Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review – fun and frustrating in equal measure

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review – fun and frustrating in equal measure
Alex Raisbeck Updated on by

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Pokemon Scarlet and Violet promised a lot. Following on from the commercial hit but relative critical flop that was Pokemon Sword and Shield, Game Freak had professed to have learned from its mistakes and crafted a truly modern Pokemon experience. So, a year on from the chaotic, bug-filled launch of the games, how do Scarlet and Violet stack up in the storied history of the biggest media franchise on the planet?

You play as a kid who’s just moved to the Paldea region, a vast, open world heavily influenced by Spain and Spanish culture. And this open world is the main selling point of Scarlet and Violet. Following on from the largely underwhelming Wild Area of Sword and Shield, Scarlet and Violet’s world is truly open, with the player capable of heading almost anywhere right from the get-go.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review: The player looking across a lake with mountains in the background
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While this is exciting at first, there are certainly some problems with the game’s approach to the open world, notably that the places you go aren’t scaled to your progression. If you head to a particular area with your Level 5 Fuecoco, you might come up against much stronger Pokemon and trainers and stand no chance.

Despite being the game’s core feature, it feels poorly thought-out. It’s a vast, open world, but you still have to do the Gyms in a certain order. You can go anywhere you want; you just won’t be able to do anything there until you’re strong enough. Conversely, if you complete a ‘later’ area too early, the areas you skipped become laughably easy. 

It’s a great idea in theory, but in practice, it feels as if they added an open world for the sake of having one. Why not have Gym Leaders use teams that change to match the number of badges you have? Or why not have wild and trainer Pokemon increase in level as you progress? It feels like there are so many better ways to realise this concept that its current iteration simply feels disappointing.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review: A player standing in front of the main building of Naranja Academy
Image captured by VideoGamer

As for the story, your character enrols in the prestigious Naranja or Uva Academy (depending on the version). On your way to your enrolment, you meet the game’s Legendary Pokemon, Koraidon or Miraidon, who takes a shine to you and joins you on your journey, and can be used as a mode of transport, replacing your bike and the need for the Fly and Surf HMs altogether. Once you join the school, you’re quickly sent off into the world along with your classmates to ‘find your treasure’, the treasure in question being personal growth, friendship, etc., you get the idea.

It’s a decent premise and certainly an improvement on the usual Pokemon set-up of ‘your negligent parent kicks you out of the house to fight adults for money’. The highlight of this story, though, is the supporting cast of characters. The hot-headed, battle-obsessed Nemona plays the role of your main rival, while the much quieter Arwen and Penny have their own quests to take on in the background. Your progression through the game centres around these three characters, and completing each of their ‘Paths’ opens up your route to the game’s ending.

Put simply, this is great. Pokemon games typically focus on one, often fairly boring main rival, collecting badges, and beating the evil team, with none of the characters having too much personality. Each of the supporting characters in Scarlet and Violet is bursting with charm, and you’ll get some solid character development out of them as you progress, making these storylines something you’ll actively want to pursue, with some genuinely heartfelt moments. Where the game’s physical world falls flat, the story and characters are quite compelling, and I hope this approach is something Game Freak continues with in future.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review: Nemona standing in a large town square
Image captured by VideoGamer

As for the gameplay itself, it’s your fairly standard Pokemon fare with this Generation’s gimmick thrown on top – Terastallization. Each Pokemon now has a Tera-type, and when you Terastallize, your Pokemon gains a crystalline appearance and becomes that type, giving you extra damage when using moves of that type. For example, this would let you turn the Water-type Quaxly into a Fire-type or Grass-type for a battle. I didn’t think much of this during the main game, but did find the strategy of using it quite fun in online battles later on.

But while the battling has largely stayed the same, one aspect of Scarlet and Violet I wasn’t expecting was the difficulty. Perhaps it was in part due to the open world and going places I shouldn’t have gone, but I found myself struggling at times and actually having to think about what I was doing in battles. This was a welcome change from Sword and Shield where I almost mindlessly blitzed through the entire game.

And what would battles be without the Pokemon themselves? Scarlet and Violet introduce a whole host of brand-new creatures, which, for the most part, are delightful, with the Paldean forms of returning Pokemon being especially well done. Having found the Pokemon of more recent Generations a little uninspired, it was nice to see a set of varied and interesting designs again.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review: The player standing at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea
Image captured by VideoGamer

But where the designs of the Pokemon succeed, the world again fails to deliver. Despite certainly being a graphical improvement on Sword and Shield, Scarlet and Violet still mostly disappoints with its looks. A fairly charming art design can at times make up for it, but even as someone who rarely cares about graphics, it’s hard to ignore how poor-quality the game’s visuals often are. Despite its limited hardware, there is no shortage of games on the Switch with stunning graphics, so it’s frustrating to see Pokemon still failing to meet those standards.

And this is the feeling that stayed with me throughout most of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet – frustration. Did I enjoy the game? Absolutely! There’s plenty to love about this game, but every time you’re confronted with the poorly implemented open world, poor-quality textures, or even outright glitches, those moments become tainted. For several Generations, Pokemon has gotten by with a new gimmick each time to freshen things up a bit, but at this point a proper overhaul is needed. 

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review: The player flying Koraidon over a small town
Image captured by VideoGamer

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is the latest game that has fallen prey to Game Freak’s relentless need for a new game every two years. Just like with Sword and Shield, Scarlet and Violet shows glimpses of what a modern Pokemon game could and should be, repeatedly threatening to break new ground but coming up short. Whether that’s due to the rushed production or a fear of straying too far from the norm, I don’t know. Maybe one day we’ll receive the modern Pokemon game we all want, but as long as Game Freak is playing it safe, churning out games like Scarlet and Violet, fun but flawed is about as good as we’re going to get.


Pokemon Scarlet and Violet take the long-awaited step into a fully open-world, but one poorly implemented and marred by frustration. A compelling story and characters are a saving grace in what is ultimately a fun game, but Pokemon's attempts at modernising continue to fall disappointingly short.
7 An interesting story with some loveable characters Great new Pokemon designs and a decent gimmick in Terastallization Open-world feels rushed and poorly-implemented Poor graphics and yet somehow still has performance issues