For many years now, I’ve been buying the mainline Pokémon games primarily out of some twisted sense of obligation. Back in 1999, Pokémon Red and Blue launched at the perfect time for me; I was ten at the time of its release and had already gotten a good sense of what Pokémon was all about thanks to the anime show. Soon enough, my friends and I were completely hooked: we traded together on the playground at school, speculated about what the upcoming Gold and Silver iterations would bring to the table, and discussed the latest anime episode in absurd detail – much to the annoyance of our teachers, I’m sure.
Then something happened. After Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire launched in 2003 for the GBA, four years after the franchise first got its claws into me, I just… stop caring so much. I can’t quite pinpoint why it happened at that particular moment in time, but I can at least break down my reasoning.
After three games (I was never one to purchase both versions of each iteration), the Pokémon games just didn’t offer up enough variety to keep me interested anymore. There were new Pokémon, sure, a new world to get lost in, and a host of new features like Double Battles and Pokémon Natures. But at its core, Pokémon was still primarily about tackling a series of Gym Challenges before taking on the Elite Four – woohoo. Not only that, but each entry doggedly treated you as if it was your very first Pokémon game, thrusting obnoxiously lengthy tutorials in your face before you could really get into the meaty stuff.
It was very much a case of “been there, done that”.
Nevertheless, I continued to buy the subsequent Pokémon titles – Diamond, Black, Black 2, X, Sun, Ultra Sun, and Sword – deperate for one of them to deviate from the same tired structure that’s formed the foundation of the games since the franchise’s inception. While entries like Sun and Ultra Sun provided a glimpse of something different, each game – for the most part – failed to provide the new experience I was looking for. It seemed that Pokémon had nailed its approach and wouldn’t be deviating from it anytime soon; it knows its audience and it just didn’t seem like I was a part of it anymore.
I missed out on Pokémon Legends: Arceus, mainly because it just didn’t look like a mainline Pokémon game to me, despite the promising features that it demonstrated from the off. For some reason, I just saw it as a spin-off title, which in many ways it is. But it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
So this brings us onto Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. When it was initially announced, the promise of a true open world made my ears prick up in curiosity. Okay, this sounds interesting, I thought, but it wasn’t quite enough yet to pull me back in. With the release of a brand new trailer and some supporting information during the latest Pokémon Presents, however, Game Freak may have had my curiosity, but now it has my attention.
The promise of a complete open world which allows you to tackle the Gym Challenges in any order you see fit is tantalising enough on its own, but the fact that this core mechanic only makes up one of three potential storylines? Yeah, I’m definitely interested. In addition, the games seem to be breaking away from the repetitive “ten year old leaves home to become a Pokémon Master” trope by requiring you to enrol at either the Naranja Academy or the Uva Academy – depending on your choice of version – and this simple deviation to the series’ core narrative has piqued my interest more than any previous title.
Granted, I can’t say that the whole ‘Treasure Hunt’ and ‘Terastal Phenomenon’ mechanics do a whole lot for me at the moment, but by and large, Scarlet and Violet’s new found focus on freedom and player choice excites me more than I care to admit. Could these new titles spark a long dormant love for the franchise once again? It’s proabably too early to say at the moment, but for the first time in more than a decade, I’m genuinely excited to see what these new titles bring.
What do you make of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet so far? Have the features demonstrated so far done enough to excite you? Let us know!