. Along with the new original species, several new evolutions and regional forms revitalized old classics in exciting ways. One example is Annihilape, the Ghost/Fighting Type evolution of Primeape with a new signature move that gets stronger the more hits it takes.
There were so many interesting new Pokémon introduced in Paldea that it took quite a bit of time and thinking to decide my team. Thanks to the graphical upgrade, different Pokémon exhibit different textures fitting their biology. Instead of uniform colors, one can observe features like fur, feathers, and scales on a Pokémon’s body. Steel Types like Pawniard and Magnemite even have authentic sheen to their bodies.
Besides the temporal theming with characters like Professor Sada and Koraidon, Paldea is also filled to the brim with a food theme. A majority of key locations in the game are named after various kitchenware and food preparation techniques, more evident in the Japanese version (Mesagoza is Table City, Montenevera is Fridge Town, Porto Marinada is Marinade Town, etc.).
Several new Pokémon families are also based on edibles, notably the Smoliv, Fidough, Capsakid, Nacli, and Toedscool families. Of course, actual food prepared and served in Paldea’s restaurants is presented with lavish illustrations and descriptions sure to whet the appetite.
It is worth mentioning that Mana Ibe is the art director for Scarlet and Violet, lending to the colorful and vibrant visual style of Paldea. Ibe’s first major contribution to the mainline games was in Black and White; she designed several Pokemon since then, such as Victini, Stunfisk, and Klefki. Ibe’s promotion from designer to art director mirrors fellow graphic artist James Turner, who also got his start in the mainline games with Black and White and was the art director of Sword and Shield.
Three Stories, One Astonishing Conclusion
Of the three main stories in the game (Victory Road, Path of Legends, Starfall Street), I feel that Arven’s is the most engaging. Although he initially comes off as abrasive, it turns out to stem from his strained relationship with his mother, Professor Sada, who was constantly busy with her work. Because of this, Arven grew up independent, with Mabosstiff as his only companion. After a past incident left Mabosstiff in a critical state that not even Pokemon Centers or Potions can heal, Arven strives to search for a cure.
However, this is not to say that Nemona and Penny’s stories are any less exciting. Battling Gyms and taking down the baddies help players build a connection with both girls, with Nemona eagerly desiring a challenging battle and Penny striving to make Naranja Academy a better place for students. All three friends come together for one of the most epic finales in a Pokemon game.
The endgame taking place after clearing the three main stories was full of surprises never seen before in previous Pokémon games. Nemona, Penny, and Arven have excellent chemistry as they and the player work together in their journey to the center of Paldea, known as Area Zero. It is where dangerously powerful Pokémon inhabit and the Terastal phenomenon originated.
Even with the foreshadowing throughout the game, the truth about the origin of Koraidon and the fate of Professor Sada genuinely surprised me. On a meta-level, Professor Sada’s departure becomes even more poignant knowing that she (along with her Violet counterpart Turo) was designed by James Turner; this year, he left Game Freak to start his own studio, making Scarlet and Violet his final entry to the Pokémon video games.
Gameplay Pros and Cons
Following up on what Sword and Shield started and Legends: Arceus expanded on, Scarlet and Violet are the first set of open-world mainline games. While it brings a sense of liberation to explore different areas without an NPC roadblock to discourage sequence breaking, it also brings a sense of danger with how easy it is to wander into an area with high-leveled Pokemon when under-leveled. For those who want the extra challenge, Trainer battles are no longer mandatory. With less railroading, Paldea has a lot of room to explore (even more so with Koraidon’s upgrades), though it can get a little overwhelming the first time. Thankfully, there are towers between vast stretches of land between civilizations to mark checkpoints.
Many of the quality-of-life changes made in raising Pokemon took me a bit of getting used to. After 8 Generations of having the Name Rater, Move Deleter, Move Reminder, and Day Care services performed by NPCs, all of that is now in the player’s hands. I am also a bit conflicted about the retcon to Crabrawler’s evolution method and eliminating the need for Incense when breeding. While it is to facilitate obtaining certain Pokemon compared to previous Generations, it does go against what was previously established: Crabrawler prefers high places, and the absence of Incense explained why previously unevolved Pokemon could not produce their baby forms. I prefer location-based evolutions, but that is just me.
The Trainer Customization is somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the player has a wider array of choices for their character’s facial features beyond hair and eye color (freckles, beauty marks, eye shape, eyelashes, etc.), allowing for more variety when interacting with other players online. On the other hand, clothing and accessories, while unisex, are severely limited compared to previous Generations. Only the hat, bag, eyewear, gloves, socks, and footwear could be changed, with only Naranja Academy’s orange uniforms as the main outfit. It may be justified for the school setting, but having only four sets of outfits is disappointing. Hopefully, there will be DLC, including more clothing options, especially skirts and dresses.
It has been memed all over the Internet as to how buggy Scarlet and Violet are, especially when compared to other Switch titles. Whether it is the inverse relationship between distance and frame rate, or the unnatural elasticity of character models, the graphics have become joke material. For me, hardly any of that mattered when the very first Generation had glitches that genuinely threw off gameplay balance. As long as the game is still fun and playable, it works for me.
Overall, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are an immersive experience and a strong opening to the 9th Generation. The stunning visuals, immersive gameplay, and engaging story come together into one of the grandest openings to the new Generation. While there are a few flaws and missed opportunities within the base game, hopefully, they will be addressed and remedied with the release of DLC. I would score this an 8/10.
What are your thoughts on Pokémon Scarlet and Violet? How will you embark on your adventure? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow The Illuminerdi on social media to be notified of more Pokemon news and updates like this in the future!