Pokémon Violet and Scarlet is a true open-world game

When I entered my one hour demo of Pokemon Purple and Scarlet, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew developer Game Freak was serious about upending the franchise’s established formula after delivering this year Pokemon Legends Arceusa game that departed radically from the traditional RPG mould, but was more of a spin-off experience. Scarlet and Purple would be the real deal: main entries that would determine the true future of the series. Would we actually see a radical reinvention or would Game Freak play it safe, taking another small step towards lasting change?

After working with Scarlet, I can confidently confirm that it is more the former than the latter. Upcoming RPGs are a true overhaul of the Pokemon formula, moving in its new direction in a way I didn’t expect. Whether Sword and Shield looked like Game Freak inserting an open-world aspect into a Pokémon game, the new entries are a total reversal: the different Pokémon systems and ideas are inserted into an open-world game.

Like many recent Pokemon games, I still feel like this isn’t the final form of the series. However, for those who have been crying out for real change, Pokemon Scarlet and Purple is arguably the series’ biggest evolution yet – and from my time with it, it seems like a step in the right direction.

truly open world

During my demo, I’m allowed to explore a specific piece of the game map to my heart’s content. There are three quests I can choose to follow, but I’m otherwise free to just walk around and see the sites. For those skeptical of Game Freak’s seriousness about its pivot, rest assured it’s much more than Wild Area 2.0. Scarlet and Purple are real open-world games, as players can seamlessly navigate a map full of monsters to catch.

Pokemon trainers run with their monsters in Pokemon Violet and Scarlet.

In fact, Game Freak has gone the extra mile not to interrupt that experience. When entering a battle with a wild Pokémon, you are no longer transported to an arena wave. As Arceus, the fight begins immediately in the world without additional charge (you can even see other Pokémon going about their business in the background). Pokémon Centers and Shops have been similarly changed, as they are now outdoor kiosks that are quickly accessed when in the world. I only needed to enter a building once to sign up for a gym battle. Even trainers in the wild won’t stop you for a battle – you have to actively start one by talking to them first.

The conception of the world itself is not too far from Arceus, for better or worse depending on your opinions of this game. Nothing I’ve seen outside of its more detailed cities stood out too much when it comes to landmarks. I mostly traveled on basic grass and rock terrain that wasn’t too visually distinct from each other. While that didn’t bother me too much during my demo, it did leave me wondering what the rest of the world is like. I hope to see more involved spaces like Sword and Shield‘s Isle of Armor, which is still the best explorable space Game Freak has assembled.

The Arceus the similarities are not just visual. Scarlet and Purple borrow several mechanics from this game, including transportation. Turns out, the legendary lizards in the game aren’t just motorcycles, as they can also climb cliffs, slide, and swim. Invoke breath of the wild is a tired cliche at this point, but it’s pretty clear that the Zelda game was essential inspiration. That DNA works, too, because there’s a nice satisfaction to climbing a cliff and discovering a thriving Pokémon habitat at the top.

A trainer rides a motorcycle in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.

These are all obvious changes, but the one that stood out to me the most was much smaller. While traveling, I can send out a Pokémon to basically explore the area around me. It can pick up loose items so I don’t have to and even auto-fight Pokemon in the area for reduced XP. Looks like Game Freak is finally making a compromise it’s struggled to find for the past few decades. It’s a great feature for young kids or casual gamers who don’t necessarily want a challenging experience. And best of all, it’s implemented in an optional way that won’t hurt the experience for anyone who wants to avoid it.

Design decisions like this excite me more for the future of the series than any of the big changes. If Game Freak can find a way to allow players to tailor their difficulty preferences in the future without explicitly adding difficulty modes, it could end up being Scarlet and Purplethe most significant contribution to the series.

three quests

When it comes to what you’re actually doing in the world, my experience was both familiar and entirely unlike any I’ve had in a Pokémon game. Rather than following a linear storyline, I had three quests on my map that were each representative of the game’s reworked narrative flow. The first of these was the more traditional gym storyline, where I had to collect badges by beating coaches, even though it didn’t go the way I’m used to.

