The reveal of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet a little over a week ago was a surprise to many (including myself) who weren’t expecting the ninth generation of the franchise so soon after the release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It generates a bit of whiplash where, almost immediately after the most acclaimed and respected entry in the franchise in a while, you turn around and announce something like the old games… but also different? The operative word Nintendo appears to be using is “evolutionary.”
A new evolutionary step in the Pokémon series, in Pokémon Scarlet & Pokémon Violet you’ll be able to freely explore a rich open world. A world filled with towns & cities that blend seamlessly into the wilderness with no borders!#PokemonScarletViolet is arriving in late 2022. pic.twitter.com/xULy0mGV0L
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) March 7, 2022
Now — what does that mean exactly? We have no idea. It looks like the game is truly open world, which is a first for the franchise (even Legends had separate giant zones), while in turn the battle system appears to be good ol’ Pokémon as we know it rather than Legends’ streamlined catch-based system. So it’s definitely a change. But is it going to be a revolution, or mere reformation?
I had a lot of thoughts about the future of Pokémon last month, back when I thought we wouldn’t see a glimpse of Gen IX for another year. In general, my predicted path was that Legends was going to become secondary to mainline Pokémon which certainly appears to be the case. But Legends’ presence now feels almost stranger. If we went straight from Sword and Shield to Scarlet and Violet, then the open world — the landscapes — truly would feel revolutionary. But Game Freak has already overhauled Pokémon to make a more open experience, showcasing thoughtful design sense in the process. They simply didn’t tack an open world on Pokémon’s extant design; they invented a new core loop to work in the open world. That is revolution.
And while I referred to Legends as a generation half-step in that article, it strangely feels like it’s put the franchise in a position where Scarlet and Violet will feel like a half-step. Yes it will be open-world, but how much will that actually affect the design and gameplay? Is the player going to be able to actually explore anywhere they want, or will they be curtailed along certain paths? How will the game be structured and balanced? Everything is up in the air at the moment, and it’ll be months before we have a solid answer.
We can only hope that Gen IX does deliver on its promised revolution when it releases later this year. And also that the employees at Game Freak are being treated well. Please y’all. Take a break if you need to. Please.
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