For fans of the beloved creature-collecting franchise, 2022 is a stacked year for Pokémon. In January, Game Freak delivered the refreshing Pokémon Legends: Arceus spinoff. And if that substantial entry wasn't enough to satiate appetites, the latest entries in the mainline series, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, are set to launch this November. While it's not unheard of for two Pokémon titles to ship in the same calendar year, watching Nintendo's plans to release seemingly competing adventures in such a short period is fascinating.
On paper, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are essentially my dream Pokémon games. The team promises a more open world than ever before, celebrating freedom with a trio of eclectic overarching objectives that can be tackled in any order. Scarlet and Violet also introduce four-player online co-op, a first for the franchise and a feature fans have craved since you could first trade with friends via a cable across two Game Boys. Despite these additions being beautifully demonstrated in a handful of solid showcase trailers so far, I can't shake my lingering collection of concerns.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus presented the most engaging moment-to-moment gameplay in the series' history. The overhauled, action-oriented capturing mechanics re-emphasized the joy of collecting pocket monsters. In many ways, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are more ambitious than their predecessors, but Arceus hooked me on a gameplay loop I didn't know I wanted. I worry that the successes and strengths of this spinoff could dampen my enjoyment of Scarlet and Violet.
Embracing evolution through experimentation
Pokémon was crafted upon the ideals of growth and transformation. Ironically, many entries in the long-running series haven't done much to evolve the core gameplay. My praise of Pokémon Legends: Arceus primarily stems from how it veers from the established and somewhat stale systems from previous games. From altered catching to seamless environmental traversal, Pokémon felt reinvigorated for the first time in a long time.
As much as RPG tastes and expectations have shifted over the years, Pokémon has remained, unfortunately, consistent. Minor quality of life improvements and new creatures were always welcome, but many fans have grown tired of the same old gameplay entry after entry. It's why I always fantasized about the potential for the series.
Exploring the diverse biomes of the Hisui Region in Arceus emboldened my passion for Pokémon and solidified those expectations. It incorporated the most satisfying catching system the series has ever seen, excellent mounts with diverse traversal capabilities, enormous Alpha Pokémon, visibly distinct monster sizes, meaningful PokéDex refinements, and even subtle Metroidvania elements. As somebody conditioned to expect minimal alterations to the tried-and-true Pokémon formula, I walked away energized.
A vocal group of Pokémon purists didn't appreciate the radical changes in Arceus. Legacy fans lamented the lack of gym battles, and some players even preferred the traditional catching method. However, many critics and series skeptics applauded the game's willingness to advance the gameplay and take significant risks. This positive reception was exemplified by impressive software sales that topped 12 million copies sold in just a couple of months, according to Nintendo financial results.
Why should we be worried about Pokémon Scarlet and Violet?
When leaks began pouring out regarding Pokémon Scarlet and Violet following the launch of Arceus, it looked like the streamlined, throw-and-go capturing I adored from Arceus appeared to be gone, and the uninspired campaign to conquer gym leaders seemed to be returning.
Thankfully, once Nintendo and the Pokémon Company officially unveiled the games and began teasing their expanded scope, including the assortment of new creatures and the new Paldea region, it allayed a host of my concerns. This was further abated by Nintendo's confirmation of four-player, open-world co-op for the first time in the series' history.
However, we've had four trailers for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, but we still don't know what the actual scope is for multiplayer. Game Freak has demonstrated that four players can seemingly explore the open world simultaneously and participate in Tera Raids, but it's still unclear how battling, catching, and mission progression plays out during co-op sessions. And what about Pokémon capturing? Outside of incredibly brief glimpses of PokéBalls bouncing on the ground, we don't even know if how we capture Pokémon has changed.
The little we've seen of catching and co-op have been accompanied by teeny anecdotes from blog posts. According to the official Pokémon Scarlet and Violet website, players can "experience the true joy of the Pokémon series – battling against wild Pokémon in order to catch them." These statements seem to suggest Game Freak is concerned about the sentiments shared by fans who didn't appreciate the marked changes presented in Arceus while not alienating those of us who want to see changes by not saying anything about the drab catching system of the past.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus rejuvenated creature-collecting and the joy of completing your PokéDex through evolution of the game's systems. Catching, battling, and feeding wild Pokémon granted a greater understanding of their habits, behaviors, and backgrounds. Completing PokéDex entries felt more rewarding than anything we'd encountered in previous titles. Unlike with Legends: Arceus, Nintendo hasn't demonstrated any worthwhile improvements to the regional PokéDex, implying there isn't much to be stoked about in that department.
We're only two months away from the release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, so it's only a matter of time before my inquiries are answered. (The marketing cycle for these games always stretches out reveals up until the last minute.) I'm hoping for a gameplay deep-dive that better showcases the changes implemented with the latest Pokémon offerings. I desperately want Pokémon to brave bold, new territory in the RPG space, and compared to previous iterations, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet look to be stepping in that direction. Ultimately, I fear these impending releases won't surpass the brilliant and desperately needed efforts of Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
Dreams can come true
As an enthusiast fixated on how various gameplay mechanics can metamorphosize, I'll always champion risk and experimentation. Still, plenty of dedicated Pokémon fans absolutely adore the comforting loop of classic entries and simply prefer the familiar embrace of a cherished series.
The promised freedom of open-world exploration and the addition of online co-op are sufficiently supplying my hype reserves. It's becoming increasingly clear that all the tweaks I appreciated with Arceus simply won't be implemented in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. That being said, there's still potential for Game Freak to surprise and delight players with updated gameplay mechanics, branching stories, and refreshed combat systems. In a year full of remarkable RPGs like Elden Ring, here's to hoping Scarlet and Violet make at least a few Pokémon dreams come true.
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