29 Reviews liked by guiltyparty

Color me impressed.
Kingdom Hearts is the impossible game. I’ve been looking back on how the hell something like this came into existence for years and still fail to come up with a proper answer. If Square Enix tried to go through Disney to get something like this made today, Disney wouldn’t even do them the courtesy of laughing at them. Square would just be completely ignored. 2002 Square though? Those guys were kings of the ring. People thought they were the BEST storytellers, the BEST game designers. Nothing could possibly go wrong when it came to a crossover between the biggest name in animation and the biggest name in video game RPGs.
And honestly? Not that much went wrong here. Yeah, I went into this fully aware of the series’ reputation. “It’s convoluted,” they said. “It’s cringe,” they said. Yeah, those things are kind of true, but this first game isn’t dragged down much by some earnest silliness. I’m sure a lot of people decry that this isn’t a more explicit crossover of IPs, as the Disney worlds and characters are isolated from each other and the FF characters are full-on reinterpretations that play pretty small roles, but the presence of the original characters competently stands in for how you might imagine something more explicitly Japanese colliding with western products would go. Having a new character act as the lead allows both newcomers to and fans of one or both of the IPs involved to have some kind of anchor. While the worlds you visit generally retread the content of their films counterparts, they were also an opportunity to see a different angle of each setting and respective principal character, something a kid who knows those stories would probably be wowed by compared to a normal video game adaptation.
Among KH’s many surprises was its combat. Something that was called “mashy” even close to its original release date. While that can be true, and you can have a good enough time just running up against a wall until it breaks, I found the combat’s quirks fun to master. Your basic three hit combo can have its level of commitment reduced by timing swings correctly. Your air combos are faster and can be sped up even further by canceling them with short hops. You have a quick select menu for spells that adds a layer of decision-making to major encounters. You have a spell that grants greater protection from damage but costs more than a normal healing spell. Get caught in the wrong string of attacks and you’ll be reeling over having picked the wrong defensive spell between the two. Your weapon of choice has different passive abilities like a higher critical hit rate or more slots for MP, and comes in a variety of lengths that act as compensation for or counter to their other qualities. So you now have to make a choice over how much keeping a little bit of space between you and a boss means to you.
A bit less intuitive are your party members. By default, Donald and Goofy are programmed to commit suicide in front of you. I understand that classic cartoons are very different from what we expect from our modern, sanitized lives, but watching beloved single father Goofy Goof repeatedly set himself aflame as Bill Farmer screamed in anguish was a little much for me. You will have to set Donald to favor defensive actions to make sure your party is of any use to you.
Outside of this little Song of the South-esque niggle, this simple combat system gives you a surprising amount of control over the flow of fights, and you can make conscious optimizations to reward yourself with more expedient encounters. This includes some added replayability with what kind of build you select at the start, favoring attack, defense, or magic while limiting one of those traits in turn. Beginners are told to pick the shield and discard the staff, while players going for pure speed grab the staff and discard the shield. You can have a pretty distinct experience based on your play style despite seeming fairly limited to start with. I don’t think a game that wasn’t confident in its combat would give me the option to completely disable gaining exp. While I think that is an addition rom the Final Mix version that I played, it’s still a pretty incredible testament to how far this game lept from the turn-based games that inspired it. I don’t think there would be a game that really captured the ideas around Final Fantasy’s active time battle system in a fully real-time format until FF7R, but KH was a strong early outing.
Kingdom Hearts was apparently out to prove it really was an RPG, because unlike most action games, it leads with its weaker material and ends much stronger. A straightforward tutorial is followed up with a leisurely stroll around an island doing some fetch quests. This would be mostly inoffensive, if not for one brief attempt at a “race” that clued me into how odd some of the platforming was going to feel. Sora lands like a rock, so jumping from platform to platform felt far from fluid. This sequence and the optional fight with your friend/rival Riku is meant to be revisited and trivialized on subsequent playthroughs of the game, but I know with certainty I would neve get these right, especially after getting used to my other abilities gained down the road.
Trouble in paradise arises as the island is enveloped in darkness, Sora’s oneitis is whisked away, and Riku is absorbed into a Lovecraftian ether assuring us that he’s just going to ask some perfectly reasonable questions about the history of central banking. The slow pace of the game continues as we are made to walk around Traverse Town. Combat encounters are not going to feel very exciting here. I feel like the game waiting to give you a dodge roll was a mistake. Even when you aren’t getting much use out of it, it can add a bit of dynamism to the flow of each fight. This is where I first picked up on how the game spares me the horror of having to deal with enemies respawning every time I reenter a room. It takes a couple of reentries before they rear their heads again, and they can often be ignored once you know where to go.
So you link up with Donald and Goofy, deciding to need it rather than keep it. You blitz on over to Wonderland, and this first Disney world does a solid job translating the film’s content into a video game setting. It only takes two-ish locales from Alice in Wonderland, the room with the potions and the queen’s garden, but a decent amount of variety is pulled from them. Negotiating with flowers is thankfully straightforward as they will just tell you what they want, so no guesswork is needed. This is one of the better examples of back-and-forth tasks the game is going to burden you with. It’s a short checklist of things that tend to open up a little more of the area as you go. We are not at the worst of this yet. The boss fight here can sadly take a while if you’re a bit sheepish over your capabilities or did not spec into magic. However if you’re willing to just dive in on this lanky fella then it’ll be over quickly.
Your next options are the jungle and the colosseum. The colosseum can come off as a fat load of nothing to those just trying to get through the game normally, but it’s the source of a substantial amount of optional content and some of the game’s best boss fights. If you do not make an attempt at Sephiroth, you will have sorely missed out. Interesting to note that this is actually the first time a character like him or Cloud would even be shown in a real-time format, so it’s no wonder these depictions had such a huge impact on their later incarnations. Though I wouldn’t be a real FF fan if I did not take a moment to seethe over “emo Cloud” being such a cool guy when his original depiction was much more of a dweeby weirdo getting made fun of for trying way too hard to act cool.
The jungle kind of sucks. I have trouble finding much defense for how much needless backtracking there is in this one just to activate cutscenes. In fact it’s often a bit unclear that’s what you need to be doing so you could waste even more time unnecessarily. I have seen some pretty neat optimized routing for this section but it’s sadly not quite enough to salvage it for me. I do get to take a moment to look at Jane, the best Disney girl, so it was kind of worth it in the end. I also got to beat up a leopard, which is something I always wanted to do in real life. Also, did you know that leopards only have a lifespan of 10-12 years? If a leopard killed Tarzan’s parents twenty years ago, then who the fuck did Tarzan kill in the movie?
As another aside, Tarzan claims that the boss here is “ooh ah ooh ah Not-Clayton” but what did he mean by this exactly? Is it a heartless posing as Clayton? Is he merely referencing that Clayton is not alone and is accompanied by a giant chameleon? Is it physically Clayton but possessed or enhanced by the power of darkness in some way? My friend Mike (whom I have blocked on twitter) insists that it is literally not Clayton. I think the following cutscene where the chameleon falls on Clayton implies that it was the real Clayton. If he was possessed, then we have just killed a man who was mostly innocent in this version of the story and even the actions of his own agency could have been manipulated by the heartless. Even Kerchek gets to live here. Clayton was tragically cast as the villain of this story because a higher power deemed it so. In another life, we could have been friends.
Revisiting Traverse Town demands a fair amount of busy work, but you do get to open up an optional minigame world to communist China and climb trees with Xi Jinping and friends. You also get to run into Riku again. It seems that, since we last saw him, Riku has been doing a lot of reading and insists that we should read the passages from Deuteronomy that he texted us earlier. He’s also believing every word from someone who has literal devil horns adorned to her head. I am a huge Sleeping Beauty fan, so getting to see Maleficent be so involved in the greater scope of the game is fun for me, especially since many of the other Disney characters seem more confined to their own worlds.
Agrabah is another generally well designed world. The combat here implements a bit of platforming so you think more about your positioning and try not to fall from your advantageous spot. You also have a nice variety of areas within the streets, outside the Cave of Wonders, the upper level of the cave, the lower level, and the treasure trove. The only thing that’s really missing is the palace interior. You also have to get a truncated version of the film’s character arc for Aladdin, rushing us to his third wish to free Genie. So Al wastes his first two wishes with shit we could have accomplished easily. This is one of those retreads that I accept as a necessary concession. It’s not just the film’s plot, but if you stray too far and have us dealing with like, animated series Aladdin, people who aren’t me wouldn’t be that interested
Jafar’s boss fight is a bit of a dud. The preceding sorcerer Jafar fight isn’t bad, but genie Jafar has the worst aim of all time and you’re mostly waiting for Iago to pass by so you can eviscerate Gilbert Gottfried.
Monstro is one of those worlds I had heard was infamous, only to find it totally inoffensive. It’s a small maze. What was so objectionable about this? Is it just one of those things people blow up because they got lost as kids? Why don’t I hear that about the following world? The fucking water one. Anyway, Riku is here again and this time he’s going on about how his ideology is totally predicated on economic reform only. Pinnochio is here, btw. He and Gepetto have been swallowed up here. Pinnochio is then swallowed up by a big heartless and you have to save him. Now, from my understanding, KH fans like some guy called “Chibi” really enjoy this kind of thing. I am personally not a huge fan of witnessing double-vore, but we end up leaving Gepetto and Pinnochio in this place to supposedly digest for all eternity anyway. Mission accomplished, boys. We entered the belly of the beast and took responsibility for our capital B Being, cleaning our room and slaying the dragon, bucko. (Note: We really will be slaying a dragon later)
The next world is Atlantica. Thankfully this is KH1 so dad is yet to walk in on us having a dance party with Princess Ariel the pretty mermaid. First and foremost, this world is a better example of the abridged/altered plots of the movies. Atlantica wisely ignores the movie’s plot of Ariel wanting to walk on land so she can get laid. However it successfully honors the spirit of the film with its cliff notes still focusing on the conflict between the free-spirited Ariel and her overbearing father, which leads to a deal with Ursula. Maybe praise for such sparse storytelling is unnecessary, but when you have to do something like this eight times per game you should give credit where it’s due.
