10 Hours With… Pokémon Scarlet

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently playing Pokémon Scarlet, one of the two new mainline Pokémon games – you may have heard of them, haha! They feature the new, open-world region of Paldea and plenty other new innovations to the series, so there’s a lot to discuss. However, with the game naturally being large and expansive, I’m not even close to finishing Scarlet, and nor would I like to be just yet. I’m currently around 15 hours in and roughly halfway through the three main quests, but I already have alot of thoughts I’d like to put into an article. Therefore, it’s handy I have my “10 Hours With… ” series on this site, eh?

In this post, I’m going to run through my experience and opinions on Pokémon Scarlet thus far. By the time I get to the end of the game, these opinions may well change (or evolve, if you will?), and I’ll likely put that into a follow-up post down the line, probably in a wrap-up about games I’ve played during 2022! Right then, let’s go – I’ll attempt to break my thoughts up into relatively coherent sections, as usual!

Pals in Paldea

My regular approach for the build-up to a new Pokémon generation is to look at as little marketing material as possible post-announcement, and Scarlet/Violet was no different. All I really knew about was the general art style, the three Starter Pokémon (Fuecoco forever!), and that the game would be entirely open-world; in terms of details beyond that, I was happy to go in blind. Seeing new Pokémon designs and evolutions in-game is always such a joy for me.

As I settled into the start of Pokémon Scarlet, it immediately felt both familiar and unfamiliar as the usual Pokémon introduction played out. You start in your room, meet your Mom, and run into your rival soon after. This time your rival figure is Nemona, a character with an infectious enthusiasm for Pokémon and specifically Pokémon battling. A neat difference here is that Nemona is already Champion level! You’re about to enroll at the same school as Nemona, the Naranja Academy (or Uva Academy in Violet) at the centre of the Paldea region map. Here, students learn about the world of Pokémon (I know, shock), and if they excel, they can reach the Pokémon League and acquire Champion level. Nintendo franchises are really embracing the whole school vibe recently aren’t they, with the likes of Fire Emblem: Three Houses and now Pokémon Scarlet/Violet!

So, Nemona is a friend, your rival, and also a Champion for you to target. In your Pokémon battles with her, she explains how she’s choosing different Pokémon from her collection for you to battle depending on where you’ve gotten to in the game, which explains why she isn’t immediately stomping you with her Champion team! This also gives her character some immediate depth, as it makes you believe she’s genuinely got her own PC boxes full of her own Pokémon too. I really like Nemona as a character (her battle music is awesome, too!) and am looking forward to see where her story goes in the later stages of Pokémon Scarlet.

Before you get to Naranja for the first time, there’s of course the traditional choice of Starter Pokémon to make. You’ve got the elegant Grass-type Sprigatito, the adorable Fire-type Fuecoco, and the stylish Water-type Quaxly to choose from. The game smartly lets you have a wander with all three at the start, allowing you to get to know each of them and simultaneously show off the open-world nature of Paldea where Pokémon can roam with you outside of their Poké Balls. For me, the choice had to be Fuecoco! The clumsiness, big smile, and general endearing goofiness of this little Fire crocodile was irresistible. There’s even a sweet cutscene where Fuecoco accidentally lights their food on fire, before proceeding to attempt to eat it anyway, and find themselves chomping on rock-hard burnt food!

Feeling Free

This isn’t the end of the introduction sequence, though. Nemona shows you the way to the first traditional route section of the map, where you get the familiar catching tutorial before exploring by yourself a bit. If Pokémon Scarlet is inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at all (which c’mon, it clearly is), then this is a microcosm of the Great Plateau from Hyrule; an open route with Pokémon roaming around, trainers to battle, and items to find to train you in the visual language of how the larger map works later on. In many ways, items are used as motivational markers to beckon you around the environment in the way that the developers would like. The shining rays that go up from items reminded me of how the glow of a Shrine would pull you around Hyrule, too.

On your way to Mesagoza, which houses the Naranja Academy, you encounter the box art Legendary Koraidon (or Moraidon in Violet), and I was surprised this happened so early! They’re in a weakened form, but they save you after you fall off a cliff and are attacked by Pokémon on your way back (yeah I know, intense), and end up coming along with you. You cannot battle with Koraidon (at least, not yet), but they can be ridden around Paldea, and they essentially act as your form of traversal so that you’re not going everywhere on foot. I guess there’s no traditional Pokémon bicycles in Paldea! You also meet Arven in the midst of this, another Naranja student who has their own ties to Koraidon, which come into play later on.

If I sound positive on Scarlet so far, that’s because I am! Already at this point of the game you can tell this is something fresh for the series, taking the open approach of the Wild Area in Sword/Shield and the entirety of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and merging it with the mainline games we know and love. Pokémon roaming around freely, streamlined battling and catching mechanics, vibrant new characters… Imagine showing this to someone playing the original Red/Green/Blue back in the ’90s and seeing their reaction. This is where we’ve been asking the Pokémon series to go, and they’re listening.

