We’re now months on from the tepid release of the latest generation of Pokémon. The most profitable franchise of all time started 2022 by releasing Legends Arceus, a shot in the arm that the 27-year-old series desperately needed. It offered new mechanics for both catching and battling that kept their fundamental essence while providing them more variety and depth. Then in November Scarlet/Violet arrived on the scene like a Magikarp. Just flopping around with a smile on its face. Pokémon is at a crossroads and it needs to choose where to go.
Pokémon is one of Nintendo’s flagship titles but you wouldn’t know that based on the state that Scarlet/Violet was released. It’s ugly, full of bugs, and runs like an asthmatic with no cardio. It’s the furthest thing from the way a flagship title should release.
While many people were quick to blame the Switch hardware for the game’s woes that excuse holds less water than a Geodude. Is the Nintendo Switch underpowered and outdated compared to the other gaming systems on the market? Yes. But it’s still capable of games far beyond Scarlet/Violet. Both Kirby & the Forgotten Lands and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle were released in 2022 and look and run far better than Scarlet/Violet. The Switch runs Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion better than it does Pokémon Scarlet/Violet.
Scarlet/Violet isn’t the victim of an underpowered console. The latest Pokémon generation is the victim of a poorly optimized, rushed release. GameFreak has ambitions for the franchise that simply can no longer be met by the desire to have a Pokémon game released yearly.
Arceus was a step forward for the franchise. Not only was it the first open-world Pokémon game but it offered fun, meaningful changes to gameplay mechanics that had become long in the tooth years ago. Catching Pokémon was no longer solely based on battling wild Pokémon until their health is low enough. Now you could be an actual hunter, sneaking up on unsuspecting pocket monsters and throwing pokéballs at them. Battling to capture was still there for aggressive type Pokémon or if you just wanted to battle first but now there was another way. It expanded while keeping what everyone had grown to enjoy over the past 27 years.
The battle system of Arceus also evolved. It was still the classic turn-based Pokémon battles but the addition of Agile-Style and Strong-Style attacks added extra strategy and depth to battles. It kept familiarity but finally moved the series forward in a meaningful way. Scarlet/Violet followed this up by removing both those changes and reverting to the same gameplay formula we’ve been playing for almost 30 years.
Whether or not GameFreak walked back on those gameplay changes because they wanted to or simply didn’t have enough time is unknown to me. What is known is that Pokémon as a series is at crossroads. The Pokémon company can either continue to release a new game every year, none of which can reach the ambitions GameFreak has for the series. Or they can let GameFreak take as much time as they need to make the game they want.
Pokémon the game series needs to evolve just as much as the actual Pokémon do. GameFreak has the ambition and talent to do so if given the proper time. While the sales figures indicate that people will buy the games no matter the quality, the biggest franchise on earth deserves better than cash-grab yearly releases. Pokémon can either choose to evolve or continue to release games that don’t meet GameFreak’s or the fan’s standards. It can be the very best like no one ever was or it can continue to be whatever Scarlet/Violet is.