You’re either into Pokémon, or you’re not. My review won’t change that. I was 11 when the original Pokémon Red was released. I was the target audience. I’m a Pokémon guy for life. I’m going to like every Pokémon game; it’s just about how much I will like it.
I don’t know how they did it. How did Game Freak manage to make both the single greatest and worst Pokémon game to date? How can I love eating this mud pie for hours on end? How is this the most innovative, game-changing formula players have been craving, while at the same time a mess that lacks basic features found in games from several generations ago? It’s confusing, exciting, sad, and a tour de force all at the same time. It’s also the only game I want to play right now.
Pokémon Violet does so many things correctly that it’s hard to know where to begin talking about them. In a way, we’re finally free from the gym grind. The traditional gym path is the weakest of the three mainline stories. Being forced to take Pokemon classes is a close second in the missteps of the storytelling. Thankfully those two blunders are made up for in the other two paths.
Pokémon has never been huge on story, but Violet is trying to change that. You have three paths you can follow this time. The traditional gym path, making your way from place to place, challenging the leader of a town’s gym to earn badges and eventually take on the Elite Four and, finally, the champion of Paldea. There’s also the Titan path and the Starfall path. Each one provides a different story and plenty of variety not usually seen in mainline Pokémon games.
Gyms have changed a bit in Violet. This time you have a single battle with the gym leader to earn your badge. Before you can officially challenge them, you need to complete a special task, usually associated with something around the area you're currently at. I found the pre-gym battle tasks silly, having little to do with Pokémon. I don’t get how trying to push a giant olive into a hole like its putt-putt has anything to do with challenging a gym leader to a Pokémon battle. The gym battles are good, solid fights that get harder as you progress, but nothing new or exciting. The gym path is the same old, same old. And that’s fine. The premise is strong, has worked for decades, and continues to do so in Violet.
The gym leaders are usually a little over the top in appearance, but Violet has reined them in for the worse. They look normal, boring, and bland. One in particular, Larry, is the worst offender. He’s the Normal-type gym leader, and I can’t express how normal he is by all appearances. I get that he’s supposed to, but it’s just not fun. Most of the bosses feel and look this way. Iono was the only gym leader that actually had much of a personality, even if it was one I found annoying.
Pokémon Violet stresses that gyms can be tackled in any order; just pick a direction and head out. The problem is tying the gym badges to Pokémon levels. The Pokémon still only obey and listen to someone with enough badges to control them. That’s not the only problem with gyms. Gyms can be tackled in any order, which is great, but the gyms do not scale to your current level when you battle. Instead, they have pre-set levels, just like every Pokémon title before. Saying you can tackle them in any order is, in fact, a lie. You have to take on Katy, the bug-type gym leader, first. Her Pokémon are around level 15, the lowest levels of any gym leader; if you wait too long, you’ll breeze through it.
As I said, Pokémon Violet adds two more paths of playing in addition to the gym badge path. The Titan path has you take on massive-sized Pokémon who are eating some type of plant to make them bigger and stronger. At the start of Violet, you are alerted to the locations of all the Titans, and again, you are told that you can take them down in any order, but again, you can’t. Like the gyms, the Titans do not scale to your current level. Try too early, and you won’t stand a chance, wait too long, and it’s a cakewalk. While this path was the most straightforward, the story it brings you on is not. Easily one of the more exciting stories to see play out in a Pokémon title, I don’t want to say anything more about it other than I was most happy to see this one to its conclusion out of the three.
The third path has you take on Team Star, this game’s version of Team Rocket. School bullies have formed several hideouts throughout Paldea for you to take down. Again, the same problem persists. You can take them down in any order, but it’s best to start with the lowest level and work your way up. This path feels the most different from traditional Pokémon games. You break into a hideout, and instead of taking on a handful of random Team Star bullies, you bring three of your Pokémon with you as they run around taking out random Pokémon, before facing the hideout’s boss in a traditional Pokémon fight. Each hideout focuses on a different Pokémon type, like the gyms and Titans; you even get a badge after taking them down. I liked how different this part of the game felt. Running around an area with three Pokémon out of their Pokéballs was fun; the experience felt how Pokémon should feel in 2022.
The real issue isn’t that the story does not scale the level of Pokémon to fight while you work your way through the game. The problem is the façade of being able to go wherever you want, doing what feels best to you at that time. There is a hint about which gym to start with, but that’s it. If Game Freak had set out a list of what to tackle and when to tackle it, I would have been much happier. Instead I was forced to go online and search for one. I found a couple that did a great job of explaining which order of events to tackle to properly see and experience the game. I can’t believe I had to look online to find the correct way to play through this game.
A ton of features are two steps in the right direction. Being able to heal your Pokémon on the first menu screen, instead of diving through several menus, is a welcome change that should have happened generations ago. Saving the game is just a single button press away, making it easier when you come across a shiny Pokémon. The UI overall has had a facelift; pulling Pokéballs out, auto battling, all of it is for the better. Even small functions like being able to tell you’ve already caught a Pokémon are welcoming. While a lot of these features have been asked for several generations ago, having them now is a case of better late than never.
But along with those two steps forward, Pokémon also takes two steps backward with a host of problems. The biggest issue for me was the frame rate. Watching NPCs walk was such a struggle. Sometimes it looks like they’re just walking in slow motion only to walk normally when you get right next to them. There are plenty of other graphical issues. Watching random people or Pokémon walk through the middle of fights never gets old. I can recreate riding my invisible motorcycle every time. Watching my character make all kinds of contortions straight out of the Exorcist.
The overall look and landscape of Violet also feels pretty dated. While the world does feel a bit more full of life compared to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, it still feels empty at times. I also can’t catch Pokémon outside of battle like I could in the last game.
Pokémon Violet is a two-steps-forward, two-steps-back title. Every new, innovative, exciting gameplay mechanic is marred by a weakness that should not exist. Everywhere you look, there are problems; the terrible frame rates, the lack of character customization, and the lack of level scaling Pokémon Violet desperately needs. I simply wish Violet was the open-world experience it claims to be. There is an order to play; if Violet would have told me the order, I would have enjoyed it more. Instead, I felt I had to backtrack to see all the content in a random order. But as someone who’s played every mainline title since he was 11 years old, I am willing to forgive so much to enjoy Pokémon Violet.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).
While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).View Profile