However, in this first section, some of my issues with the game do make their presence felt. That is to say, the noticeably inconsistent framerate and some other graphical issues. Often you’ll see Pokémon in the environment with animations that aren’t smooth, or the game itself will struggle to keep up with the transition into a new busy area and the framerate will slow down markedly for a few seconds. Furthermore, if you start a Pokémon battle at an awkward location where there’s an incline, the angle of the camera may get stuck and show pop-in from under the map, which is very distracting. These are issues I can’t ignore, but I will say that they’re far from game-breaking for me. When a Pokémon game feels a fresh and new as this, with character and Pokémon designs this engrossing, then the graphical hiccups are only minor complaints for me personally.

The other complaint I have with Pokémon Scarlet is that most buildings are inaccessible. In both the first small town Los Platos and Mesagoza itself, the houses you see dotted around cannot be entered in the way most buildings could be in previous Pokémon regions, and this really hurts the lived-in feel of these places. There’s few conversations to have on the streets, and the petrol-station-style Pokémon Centres are efficient but lacking many extra personalities mingling about them. Subsequently, these towns and cities become more about getting in, going to the landmarks, and leaving, instead of really having their own unique atmospheres. When you do get to Mesagoza, it’s a huge, sprawling city, but the many shops are mostly fronts for menus showing the items you can buy. There’s plenty of options available, from meals and ingredients for picnics and getting temporary buffs, to a range of clothes shops for switching up your look, but only one or two can actually be entered and walked around, and I found this very disappointing.

School’s Out

Right, back to more positive stuff! Just before entering Mesagoza, you meet Nemona again and she shows you the Terastal effect and how it works in-battle. Every Pokémon game seems to have a new battle mechanic nowadays whether we like it or not, for example the Mega Evolutions in X/Y or Dynamax in Sword/Shield. Terastallizing your Pokémon can be done only once before you need to revisit a Pokémon Centre to refresh the Tera Orb item that allows it. Once Terastallized, Pokémon change to their Tera type, which can be different from their original types, and this brings a whole host of modifiers to the way Same-Type-Attack-Bonus (STAB) works in-battle – and being able to change the type of a Pokémon of course completely change their resistances and weaknesses. I’ve got to say, whilst I don’t like how every region is adding new mechanic upon new mechanic, I find Terastallizing a very creative new idea that opens up a lot of strategic options.

For someone like me, who likes to make a Mono-type Steel team every Generation, it means I can technically make any Pokémon into a Steel-type if I manage to find one with a Steel Tera type! As Arcanine is my favourite Pokémon, I’m now searching for a Steel Tera type Growlithe/Arcanine… Which brings me onto how you find these Pokémon. Sometimes you’ll see a bright, shining Pokémon roaming around the map which you can battle and catch, or otherwise you have to seek out the Raid dens that are mostly copied over from Sword/Shield, and these Pokémon are stronger, so it’s not always easy to catch them. As an extra note, I will say that the crystal aesthetic of Terastallizing is very pretty, and the effect of Poké Balls and Pokémon getting this crystal shell and then having it break apart is genuinely gorgeous.

After all this, plus an introductory tussle with villains Team Star (who’ll we’ll get onto later), you’re finally at Naranja Academy. Plenty of personalities reside here across the various classrooms, and you can return to these later in the game as new lessons become available. The game largely rushes through your first days at the Academy, because it really would like you to get to the main quests; the school and Director Clavell challenges the students to embark on a Treasure Hunt, searching out their own treasure. This is basically just a reason to let the player explore the vast Paldea region, which is structured into three main quests. Firstly, you have the classic eight Gyms to battle through so that you can eventually take on the Pokémon League, and this is where Nemona pops up the most. Then, you have the Titan Pokémon – these five unique, large, and strong Pokémon are dotted around the map, and Arven would like your assistance to battle them. In doing so, you’ll find out more about his character and also gain new traversal abilities with Koraidon, including gliding and sprinting (very handy). Thirdly, there are the Team Star bases to take down, and Director Clavell (amusingly in disguise), the shy Penny, and mysterious caller Cassiopeia make appearances here.

Choosing Your Path

Currently, I’ve done four of eight Gyms, three of five Titan Pokémon, and two of five Team Star bases, and have roughly explored half of Paldea. The world is entirely open, but the game certainly shepherds you towards the bottom half of the map to begin with, both environmentally and difficulty-wise. My big question was how the games would get around the natural linearity of how Pokémon levels escalate during a game. This difficulty curve makes it hard to allow a player to go in any direction, and Scarlet uses environment and story objectives to get around this… Until it doesn’t. By this, I mean that it does push you to go a certain way, and if you deviate (as you’re allowed to do), you’ll start running into Pokémon at a much higher level, but that doesn’t mean your path is blocked. It just means you’ll likely be burning health items at a much quicker rate. I went from South to West to begin with, and the second and third Gyms (Water and Psychic for me) were a brilliant challenge, because I went there a bit too soon. The Leaders had Pokémon at an equal or higher level than me; I had to really pull out all the stops, and I loved that thrill.

