Few franchises have a better pitch than Pokémon: tame and trained magical beasts battle each other, team up to save the world, and eventually become “the very best like no one has ever been.”
Whether each game brings the player into this dream is another question. The previous games in the main series, 2019’s Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, are notorious for not doing this. However, additional content for these games quickly got under way again, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which released in early 2022, is really making magic. Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet aim to continue that upward trend, and from this reviewer’s experience with Violet, the game is a success and it’s easy to see how the series can shine even brighter.
Catching, raising, and battling Pokémon is more enchanting than ever. The new combat mechanics introduced in this game are creative and allow for exciting possibilities that this review won’t spoil. The biggest problem with the system is the lack of a difficulty setting. This is an all-ages game, which means the adventure needs to be accessible, but there’s no button to give opponents stronger Pokemon or more complicated strategies. Instead, you have to create self-imposed rules to increase the challenge of the game, and still you can’t create new enemies. However, this is an easily fixable problem for the next “Pokémon” games.
The first fully open-world game in the series, Pokémon Violet is a great first step into this new system of world design, with compelling pricing for exploration and a surprising level of freedom of movement. There is a simple and powerful joy in climbing a mountain that seemed impossible to climb and finding a rare item or special event at the top. However, there’s still significant room for growth in future games in this department, as the environments are largely unmemorable (with one notable exception) and the human settlements are uninteresting. These cities lack distinct cultures, interesting populations, or exclusive activities. There’s also very limited interaction between Pokémon and humans in the cities, which is a shame since introducing Pokémon into everyday city life could turn these places into attractions. Imagine a mountain town where flying Pokémon transport people between buildings, or a city with a parade where Pokémon use their abilities to create a light show.
However, the most frustrating of all the game’s best elements is a lack of this world’s technical presentation. The game just runs badly and the graphics are of low quality. Older “Pokémon” games, with pixelated, two-dimensional overworlds and Pokémon battles, used the power of suggestion to their advantage, allowing players to imagine the world in more detail and create something far beyond the technical capabilities of a video game. A three-dimensional open-world adventure where you can travel anywhere, this game needs to represent its world as accurately as possible to keep players happy. At worst, instead of inviting players to join the game to fully construct this world, Pokémon Violet invites players to imagine a better piece of software.
The story here, unlike many Pokémon games, isn’t a formulaic tale about an evil organization hunting a divine Pokémon to fulfill their ambitions. Instead, the player’s character is simply a school kid in the Pokémon universe whose friends bring them into the game’s main adventures. While these don’t capture an adult’s attention for their entire duration, they are excellent stories for younger players about empathy. The three main supporting characters – Nemona, Arven and Penny – all have problematic aspects in their personalities and difficulties that define them. Despite this, the player finds the good and gets the best out of them. Our friends aren’t perfect, the game argues, but we shouldn’t expect that. Being human means connecting with other people in our brokenness, as our relationships can build us to be better. This is an invaluable lesson for players of all ages.
Pokémon is still working out the details of its dream, but Pokémon Violet is a wonderful blueprint for adventures to come and a very good game in its own right. While its world needs more splendor and its adventure more flexibility, “Pokémon Violet” still has magic. It may not make older gamers want to follow the franchise, but hopefully this builds into the show that will sweep the world, the long-awaited realization of the dream. But it looks like Pokemon Violet is still worth enchanting, even if the stitching of the imagination is showing.
Contact Ayden at [email protected].