I’m not really sure how much of Atlantica’s issues are its own versus mine. There are literal arrows pointing me in the right direction for the Final Mix version of this game, and I still managed to get lost trying to find my way back to Ariel’s hideout so I can progress the story. I don’t know how people feel about the swimming here, but it seems deliberately designed to not be as frustrating as underwater segments of the previous era. You move quickly and combat moves about as fluidly as it does on land. Still, the world is a little too large and there are too many enemies to fight per room in order to progress with a shy dolphin to the next area. Twice. I still found this meandering more engaging than the jungle, and I thought it ended pretty strong with both Ursula boss fights. I hear the second one, against giant Ursula, is infamous online for being incredibly frustrating. I’m assuming this must be referencing the original release which has a less free camera, because I found this to be a fun challenge among the required boss fights of the game. There’s plenty of healthy telegraphing of attacks, and conditioning that teaches you to not be greedy with openings. Ariel is also one of the more useful guest party members. I’m sure many peculiar folks online were saddened to find out she did not whip out her feet in this version of the tale, but she can absolutely throw hands.
Halloweentown is here. It is in this game. I liked it. I certainly didn’t dislike it. It’s like if the jungle section was less of a slog. A lot of quick back-and-forth running around to trigger cutscenes before you open up another small area. The combat here against the trash mobs can actually get a little dicey, with these guys who leap down and slash to deal huge damage. So the game is officially not pulling punches at this point. You also have another gimmicky boss fight waiting for you at the end of this segment. While the flow here is notably more in the game’s corner than your own, you still have a lot of control over how quickly this fight concludes. Again, whatever distaste I saw for this online prior to playing for the first time seems to be a projection of childhood frustrations. There’s also an additional fight against a house because the developers really wanted you to appreciate the exterior of this environment and not just run by all the enemies. Fair.
I don’t know if making Neverland the final world in a game about coming of age and loss of innocence was intentional, but I like to pretend it was. Of course, Neverland being last in line here means that apparently Captain fucking Hook has a higher in-universe power level than the likes of Jafar, Ursula, Oogie Boogie, (possibly) Hades, and Not-Clayton. He truly has climbed the competency hierarchy and channeled his inner chaos. Neverland is a fairly brief and confined world, and I can imagine it might’ve been frustrating with the original release’s camera, but it works fine in Final Mix. You are even granted the ability to fly freely here, something the swimming section preps you for. The movement feels very natural even if you only have access to a downgraded version of it outside of this world. Hook’s fight, like several others, is fairly accommodating in granting you extra enemies to beat up on in order to restore your magic. Pan is another one of the more fun guest party members with the ability to freeze enemies in place the way Bobby Driscol wishes he could have frozen time before getting blacklisted. There’s also a pretty neat optional gimmick fight here with a super boss that demands hyper awareness of a ticking clock that will kill your party one by one. It’s a great use of an iconic setpiece from Disney’s catalog.
You get a pocket Tinker Bell here. I have no comment. I just want you to know that you will have Tinker Bell available to summon and there is nothing else to think about in regards to Tinker Bell but she is literally right there in your pocket like seriously imagine though.
Hollow Bastion is where the game goes from pretty good to outright excellent for a while. Your movement is all freed up now, so traversal through the area is about as smooth as it’s going to get. The rooms here vary in size to let you judge the space between you and enemies in a variety of ways. The enemy types are split between bulkier damage dealers and flying enemies, both of which force you to reposition constantly. Beast is here as the only guest party member to not be present in their own world. While I was deprived of a Gaston boss fight, I could still breathe a sigh of relief as the game reassured me that the entire country of France had been obliterated by the Heartless.
The string of boss fights here are all high quality. Dragon Maleficent is a great example of how broken Tinker Bell is, but can be defeated without assistance once you understand that the massive tail whip attack is actually telegraphed. It’s just tough to see because it’s a giant dragon that takes up 75% of the screen. Riku is fully possessed here after going on a rant about how Bob Chapek “cucked out and deserved what he got” without any elaboration. The fight is a 1v1 that puts your understanding of the mechanics to the test. You can either totally crush it or struggle for longer than necessary. The original release is notorious for an unskippable cutscene preceding this fairly tough fight. Although this boss only took me a couple of tries, an unskippable cutscene probably would have made this totally intolerable and borderline drop-worthy as an adult. As a kid in 2002 with much fewer games to play, it would have been incredibly frustrating but probably something I would have stomached.
So Riku is then transformed into a chiseled greek god by the powers of evil and we bail on the Hollow Bastion. After a brief reprieve we dive right back in and head to the endgame so we can take on Ron DarknesSantis and stop him from taking over Disney World. Some of the newer enemies here are a real challenge to get through, but they also outstay their welcome after a while. They have a tendency to shield themselves or outright disappear, so you have to constantly shift focus to new targets and come back to finish off the previous enemy later. It starts out pretty interesting but becomes tiring after a while. The Chernobog reveal completely blew my socks off as I had no idea it was in this game, it helps that the fight itself was pretty damn good. The following room is a seemingly endless gauntlet of enemies that would have utterly destroyed my will to continue had I died in there, on account of the aforementioned defensive enemies, but thankfully I got through it on the first try. Apparently you can also just summon Simba to clear each wave near-instantly. So fuck me.
All that’s left of the game are a couple of fights with Ansem. It’s a pretty strong finish but the second phase is what really feels like the final boss in terms of difficulty. Some might hate the borderline un-reactable attack that virtually incapacitates you and drains your resources to stay alive while it’s active, but I think this lends the encounter a distinct sense of danger not present anywhere else in the game’s required fights. If everyone had something like this, then I’d hate it. As a single endgame boss fight, I love it. A final boss with a few things that are oppressive or unfair makes it more satisfying when you realize they can be beaten. The boss is also very generous with checkpoints and does not force you to redo any phases.
Ansem ends up turning into a giant flesh monster devil god with a sexy Billy Zane proxy attached to it, and watching Donald Duck and Goofy go toe-to-toe with this kind of thing is the stuff not even my dreams could have come up with. I’m sure this bizarre juxtaposition will not become a trend with the series going forward.
Idk the ending is nonsense. Kingdom Hearts is light but also we still have to close that door and Riku has to be on the other side of it rather than just pushing it with you and Michael Mouse is here and we’re gonna explain why he’s shirtless later thank you Nomura very cool.
So suffice to say I was actually pretty pleased with this one. While familiarity with the IPs will certainly enhance enjoyment, and I wouldn’t really recommend the game to someone who hasn’t seen or played any of the source material, it’s shocking to think the aesthetics and gameplay might be enough to carry this experience. If you’re used to more modern games deftly blending snappier combat and customization then you might not click with it, but it’s not hard to imagine why this game is a favorite of so many people who played it near release. Not just because of its recognizable foundations, but because it takes those things and earnestly crafts something totally new and novel with them.
Try not to take its storytelling all that seriously and lecture people over how this ridiculous concept is, in fact, ridiculous to watch unfold. There’s value in the absurd, and not just in an ironic sense. If a group of people made an enjoyable piece of entertainment out of an utterly insane idea with bizarrely broad, abstract, and robotic storytelling that it confidently seems to think is none of those things, then that is absolutely worth giving some thought to, even with a few laughs at its expense.

When I first tried playing this game, I was enjoying it for a good while, but then got frustrated at both the difficulty and the lack of guidance for where to go. In hindsight, I think I was playing the game with the wrong mindset, because I actually really enjoyed it this time. However, it is far from the masterpiece people prop it up as.
Boss fights, for the most part, are really good. I do think this game does have a bit of a problem here with quantity over quality. There are a ton of bosses, but I feel like very few of them are all that memorable, and the ones that are tend to be memorable for the wrong reasons. Lost Kin and The Radiance are definite examples of this. Seriously, fuck that Radiance fight, goddamn.
Exploration is definitely this game's strongest aspect. While there is a little too much gray, I did enjoy traveling through all the different environments and seeing what kind of weird enemies I'd have to face. Big weak point of the game here is that movement just kind of sucks. After Metroid Dread, with how fluid and fast paced its movement is, it's hard to play a metroidvania like this that feels so slow. Especially considering how massive the world is. I feel like there should have been more fast travel locations to compensate for the map size, or at least stag stations placed in a more central location.
The Dark Souls elements are a mixed bag for me. While I get that they're there to make the game more difficult and instill a certain tone, I can't say I particularly enjoy them. Walk backs to bosses after dying were always one thing about the Souls games that filtered me and prevented me from enjoying those games. It's not as bad here, but it still feels like pure tedium more than anything. The shade mechanic also becomes pointless once you don't need money anymore.
I do mostly enjoy the charm system, and the different builds you can make is neat. I do think some charms should have just been straight up permanent upgrades to make up for the lack of upgrades there are in the game. Like why the fuck is Wayward Compass a charm and not just a map upgrade? Legitimately what were they thinking?
I do want to mention that White Palace level. I know it's optional, but Jesus Christ this part sucks ass. It's a monumental difficulty spike where it suddenly turns into Super Meat Boy. And all you get for doing it is the chance to fight that Radiance boss that isn't fun at all. Genuinely awful.
Overall though, yeah it's a pretty good metroidvania game that is a bit overhyped. Beautiful art and music, mostly fun combat and bosses, and a massive world to explore. Not even close to the best metroidvania, but definitely up there.

sitting at the top of a hill littered with 2010s western independent charmers with hamfisted attempts at satire, post-modernism, genre critique, societal reflection and subversive storytelling is this crown jewel; the crème de la crème example of the self-serving haughty pretentiousness of an entire generation of would-be internet geniuses scrolling through tv tropes page by page in hopes to form contrarian opinions on popular media based on the talking points and consensuses of other people. if you're of a certain age demographic, you know this person - the one who parrots the opinions of your nostalgic critics and mr. enters as if the information they siphoned by lazing about youtube in search of a personality might be enough to make someone go, 'geez, this guy KNOWS his stuff' without having to go through the effort of formulating their own thoughts, or even worse, having to experience the media they're responding to the response of firsthand.
doki doki literature club stands as an indulgence of saturated moe-era anime tropes under the guise of a critique of the wikipedia plot summaries of KEY, ryukishi07 and type-moon games without having the slightest bit of humility or self-awareness in its execution. it, its creator, and its audience herald itself as some massive deconstruction of the visual novel form, when in actuality it's about in line with the actuality of what it's criticizing as yiik is with jrpgs. there is no metatextual subversion to be had. doki doki is a children's birthday magician - a couple of flashy tricks capable of fooling someone who doesn't know how ren'py works, but beyond its cheap parlor tricks which might give the astute horror mastery of, say, happy tree friends a run for its money, the title lacks substance, it lacks any form of personality, and it lacks the competence to warrant these mistakes in the face of a greater picture or experience.
i won't even dip into the implications the creator has made about how this game is apparently a very real and serious approach to topics such as self-harm and abuse - as a survivor of both i find these claims bordering on insanity - but i will offer the benefit of a doubt and suggest that maybe this is a product of genuine, ineffable incompetence and misjudgment... rather than one of deep-rooted pretention and narcissism. you could get the exact same experience intersplicing five nights at freddy's jumpscare reaction videos, one of the upteenth saw sequels, and nyan neko sugar girls as one would have playing doki doki literature club, but at the least, the former is shocking, entertaining and funny when it intends to be. do your wallet a favor and pass on this one - and yes, i know it's free.