This all sounds good, right? Well, yes, until I eventually did start hitting lv50 Wild Pokémon with my Lv35-40 team. At this point, I thought I should stop being stubborn and go South-East. This is where the issue arises, because the trainers here were back to around the Lv15-20 mark, and by going my own way, I was now over-levelled when I went back to the areas I was supposed to go to earlier. My joy at venturing West came at the cost of making the East much less gripping, and when my Fourth Gym Leader (Grass) had Pokémon roughly Lv18-20, it really dawned on me that I was meant to be here much sooner. This is the problem with such rigid Levelling systems in an open-world, though, and it’s tough to solve. The ideal method would be some sort of level scaling, but I’m aware how difficult that would be to design. If it was possible for future Pokémon games to adjust the Pokémon Trainers you meet to, say, the average level of your team, that’d be a potential fix, perhaps?

I’ve talked alot about the Gyms, so let’s touch on the other two routes. The Gyms are my favourite path (maybe it’s the nostalgia in me), and the Titan Pokémon are my next favourite. The encounters are a bit too easy for my tastes, especially once Arven joins you in the second stage of the fights so it’s two-on-one. The story sections that play out post-fight are very intriguing so far, in particular the sub-plot with Arven’s injured Mabosstiff, but they’re also very repetitive in structure, taking the form of a picnic meal each time. They’re much better than the Team Bases, though, which I’m very disappointed by. After an initial battle to get into the Base, I was hoping for puzzle-filled bases full of Grunts to battle, as if we had a range of Team Rocket Silph Co. bases dotted around. Instead, the insides of the bases are barren areas where you have to battle enemy Pokémon in a free-roam auto-battle approach. I’ve found these straightforward, with the 10-minute time limit way too long and the Pokémon easy to defeat. Indeed, I end up just mashing R to send my Pokémon out until I defeat the quota of 30. From here, you get to fight the Base Boss in a traditional Pokémon battle – these are much better, as the Bosses are a charismatic enemy you find out more about after winning. Both bosses have had the same final Pokémon so far, though, which was a tad disappointing. One big plus point, though, is the music; I really like the Team Star battle themes. The Grunts need outfits though! The plain clothes feel generic.

I’ve most enjoyed Scarlet so far when I’ve been taking my time journeying from location to location, finding items, discovering new Pokémon, and battling against the Gym Leaders. Just like in Sword/Shield, a big strength of the game is the character design, with inventive looks and personalities all around. Take the Water Gym Leader of Cascarrafa Town, Kofu – he gives the impression of a big kid with how he runs around, forgets things, and gets excited, but is a fierce competitor in battle. The Pokémon, too, have been excellent additions so far, with a good ratio of new designs to new forms of previous Pokémon. I’m excited to travel north and discover a whole other half of Paldea, where it looks like there’ll be more snowy environments, which is totally my vibe. The southern areas have been grassy and mountainous so far, including a coastline ascent and a harsh desert, so I’m ready for something at the other end of the weather spectrum.

Steeling Myself

So that’s where I’m at in Paldea! There’re a bunch of other features I haven’t even touched on yet, like the Pokémon outbreaks and multiplayer functionality, but I frankly haven’t played around with those much yet. There’s plenty of time for that, of course, and who knows where the game will go after the Treasure Hunt! At the moment, I’m still figuring out my Pokémon team. I evolved Fuecoco fully into Skeledirge, a singing Fire/Ghost crocodile (that’s right), but they’re now making way as I put together my Steel party, prioritising new Pokémon where possible. I adore Tinkaton, the new Steel/Fairy Pokémon; the cutesy pink vibes combined with a huge anime-style metal hammer are just glorious, especially when you let Tinkaton roam next to you like a ridiculous hammer-swinging bodyguard! Oh, and through the evolutions, you’re told this Pokémon gets metal for the hammer from Pawniards and Bisharps. That’s pretty dark stuff, but I like the detailed lore.

I also have a Varoom to train up, a Steel/Poison type who evolves into Revavroom later on. As it stands, my team also contains a Flaaffy (who’ll evolve into Ampharos) with a Steel Tera type, who I’ve nicknamed Liv because of the Olivine City vibes. Furthermore, there’s Brrr the Bronzong (it’s a fun sound okay?!), as well as Lucario and Corvisquire, but this team will almost certainly change over time. I’m searching out that Steel Tera type Arcanine still! Oh, and if you’re wondering about why my Tinakaton is named C.Ya? Well, that’s inspired by D.Va of Overwatch, plus the fact that I just imagine saying “See ya” whenever Tinkaton is about to hit their enemy with that huge hammer… Yes, I know, I’m a nicknaming genius (or fool, depending on your perspective).

Time to wrap up this article! Thanks for reading through my general opinions on my first 10-15 hours with Pokémon Scarlet. If you’re playing Scarlet and/or Violet too, I hope you’re having a great time – as I say, I’ll write up my final thoughts later in the month. Seriously though, I’ll say it again; just picture showing these games to people playing Pokémon back on the Game Boy. It puts it into perspective how far the series has come!

Have an amazing day!

2 thoughts on “10 Hours With… Pokémon Scarlet

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