LifeIsXbox’s Pokémon Violet review | Pokémon is a series that needs no introduction, it’s the highest grossing IP in the world and whenever a new entry is released, it always tops the charts. Last year we were so spoiled, we even got two main-line entries in a single year with Pokémon Legends: Arceus exploring an open world approach for the first time, which focuses more on the catching than the battling.
With Violet/Scarlet however, we’re back to the default formula of beating gyms and the Elite Four on our quest to become a Pokémon champion, but they’ve kept the open world and removed almost all of the linear stuff. If that is a good decision, will be something we discover in this review.
After a boring slideshow intro, I was treated with a nice scenery in my bedroom and was already wondering what the fuss was about with this game looking terrible, as everyone was claiming online.
Now, Pokémon games are a series I’ve always enjoyed, and I’ve beaten all the main releases, but I do like to take them slow. That’s why this review is appearing a few months later, as I wanted to give it the proper attention without rushing through. Now that I’ve seen the credits roll (with Ed Sheeran music playing in the background, I kid you not) it’s time to write about my thoughts.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code provided by Nintendo, this review is the personal opinion of the writer. Got unanswered questions about this game? Get in touch on Twitter!
What we Liked!
- The Open World | Credit where credit is due: I really like exploring the open world. I love setting my sights on a location in the distance and then getting tempted to explore because I saw something shiny drawing my attention away and Pokémon Violet is 35+ hours of that very experience. There is always an item to collect, a TM to learn or a trainer battle close by that will sidetrack you from whatever it is that you thought you were doing. It’s easily the most fun I’ve had with a Pokémon title since Black & White and that’s really saying something.
- The Pokémon | This may sound like a weird bullet point, but in earlier releases, I’ve had a hard time finding a team that I really like, both type-wise and how cool they looked visually. Pokémon Violet has some of the best-looking designs in recent memory, and it also gives you plenty of freedom right from the start to get a varied crew together. I wasn’t too big of a fan of the starter Pokémon choice this time around and even ditched my fire crocodile altogether because I was not too fond of the look of his final evolution. For those interested, here is the team I beat the game with:
- NPC designs | While I hated the default school uniform that everyone wears, there are at least some cool characters to save the day and I loved talking to them and how expressive their faces were versus the lack of animation in the rest of the game. The few story moments were all pretty enjoyable in the end because of them.
- Riding Miraidon | At the very start of the game, you’ll get control over Miraidon, a futuristic-looking Pokémon that you can’t use to fight (yet) but that you can ride around to get across the world faster. Eventually, you’ll get to jump higher, fly around, swim and climb steep walls with him and that’s when the game really opens up.
- Main Story | I’m not expecting novel-class writing in a Pokémon game, but did find myself caring about some of its characters towards the end and even becoming somewhat invested in the main narrative when it became clear that (SPOILERS) some amount of time-travel is involved. Would be cool if we ever get to explore that futuristic setting, maybe even in a DLC?
- The school setting | Having the entire story centred around a student going to school is actually pretty interesting, but they didn’t use the concept to the fullest. After the initial introduction and forced narrative parts, I rarely went back to the central school building because there wasn’t anything of interest. For newcomers to Pokémon, there are some mildly informative classes you can take, but for veterans like myself, it felt like padding and text I wish I could skip through quicker. Oh, and I flat out dislike the school uniforms everyone wears. From 10-year-olds to people that are visibly pushing retirement age, they all wear the same shorts and suspenders outfit that just looks silly.
- Team Star | All the Pokémon games have some kind of “enemy” team you’ll have to face, usually with plans to take over the world or outright destroy it. In Pokémon Violet, you’re just dealing with a group of bullied students and started a team to gather people who wanted to stop that. For some reason, we find ourselves in a plot that tries to disband them, even though I never really got why that was necessary. Instead of fighting regular Pokémon battles against them, you’ll pick 3 of your team and run around their camp, summoning them out into the open to beat the enemy Pokémon. It was dull and always way too easy, but I guess it gave us something different to do. There is also this fight against the team leaders at the end of every camp where they ride a giant disco car, which is so outlandish, it swung back from “disliked” to “mixed feelings”.
- Sound | There are some locations that have surprisingly nice background music, especially towards the end of the game and you can bet I was surprised to hear Ed Sheeran’s Celestial through the Nintendo Switch speakers when the credits were rolling. Still weird to hear Pokémon cries that are almost identical to their Game Boy origins though, and it’s also high time that a Pokémon game is fully voiced!
- Terrestializing Pokémon | Each Pokémon title has a new gimmick these days, ranging from Mega-evolution to supersizing them for a few turns. In Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, you’ll have the opportunity to change your Pokémon’s type to a specific one and also further boost their attacks of the same type. It looks kind of silly with the matching type giving them a sort of hat, like a giant lightbulb if its terra-type is electric and the animation, while good-looking, also gets boring quick and can’t be skipped. Fighting opposing terra-Pokémon is also one of the biggest draws for its post-game, letting you catch famous or special Pokémon that don’t normally appear in the game.
- Navigating the open world | The map is pretty horrendous and I constantly struggled to get to a specific area on the map like a Gym I spotted or a Team Star location. To make matters worse, you have to unlock your ride’s abilities one by one through defeating Titans. Only when you unlock its full potential does it feel like you can get anywhere you want without getting lost as you navigate around a hillside that is too steep to climb. It also doesn’t help that Pokémon Violet doesn’t really tell you where to go next, and that you’ll have to resort to online guides to find the best path for your current team’s level.
What we Disliked
- Terrible graphics | Pokémon Violet is NOT a pretty game. It even managed to look and perform worse than Pokémon Legends: Arceus and that already felt like a borderline insult to fans of the series. It’s hard to grasp how a company with this much budget and yearly profits is satisfied with shipping a game that looks this blurry, pixelated and often sloppy. The Nintendo Switch is really showing its age, but that’s no excuse if you have games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 showing us such beautiful open worlds.
- Choppy performance | Pokémon running around in the distance look like GIF animations that only have 5 different frames and you’ll see details load as you approach them. If you’re the type of player that stares off into the horizon for things that might be interesting to explore, you’ll mostly see vast empty spaces that look like someone used MS Paint to colour it in.
- Full of clipping bugs | With the open world exploration comes huge areas to ride around in on your new vehicular Pokémon and you’ll often find yourself clipping into a mountain or building or fighting opponents while only seeing the green hill you’re standing on until you rotate the battle camera just right. It happens often and looks like a mess whenever it occurs.
How long to beat the story | ~35 hours
How long to complete | ~50-75 hours for a full Pokédex
You’ll love this game if you like these | Other Pokémon games or other JRPG titles
Pokémon Violet is the most fun I’ve had with a Pokémon title in many years, but you have to allow yourself to look past its many flaws. Flaws that don’t get in the way of the enjoyment, but that are understandably scrutinized by fans of the series. We deserve better.
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Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.