If you’ve seen one Pokémon game you’ve seen ‘em all, right? Well, not so fast. Yes, Pokémon titles come with a certain formula, but each new generation tends to add its own little twist. And Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, the ninth generation of this series, has quite a few twists in store.
For fans, the story will feel familiar. You play as a young guy or gal who’s given a choice of three starter Pokémon—representing water, fire and grass types—to kick things off. But that gifting is in connection with a Pokémon college called Naranja Academy. And, along with the school’s Poké-focused classes, there are some duties to take on in the Paldea region—the domain where wild Pokémon roam freely.
And this time … you can roam freely, too. Your main activities still involve catching, training, and battling the Pokémon that inhabit this world. But you do so in the franchise’s first truly open world.
You can go where you want throughout the land’s various biomes and hidden-away places. Of course, you have to be a little careful on that front. If you end up in an area where roaming Poké are level 30 while you’re still at level 15, you’ll have some obvious problems.
To help in that growing and strengthening area, there are three main questlines to this game.
“Victory Road” is the game’s traditional gym conquest challenge. You take your team of six Pokémon (that you can, of course, change as you go) and give battle in the eight gyms that each feature Poké of certain types such as fire, fighting, water, bug, grass, ghost, and some 12 others. (All in-game battles take place in a traditional turn-based format where type strengths and weaknesses create rock-paper-scissors-like matchups.) Your goal is to eventually face the Elite Four trainers and become a Pokémon trainer champion.
“Starfall Street” lets you attack bases held by Team Star. A typical Pokémon game usually has a group of silly baddies to battle, but Team Star is made up of Academy students who rallied together in an act of rebellion. But it’s a rebellion against past negative school actions and poor student choices, so it holds an interesting twist.
“Path of Legends,” a third questline, grants battles against huge Titan Pokémon. This quest works to restore the strengths of certain Pokémon in your orbit, while powering up your team and offering a sweet touching story.
One other thing to mention is that, thanks to the game’s open-world approach, your battles are now optional and something you must specifically choose. Other Pokémon trainers can be found all around in Paldea, for example, but you must initiate the battle with them to start. And wild Pokémon are always visible and roaming, so random encounters in the high grass are completely gone.
Lastly, Scarlet and Violet offer a new Terastallization mechanic. In the course of a given battle, one of your Pokémon can take on a gem-like appearance that boosts the moves of its specific type and heightens the battle. This adds a new layer of strategy but can only be used once after each Pokémon Center visit (where Poké are rested and healed up.)
The open-world aspect and added activities give Scarlet and Violet a free-for-all feel that actually heightens the fun. There are so many places to go that if you find yourself stymied at any point, there’s always another questline to follow until your Pokémon are strong enough to give that former tough point another try.
The constantly roaming Pokémon will also delight fans who want to hand-pick and customize their team. No need to wander through grasses in hopes of finding one type or another. Just search until you spot the one you desire.
The game also offers something called Tera Raid Battles—essentially four-on-one skirmishes that can be played with friends or as a solo playerwith an AI team. These raids (with crystals scattered all over Paldea) can result in finding a few rare Poké characters and receiving important power ups and materials that boost your team.
For the most part, in-game characters are positive and supportive. And those that are less so generally come around to ask forgiveness for their wrongs. The game also speaks against bullying and has some emotional story moments that reinforce the joy of having and caring for a beloved pet.
This newest pair of Pokémon games can, frankly, be pretty expensive if you buy both—especially considering that the games are identical except for a few different Pokémon in each.
And the biggest drawback for some parents will be the amount of time young players spend in-game. Leveling up Pokémon can take some grinding time while preparing for endgame challenges. But the game does mitigate that with its activities and options, and the open-world aspect allows players to sign off at any time and pick things up later.
This latest Pokémon generation is undeniably fun and filled with active options. And after all these years of games, the kids may have to arm wrestle Mom and Dad to see who plays first!
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.