When I started “Return to Nintendo” — a series of columns documenting my return to Nintendo consoles after a five-year absence — one of the first things I wrote about was how much Pokemon had changed since I last completed a main-series game with “Black 2” version, writing about “Sword” and “Shield” at the time. With last year’s release of “Scarlet” and “Violet,” I also had a lot to catch up on, especially seeing as I skipped every game since “Sword” and “Shield.”
“Scarlet” and “Violet” keep much of the same battle system of “Sword” and “Shield,” namely the fact that all Pokemon are visible in the overworld, though it does have more resemblance to “Pokemon Legends: Arceus.” If you bump into a Pokemon in the overworld, it will still initiate a turn-based battle, but you can now release one Pokemon at a time into the world, and it’ll auto-battle wild Pokemon. This means that, even compared to modern games in which Experience Points are shared by your whole party of Pokemon, the grind to level your Pokemon up is drastically reduced.
The games also boast a vast open world where you can explore virtually anything you see, with some exceptions (like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” there are some areas fenced off by invisible barriers). This means that you can easily spend hours playing this game without even starting the game’s three main quests.
The story this time around is that your new Pokemon trainer is about to enroll in Naranja or Uva Academy, where you study about the battle system and various mechanics of the game. Soon after, you’re put on a “treasure hunt” in which you trek across the game’s region, Paldea, by completed three different quests: Victory Road, Starfall Street and Path of Legends.
Victory Road is the typical quest of defeating all the region’s Gym Leaders before going to the Pokemon League to battle the Elite Four and the region’s chairwoman of the league, who takes the place of a traditional champion. Instead of having just one champion for the region, in Paldea it’s a rank anyone can obtain, with your rival and neighbor, Nemona, being the first champion-rank trainer you encounter.
Speaking of Nemona, she’s very different from other game’s rivals because when you start the game, she’s basically already at the end of her journey. She serves more like a mentor who wants to coach you into a strong rival by giving you incrementally harder battles with her, before she finally gives you a challenge at full power at the end of the game. She’s not in it for pride — she just wants to mold you into someone who will give her a challenge.
Starfall Street is where you face this game’s crime organization, Team Star, which is made up of a bunch of students who left the academy after they were bullied, but now are bullying others. They have bosses you need to defeat before you can take on their leader, and each boss gives you a badge just like a gym leader.
Path of Legends is where you get to upgrade your legendary Pokemon, Koraidon or Miraidon (depending what game you get). Koraidon and Miraidon come to you early in the game and replace your bike — they’re kind of like lizards that can turn into motorcycles. Both have a connection to Arven, the son of either Professor Sada or Turo, depending on what version of the game you get. He’s on a quest to find a substance called Herba Mystica that he hopes will heal his Pokemon, Mabosstiff, who was injured in a fight in the mysterious crater in the center of the region, which is off-limits until later in the game. Herba Mystica also heals Koraidon and Miraidon, who will gradually get the ability to jump higher, fly, swim and crawl up walls, making virtually all of Paldea accessible. The only issue is that you have to defeat giant Pokemon each time before each helping of herb.
“Scarlet” and “Violet” have a mind-numbing amount of gameplay for a Pokemon game, and its tweaks to its established formula make it seem much more fresher than even the improvements found in “Sword” and “Shield.” Its open world also gives gamers plenty of reason to keep playing even after all three quests are complete. Its vast openness encourages you to experiment with different Pokemon to see which ones work best for this version. Notably, this was the first time ever that my starter did not keep his spot at the start of my party — that position was taken by Flamigo, who is a flamingo Pokemon that just destroys everything.
Some quests can get repetitive. Like “Breath of the Wild,” and other open-world games, “Scarlet” and “Violet” offer a large volume of things to do, but much of its quests are duplicated many times. This game’s gimmick, Terastallization, which allows you to change a Pokemon’s type, I also feel like was greatly underutilized. Since at least last generation, these games have tried to find a replacement for Mega Evolutions when they should never have departed from them in the first place. Terastallization and Dynamaxing are fine enough mechanics to shake battles up, but they don’t have the versatility and flexibility Mega Evolutions offer, which allow Nintendo to add as many evolutions as they want to virtually any Pokemon.
“Scarlet” and “Violet” manage to do something I didn’t think was possible: It made Pokemon feel fresh again and it will probably hold me over for at least another few years (I don’t really need a new Pokemon game every year, than you).
I do have to question how much gas this franchise has left in the tank. These games will always sell well, but what burnt me out of this franchise after “Black 2” was the fact that Nintendo was selling new versions of virtually the same game every year, which I have no doubt they will continue to do for many years until the franchise needs another big update to freshen things up.
When that happens, perhaps I’ll pick up another Pokemon game and I’ll write another entry in this series.
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