I've put only around 9 hours into this, picking it up and dropping it due to getting more invested into other games. I wanted to actually put all my attention towards it, but I can't. At least not right now. I'm too bored.
Presentation and visuals are great, but there's absolutely nothing unique about this game whatsoever. This is basically what I imagine people who don't like JRPGs think all JRPGs are. It's the video game equivalent to a seasonal "cute girls doing cute things" anime: mildly amusing and safe, but also utterly dull and trite. Apparently, the plot goes places that makes it more interesting later, but now you're getting into "oh trust me, it gets good 20 hours in" territory which I'm not falling for anymore.
I might pick this back up in the future when I have nothing else to play, but I can't force myself to play through this at the moment.

though it might not be held in the same "well, obviously" monotonic unison as its colleagues across other mediums, i truly believe that, give it a decade, and metal gear solid 2 will be held as the monolithic peak of this medium. even if i cannot say that it's my sole favorite game, however close it may be, it is my immediate answer for the greatest game ever made. metal gear solid 2 not only manages to capture what makes video games a truly unique tool with which artists can convey emotion, atmosphere, content/form and delivery of ideals in the most abstract and interactive means outside of, potentially, very earnest performance art... it also serves as a truly post-modernist work, a truly of-the-times critique of the world, of the coming future, and of itself.
the thing about metal gear solid 2 which many players may take for granted now is that the experience extends far beyond the confines of the game itself. the marketing phenomena of mgs2, with the deliberately misleading information siphoned from trailers, promotional artwork, and interviews, offered a very different, very deliberately pleasing and gratifying experience for fans of the original metal gear solid than the final project would involve. solid snake encompassed all of the commercial footage, including areas in which he wouldn't appear or be playable in the final title. though i didn't play mgs2 upon its release in 2001, i can imagine the shock and confusion players must've felt from that slip-cover alone; a barren white cover in which gackt (oh my god lmao) holds an infant in his hands and the two lock eyes. really? THIS was the game to follow up metal gear solid? and of course, a sigh of relief might come when the tanker mission unfolds, and the familiarity of snake, otacon, ocelot, and the standard mgs fair enters the canvas. at last, this is what we'd been waiting for. of course, kojima pulls the covers out under that very quickly, and gaming's greatest left turn begins not long after.
one might be mistaken into believing mgs2 to be something of a cruel joke played on its audience. indeed, many attempts at post-modernism in videogames post-msg2 seem to miss the target of its satire. you look at many of these supposed post-modern opuses of the 2010s like undertale and spec-ops: the line, and the constant seems to be that the player must be punished or chastised in order to be made to feel some form of remorse or questioning of their actions. "do you feel like a hero yet?" indeed - especially damning and hypocritical criticism for games in which the player is subjected to this criticism for actions they cannot command choice over. i'd liken mgs1's approach to this tread path to michael haneke's 1997 film funny games - rather than chastise the viewer for participating with the medium, poke satirical fingers at the schadenfreude of the situation, highlight what the medium typically offers, and indulge in it and overexpose it with that in mind. YES, the moral quandry of snake enjoying killing or not is curious, especially in the rise of the first-person shooter golden era (as mgs1 of course was released around the likes of half-life, thief, quake ii et al) but it never guilts the PLAYER themselves for indulging in this medium. it isn't a half-hearted criticism of the audience partaking with the art. it's acknowledgement and glutton. and that's every bit more shocking and earnest.
compare this, then, to mgs2, which is about as opposite to player-critical as post-modernism in the medium comes. the controls are freer, easier and vastly improved over the original game. raiden's adventure is MOCKINGLY linear, with the varied landscapes and level variety of shadow moses now smoothed out into monotone, opaque, lifeless, sterile, fluorescent-lit halls that wouldn't feel out of place at one of my life's half-dozen 9 to 5 churn and burns. there is no life, there is only objective. there is no snow, there is no hill, there are no snowmobile getaways. only sterile, empty, vast nothingness. big shell itself has no heart, there is no beat to its rhythm. only a low, electric hum devoid of heart. an invisible set of eyes monitoring every move.
rose, the colonel, the whole crew outside of the mgs1 crew, emma and solidus, they're equally robotic and lifeless. all of their dialogue is stilted and phony. the sham is held together with scotch tape. the teenage fantasy of metal gear solid is lost, what little it had, and what is left is a sterilized y2k reality. your seldom moments with pliskin, otacon, and emma, they are the flicker of life that remains in the hulking machine. they are dave inside of hal-9000. the only pieces of humanity left in a world growing more autonomic and bleak. more than ever, snake and otacon shed their humanity to one another. no longer held to the machismo/nerd dynamic that defined their arcs in mgs1, there is a true acceptance and love, however you read it (it's gay as fuck though let's be honest) between them and a shared understanding of the others masculinity - on THEIR terms - that undermines the exact gamerbro audience that rejected this game for a decade after its release. these two would have every right and reason to become cold, sterile, and unwanting towards the world which has turned them away, but instead their agency is to pull the robot boy out of the system and teach him what it is to be human, to be ALIVE, and seek his own path.
the final hour of mgs2 is one of the most terrifying and harrowing experiences you will have in media. kojima et al shift into full swing as the absurdist (yet minimalist) humor which has defined their image warps into a vouyeristic exploitation, literally stripping the player nude and subjecting them to the harsh reality of the 21st century. everything is live and on air, everything is watched, everything is recorded. truth bends to subjectivity and context defines everything. what is the game and what is the commentary, and where that line crosses is irrelevant and it is in THIS sequence where mgs2 hits peak post-modernism in its medium. it is not criticizing its player, it is not criticizing within the confines of the game itself - whatever defines "the game" at this point is purely speculation as far as i'm concerned - it is a call to arms for unity, realization, acceptance of the hard pill to swallow, and a call to action against the status quo and against the system before and while it swallows us whole. what defines the simulation and what defines a breach into reality, dog tags or no, is your call.
mgs2 is a game about a lot of things. it's about games. it's about the internet. it's about america. it's about america from outside america. it's about art. it's about love. it's about masculinity. it's about trauma. it's about healing. it's about the future. it's about understanding our past. it's about acceptance. it's about prevention. it's also the game where snake can shred the fuck out of some grind-rails and eat shit when he skateboards into an airborne bomb. what the fuck else do you want? greatest video game ever made.

"content dictates form. less is more. god is in the details.
all in the service of clarity, without which, nothing else matters."

- stephen sondheim
above is a quote from one of my lifelong heroes who passed away a few months ago. mr. sondheim's work defined a great deal of my teenage and transitional years and upon hearing the news of his tragic passing, i took the opportunity to reflect on the ways with which he'd influenced my art, my views, and my conduct. i'm by no means a theatre type - while i spent a few years in high school co-directing and acting as a dramaturge for a local company, by no means do i enjoy the theatre as it exists to the common eye and ear. i left that world to escape the despotism of what 'must be' and what 'sells' by the overseeing eye of the major companies and self-satisfied bigwigs because, as any artist knows, when you climb a few rungs of the ladder no art is political, but all art is politics.
yet i find myself, years removed from theatre, years removed from pushing my own envelope of personal expression to a public eye, many nights in front of a google doc, or a blank notepad, or staring at my shelf, wondering when the spark is going to hit and i'll write the next pieces of my screenplay, or my next chorus to a song, or my next analysis of some 20-year-old adventure game made by a small passionate team from the literal opposite of the world. sometimes i wonder if my minimalism, my expression of big feelings in small boxes, through white and black forms with bright technicolor lights, if it's a crutch, if i'm an imitator of the conglomerate great ideas of people before me... if i shoot half this short film adaptation of a novel as a silent work, am i up my own ass for it? if i push myself creatively as a musician to a one-man audience by design, am i selling myself short? have i missed my shot at truly expressing MYself?
of course, if you've got your head screwed on halfway right, you'll realize this self-talk is a complete load of bullshit. just put the pen to the paper. put the fingers to the keys. don't worry about who sees it, don't worry about why you do it, but if you believe in it - content dictating form - and if your style is simple short strokes with deep, cutting lines - less is more - and if your heart hurts to watch it play back - god is in the details. if you are an artist, if you are a person who needs to be able to say something for the sake of saying it, you must throw away preconceptions, you must disregard what people have said of you and your work, you must take that future into your hands and seize it. all in the service of clarity, without which, nothing else matters.
live your daily rut. get up, go to work.
push hard to make those days count.
let your work be your work, and let your work be your work.
to find happiness is to be honest with oneself.
recognize the monotony but don't let it overtake you.
your career isn't your person.
every person on this site, every person reading this
i think each one of us has art inside of us waiting to blossom.
you need to be willing to find love in your heart for that, for yourself, and the willingness to seize that potential regardless of the cost and regardless of how you've hurt before.
you need to seize the future.
you need to kill the past.
flower, sun & rain was me all along, wasn't it?

A video game. An honest-to-god video game!
That was my initial reaction after a mere hour of playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus. I cannot express to you what a refreshing surprise this game was, especially coming off the heels of having played the latest phoned-in generation. What's this, a Pokémon game with an open environment that actually has things to do in it? A game that gives your character agency in the world? Fucking SIDE QUESTS?! My expectations were undoubtedly low but my enjoyment of this game had nothing to do with that; it's a genuinely GOOD video game, something I had long given up hope for in this series.
PLA does a lot of great things but they're all (mostly) the result of the domino effect induced by its setup. This game serves as a prequel, of sorts, to Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, where you're a time-displaced trainer sent back to a era where Pokémon training isn't even a thing yet. Honestly, I could have easily done without the faux-isekai framing device, but I can't deny how much I absolutely adored the feudal-Japan inspired setting. It finally allowed for an exploration of the Pokémon world where everything isn't just candy and rainbows with these things. These are feral, dangerous creatures, and the game continually makes you aware of that. I've never seen the words "die" and "kill" used so many times in a Pokémon story, and Legends: Arceus doesn't shy away from the reality of the time period its based on. You really are exploring a new frontier here, and in so doing allowed for the freshest interpretation of Pokémon in 20 years.
