The monumentally famous Pokémon franchise returns with a new pair of mainline games: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. Now in its 9th generation, the series shows no signs of slowing down as Nintendo announced the game had sold 10 million copies within its first week.
Pokémon Violet provides an enjoyable and similar gameplay loop much like Pokémon Legends: Arceus did earlier this year. It also boasts a colorful cast of characters that help elevate the rather simple plot. However, its most significant faults lie in its presentation and general performance on Nintendo Switch. How does it rank among the best Nintendo Switch games, and the series in general? Here are my thoughts after spending a week battling and collecting Pokémon.
An expansive open-world Pokémon adventure
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are some of the most fun and expansive Pokémon games yet, but you will have to live with sub-par graphics and some performance issues.
Pokémon Violet takes place in the Paldea region and experiments with the open-world format games such as Elden Ring, Sonic Frontiers and Pokémon Legends: Arceus explored this year. This time, Pokémon combines the open world with the traditional Pokémon structure of collecting all eight Gym badges. In Pokemon games, you can travel around the region and capture different Pokemon. You can only carry six at a time on your team, but you can still raise as many Pokemon as you want. You can also battle other AI-controlled trainers across Paldea to earn experience points for your Pokemon. This in turn makes them become more powerful and once some Pokemon reach a certain level, they can evolve into stronger forms. This pairing creates an absolutely killer gameplay loop as the new open-world structure adds a fresh exploration aspect to the journey that was mostly absent in previous games.
Collecting the badges and then defeating the Elite Four is its own storyline called Victory Road, but there are also two other storylines called Path of Legends and Starfall Street, which both borrow real-time elements from Legends: Arceus.
Path of Legends has you battle against Titans, which are larger and stronger versions of normal Pokémon. This is most similar to the boss battles you’d see in Legends: Arceus. What I really loved about the Titans is that defeating one would unlock a new traversal skill such as being able to swim or glide. This gave me the incentive to battle them and open up the world as fast as I can by using these new traversal skills. The later Titans towards the end of this storyline are quite strong, so you’ll have to fight Gyms and other trainers along the way, making the progression feel natural.
Starfall Street has you seeking out the antagonistic Team Star, which has bases all across Paldea to infiltrate. In these bases, you can actually send out your Pokémon to participate in real-time battles, somewhat similar to those seen in Legends: Arceus. However, the overall implementation is much shakier than Path of Legends’. The real-time battles aren’t very engaging and the big stinker here is that neither these battles nor the boss battle at the end of each base provides any experience points to level up your Pokémon with. So I don’t really even see the point of these.
All of the Gyms, Titans, and Bases are marked on your map. You can pursue these three storylines simultaneously however you like. There are some restrictions such as opponents being at incredibly high levels if you stray too far from the game’s intended progression. However, you’re given enough freedom to explore your immediate surroundings for items and Pokémon to catch. It was very fun to be able to tackle objectives at my own pace.
Each of the three storylines features a main character that you get to learn about throughout the game. Nemoma is your rival for the Victory Road storyline and it’s refreshing that while she’s an energetic person, she’s also not an overbearing ball of sunshine or an angsty teen like some of the more recent rivals in previous games. I also found her to be one of the tougher opponents in the game whenever I had to battle, proving that she had a bite to back up her bark.
Arven is the focal point in the Path of Legends storyline and he has a surprising amount of depth to his character. Without getting into spoilers, his intentions of seeking out the Titans seemed shady at first, but then you learn that his goals are noble. His was definitely the most heartfelt out of the three storylines.
In the Starfall Street storyline, you participate in Operation Starfall, where an anonymous person requests that you take down the five Team Star bases across Paldea. Each base has a boss and once they’re defeated, you learn about their backstories and how Team Star came to form in the first place. It’s a really touching narrative that makes Team Star stand out from other villain teams from previous Pokémon games.
