Pokémon Scarlet & Violet Report 01: A Bright, a Bright, Sunshiny Day

One of the first things I started to write about on this blog was Pokémon — particularly the how games work as narratives. My copy of Pokémon Violet arrived today, so I wanted to start off a new series of “live” posts as I play through this new addition to the long running franchise and this new entrance into the world of pokémon.

I decided, when this game was announced, to attempt to avoid as many spoilers as I could, both in game mechanics and its story. With the way marketing works these days, it would be very easy to learn almost every aspect and secret of a game before it came out. I’ve done okay so far, though it’s next to impossible to avoid seeing things such as pictures of the new kinds of pokémon, or general facts about the setting and region of the game. I haven’t ready any reviews or summaries yet.

These posts will contain spoilers as I’ll be writing about everything as I come across it in my play through.

The previous main series game, Sword & Shield, had some very interesting variations to the standard Pokémon narrative structure. I played it all the way through twice and wrote about it extensively here on this blog. There was a fair amount of criticism for that game, most of it based on it not including every single kind pokémon that ever appeared in the franchise, but some objected to the new directions and ways its story was told. I am coming into Scarlet & Violet very curious about how things will play out. Will it be a return to the same old, same old, or will it continue to shake things up and experiment in subtle but important ways?

The very first thing you encounter is character customization, where you can decide your player avatar’s looks. As in the past few games, you can choose from a selection of eight different facial types with different skin tones and suggestions of gender presentation. In Sword & Shield none of these choices were labeled “boy” or “girl,” but the dialog of the story did gender you based on your choice. I haven’t yet encountered a situation where that comes up in Scarlet & Violet. Then on to specific choices of facial details — and so many choices of eyelashes..! Continuing the theme of gender representation, even though I choice a “boy” looking face, in the customization I was free to choose any hairstyle, lip color, etc that I wanted. I wonder if this will ultimately include clothes as well? Previously choosing a “boy” meant only being to buy “boy” clothes at shops. We’ll see…

Sword & Shield’s opening cinema introduced several of the main non-player story characters and the significance of stadium-style pokémon battles before ever getting to “your” introduction and your place in the world. Scarlet & Violet’s opening does two things: first it is a kind of promotional piece for the Uva Academy: a school young pokémon trainers attend to learn the about pokémon and how to best interact with them. Very Harry Potter! No sign of the usual Pokémon Professor, but instead we see the Academy Director, Mr. Clavell, who will serve the role of introducing us to pokémon training and give us our starter pokémon. The opening then shows a sequence of this game’s cover star, an enigmatic legendary pokémon who rockets across the sky, briefly transforms into “motorcycle mode” (one of things it was impossible not to be spoiled on in the game’s publicity), before disappearing as mysterious as it appeared. These scenes also give us glimpses of the wide world we’ll doubtless be exploring, hinting at least some level of a Zelda:Breath of the Wild open world. Is that a promise this game can keep?

Next is the oh so familiar scene of your avatar in their room, in their house, getting ready to start their big adventure. Early Pokémon games have the strange narrative conceit that it was acceptable for a 10-year old child to be allowed to wander, alone, through a monster-filled world having adventures. Sword & Shield introduced the idea of an organized, Olympics-style tournament to vaguely justify your journey. Here, you have enrolled in a pokémon academy where there will be at least the presumption of official adult instruction about and supervision over the process of becoming a pokémon trainer. I’m guessing that this game’s Gym Leaders will be instructors at the Academy?

Your room and your whole house is brightly lit and brightly colored. Seems a little too toylike and bland. I liked Sun & Moon’s premise that you had just arrived here and your house was scattered with moving boxes that your mother never quite got around to unpacking. Speaking of moms, you again, in classic Pokémon style, appear to have no father, just hardworking single parent mother. I’m assuming that, as in Sword & Shield, her hair color and complexion is determined by my choices for myself, though her hair doesn’t exactly match mine.

Director Clavell himself shows up to complete our enrollment in the academy and deliver our choice of starter pokémon. We get to run around and play with them a bit before closing, which is a nice addition. As I have done since Pokémon Red & Blue, I picked the grass-type for my starter, this time a green kitty named Sprigatito.

We next meet another core component of a Pokémon narrative: our friend/rival. This time it is a slightly older female academy student named Nemona. She seems of Spanish ancestry, and uses words such as buenos and vamos. Sword & Shield had a lot of fun with British slang, so I wonder what this game will do with the language of its setting. This new region, Pladea, seems generally Mediterranean, with its coasts, bright sun, and palm trees. Like most recent friends and rivals in the series, Nemona is a very enthusiastic pokémon battler, which is a useful device to encourage us to participate in the game’s core activity (more on that next post). Our friend Hop in Sword & Shield was quite a complex character, so I hope Nemona will also have an engaging story and not just be a device to lead us through the mechanics.

After I picked grass-type Sprigatito, Nemona, interestingly, chose the type weak to mine, the water duck Quaxly, rather than strong against grass fire-type Fuecoco — who ended going off with Director Clavell. This division of the starters ended up being of some significance in Sword & Shield, so once again we will see!

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