Pokémon Scarlet and Violet could have been so much more


Pokémon Scarlet and Violet arrived a little less than half-baked and buggier than any of the franchise’s previous mainline entries. But for all of the glitches, frame rate dropping, and straight-up crashes that plagued players as they first began exploring the Paldea Region, the promise of new DLC content gave many hope that the games would get some much-needed polish in due time.

The Hidden Treasures of Area Zero: The Teal Mask — this generation’s first DLC drop — delivered on that promise to a certain extent with its streamlined story and slightly different approach to presenting new locations in the larger Pokémon world. And that was even more true of The Hidden Treasures of Zero’s second chapter — The Indigo Disk — which established a number of promising connections between Paldea and Pokémon Black and White’s Unova Region.

In small yet significant ways, both halves of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s DLC made the games as a whole feel closer to the finished product Nintendo and Game Freak probably wanted to lead with. But neither The Teal Mask nor The Indigo Disk ever really delivered in terms of fixing the things that felt fundamentally broken about this generation of core Pokémon titles, and the same goes for Scarlet and Violet’s newly released epilogue, Mochi Mayhem.

After years of the Pokémon games and anime making it seem like going to school was optional for young trainers, Scarlet and Violet turned getting an education into one of the key parts of one’s path to becoming a true Champion. Unlike the smaller schools that appeared in older games, Scarlet and Violet’s Naranja and Uva Academies were seemingly massive places where students were meant to meet new friends and monsters as part of a nontraditional educational experience built around exploring the outside world.

Given how well games like Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Persona 5 incorporated student life into both their narratives and game play, it seemed like Game Freak wanted to do something similar with Scarlet and Violet when the games were first released. Despite that seemingly being the intention, though, what became clear as players began matriculating at Naranja / Uva was that while the schools might have looked somewhat impressive from the outside, on the inside, they were rather lifeless places filled with stiff NPCs, and menus (rather than explorable hallways) guiding you to a handful of classrooms.

Because Scarlet and Violet put so much emphasis on sending students out into the Paldean wilderness for their big Treasure Hunts, the games’ focus on school ended up feeling kind of like an afterthought due to how unevenly the school itself, its teachers, and its general student body factored in to the core story. By giving you the ability to take on gym leaders, and progress through the core stories in essentially whichever order you wanted, Scarlet and Violet’s main game also made it easy for character details and narrative beats to get lost in the mix. That made it very difficult to become attached to or invested in people like Nemona, Arven, and Penny, who are supposed to be your new best friends.

But by narrowing its scope to a fateful school trip outside of Paldea, and keeping its story focused mostly on one specific adventure revolving around legendary pokémon, The Teal Mask was able to give us a promising taste of how much more compelling Scarlet and Violet could be with a bit more restraint and refinement. The same could be said of The Indigo Disk, which transported players to the Unova Region’s Blueberry Academy, a floating school out in the middle of the ocean where you’re reunited with Kieran and Carmine, the brother / sister duo first introduced in The Teal Mask.

Despite it mostly being every bit as structurally simple as Naranja / Uva, the way Blueberry Academy and its underwater, multiclimate terrarium full of wild pokémon were laid out made them infinitely more fascinating places to explore.

After months of having to figure out how Paldea’s sandwiches worked, it was amazing to be able to just order up a plate of food guaranteed to make shiny hunting easier for a little while. Rather than exchanging real money or league points for pokéballs and potions, things could only be bought with Blueberry Points earned by completing small (at times repetitive) tasks designed to get you out into the Terrarium batting and catching as many monsters as you could.

Following the introduction of the Terastallization mechanic — which made it possible for pokémon to change their types mid-battle by putting on gaudy hats — the return of double battles, and the inclusion of a new Elite Four were welcome surprises that reinforced Blueberry Academy’s focus on battle strategy. And for folks who were more interested in things like just vibing with pokémon in nature, or getting into some gambling, The Indigo Disk delivered by giving you a way to play from the perspective of your favorite pokemon, finally enabling your legendary ride pokémon to properly fly, and debuting a gacha mechanic that put the franchise’s old Game Corner slot machines to shame.

Some of The Indigo Disk’s more buzzed-about updates, like the newly introduced Stellar Tera type, wound up feeling like they were meant to appeal more to hardcore competitive players than anyone else. But many of the DLC’s smaller features — like making it possible to obtain multiple Master Balls, new styles of throwing pokéballs, and more clothing options — all felt like the product of Game Freak trying to make Pokémon Scarlet and Violet the kind of games that people might want to actually hang out in.

Though it didn’t have any bearing on how the games play, The Indigo Disk being set in Unova was exciting because of the way it suggested Nintendo might be eyeing Black and White remakes for either the Switch or its successor. Post-Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, the words “Pokémon remake” haven’t always sparked joy. But between the surprisingly delightful Pokémon Legends: Arceus and the way Scarlet and Violet featured pokémon from the ancient past and distant future, it’s been easy to imagine Nintendo taking a more inspired approach to the way it revisits elements from older games.

With both The Teal Mask and The Indigo Disk, it often seemed like Pokémon Scarlet and Violet were trying to keep players thinking about the future and what’s coming next — partially for the sake of hype. That said, it also felt as if those teases about what might be coming next were meant to keep you from focusing on the games’ still-persistent technical issues, and how they weren’t being ironed out.

Unfortunately, Scarlet and Violet’s epilogue — which is only accessible if you’ve bought the DLC — does not come by way of a patch that finally puts an end to all of the stuttering animation that’s plagued this generation from launch. Instead, Mochi Mayhem merely sends you back to The Teal Mask’s Kitakami region for a goofy and creepy mini-adventure that’s less about catching rare monsters and more about illustrating how much of a social butterfly your character’s become.

It’s admirable how Mochi Mayhem attempts to neatly wrap up Scarlet and Violet’s many narrative threads with a story that brings your pals from Naranja / Uva and Blueberry Academy together for the very first time. Coupled with the legendary pokémon featured in The Teal Mask, the mythical creature spotlighted in Mochi Mayhem makes for a far more interesting piece of lore than the treasure-specific myths from Scarlet and Violet’s core game.

There’s a pleasant tidiness to the way The Teal Mask, The Indigo Disk, and Mochi Mayhem feed into one another and give you the sense that your character’s a person who has been out having the kinds of adventures that change the way you see the world, and how people see you. But in the same way that tidiness makes specific character arcs like Kieran’s feel well thought out, it also ultimately makes Scarlet and Violet feel unfinished in a way that’s distinct from how they arrived.

It was nice when it still seemed possible that maybe, just maybe Nintendo might come through in the end with a bunch of fixes that somehow transformed Scarlet and Violet into the expansive, exciting open worlds that fans have always wanted to dive into. Mochi Mayhem is decidedly not the answer to those prayers, and that’s just going to have to be okay.


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