The world of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is one that feels like it lives up to the fantasy these games try to pander to. It's a living, breathing world full of exploration and opportunity. Seeing the little village of Jublife grow as the game progressed was a genuine joy. Having each zone actually possess varied and interesting geography made wanting to seek out every little corner a meaningful affair. I wish varying species of Pokémon interacted with each other more, but how they interact with YOU is what ultimately sells the immersive experience this game offers. They'll run, or hide, or attack you, or just stare at you dumbfoundedly, depending on the species. It's all simple in its variety but incredibly fresh in its execution. And that all bleeds into the gameplay loop, which is where I found the most enjoyment.
All Pokémon games, really after the first generation, became less about catching all these little critters, and more about simply battling them with others. PLA flips the script, instead making the catching and documentation of them the real meat of the experience. Not since Gen 1 did I feel motivated in this pursuit, and while there are battles here, they're kept to a minimum, and the real focus becomes on completing your Pokedex. This is done in a variety of ways, such as catching Pokémon, defeating them a certain number of times, witnessing them using specific moves, fighting alpha variants, etc. Given this is a world where people are still afraid of Pokémon and lack understanding of them, it perfectly ties into the setting and forms a charming basis for your adventure. I felt extra strongly about this after playing Pokémon Violet, where it really hit me how trivial and inconsequential catching Pokémon had become. Legends: Arceus finally gives meaning and purpose to that side of the franchise again.
You can really tell how much they thought about how the setting influenced everything else around it too. It wasn't just something slapped on to differentiate the game, like the school setting in Scarlet and Violet. For example, it wouldn't make sense for random items to be strew about in these lands where people have barely settled, so instead it offers up a crafting system where the items to gather are natural and you construct your Poke Balls and medicines out of them. It's really simple but it's another way to make you feel immersed in this game's world, not to mention actively giving you other things to seek out beside just Pokémon. Hell even the presentation goes the extra mile, with bold Japanese calligraphy highlighting text and UI elements, and a healthy dose of classical Japanese instruments and sound effects to help remix beloved Diamond and Pearl music. As someone really into that sort of thing, it goes a long way.
Legends: Arceus also features a revamped battle system, another element of the game that seeks to add a new perspective. Instead of a simple turn-based system, an action order is introduced alongside it to help move things along, complete with strong and agile versions of existing moves to influence it. The end result are battles that don't feel hindered by the same sluggish systems the mainline games have traditionally used, and the simplification of a lot of moves and effects also contribute to that. Normal stat calculations have also seemingly been thrown out the window, so matchups between Pokémon can still be intense and hard-hitting even with a vast difference in level. It never broaches the level of what I'd call "difficult" but I certainly did have Pokémon fainting a lot more than usual, so there's that.
I also can't tell you how much just adding simple side quests benefits a game like this. Even for the older generation Pokémon games, I always felt this aspect was something missing from the series, and I'm so glad to finally find one that leans into its JRPG origins. Not only does it offer more content to engage with, but allows the characters of this world to shine in their personalities, which they absolutely do. This has one of the best cast of characters any Pokémon game has ever had, and it was cute to see the little twists and nods they gave to them (many of them referencing future characters from the Diamond and Pearl games). Charm has seriously been lacking from the past couple of generations but I suppose it all went here instead.
Honestly, I'm just baffled. It's hard to believe Game Freak made something like this. Not from a technical perspective, of course; while I do like how a lot of this game looks, it's still rather simple overall, and some of the pop-in and draw distance problems can become genuinely annoying at times. But this game has vision! It has ideas! It has ambition! It has EFFORT! These are all things recent Pokémon games have lacked, but if they can make a game like this, it's obvious those traits exist within the people who make them. It's even more of a head-scratcher here, as Pokémon Legends: Arceus was made concurrently with the 9th generation Scarlet and Violet games, and yet this one answers every criticism I had following my playthrough of Violet! Did the two teams working on these titles never talk to each other? No one develops games like that anymore, and it shows why here.
Either way, this game rocks, and even someone as thoroughly jaded with this franchise as I am came around to it after initially discounting it when it first released. Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels like an extremely well-made GameCube game, and I say that with the highest respect. In fact, it feels like the kind of game Nintendo would have refused to localize 20 years ago. You almost don't feel like it's real when you're playing it. Whatever minor nitpicks I might have about my time with it (like the laborious inventory management), they ultimately don't amount to much. I can safely say I enjoyed this game and don't need to put some kind of caveat on that. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is proof that this series might still have some magic left in it after all.

Don't let the rating fool you; Pokemon Scarlet is a deeply flawed, frustrating experience that is dead set on sabotaging itself throughout its run time. It has earned four stars despite its best efforts, and in the hands of a competent studio the game would have easily been a five. Its only saving grace is a formula that is tailor made to psychologically satisfy people on the most base, primal level. Anything one's higher functions might appreciate or notice is woefully under-cooked.
I suppose the latter is the best place to start; what exactly doesn't work here? In a word: everything. The game's frame rate is extremely inconsistent. Whether in the over world, in a battle, in a cutscene, wherever, one will be dealing with varying degrees of sub-30 frames. This even causes an amount of desync with the audio in the cutscenes. Had the frame rate been locked to a low number, that would have been frustrating but mostly fine. Instead, the game oscillates wildly when determining which extremely low amount of FPS it wants to present at any given time thereby ensuring the player will never get used to it.
The speed of the game is another element that drags it down. The game is slow. Glacially, monumentally, horrifyingly slow. This mostly manifests in the battles, which seem shackled to an engine that predates most of the series's fan base. Any stat change in battle takes a couple of seconds to come across to the player. Any attack needs to have its animation play out. Status effects like poison or sleep add time to every turn when their effects are possibly the easiest to automate.
What's frustrating about the issue is that it had previously been solved. The ability to turn off all of these animations has been mysteriously removed. This is a vexing change as it presents literally no gain to the player at the cost of their agency. Put more simply: who wanted this? Who wanted to lose options? This one change likely adds more than an hour to the average player's time with the game.
I need to beleaguer this issue further: Not long into the game I caught a big crab guy. This guy's ability was that when he would get hit four of his stats would change. Rather than playing the stat change animation once for all four, or two times for both the positive and negative stat changes, it played it four times. Every time it got hit in battle! My ability to use my favorite guy was impacted by the 60 seconds of waiting he'd add to my fights. It quickly became apparent that the optimal strategy for playing Pokemon was to dick around on one's phone while the battle's various loading screens played themselves out.
Speaking of loading, for some reason there's a ton of that going on as well. Not the typical loading screen, but every action Pokemon take in battle has a one to two second bit of loading before it comes through. Even throwing a Pokeball has this issue. Nothing at all feels smooth in this game, and that weighs more heavily on the player the longer they play.
The dual release nature of the game is also a glaring problem. I don't know how Gamefreak has been enabled in doing this for years, but whatever, I bought this game too so I cannot complain. Still, it is a transparent way of gating content for dollars. The core conceit of the game, the reason it works at all, is the "catch them all" ethos. This just doesn't work when the player knows from the onset that several of their favorite guys aren't in the game so Gamefreak can sell marginally more units. It's an incredibly anti-consumer move that should be called out every release cycle.
The story of the game is also a fumble. The framing device for the proceedings is a school. The player character takes classes, bonds with their teachers, and picks up little sidequests from the school. Or, they would, if anyone knew that content was there. So much of this content is essentially hidden from the player, as they are never told it is there nor incentivized to explore the school and find it. I imagine most people completed their game with taking the final exams nor getting their bond with their teachers to the highest level. It's hard to categorize it as a throwaway when this school veneer is the loudest of the game's design. Your character can never change from their uniform yet they will almost never actually go to class? A missed opportunity for a more satisfying integration of the school elements with the larger game systems.
Adding to the frustration of all of these issues is that they were fixed. Pokemon Legends Arceus, a singular release that was solidly constructed, was a major step forward for the franchise. It was fresh, fun, and a new take on the same formula. Arceus was developed as Scarlet was coming together, so it's not shocking the Scarlet doesn't borrow anything from that game, but man does Scarlet feel like pure regression. Arceus's frame rate was fine. Battles were quick and smooth. It had no partner game that siphoned off content. Hell it didn't even have DLC. The time travel story, while not extremely satisfying, was thoroughly referenced through to the end. It was a rock solid experience that will surely be forgotten now that we can see the sales divide between it and Scarlet. Gamefreak had a perfect opportunity for evolution with their franchise, but unfortunately it looks like they're going to press 'B'.
So then, what saves Scarlet from being abject garbage? Well, it's a Pokemon game. The core conceit of exploring a world, catching guys, training guys to evolve, and bonding with a team is a fun one. If anything, Scarlet proves that formula is impossible to bomb. If anything, the formula is heightened by the open world, a change to the series (A change first seen in Arceus) that I quite enjoyed. That, plus the appearance of Pokemon in the open world rather than traditional tall grass, made hunting them down an enjoyable experience.
As always when I play these games, I completed my Pokedex, and unlike past games in the series this isn't a tedious endeavor. Only the holdover mistakes from ghosts of Christmas past rear their ugly heads: some Pokemon must be traded to evolve; others only appear in Violet. With 400 guys to find, doing so in an open world is a big upgrade from having to shuffle around tall grass and sit through encounter loading screens for hours on end.
Another system that benefits from the open world is the progression through the story, or stories. Pokemon Scarlet has three different campaign threads for the player to follow and complete at their leisure. All three of these were enjoyable on some level, though there is a clear ranking to the quality here. The Team Star battles come in last place, with the titan Pokemon hunt winning out. Still, the ability to complete these and there various stages in whatever order the player wishes is a level of freedom I truly was not expecting. It was a necessary step to follow through with the promise of open exploration, but I wouldn't have been surprised to see this bungled as well. Regardless, what we got is what works best for the conceit of the game, and this is probably what will stick with me most after finishing up with Scarlet.
It's hard to understate this. It was fun to leave the "first" gym battle for the last of my 18 events just so I could bully some bug Pokemon. It's fun to climb a mountain range you've never been to before only to fall off the other side and land on some new gym you weren't expecting. It's fun to make a plan and then have it get sidetracked because you got lost. I cannot possibly imagine a Pokemon game without this set up, at least not one in the mainline series. If anything sticks around from Scarlet, I hope this is it. Hopefully Gamefreak doesn't then remove the map feature for seemingly no reason.
