Why am I so late talking about this? Well, first of all, I co-own a Nintendo Switch Lite with my brother. He lives at home, and I live near my university. Because he works full-time 40 hours a week, and I work approximately 70 hours a week between classes and university jobs, it made more sense for our joint-custody Nintendo to live with him for a little bit. Now that classes are over for the semester, and I’m back home for however long, it’s time for me to finally figure out what all the buzz was about. Neat. So, as I play Pokemon Scarlet for the first time ever, allow me to dispense my first takes on the game. Five glaring gripes, and five soaring praises. Let’s crack in.
10. Con - The Cutscenes
One of my favorite parts about the earlier Pokemon games, from Generation 1 to Generation 5, is the replayability. You can just start a new game, choose a new starter, and design a completely new team without too much hassle. But why, God, why do I have to sit through two hours of cutscenes just to have free reign over the beautiful open world of Pokemon Scarlet? This isn’t a Scarlet problem purely. Pokemon Sun and Moon are my least favorite main-series Pokemon games for the extensive tutorial period alone, and Sword and Shield only continued to latch on to that trend in Pokemon games. Upon my second playthrough, I learned that some cutscenes are skippable through an option in the Settings menu, but that does very little to cut down on the sheer number of cutscenes I must endure.
9. Pro - The Inclusivity
Listen, I’m a straight cis white man. I’ve been that way since I was born, and I’ll continue to be that way until I die. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy when Pokemon continues to expand its inclusivity. When Crystal introduced a female player character, I was a toddler, so I didn’t get the chance to be happy about that. But when Pokemon X and Y introduced player customization with different hair colors and skin tones, I was pleasantly chuffed. As Pokemon strives for immersivity, it’s important for players to see themselves in their characters. Pokemon Scarlet goes a step further, and makes traditionally gendered clothing and hairstyles open for all genders. This is wild, and while I personally do not benefit from this, it’s certainly a step in the right direction from a company I appreciate and trust.
8. Con - Power-Scaling
My first playthrough, I found myself in the desert. My Rotom-phone went off; lo and behold, Arven was calling to tell me that a Titan Pokemon was nearby. Gleefully, I looked for it. An enormous Donphan. Delightful. It eviscerated my whole team.
Listen, I’ve spent thousands of hours playing Skyrim. I know the joy that unfolds when you find a boss enemy that used to give you problems, only to dispatch it in a few choice attacks because you’ve leveled up so much. I’ve been launched into the stratosphere by Giants only to come back and kill them with a x3 boosted sneak attack from a Dragonbone Bow after hours of gameplay. But this feels a little too lopsided, especially in a game that gives you very little direction. No, my level 24 Fletchinder is not equipped to handle a Rapid Spin from a big-ass Donphan. Stop making me watch my babies die, Gamefreak.
7. Pro - The Challenge
Okay, I know it sounds like I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too, but GOD, I love the rush of this game. There’s something gripping about running into a boss monster you’re not equipped to handle through brute force, only to have to find a new way to get past it. Drawing from the Donphan example, I was able to beat it on my first attempt. Why? It wasn’t because my Fletchinder was absurdly powerful, or because Clodsire could one-shot it. I had to draw on strengths from each of my individual team members to figure out the perfect strategy to take it down, only knowing a little bit about the monster I was facing. The challenges in this game feel so fresh, and without sheer power as my crutch, I have to think on my feet. It’s a bracing experience, and so rewarding when little Sodium-Boy the Naclstack smacks Ancient Donphan with a Salt Cure which compounds with the lucky burn Fletchinder gave the beast, leading to one final Seed Bomb from Quadruped the Floragato. I haven’t been this absorbed in the results of a Pokemon battle since facing Ghetsis at the end of Pokemon White.
6. Con - The Graphical Bugs
Okay, so these don’t take me out of it as much as I thought they would. After all, I’m cultivating a love affair with Bethesda. It was never about reliable graphics. But couldn’t they at least fix the frame rate at larger distances? Sometimes it works with the art direction, but most of the time, it just makes it feel like the game was animated by a middle schooler learning to make a flip book of a ball bouncing across the page.
5. Pro - The Immersivity
Okay, so even though I clip through the ground whenever a Pokemon evolves, how cool is it that Pokemon has near-perfected the shift from the overworld into battle? Sure, Legends: Arceus worked it in well, but the battle mechanics took a lot of getting used to, and it wasn’t a main-series Pokemon game. Here I genuinely enjoy seeing a Pokemon in the overworld and actually, consciously taking steps to send out a Pokemon to battle it. Auto-battling is neat as well, and the world is so vivid and diverse. Every environment blends seamlessly in with the rest of Paldea, and the fact that it’s all continuous amazes me.
4. Con - LET MY POKEMON KEEP PACE WITH ME
This is a minor gripe, but, I mean, come on. I caught a Paldean Wooper as soon as I could. I named him Woopy. I loved him like a son. I let him out of his Pokeball, watched him hop along behind me, and then my heart broke when I very quickly outpaced him! And then he went back in his Pokeball automatically. LET ME WALK WITH WOOPY, GAMEFREAK. HE IS MY PAL AND HE JUST WANTS TO SEE PALDEA WITH ME.
3. Pro - The Characters
I often bemoan the fact that it’s been such a long time since we last had a rival who hates us. I appreciated N’s cold respect, and I guess I see what Gamefreak was going for when they gave us Gladion and Bede, but it all just felt so off. I genuinely can’t tell the difference between Hop and Hau, and the rival from the Let’s Go! games is just absurdly friendly, and I loathe him. By these parameters, I guess the last good rival was Silver, but honestly, I just want some dimensionality from my rivals, so by those parameters, I guess the last good rivals were Cheren, Bianca, and N.
Nemona and Arven, though? I love these kids. Arven is such a brilliantly-designed and fleshed-out character with so much tragedy and adversity behind him, and Nemona is just fun. They both suit the tonality of the story as best they can. I compare it to Yu-Gi-Oh! GX but with Pokemon. The given circumstances allow the characters to be fun and plucky, but also allows for some growth and maturity as the story progresses. The stakes of the Team Star storyline (telling a bunch of students to get their butts in class) suits the location (school for Pokemon battling). It’s allowed to be absurd.
2. Con - No Catching In Overworld
I just really miss this from Legends: Arceus. Why can’t I see a level 30 Vespiquen in the olive grove and throw a surprise Pokeball at it? Why do I have to put my Flamigo in harm’s way? I like my Flamigo. He’s my best amigo. I understand why this choice was made from a game design perspective. The goal of this game is to battle, not to catch. But I miss the overworld-skill you needed in Legends: Arceus. Plus my other brother borrowed my copy of Legends: Arceus six months ago before I could complete it and hasn’t given it back, so maybe I just really want to play Legends: Arceus again.
1. Pro - Clodsire
Guys, look at this precious boy.
I ran into a million problems in Pokemon Scarlet, but at every one of them, I could send Clodsire at the problem and watch them melt away. It’s not just that he’s adorable. Clodsire has, like, two weaknesses and a trillion resistances and immunities. Facing a trainer? Boom, Toxic Spikes lays waste to their either team. Trying to catch a new Pokemon? Guess who comes equipped with Yawn! Accidentally find your way into a battle with a Pokemon twice your level? Clodsire probably resists it! Numerous times, I could count on Clodsire to get me out of a sticky situation, and to be honest, I would have bought this game for Clodsire alone. Truly the most perfect Pokemon in the world. I need Clodsire merchandise this instant.
So, there you have it. Ten gripes and praises about Pokemon Scarlet. Let me know in the comments which other Pokemon games you want me to pick apart!
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