Opinions and Stories

One week later: Scarlet and Violet’s performance flubs amid massive sales

They’re fun to play and sold millions of copies! If only it wasn’t for the fps drops, the glitches, the game crashes, the questionable game design decisions, the limited and regressive animations…

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet released a week ago, but it only needed 3 days to sail past 10 million sales. As Nintendo mentioned in their press release:

This is the highest global sales level for any software on any Nintendo platform within the first three days.

And even for a Pokémon game, it’s been a fun time for many, including this writer. Exploration is as good as it’s ever been, and the tried and true formula has shone again. Many have praised Paldea’s endgame as well, for both its gameplay and story. Celebratory sandwiches all round, right?

It hasn’t been all that rosy, however. Several reviews cited poor performance, and various gameplay recordings have highlighted various glitches and instances of lag, including by fellow writer Cherrim. This was all seen despite day 1 patches – I’ve encountered a handful of issues on the first day, without trying to find them.

It goes beyond glitches too – some design choices are baffling, others showcase a rushed game. The walking speed of your character at the beginning is dismal, and strangely forced until you walk partway down the first hill. Towns and cities are devoid of homes or buildings you can actually enter and interact with citizens, and shops are largely copy-pasted menus. Battle animations have regressed from Pokémon Legends; Arceus too – no longer is physical contact made when Pokémon attack each other. But underpinning it all is a game that really does lack polish. It is indeed fun to play, but it ain’t pretty. The fifth main series Pokémon game released on the Nintendo Switch is sadly the most disappointing in this area, by far.

This is, it should be stressed, of no fault of the Switch hardware. Yes, it’s weak for 2022. No, it is not why Pokémon Scarlet and Violet struggles more than it rightfully should. One only needs to look at Xenoblade Chronicles 3 that released this year, another open world game with a far superior performance. Or even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a launch title (and title for the Wii U). Digital Foundry did not hold back in their analysis, and pointed out that there’s evidence for a lot of efforts to try to mitigate issues – unfortunately to the detriment of the game. It’s worth a watch, even if the conclusion is a downer.

As theorised, it is likely that the developers at Game Freak had a lot of time and resource stress here. There is a significant overlap of staff credited as having worked on both Pokémon Scarlet and Violet and Pokémon Legends: Arceus, games that released in the same year. There has already been five main series titles for Pokémon on the Nintendo Switch, not yet six years old. Even being generous with Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl having different developers taking the lead (although Masuda co-directed the title, and it too suffered from bugs galore and a necessary day zero patch for significant content), four titles in under six years is an awful lot. And it took nearly two years into the era of the Switch for Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee! to release! Consider then that Pokémon Sword and Shield also had DLC… Game Freak is once again biting off more than it can chew. Sadly, it’s more obvious than ever. A larger break between main series releases could be afforded by a spin-off title, like the solid New Pokémon Snap. However, the past year has seen zero such releases – nothing since Pokémon Unite (July 21, 2021), after which we’ve had three main-series titles.

Perhaps this quote from legendary game developer Shigeru Miyamoto should be invoked:

A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.

This was said in relation to the Nintendo 64, a console that was delayed in release by three months to ensure better performance in software. But the mere idea of delaying one Pokémon title seems inconceivable. Pokémon is a monolith with merchandise to sell, and evidently to keep it ticking, it cannot allow the pace to slow down. Financially, it works! Pokémon will continue to be known for breaking sales records and being the most profitable video game franchise. If you were part of Game Freak or The Pokémon Company, or a shareholder, you would be delighted with that result. Gameplay is fun as well! There’s joy to be had in Paldea.

But this current strategy comes at a cost. For all the fun Pokémon Scarlet and Violet brings with it, so many of those players who bought the game will remember the glitches, the lag, the game crashes – the issues not present to such a degree in earlier Pokémon titles, let alone numerous other titles outside of the franchise. And that’s a disappointing legacy and feeling to have attached to your work. Without more time and resources, these games will never be good in all aspects, only some – and even with future patches, the performance and bugs already witnessed will be remembered as bad, forever.

Edited by Arcaneum, Cocoman, and Sheep.