The common discourse about Pokemon Scarlet is something along the lines of "Wow this game is buggy but I've having fun! Look at these wacky glitches!", which is an accurate sentiment, but it's also a dangerous one. This game is fun in spite of itself, and any amount of forgiveness levied simply because of enjoyment is an anti-consumer attitude. We should not accept games this broken. We should not overlook flaws that run this deep. This game is fun, yes, but it could have been so much more than it is right now. These "wacky" glitches actively detract from the experience, and in dunking on the game that should never be forgotten.
Gamefreak has continuously been enabled by Pokemon. People are psychologically primed to enjoy collecting. The Pokemon themselves are often designed by committee to appeal to the most people as possible. The studio does not have to try to have a hit with these elements, and it's difficult to say that they were trying with Scarlet. Regardless of the game's quality, that feeling pervades the experience: nobody cared when making this. They shipped a broken, chugging game and just didn't care because it would make a billion dollars anyway. And it did.
It's up to all of us to personally decide how we feel about this arrangement. I knowingly bought the game so I'm a culpable party, but voicing dissatisfaction is important. Enjoying a flawed, janky experience is fine too should one do it knowingly. But the "Don't care; had fun" sentiment that seems so popular is a destructive one, and the destruction wrought is on this franchise.

I'm done.
I'm done playing you Pokémon. I'm bored. You're boring me.
You know, I can forgive a technical mess. I think it's quite frankly absurd that this is the most broken major release of a video game since Cyberpunk 2077 and if this was any other franchise we'd be talking about it in the same breath as that game's disastrous launch. But at the same time, I'm the guy who likes Sonic 2006. I think it's perfectly fine to enjoy a game even despite its overwhelming issues. I think it's important you acknowledge those issues, which a large portion of the Pokémon fanbase refuses to, but it's entirely possible to see the good through the bad and find enjoyment in something so deeply flawed.
I'm much, MUCH less forgiving of a game that bores me, especially one that finally moved in the direction I had always hoped it would, only to massively drop the ball in the process. This game should have been a slam dunk in spite of Game Freak's incompetence, and that it isn't means I'm going to be immensely harsh in my review of it. I had to force myself to see this through to the end, something I once thought impossible for a franchise I truly loved. New Pokémon games were an event for me. Something I looked forward to years in advance. But now I'm struggling to finish them. This was that uninteresting to me. It speaks volumes.
So how did we get here, especially after the disaster that was Sword and Shield? Those games that had previously put me off the franchise forever? Well, there are three answers to this. The first is that I got this game for free. Let's just say my uncle who works at Nintendo hooked me up with a copy. I vowed they wouldn't get my money after Gen 8 unless they delivered something different and of quality and I'm glad to see I was right in that stance. I realize this ultimately amounts to nothing as Scarlet and Violet will undoubtedly be the best-selling games of the year. The Pokémon Company clearly realized long ago they didn't have to put real effort into these games when people just buy them anyway. Still, for my own peace of mind, I refused to purchase it.
Second of all, I have said I would at least be willing to give the franchise another chance if they drastically changed their approach to making these games, at least in terms of their design. Sword and Shield had many flaws but a major one was its inability to free itself from Pokémon's outdated handheld framework. Scarlet and Violet's switch to an open-world style certainly fits the criteria of a major change, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a bit curious about how their take on that type of game ended up, especially as I do enjoy the junk food style of game that is the open world genre.
And third, perhaps the most simple of all to understand: "The Rubberneck Factor." This game is a trainwreck from a technical perspective, and social media has been flooded with all manner of hilarious bugs and glitches consistent with a Cyberpunk-level disaster as previously mentioned. It's like noticing a car burning on the side of the road: you can't help but want to stop and see for yourself, and I certainly found myself drawn to Generation 9 in that regard. I wanted to bear witness to just what the hell went wrong here.
However, let's put the technical bellyflop of this game aside. That part doesn't even interest me, and I'm actually a little sad I didn't encounter some of the more egregious bugs in my game. It was largely just the standard jank and lack of polish you'd already expect from the latest entry in Nintendo's Madden series. The yearly releases of this franchise certainly don't do it any favors, and I imagine a lot of this could and would have been cleaned up if Game Freak were given more time to develop their titles. However, the fact that people pounce on this as the perceived singular reason for the game's lack of quality misses the larger picture. The problems go much deeper, and I simply do not believe this studio is capable of making this type of game regardless of how long you give them.
So let's work from the beginning. Like every Pokémon game, you start in your own home, pick a starter Pokémon, and head off on a grand journey. However, Scarlet and Violet have a bit of a twist, where you're enrolled in a school at the start of the game, which works as the framing device for your adventure. It soon becomes apparent, though, that this is nothing more than window dressing, as the school itself serves little importance and clashes majorly with the open-world nature of the game. You're thrust out of your school almost immediately after arriving, and you're given few reasons to ever return. Why they felt the need to go this route, I have no idea, aside from perhaps a minor change of pace. But hey, at least it locks you into a school uniform for the entire game, restricting the ability to fully customize yourself that was present in the past several generations of Pokémon titles. Game Freak sure loves to take things away from players for absolutely no reason, don't they?
Also early in the game, you meet Nemona, your overly-excitable rival, who also has a slightly different twist: she's already a Champion level trainer. In theory, this gives you a concrete goal to strive towards, but in reality, I never once bought her as a Champion, and if they wanted to go the route of having someone stronger that you felt incentivized to chase, a more antagonistic rival would have been preferred. But, at this point, Game Freak seems to be adverse to ever going back to that archetype, so it's almost pointless to complain. I wish they would ditch the rival aspect of these narratives altogether if they're going to keep doing this, much as they did in Pokémon X & Y where your rivals were more of a friend group who all went through the same journey together as you did. I enjoyed that framing a lot better.
Before going to the Academy to officially start your adventure, you're thrust into an early taste of Generation 9's big shift in gameplay paradigm: the open world. There's a pretty large field to free roam about, crawling with dozens of Pokémon that you'll probably barely see until you step on them because seemingly half of all Pokémon in this game are so small they can be hard to distinguish from the environment. I have no idea why this was such an issue this time around, whereas it never cropped up in Scarlet and Violet's protoform design of the Wild Area in Sword and Shield, but it bothered me the whole way through the game. I also didn't care for how many Pokémon this game throws at you in this first area, as you're never really given enough time to bond with your initial catches before moving on to the next shiny thing that pops up in front of you.
After your very brief trip to school, you're presented with the three narrative quests that form the backbone of Scarlet and Violet's adventure: Victory Road, Starfall Street, and Path of Legends. Victory Road is your standard Pokémon fare, where you seek out eight Gym Leaders, earn their badges, and face the Elite Four on the road to becoming Champion. Along the way to earning those badges, you'll have to do Gym Tests before taking on the actual Leaders, and boy let you tell you, these are some of the worst excuses for "gameplay" you'll ever find. Do you love baby games like Hide and Seek? Simon Says? Where's Waldo? Game Freak has you covered! It's quite honestly embarrassing that the devs thought this was legitimate content, with the Olive Roll minigame taking the cake in terms of pure awfulness. It's like someone's first high school computer programming assignment. I can't believe they got rid of previous games' fun little gym puzzles for this garbage.
Starfall Street and Path of Legends both constitute part of the game's overall story and are required for the ending, but truthfully they feel more like long side quests. This isn't a bad thing, however, and I actually do wish these games leaned harder into their JRPG roots with more side content and character stories. Granted, the stories you follow in both of these (taking on the "villainous" Team Star and helping a fellow student track down Titan Pokémon) aren't particularly compelling, but at least they tried. Unfortunately, between these three quests, that's really all you're going to find in terms of content here, and leads to my biggest issue with these games and why I was so fundamentally bored with them: there's an open world, but there's nothing to do in it.
If you're going to make an open-world game, you REALLY need to nail the actual world aspect of that. It needs to feel like a living, breathing, flourishing environment that you want to become immersed within. Scarlet and Violet do not do this. I quickly found myself simply going from Point A to Point B in my quests because there was simply nothing else to do. There are a lot of Pokémon to be found, for sure, but at this point in the series' lifespan just catching these things isn't enough anymore, and that's literally all there is to do! The game doesn't even force you into trainer battles anymore. There's just a small handful of them in every area, so spread out that you rarely encounter them. There's nothing to see, there are no interesting landmarks to explore, and there are no dynamic events happening. You just go and catch the same Pokémon you've been catching for years, with a smattering of new ones, and that's only if you feel like it, as the game gives no real incentive for catching things anyway. Why would it, after all? This is no longer the "Gotta Catch Em All" franchise.
It's like they started from the baseline of "let's make an open world game" but didn't consider what goes into making an INTERESTING open world game. Instead, it just retrofits the old way of playing Pokémon on top of this new system, with the only major change being the ability to do things in any order, even though you'll still mostly stick to what you're capable of anyway, lest you be severely under-leveled or locked out of certain areas until you acquire new movement abilities. Open-world games kind of work on a hamster wheel, always giving you something to do, something to work towards, something shiny to collect as you make your way through the world, but there's no hamster wheel here. You fight the gyms, you defeat the evil team, you take down big Pokémon with health bars - all stuff that's been in previous games. In between, you're helplessly bored.
Perhaps some of this could have been mitigated with an interesting and diverse region to inhabit, but instead, you're stuck looking at the same five GameCube textured environments the whole way through. There's no sense in wondering what's around the corner because you know nothing will be there anyway. Towns and cities also suffer in this department, as they're purely cosmetic and feel more like fake towns used for nuclear testing purposes than actual lived-in human dwellings. You can't even go in buildings for fuck's sake, one of the most basic staples of an RPG. There are no exciting events, no weird back alleys to get lost in, and absolutely no one interesting to talk to. This is by far the most generic ass world of any game I've ever played. If you're expecting anything as whimsical as Fortree or Laverre City in this generation, you certainly won't find it.
A lot of people have claimed this is a Switch issue; that it's just not powerful enough to create big, detailed open worlds that perform at least reasonably well, but that's such horseshit. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 came out three months ago, guys. It's a perfect comparison to see just what Pokémon could be, but never will. Funnier still are those who claim screenshots of Pokémon that make it look bad are just cherry-picked out of context when you can literally stand in any place in Xenoblade, take a screenshot, and have it filled with some of the most breathtaking visuals you'll see in any game, let alone on the Switch. As a Nintendo fan, I get it, graphics aren't everything, but it's really hard to get immersed in a world with this little effort put into it.