I biked into town and entered a building to sign up for a battle with his gym leader. Before I could participate, I had to complete a challenge — something more like Sun and MoonThe reimagined approach to gym dating. This one was simple: find 10 Sunflora in the city and bring them back to a paddock. It’s a simple hide-and-seek mini-game, but one that at least feels different than just battling a few trainers before taking on the Gym Leader. I just hope some of the other gym requirements are a bit more unique.

A Star Team member watches a Pokemon Scarlet and Violet player.

The best of the three quests came when I tackled the Starfall Street story arc, which essentially separates the traditional “bad” Pokemon story into its own separate arc. Here, I should break into a Team Star stronghold and fight some sort of final boss. The structure is similar to gym battles though, as I would have to complete an initial challenge before I get there. This one required me to beat a bunch of mostly fire-type Pokemon within a certain time limit using the auto-battle feature. I equipped three monsters and brought them in, throwing them at different Pokemon packs like a commander in a strategy game (my Wiglett cleaned house, for the record). This resulted in the most surprising trainer battle I’ve ever had in a Pokémon game, a battle I dare not spoil here.

The only quest I didn’t get a good idea of ​​was the Path of Legends arc, where I had to hunt down a giant Klawf in a multi-part battle. I was only able to complete one of these battles in my demo, which was a fairly standard one-on-one encounter against a larger Pokemon – somewhere between a normal encounter and a Raid Battle. Hopefully there’s a bit more to these missions in the final game, especially when it comes to tracking down creatures and hunting them around the map.

It was hard to get a sense of what else there was to do in the world beyond that. I don’t know if these quests are the sum of its contents or if there are more organic challenges hidden in between. That might just be the role catching Pokemon is meant to fill, but I don’t know if it’ll be enough to make the space feel like a real open-world playground. Even so, three main quests should ensure that there is always enough to do in any given area initially.

But wait, there’s more!

Despite spending a lot of time with Pokemon Scarlet, I still have a lot to see in the final game. For example, I had the chance to try out the game Terastallize feature, which is the main battle gadget in the game. The option turns a Pokémon into a crystallized version of itself during battle, changing its type. I got to see this in action during a gym battle, which turned the leader’s Sudowoodo into a grass type, paying off one of the oldest jokes in the series. The feature has the potential to make battles harder, as you can’t always plan an opponent based on their group or type preference.

A pokemon arrives in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.

Terastallized Pokemon also add a little extra hunting to the game, as you can find crystallized monsters in the wild and catch them. They’re not quite shiny, but they give players a chance to discover uniquely shaped creatures that could be a secret weapon at a party.

I’m also a bit obsessed with the game’s picnic feature, which allows players to sit down with their team and make a sandwich. It’s a Cooking Mama-like mini-game where players have to pile ingredients like tomatoes and lettuce on bread as they flip each other up in a comical fashion. I made an absolutely embarrassing bacon and chorizo ​​sandwich where almost nothing ended up on the bun at the end – and it was my favorite part of the whole demo, no irony.

However, I am not left without questions. The version I played gave me a nice bit of the world to explore, but I’m curious to see how open it really is. For example, you can tackle Gyms in any order, but Gym Leaders don’t seem to scale with your level. And when I beat the grass gym, my badge allowed me to train Pokémon up to a certain level. It doesn’t really seem possible to hit the out of service gyms, which makes me wonder if the railings are still there, even if they’re less noticeable.

Pokemon picnic together in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.

I’m also keeping an eye on the technical aspect of the game. This was an early build, so unfinished visuals are always expected during a demo like this. However, it seems to have some of the same visual issues as Arceus where the world loses all detail at a distance (this is especially noticeable in flight). I don’t have much reason to expect this to be a different story from Arceusso hopefully the strength of open world exploration is enough to make me feel at peace if it’s not the cleanest game.

I’m ultimately not ready to pass any judgement, especially since I haven’t been able to try out its multiplayer beyond a raid battle. But I’m certainly more intrigued by the scope of the changes here than I thought. I went there expecting a stopgap that was only half way between Sword/Shield and Arceus. In place, Scarlet and Purple seem like a much bigger leap forward than the series ever made. For those who have been begging for a change, that’s definitely what you’re getting here.

Pokemon purple and scarlet will launch on November 18 on Nintendo Switch.

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