Pokemon Scarlet & Violet aren’t that good. Of course they’ve sold like gangbusters and everyone is talking about them – it’s still Pokemon – but the conversation is more sour and contemplative than usual, with even the most hardcore of fans coming to realise that Game Freak have really fucked it with this one. The studio definitely needed more resources and time to make this thing shine, since at the centre sits a number of excellent ideas and an advancement of the formula we’ve all been waiting for. Sadly, it’s also real janky and busted.
Scarlet & Violet is extraordinarily buggy, with most of the conversation dominated by videos of players stumbling across visual glitches and mechanical oddities that in a just world might have been smoothed over. But here they are, with no word on an update set to smooth over the cracks of a disappointing marvel. I warned everyone about this when I was let down by Legends: Arceus, which itself was visually primitive and rushed through development instead of giving its best ideas time to breathe and become something greater. It was innovative in the context of Pokemon, but compared to Breath of the Wild it was a bit of a joke.
Pokemon games often refused to change things up when confined to portable consoles, settling for generational gimmicks instead of a foundational evolution, but not once have I ever considered them buggy or broken – besides Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl which were developed by ILCA. Game Freak was used to smaller platforms and from Sword & Shield onwards were expected to scale up in the midst of a pandemic. That’s when it all started to go wrong, but it isn’t until now that fans are finally starting to smell the pixelated roses. They’re probably in a bland field running at five frames per second.
While the games began to lag behind and make their shortcomings ever so clear, the wider Pokemon community and other pieces of media kept on trucking. Despite the bittersweet moment of Ash Ketchum finally earning the title of Pokemon Champion, the animated series’ cutesy aesthetic and willingness to experiment with new characters and storylines has kept it fresh, far outweighing the games’ bland visuals. Official merchandise is equally expressive, each season bringing with it new collectible goodies intent on bankrupting fans as I do the most envious of window shopping. I’m not a hardcore fan of the card game, but it’s clear from the musings of my friends that it keeps kicking ass, and the act of pulling a rare card ignites way more conversation than hunting for obnoxious shinies in Legends: Arceus.
Even creatives in the community seem to beat Game Freak at its own game. Whenever new character or Pokemon designs are revealed, artists go into overdrive to produce fun new interpretations of them in a matter of hours, even if some of them are a little too filthy and present the fandom as a bunch of lowly degenerates. Outside of that, it is clear there is a passion for Pokemon that has long moved beyond the mainline games, essential given that they keep on letting us down. I have never been an overly passionate player of them, but as someone who exists even on the periphery of popular culture, I am aware of where each one goes and have an ingrained interest to check them out. Whenever I do, it’s as if I've been plopped into a weird bootleg dimension that doesn’t fairly represent everything this property is capable of, or at least doesn’t give it the appropriate level of respect.
Take them away from Game Freak, or at least give the next instalment enough time and a sufficient budget to realise this vision without working down to the wire. Scarlet & Violet is a clear sign that things aren’t working right now, and a big change needs to come along or we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Hopefully its successful yet polarising launch will be a wake-up call, and it isn’t treated with indifference purely because people will pick it up no matter what. I’m not a cynic when it comes to Pokemon games, but again and again I keep wishing they were as good as everything else the franchise pumps out on a regular basis. It’s capable of being so much more. Instead we’re once again settling for mediocrity.
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