I'm not saying Game Freak needs to make something like Xenoblade or that they need to measure up to the impossible standard that is Monolithsoft, but is it too much to ask for at least some degree of creativity? It's not there, and with this being their fourth major release on the platform now, I think it's safe to say we have a body of evidence that supports that. I used to think Game Freak made their games in a vacuum and that's why they feel so behind the times, but it's actually more like they exist on a planet 10 light years away from Earth, where information about video games a decade ago are only now just getting to them. How else do you explain that they put goddamn enemy base raids into a Pokémon title, the most boiler-plate open-world content you could possibly come up with? Enjoy letting the game play itself for you before fighting the same car five times in a row.
Don't even get me started on the Pokémon or character designs here, which are the absolute worst in a series that has traditionally had some outstanding ones over the years. This new batch of Pokémon feels particularly uninspired, and I wonder if they're genuinely running out of ideas. Hell, they finally added a dolphin Pokémon after all this time and then proceeded to make its evolution the worst atrocity ever committed in these games. Oh, but at least there's a le chonkin' pig Pokémon, another kooky crab Pokémon, and oh yeah, a flamingo Pokémon. They didn't even bother to stylize that one; it's just a flamingo. In what I can only describe as an act of malicious compliance, I proceeded to use this stupid thing throughout the entire game. At least it was useful.
Presentation-wise, it's just as bad, and it feels like there was actually negative effort put into this aspect of the game. Can we get some fucking voice acting already? It's 2022 for fuck's sake. I don't even care if it's bad voice acting, it's still better than what we have now. You can't keep putting musical acts performed by mimes in these games and expect me to get invested in this shit. It further underscores that no matter how far these games have come, no matter how much they try to sell you the illusion of doing something different, it's still just the same dated design philosophy it's always been. They couldn't even be bothered to design cool and unique rooms for each of the Elite Four; you just fight them in a big empty room on a basic battlefield. Way to hype up what should be the culmination of your journey, guys.
That said, I will give credit to one thing, which is the endgame story. Area Zero represents the one genuinely good idea Scarlet and Violet bring to the table, and how your story ultimately coalesces around it is legitimately interesting. It's the most I've ever felt like I was playing a true JRPG in a Pokémon setting since Colosseum, something Game Freak didn't even make. Unfortunately, it's too little too late by that point, and I also can't help but feel that despite how interesting it is, it would have been done even better in the hands of a more competent team. The entire game really should have revolved around this concept instead of surfacing it to you at the 11th hour.
There are also plenty of little things that I haven't covered but honestly don't even care enough to delve deep into, like the new Terastallization gimmick, which hey, if you want to talk about running out of ideas, here you go. I thought Dynamax Pokemon in Sword and Shield were a pretty lazy gimmick, but now make way for crystal hats that change your type. Real thrilling stuff here. There are some nice quality-of-life improvements, like the ability to press one button and instantly use potions to heal your Pokémon, but for some reason, you can't do the same for reviving them or cleansing status conditions, so it comes off as a completely half-baked implementation of what should be a better feature. I can't stand how your map rotates with you, so whenever you open it, you're completely disoriented from where you want to go. The music is awful and sounds like AI-generated approximations of what a Pokémon soundtrack usually sounds like. The new ancient and future variations of certain Pokémon are interesting ideas on paper, but in practice, they just look stupid, and why do these Pokémon have generic descriptions instead of real names? I hate it. I hate so much of this game.
The only saving grace of Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet is that this franchise can no longer hurt me anymore. I stopped caring after Sword and Shield ruined the veneer of what was my favorite series of all time, but in doing so exposed just how shallow and dated these games actually are now. Don't let anyone tell you great ideas are lurking under the game's serious technical problems; this is largely the exact same shit it's always been, and I'm bored with it. The open-world design, the one thing I always thought I wanted for this franchise, turned out to be the game's biggest anchor in terms of enjoyment. They couldn't have missed harder if they tried, and now that they've pulled the trigger on this new style of game and failed, there's really nothing left to be hopeful for. This was their one chance to finally bring this franchise into the present day and make something of it again.
But they didn't. They failed. Please let someone else have Pokémon, because Game Freak will never change, never grow, and never be capable of delivering anything but the most barebones experience possible. It's truly embarrassing at this point. You'd never know it was a game in the highest-grossing media franchise of all-time looking at it. But people keep eating this up, so I guess they're just giving the audience what they want. I guess I'm the crazy one to keep demanding something better for a franchise that deserves it.
Fuck you Ed Sheeran.

Pokémon Scarlet is the first new game I’ve played in the series since Sun back in 2016. While I enjoyed that game well enough, I felt like the series was going in a direction that no longer appealed to my sensibilities. I still kept up with the series, but I was content to stave off trying a new game until something new sparked my interest. Had I reviewed Sword and Shield, I likely would have been immensely unkind to it. While I understand that the true value of Pokémon for many is its multiplayer, the truth is that many players make it through the campaigns and post-game quests before never going through again. Their own multiplayer experiences would likely boil down to a few matches against friends with their in-game teams. The increasingly pilpul-like reasons given in interviews behind the stripped-down story quests of newer entries, and the willingness of the fanbase to defend virtually any decision made by GameFreak, turned me off to the series for a long while.
I never cared about the “dex cut” that occurred in Sword and Shield, to be clear. I have never once transferred old Pokemon to new games, and frequently wipe the slate clean on save files. Cycling Pokemon in and out was an inevitability as the catalog of monsters grew larger and larger. I found it immensely unfortunate that this potentially reasonable development decision became the chief criticism of GameFreak’s work when there was so much more to complain about. Of course, there were many people arguing the point with more nuance, pointing out how the production value and content density/quality of the game was clearly not compensating for the dex cut, but sadly the waters were already muddied. Those darn entitled gamers were at it again, bullying the hardworking developers. All the bitching was to no avail, as Sword and Shield obliterated sales charts, and it seemed like GameFreak would never have any reason to improve or reassess their insane yearly churn out of games.
So what drew me back in here? Well for one, I was gifted an early copy of the game for my Nintendo PC, so the opportunity cost was literally just my time. Secondly, this game swerves off hard from Sword and Shield’s literal straight line region and Sun and Moon’s tiny unfinished areas. It’s a full-on open world with 18 main quest missions that can be completed in any order. For me, this is the final nail in the Cofagrigus for any excuse over the main campaigns being lacking in order to quickly shuffle players along to the multiplayer. Pokemon is supposed to be an adventure, and for more reasons than just that open world, Scarlet and Violet occasionally succeeded in bringing that feeling back to the franchise for me. They got there stumbling all over themselves but they sort of did it. Please bear in mind that my experience does not involve much engagement with Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which to my understanding is similarly open ended but dissimilarly not so focused on battles. I know many people who disliked Sword and Shield walked away from Legends feeling pretty positively about it, so these last few releases may bode well for the future of the franchise so long as GameFreak can please, please get someone else to help them make the game.
So with these 18 missions, there is no level scaling. This can be a bit of a double edged sword. With this format, the world definitely feels more alive, particularly wild Pokemon encounters way outside the average level of your team. You can also challenge yourself by taking on higher level bosses earlier. This was my experience with the game, going after the highest level gym fourth, the highest level Team Star boss third, and the highest level Titan third as well. Hilariously, I would often ignore the victory road storyline until I reached the obedience level cap that demanded I drag my ass to the nearest gym so that my character would stop trying to roleplay as the average pitbull owner. The world was not accommodating me, and I liked that, even though I knew where it was leading. Eventually, I had to go back and blitz through those lower level missions I had ignored. I quickly decided to only use Pokemon around the same levels as those missions, which made for a more enjoyable experience. However, I know most players won’t think about self-policing that way. Games are meant to be beaten, so people don’t even think twice about doing the most optimal, low risk task in order to destroy any semblance of fun. A Quick Ball at one overleveled wild pokemon that may not even obey, four gym badges in, and then you go back and stomp the entire rest of the game. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people will be robbing themselves of something much more memorable, but GameFreak designed the game this way. They’ve always let you play Pokemon in just about the most boring way possible, just look at all those starters with four STAB moves twenty levels higher than the nearest boss.
SPEAKING OF GameFreak and boring design decisions, let’s talk about SET MODE and how everyone who defends its removal with “Just press B lmao” is brain damaged. Yes, Set Mode is no longer available, a totally baffling decision. Like I stated above, people don’t even think about just how boringly they can play games if it’s less stressful to win by being boring, not even necessarily accomplishing things more expediently. I have played plenty of ROMhacks, and I can tell you that even the toughest hacks eventually lose their luster if you stick with Shift Mode. Knowing what your opponent is sending out and being able to swap to another Pokemon at no risk to you is objectively the best decision you can make. Developers usually put some degree of separation between easier options that allow anyone to beat the game and tougher options they think will be more fun. These are usually called “difficulty modes'' for the uninitiated. Many people considered Set Mode to be a difficulty option, and indeed people who defend the often braindead difficulty curve of the games tell you to just turn on Set Mode. I can only speculate, but I’m sure that those same people are now defending Set Mode’s removal by telling others to “just press B”
The problem is that most people don't even think about how much Shift Mode affects the experience, or how GameFreak removing Set further removes the singleplayer experience from the multiplayer experience completely unnecessarily. They already have VGC, a double battle format, as their main competitive option, something the singleplayer does virtually nothing to garner interest for. Now they’ve gutted yet another way to have singleplayer battles to remotely reflect multiplayer battles. Imagine the frustration a kid will feel when all the power granted to him by Shift is gone the moment he battles a friend, having no means of understanding that’s an intended part of the game. Yeah, I can just press B, in fact, I did press B. Every time. The whole game. Nor did I use items in battle, and it was better for it. These games don’t need ROMhack level difficulty to be interesting. The games are fundamentally expressive enough for you to find a lot of your own fun. The problem is that GameFreak is pretty hellbent on making that expressiveness less palatable. You are presented with an optimal decision constantly, and you have to deny it. Your brain interprets denying the switch as an objectively bad decision nearly every time you see the prompt. You're talking about one decision, turning the game to Set Mode, versus hundreds, denying shift every time you're given the option. Passive versus active. Imagine if you had to hit LB in Halo every time you met an Elite's line of sight in order to activate its good AI. Nobody would find that acceptable except for Pokemon fans. You also get to know what pokemon is coming next which OBJECTIVELY removes part of the game's ability to surprise on a first playthrough. Go ahead and tell me to play blindfolded next.
