For Some Pokemon Fans, Scarlet And Violet Are The Latest In A String Of Disappointments
Despite being one of the largest media franchises in the world, Pokemon games have let some fans down in recent years, and they are showing their frustration.
Pokemon is many things to many people: a game series that spawned an entire genre, a mammoth media franchise enjoyed by all ages, and a symbol of innocent fun in a world obsessed with violence and strife. However, while it's no secret that Pokemon is a massive money-maker for Nintendo, it's also become a symbol of the company's latent conservatism and unwillingness to adapt to modern trends. Now, with the controversial release of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, some Pokemon fans are wondering what it'll take for the series to finally get the overhaul that they feel so desperately needs. Others wonder if such an overhaul is even possible at all.
On paper, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have a lot to offer Pokemon fans. Often labeled as yet another attempt at the mythical "open-world Pokemon," the games feature a great deal of freedom on how to proceed, an interesting new story that's garnered rave reviews from all corners, and a return to the classic catching formula after the experimentation of Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Unfortunately, all of these positive aspects have been largely overshadowed by the game's design shortcomings, and especially its bevy of technical issues.
"I'd say I'm angry, but it's more in that 'dad way,' where I'm really more disappointed in Nintendo," says Morse. A self-described lifelong fan of the Pokemon franchise, Morse has not only played and beaten every mainline Pokemon game, he also maintains what enthusiasts term a "living PokeDex"--a Dex that contains at least one example of every existing Pokemon species to date.
"As a game, it's Pokemon, but everything new just doesn't live up to its full potential. It just feels like more Pokemon."
As a whole, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have enjoyed tremendous success, topping sales charts and garnering mostly positive reviews from critics. However, while reviewers did fault the games for their low frame rate and frequent bugs, many fans continue to express their overwhelming displeasure with the finished products. While opinions vary on Scarlet/Violet's overall quality--with some calling it the best Pokemon game in years, only buried under the weight of glitches--the overall feeling that the franchise cannot continue in this way seems to be almost unanimous.
In the past, critics and fans alike have not been shy about criticizing the series for its lack of innovation. Some would even argue that the recent Pokemon Legends: Arceus and Scarlet/Violet have attempted to push the series' well-worn formula in a new "open-world" direction. However, you could also say that these larger ambitions have outstripped Game Freak's capabilities as a studio at this release cadence, and are to an extent directly causing these glitches and performance issues. A wider scale might ultimately serve the series well in the long-term, but it's clear that the execution of those ideas--especially on the technical side--has left some fans in the lurch.
In the days since Scarlet and Violet's launch, the Pokemon subreddit has become the scene of a mass-venting event. Many of the top-voted posts are fans expressing their grievances with Scarlet/Violet or the series as a whole. And though the technical issues are undoubtedly the focus of this de facto campaign, the general tenor of disappointment in the series is palpable.
Pokemon enthusiasts have criticized the more "open" nature of Scarlet/Violet as a major design shortcoming, noting that these entries' gyms still increase in power in a linear manner. This essentially means that players are punished for deviating from the game's obvious intended path, which is not a trait that many value in an open-world game. Other games would scale such encounters to your existing Pokemon's power level to some extent, but not Scarlet and Violet.
"The open-world aspect is a total illusion," Morse says. "There's no real incentive to explore, and there are hard roadblocks to get to certain areas. Sure, I could go theoretically fight the ice gym first, but they have level 55 Pokemon. You have to do everything to beat the game anyway, so there's no reason for me to do that. It's like they didn't think it through."
Several fans have successfully requested refunds from Nintendo in the wake of these technical issues, which suggests that the company is more than aware of Scarlet/Violet's reputation in the community. However, whether or not the company plans to actually do anything about it through patches or other technical fixes is very much an open question. Generally, Nintendo has been slow to remedy technical issues in the past, but the company has rarely faced a backlash this intense that specifically focused on a game's technical performance, so it's hard to know for sure.
Overall, while Morse has some positive things to say about Scarlet/Violet, it's hard for him to separate his feelings for these specific entries from his thoughts on the series as a whole. He considers himself a hardcore aficionado of the series, and, as such, he's bought almost every mainline entry at launch over the past decade or so. However, over the past few entries, he's begun to feel jaded about the long-term health of the franchise, and he's far from the only one.
In the past, Pokemon fans have occasionally threatened to boycott the series, blaming developer Game Freak for a perceived lack of effort or innovation. Pokemon fanatics point to a variety of confounded reasons for these problems, including the series's young target audience, the low horsepower of Nintendo consoles, and the breakneck pace of new releases. (Between Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, Legends: Arceus, and now Scarlet and Violet, The Pokemon Company has released three major Pokemon games in roughly 12 months.) Morse personally feels that all of these factors have contributed in some way to the current state of the franchise. However, he feels that Pokemon fans need to reckon with just how much control they really have over the media giant.
"I don't think that a boycott would have the desired effect," he says. "Pokemon is a machine now. It has such a grip on popular culture that they can make the games as mediocre as they want, as long as the anime and merch keep chugging."
Some fans might view this perspective as harsh, or even unfair. However, you don't have to look far in the greater Pokemon community to find those who agree with Morse. He personally thinks that Pokemon fans tend to blame the game's shortcomings on developer Game Freak, viewing the studio as personally responsible for every flaw. He feels that Pokemon fans need to look to the giant profiting from all the Poke Balls that roll down the conveyor belt: Nintendo itself.
"They have nigh-on unlimited resources to throw at this franchise, but they just won't do it," he says. "It almost feels like they want Game Freak to flounder. If Game Freak lacks the staff or resources to make a competent open-world Pokemon game, it's Nintendo's fault. Nintendo could fix that problem if they wanted to, it just doesn't seem to be a priority for them."
After the release of Scarlet and Violet, some Pokefans have said they're making the ultimate sacrifice: refusing to purchase another Pokemon game until these problems are fixed. One of the recent top-voted posts on the subreddit is exactly that, with the poster saying that they will "no longer be part of the problem." Similar attempts at gaming boycotts have sometimes backfired--a famous 2009 image depicting nearly every member of a so-called "boycott Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" group playing the very game they swore never to buy has become a sort of meta-meme. However, while Morse understands how a person could feel this way, he plans to purchase the next Pokemon game regardless. Despite his issues with Scarlet & Violet, he ultimately enjoyed the experience.
"I wish that Pokemon was better, but I don't think that my personal purchase decision is going to have an impact on that," he says. "As a grown adult, I know that I'm far from Pokemon's target audience. But I am disappointed with Scarlet & Violet. I'm just not sure if any of us can do anything about it."
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