Friday, June 14, 2024

Koraidon from Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. 

I didn't dislike Scarlet and Violet, but I also didn't think they were the strongest entries in the core series. I feel like they had some good ideas and timely innovations, but didn't implement them to their utmost effectiveness. 

My main issue with SV is that in a nonlinear massive open-world RPG format, there really needs to be more for the player to do, and more ways to flesh out the game world, than the main plotline. Scarlet and Violet gave no compelling incentive to stray outside the path from one plot goal to the next, except for (extremely repetitive) Tera Raid Battles and the (occasional, very sparse) NPC trainer battle. A generous amount of sidequests would have really helped pad out the main plotline content in a meaningful way, like in Legends: Arceus (which I greatly enjoyed). 

I know Scarlet and Violet were trying to do the whole Zelda: Breath of the Wild thing, but I think maybe the developers should have more carefully scrutinized the really smart design choices that make BotW such a fantastic game, including the fact that BotW uses copious amounts of side quests to encourage you to explore off the beaten path, making full use of its enormous world map. When I played Pokémon Violet, I felt like I was constantly having to invent excuses to not have to zoom straight to the next plot destination and finish the game too quickly, and a tightly-designed game should create those excuses for you.

In addition, I feel like Paldea was extremely lacking in lore and development past, basically, the personalities of the named NPCs and the main (a.k.a. only) plotline. It's a big place with really not a whole lot going on outside of its towns--or even in its towns, which are mostly just buildings you can't enter and soulless menu-based shops. This is a shame and a real downgrade after every other previous core series game was crammed full of helpful and entertaining NPCs, usually some sort of addictive side activity or two (I loved Black 2 and White 2's Join Avenue and Pokéstar Studios), and busy environments that really helped bring the world to life. Scarlet and Violet, for all their fancy graphics and massive overworld roaming, ultimately aren't a whole lot but landscape, and landscape alone does not make an immersive RPG experience. 

Another, more minor quibble is that I feel like the player character customization took maybe one step forward and one step back in Scarlet and Violet. I loved the ability to customize your character's facial features in a more involved way than just changing the eye color and makeup, but I hated that you were stuck wearing variations of your school uniform the whole time, and most of the accessories were just not appealing (neither were most of the hairstyles, to be frank). The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero introduced a paltry handful of new outfits and accessories, but not even being able to individually choose what top and bottom you're wearing just feels extremely restrictive after the customization systems in previous Pokémon games. Hopefully they won't do that again, because it's not the 2000s anymore; games nowadays certainly have the memory capacity to let your characters wear whatever you want.

In summary, Scarlet and Violet sort of have the vibe of being cautiously noncommittal, like the developers wanted to make a mechanically innovative Pokémon game but didn't dare to inject a significant amount of personality into it, maybe in an attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. The problem is that when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one and making a really vanilla game that lacks a solid creative direction. I think I can speak for a lot of Pokémon fans when I say that what got me hooked on the franchise, and has kept me playing all these years, is the experience of exploring and being immersed in vibrant, lively worlds with plenty of quirky charm around every corner. Scarlet and Violet just don't give that same type of satisfaction; it's more an exercise in speaking to the like five NPC's in a city with unique dialogue, and then wandering off into vast empty spaces to train your Pokémon before heading for the next plot point. That's the sort of RPG gameplay model we outgrew in the 90's. In 2022, and from Pokémon, I expect more.

Honestly I want to see another Pokémon Gold/Silver(/Crystal) remake. Generation II was my favorite and I want more reasons to doink around in Johto. (I actually started playing Crystal again recently and fell in love with it all over again. Gen II was brilliant. We need more like it.)

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