There’s the biggest issue with the gameplay experience of SV. You need to have the self-discipline to make the game more enjoyable. This isn’t going to apply to everyone, and of course Pokemon games have never been hard, but there are people out there who will walk through the latter half of the game dozens of levels higher than the opponents they need to beat in order to progress due to the openness of the game. Players who aren’t just kids with overleveled starters, doing this completely by accident. There are some solutions to this. One might be having moderate scaling based on your progression, with certain opponents having higher minimum and maximum levels for their pokemon. That leaves the game fairly open without giving you as much exp.
Further muddying the divide between singleplayer and multiplayer is the TMs. It seems like GameFreak just can’t decide whether or not their decision to make these items infinite use in Gen 5 was good or not. Here, they are back to single use, but you can make new TMs at any time by using materials from wild Pokemon. This is a pretty new thing for Pokemon that brings it a little closer to a traditional RPG. I found it to be a pretty neat idea for singleplayer but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Most people have severe loss aversion. As such TMs before Gen 5 were notorious for being nothing but bag space from those suffering from analysis paralysis. With them becoming unlimited in their use, they could act as much better rewards for exploration or progression, and do more than sit in your bag until you were ready for multiplayer. Here, you might have had the best of both worlds; You have more decision-making added to your playthrough, asking yourself if it’s going to be worth it to teach this Pokemon a certain move without it feeling like a total loss. Except it’s still kind of a grind to acquire these once you want to jump to multiplayer, not nearly the grind it used to be, but it’s just going to feel like unnecessary extra time once we all move past the main campaign. Among all the ways GameFreak has tried to make transitioning to viable competitive teams more smooth, they still find ways to make it a little bit silly. However, this may be a compensatory measure for a lack of move tutors in the game, as the list of TMs is substantial. You can ask yourself whether or not those were worth it to grind for as well, or whether or not you should just boot up Showdown. It seems like GameFreak wants you to earn that optimal team, and in this case, it’s certainly among the easier grinds for moves.
The way these TMs are displayed in the menu where you craft them is pretty subpar though. It reminds me of how modern digital storefronts just show you a thumbnail of the game’s box art, that either doesn’t have the title visible or has it displayed with an illegible font. No font here or anything, but I wish there was. You just have a zoomed in picture of the move in action. You can sort by type but there was no reason the UI had to be so unintuitive.
Quality of life features have always been a mixed bag with Pokemon. Here, for example you can still reset EVs for your team, but not with the same ease you could after Sword and Shield’s DLC. I guess GameFreak considers that feature a premium service. You can, however, have your Pokemon relearn any moves they previously knew at any time, including TMs they had, should they have been deleted. This carries over from Legends, I believe. This is honestly a great change, and helps open up team building for the whole game. While I can see the appeal of more committal decision-making previous games had, even going down to how the much maligned HMs affected team building, I much prefer this system. This is one feature that makes the games easier at basically no expense to their ability to craft interesting encounters, even if they don’t choose to make those encounters. With this set up, you can basically go about every major mission with a completely new team made up of each area’s surrounding Pokemon, which is exactly how I plan to play it next.
The major battles seem to have finally gone back to having decent coverage and preparation for certain Pokemon you plan to sweep with. I’ve always felt like type specialists should really ease off on just how much they specialize in their type by the late game. Players should understand type matchups by that point, and in fact they can even see what types are effective against what Pokemon at all times now. I absolutely never understood the criticism when bosses didn’t have a full team consisting of their preferred type, this should almost always be considered a good thing. Even if cases like Flint in Diamond and Pearl only got that way from desperation. Both the Team Star and Titan Pokemon quest lines involve taking down boss Pokemon with health bars equivalent to that of the Tera Raid you encounter on the overworld. Each Team Star boss has a magic car of their respective type that you fight. Interestingly, the game never tells you this car has taken on their type, but it’s easy to surmise. Go ahead and spam that same super effective move, kiddo.
Each quest line provides a lower stakes adventure for you that eventually opens up to a typical storyline where you save the world, but I liked the ride getting there. Operation Starfall involves you running through each base before engaging in a boss battle. The base raids have you run through on auto-battle mode in a “race” to KO thirty Pokemon. This timer is all too generous, and in most cases all you need to beat these challenges within 2-3 minutes is a slight level advantage and type advantage, as that is all that goes into determining whether or not you even take damage in an auto-battle. However, if you go in underleveled, you might find these moderately interesting, as you have to select who among your three chosen Pokemon you send out at what time to deal with what enemies are throwing out. Dual types on both sides mean that certain Pokemon may be more vulnerable than you thought going in.
There’s an adorable little anti-bullying message for the kids in this storyline. It didn’t do much for me but I appreciated the effort. The game is sadly afraid to fully commit to the premise of Team Star becoming the bullies they hated. They did nothing but act truant, they are completely innocent and have nothing to apologize or be held accountable for. GameFreak seems to have settled into the villainous teams no longer being the world ending threat for each game, which I think is a better tone to set for something as laid back as Pokemon. That being said, I’m sure people will eventually want to go back to something more threatening than kids playing hooky. For the time being though, I don’t mind it in concept. This is still the weakest part of the game thanks to the poorer structure of its storytelling that seems unshakable in these Ohmori-directed games.
Secondly, there’s the Titan Pokemon storyline. This is a more intimately character driven story, and I think it shows that GameFreak’s storytelling abilities CAN get better. They’re still nothing special, but this is an improvement over Sun and Moon and a huge improvement over Sword and Shield. While I may have enjoyed certain aspects of SM’s story more, SV is clearly more competent at actually presenting its story. SM’s story is highly intrusive and you are often made to feel like a bit player in it. You just want to get through your island trial but you’ve got to mend this broken family first. It made subsequent playthroughs of the game much harder to stomach than any of its predecessors. Sword and Shield could win an award for being just as intrusive as SM while having absolutely nothing going on in its plot. In SV, you have to go out and pursue these story segments when you feel like it, and you feel like a much more active presence in the story yourself. Arven, the principal role of the Titan’s story, has a very down-to-earth struggle to heal his wounded friend. Something the player is made to relate to, as this quest is used to power up your lizard bike buddy. I wasn’t a fan of either box legendary’s design this time, but it’s hard not to be at least a little endeared to Koraidon after spending so much time with it and watching it regain its strength before finally coming through in a (scripted) battle sequence. If ever there was a time where “Pokemon held on so wouldn’t feel sad” felt appropriate, this would be it.
Lastly there’s Victory Road. This is the traditional run through eight gyms you expect from Pokemon. These gyms, like most of the boss fights, might surprise you with decent coverage, but they have a disappointing flaw. They use Terastalyzation to change the type of one of their nonconforming team members to the type they specialize in. So you can safely spam that STAB super effective move if you want. Go right ahead. The Elite Four and champion is comparatively more challenging because they just Terastalyze to their own specialized STAB that the Pokemon already has, giving them a free boost. Just a very boring use of the mechanic.
You also have your rival, Nemona, checking in on your progress throughout the way. Framing for rivals is pretty important, and I think SV succeeds here. Many people mistakenly focus on a lack of “asshole” rivals in newer games, even though we have examples like Gladion and Bede. I think the problem is that rivals should feel like people you really want to bring down and the games have often struggled with this. Bede is basically broken and never comes off as anything but pathetic. For comparison, Blue has an awful team, you beat the hell out of him every time you see him, but he never takes you seriously even when he loses, and he’s always one step ahead of you in the story. When you get to the League and find out this little shit you’ve slapped throughout the game actually beat you to being champion, you want to teach him a lesson. Like I said, framing is important.
Nemona is a friendlier rival, and she’s built up by the story as highly competent, the best of the best. She’s testing you, she’s holding back in fights against you until the very end of the game. So even though she loses every time, bringing her down remains a credible goal throughout the game. She does use the starter weak to yours, which many players have taken umbrage with through the years. I agree with this as an issue to an extent. It is probably better to teach players about type matchups by giving them something to wail on that they’re strong against. A rival with the starter that counters yours means that you won’t even get to start with STAB moves. I see the logic, but I also think it harms the feeling of you as an underdog overcoming the odds. That being said, the games have become so adamant about worshiping at your feet that I’m not sure if GameFreak even wants to give players that impression. Anyway, it would have been much better if Nemona used Terastalyzation to change her starter’s type to one that countered your own. That would have been the best of both worlds right there.
A persistent problem with some of these Ohmori-directed games compared to Masuda-directed games, even “post-decline” so to speak, is that they’re totally in love with their own characters. It’s like Ohmori is straight up limerent for characters he has full control over, so it’s weird that it feels like they don’t love him back. They spend just a little too much time on “quirky” traits for these characters that come off as shallow and insincere. Perhaps the poor production value is to blame for that. Characters are still completely silent and move like automatons on an axis. There is a rap battle in this game, a fucking rap battle, and it manages to be more lifeless than it is cringeworthy. That’s got to be an achievement. Hip-hop in children’s media is almost always pure, organic cringe, but here it’s just befuddling. The game can really fall flat here with the Team Star members. It wants to sell you on their personalities and friendships, and I guess it’s a better effort than Ohmor’s other work, but not enough to get me to read most of their dialogue. I got the gist, their ending was kind of cute. Each member did not need their own flashback. Especially when each flashback is not about their individual problems but more about what each of them did to bring Team Star to life, not ideologically, but in terms of presentation. Like a fucking friendsgiving.
Enough story bullshit though, what the hell is so good about this game that I basically enjoyed it despite everything? Well, the world is densely populated with Pokemon to find, team building is intuitive, routes feel expansive, the game is truly not lying about it being open. I genuinely like the idea of feeling blocked off by high levels and either needing to find somewhere else to go or toughing it out up a dangerous trail. Picking up items no longer stops you in your tracks. If you do want to challenge yourself, you still can. I genuinely liked Arven’s storyline. The weakest link as far as the quests go isn’t dragging things down too horribly, as the boss fights were a good time. The movement options opening up over the course of the game feels empowering. I got to see Sudowoodo and Toedscool book it from me hilariously. Ditto and Zorua never appear on the overworld because they’re always disguised as other Pokemon. When the world feels alive for a bit, when you come across an old favorite roaming in the wild, something about the game genuinely sings for a moment.