Plenty of post-game and competitive content
After completing all three storylines and experiencing the end of the main game’s plot, there’s still plenty of content to dive into. You can have a rematch against all eight of the Gym leaders, and there are plenty of brand-new Pokémon to catch. Furthermore, Pokémon has a rich competitive scene. Over the years, Game Freak has implemented more quality-of-life features that make it easier to create more competitively viable Pokémon. For example, if one of your Pokémon doesn’t have the ability that you desire, you can buy a special item to change it.
The game’s online Ranked Battle System recently launched via the in-game Battle Stadium, allowing players to compete with others all across the world. Players are given a rank and it will go up and down depending on their wins and losses. These are guaranteed to be some of the most intense battles so those who love Pokémon battling will spend hundreds of hours building out their teams.
This is the worst part of Pokémon Violet — the game doesn’t perform well on the Nintendo Switch hardware, even on the newest OLED model I played it on. It loads very slowly and the framerate stutters constantly. It’s incredibly frustrating because when I roam around the open world, many times Pokémon will literally pop out right in front of me, thus initiating a battle when I wasn’t trying to get into one.
I’ve also experienced glitches where sometimes my Pokémon will quite literally fall through the floor during a Pokémon battle. The battle will continue just as fine, but it’s visually distracting when my Pokémon isn’t present on the battlefield.
There were multiple instances where the game wouldn’t let me pick up an item on the ground. I’d have to momentarily go to the home screen of my Switch and then return to the game for it to register my button inputs. There were also a few times during battles when my character would be standing on the complete opposite side of the field, away from where my Pokémon was.
It’s staggering how many bugs and glitches are in this game, especially for such a tentpole release like Pokémon. While Legends: Arceus had some performance problems, it was never as frequent or disruptive as Violet was.
While the Pokémon themselves look fine, the environments look very ugly and dated. The game lacks a cohesive art style and all of the textures look blurry. It honestly doesn’t look all that much better than a Nintendo GameCube game from the mid-2000s.
It’s also a step back in that regard to Legends: Arceus because at least that game’s art style was inspired by ancient Japan. Graphics aren’t everything, but even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that came out in 2017, looks miles better than Pokémon Violet. The Switch itself isn’t to blame either as the console is definitely capable of having beautiful-looking games with stunning environments.
Monster Hunter Rise, Shin Megami Tensei V, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are examples of games with open world elements and above-average graphics that the new mainline Pokémon games simply cannot match.
When utilizing the game’s online features, it’s actually pretty smooth sailing, if you can get in that is. I tried out four-player co-op with a few of my buddies and we had trouble grouping up even though we were all registered friends with each other on our Switch systems. However, once we managed to get together, we were able to keep a stable connection throughout our entire session and Paldea is even more fun when exploring with other people.
When we tried to participate in Tera Raids, which are four-player co-op battles against a single special Pokémon, I kept running into an error saying I couldn’t join due to a Pokémon in my party. I searched whether other players had this issue and the solution was to just keep selecting the option to join. It eventually worked! I thought that maybe one of my Pokémon was too high of a level compared to others in my co-op group, but no, it was just a poor online service.
Pokémon Violet is the most fun I’ve had with the 3D Pokémon games so far. The combination of the open-world progression and the traditional structure creates a winning formula that I’d like to see improved on in future titles. While the story was straightforward, the characters’ charming personalities kept me engaged with each of the three storylines until the very end. The game also has some of the best music I’ve heard in a while from the series, particularly, Team Star’s boss battles having an absolutely electrifying guitar theme.
However, the game’s sub-par performance and poor visuals are completely inexcusable. Nintendo is known for its quality first-party titles, but the annualization of Pokémon is starting to make it seem like an exception. It’s jarring to see how much of a step forward Legends: Arceus was, but then seeing Violet take a half step back.
That being said, if you can get past those issues, there’s a fun time to be had here. Between the game’s single-player offerings and online modes, there’s plenty of content that will last you for a very long time.