That is the thing though, the game is basically a series of boss fights. Your mandatory battles are the gym leaders, E4, Champion, Nemona a few times, each team star boss, the titans, a few wild pokemon in Area Zero, and your game’s respective professor. Probably about thirty battles. You can run by every trainer, they’re all optional. Like a lot of decisions for this game, it’s a double edged sword. I’m rarely jumping into anything I’m not asking for beyond accidental wild encounters. Going about each open area to find every trainer and get your TM/item gift can be fun, but you can’t replace the feeling of overcoming a harder fight you were completely caught off guard by. You run into a trainer you didn’t want to see, your lead goes down, but a Pokemon you thought very little of pulled through and helped you to keep going. It’s a feeling that’s lost here even on the more perilous routes. Even knowing there were a few trainers who very nearly kicked my ass, I still know I asked for that ass kicking.
This might be a sharp step down from Legends. To my knowledge, that game tried to mix up the mission structure with modified tasks focused on capturing Pokemon. There’s no progression within any of the main storylines that doesn’t just involve battling here. The best you get as a pace breaker is gym “puzzles” that barely qualify as such. I understand that SV and Legends were developed at the same time, but it’s just odd that this open world game doesn’t have any side missions to tackle. You have Tera Raid battles. Okay, fine I guess. What about something like Totem Battles from SM? Double battle focused side quests? Triple and rotation? Oh sorry, GameFreak doesn’t want you to remember those. A sidequest that’s all inverse battles? Restricted quests with rental Pokemon? Rewards for quests like rare Pokemon or rare Tera types?
At the end of the day, the huge world is really neat to go through for the first time. Discovering every ecosystem and every Pokemon that dwells in it, but I’m unsure if this would hold up on subsequent playthroughs. That’s all there is to do here except fight the bosses. Pokemon’s formula is still the most sustainable solid gold in all of video games. Even at its worst it’s still probably mindlessly enjoyable, but even with all the expressiveness the games give you, the developers always seem confused over whether or not they want to give you anything interesting to express yourself to. One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a pain to get through that intro again. My god, that had to have been nearly two hours before I felt like I could do anything.
SPEAKING OF slow as fuck. This game is Shuckle slow. I thought it was the PC at first, but apparently reports are coming out that the Switch version has the same performance issues. Stuttering framerate, major pop-in, outright freezing, long load times. All the stars are here. Not to mention, this battle engine seems like it’s giving Gen 4 a run for its money with the lulls between text boxes and animations. By the way, YOU CAN’T TURN OFF ANIMATIONS ANYMORE. Yeah, it looks like GameFreak took those comments about their animation work in SwSh to heart. They were so proud of their work this time that they wanted you to see all of their high quality animations forever. All at a stunning 21 fps. The lack of interiors to buildings sure is disappointing but damn you have to wonder how much worse the game would have run if they were present. In fact there appears to be MORE issues on the official console release of the game than the day -10 PC version.
Not to mention, we are so far beyond Pokemon’s current battle presentation at this point. Tell me the necessity for all these text boxes and animations playing out separate from one another. Persona 5 was able to communicate relevant information on screen in a very timely manner. At one point, I realized that things like Leftovers recovery, poison damage, or sandstorm damage occurred at the same time as the prompt displaying your team receiving exp and I’m like HOLY SHIT IMAGINE THAT. How the hell are those five-hit moves still the way they are? Pick up the pace. Also I don’t need to see a text prompt telling me that the move hit three times AFTER the Pokemon I hit it with already fainted. Display the information on screen as it’s happening, it CANNOT be that hard. Move makes contact, visual indicators for CRITICAL HIT and SUPER EFFECTIVE pop up at the same time the health bar is going down and maybe even slap on a KO on top of that. Like I need an extra prompt to see my Pokemon’s HP reaching zero. Jesus Christ. Cut down on this dead air. POKEMON USED MOVE - ANIMATION - it’s SUPER EFFECTIVE - FAINTING ANIMATION - POKEMON FAINTED - USE NEXT POKEMON? Dead air between every single one of those prompts and animations.
There have been a FEW improvements to the presentation. The Pokemon models really are updated this time. Tropius and others are at last free from Sky Battle hell. Charizard has its caveman brow back. Pokemon now have actual interiors to their mouths and their eyes are modeled rather than just being painted on. Pokemon are more properly scaled to get a sense of their size. This is a huge boon for making the world feel more lively, with some monsters being so small you have no idea you’re running into them. Just pray you’re not caught in a crowd because it will be a constant stop and go. The scaling is handled a little strangely in battle. In the open routes, you control the camera during battle, so you can move it to get a better view of things. During important battles, the camera is fixed, and many Pokemon on your side are viewed from such angles that you basically never see them during fights.
Many Pokemon have cute overworld animations, and most have sleeping animations. Near inexplicably, none of these sleeping animations make it into battle. Pokemon don’t even close their eyes when sleeping in battle anymore. I thought the removal of such a thing was a result of the aforementioned modeled eyes, but they close their eyes in the overworld. What the hell did they mean by this?
Among the most important parts of presentation in a Pokemon game would be character design. This is just about as subjective as it gets. Everyone has wildly different favorite Pokemon. I’m of the mind that Gen 3 had the most consistently decent designs across the board despite having very few of my personal favorites. By contrast, I consider Gens 5 and 7 to have some odd choices for designs, yet they have way more of my favorites, so maybe there’s something to be said about polarizing design philosophies yielding stronger results. You can still go too far with that polarization though, as Gen 8 was what I considered to be a clear low point in design quality. Little did I know that Gen 9 was just around the corner to give it a run for its money. Running the math, I liked about 4/10 new designs on average.
The starters in particular are still leaning a little too hard into these fixed character archetypes. I’ve always felt that starters are better off feeling more general in personality. The best one, Skeledirge, is saved by virtue of still feeling like an animal first and a guy second. Even then, it is trying to balance things like emulating the relationship between the crocodile and the Egyptian plover bird, Dia de Los Muertos, and being a vocalist. That’s a lot at once and the design is made weaker for it. At least it was spared the humiliating fate of Quaxly, becoming a large-rumped duckperson with giant sausage toes instead of its first form’s webbed feet. Still, it’s nice to see “animal + element = Pokemon” is going strong all these years later with designs like Killowattrel and Mabosstif. Other designs like Ceruledge and Armorouge just throw caution to the wind and go all in on being as cool as possible, your expectations of Pokemon designs be damned, and they did this to great success. Those designs are cool and you have no inner child if you say otherwise.
My friend Steve is a noted crab hater. The man just hates crabs. He hates Klawf and he hates any crabs reading this review. I however, think Klawf is an immensely welcome addition with its horrifying eyes that follow you wherever you go. Among all the new designs, Klawf is the one that most feels like an unpredictable, dangerous animal, that cannot feel anything resembling love or affection. Its silliness actually lends itself very well to that sense of unease around it. Klawf will never be my “bro” and that’s beautiful.
Bug types seem like they got the short end of the stick in this generation. Rather than drawing them out first, these designs look like they were modeled in Blender with thirty minutes of work before calling it a day. There’s a great looking snail Pokemon, but it’s not a Bug type. There’s at least Slither Wing, but that’s just comfy pajama Volcarona.
It’s tough to really assess what exactly the design language behind each new generation is. There are several different designers, after all. There is a clearer throughline for things like the ancient and future variants of existing Pokemon, though. Ancient Pokemon clearly got the better roll here. They have some thematic consistency with more spikes and tails, but they don’t feel needlessly uniform. The future variants fell flat on their faces. They’re all robots. Some just look like a robotic sheen slapped on an existing design. I’m not usually one to complain when Pokemon do not always reflect their types, but these completely fail to visually communicate their general lack of Steel typing. In the future, all these Pokemon become robots that exhibit the exact same animal behavior. Dumb. Don’t give me any BS about cyborgs. These are robots, get out of my face.
Of all the complaints Sword and Shield received, character design wasn’t really one of them. Many have observed a change in human design philosophy over the years to favor a more “cosplay” style of dress, but it’s more like a passive acknowledgment rather than a straight criticism. So what exactly is going on with this sudden change for SV? Characters look almost doll-like, and no longer reflect their official artwork nearly as accurately as the past three entries on Switch. This velvety texturing of skin and clothing along with the glossy eyeballs only serve to make the animations look more unnatural and automaton-esque. Certain characters clash just standing next to each other. Geeta’s eyes are three times the size of other characters. Also bitch is the goddamn big boss of the league and uses a fucking Gogoat holy shit.
Player character designs have remained a pretty important part of each new game’s identity, but Scarlet and Violet seems like the first time the developers chose to make the player characters as blank as humanly possible. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just another notable change. The default male and female designs used for promotion were previously distinct, but now really feel like identical twins. It’s both fitting and strange that the school uniforms are the context through which this blandness is achieved. Of course this was the golden opportunity to scale back the importance of a default trainer to identify, given that you’re uniformed at all times. But you’re uniformed at all times, so you don’t even have anything close to the range of fashion customization available to you in XY, SM, and SwSh. You do however have a greater number of options for your head, and both genders share those options. So you can really live out that discord moderator dream. I however, was content to just give my guy a signature jewfro and call it a day.
Strangest of all is the absolutely hideous crop of random NPCs. Many of them are adults dressed in school uniforms. I suppose framing the school as something more like a college for Pokemon enthusiasts is meant to lend itself to the franchise being all-inclusive to everyone everywhere. The result is instead a bunch of creepy looking adults waiting around for you in the dead of night. Also some very broad shouldered women. Why the hell are they so broad? Are they okay? They look like they’re in pain.
However, there is this character named Rika, an Elite Four member. This character is unreasonably sexual. Only Anabel’s Sun and Moon design compares. Designs like these are so beyond degenerate in appearance and I need this stop before they destroy my life.
I have many, many negative thoughts on the state of pokemon, on the directions it’s taken, and even the very idea of calling this game a step in the right direction. How many steps in the right direction are we going to have? How many indicators of great things to come will we need before we’re ready to properly judge the here and now? It’s undeniable though, that my curiosity about this series is back, and Scarlet offered enough novelty that I’m interested in replaying just to see how much further I can push it. There may come a day where GameFreak strips me of any ability to create something fun out of Pokemon, but it hasn’t come yet. If nothing else, it has the absolute craziest ending to a Pokemon game ever, complete with Ed Sheeran coming out of nowhere to scare the living shit out of me.
Please get someone else to make the games.

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