Pokemon Scarlet and Violet released just a couple weeks ago, and though it sold over 10 million copies during its launch weekend (and became the fastest-selling Nintendo game of all time), fans have taken to the internet to scold Game Freak for releasing what many feel is a broken game. People love their games, and they especially love Pokemon, an IP that reigns supreme as the No. 1 media franchise in the world. So with all this notoriety, record-breaking sales, and years of development experience behind Game Freak, why do Scarlet and Violet feel broken? Were these preventable mistakes or intentional decisions made by a company that knew the games would sell regardless? I can't help but wonder: is Game Freak still the right studio for Pokemon?
Is It Even Possible for Another Company to Take Over the Pokemon Franchise?
The entire Pokemon franchise is a bit more complicated than just one studio developing a series of games. Game Freak itself has been around since the 1980s and developed the first Pokemon games in 1996. Just two years later, The Pokemon Center Company was created – a partnership between Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures to manage Pokemon Center stores. After the release of Pokemon Gold and Silver, this partnership was rebranded into The Pokemon Company to better handle all facets of Pokemon, including merchandise licensing.
This strategy, and the popularity of both the video games and anime, is what helped Pokemon to become the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, beating out giants from Disney like Star Wars, Marvel, and even Mickey Mouse himself. Pokemon has become an unstoppable force; a series that even non-gamers across generations have at least some familiarity with.
Which brings the question: Can another game development studio take over the Pokemon franchise? This wouldn't be as simple as shifting development of a game from one studio to another, like when Nintendo decided to start Metroid Prime 4 from scratch and shift it back to Retro Studios. Since Nintendo isn't the sole owner of Pokemon but instead shares it under The Pokemon Company, it's not something that Nintendo could likely enact on its own, even if they wanted to. Given the sales data and success of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, it's unlikely that they'd be motivated to, anyways. Their games may get backlash, but it doesn't stop them from selling. Can that momentum continue with future titles though?
Pokemon Scarlet & Violet Is a Turning Point
Every Pokemon generation brings with it a fair share of criticism: whether people are upset over the national dex not being included or people like myself who don't particularly enjoy things like Mega Evolutions (or in this case, Terastallization), but I have never seen the kind of backlash that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is getting. It's possible this is a vocal minority who are speaking out while the rest of us are enjoying these games, but so much has changed since even Sword & Shield.
The video game industry continues to grow every single month, and we have more games to compare Scarlet and Violet to than we have any other Pokemon game. That's what makes this release so difficult: many players have experienced what a well-optimized RPG is capable of on the Switch, and we want that for our Pokemon adventure.
The Nintendo Switch may be an aging console, but it can still handle a myriad of impressive-looking games. Many fans have pointed to Xenoblade Chronicles 3 as a comparison of what an RPG can do on the Switch. Even other JRPGs like Persona 5 not only handle the Switch hardware well, but they offer quality-of-life improvements for turn-based games like quicker battles.
When you select an attack in Persona 5, your character responds almost instantly. In Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, there's a noticeable delay with almost everything you do: attacking, throwing a Poke Ball, using items, and even entering buildings. For those who have become accustomed to faster JRPG games, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feel like a step backwards. And that's not even with the framerate issues and other glitches players have been experiencing: that's just the core level of game design.
I'm not saying I regret my purchase of Pokemon Violet, as I am enjoying the adventure, but for the first time ever it's making me reconsider if I'll get the next Pokemon game at launch. If a studio like Atlus or Monolith Soft took over a Pokemon game, I'd be so curious to see what they'd be capable of with Nintendo's full resources.
Maybe the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet framerate issues and glitches will be patched over time, maybe there will be quality-of-life improvements that help the game feel fresh as it ages into what will be year six of the Nintendo Switch in 2023, but the damage has been done. So many like myself love Pokemon and want to play every new game that's released, but the sad reality is Game Freak's development team isn't thinking about legacy fans when they're developing these new titles.
Pokemon Doesn't Evolve With Its Audience
Every Nintendo game I can think of, from Zelda to Metroid to Mario and even Animal Crossing, has grown up with its audience. Each game offers something new that adults will love while keeping the gameplay loop satisfying for children who are just picking up a controller. Pokemon feels like the only franchise that is specifically designed for kids.
Game Freak is more interested in appealing to a younger generation than they are in keeping their older fans satisfied. I don't mind the story direction, but it should come with a game that is as awe-inspiring as it has ever been. I want to look out across the world and see Pokemon far out in the distance, not having them pop into existence when I'm just a few feet away.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet will undoubtedly get DLC support, and knowing Game Freak's schedule, we're only a few years away from the next mainline entry in the series. The studio isn't taking the time they need to ensure they get the level of polish that they deserve. Maybe releasing Pokmeon Legends Arceus and Scarlet and Violet in the same year stretched the company too thin.
What Will the Future of Pokemon Hold?
Hopefully, future Pokemon games will address the quality problems that Scarlet and Violet have experienced. If the criticism will help Game Freak to better optimize the next set of games they release, it will have been worth it. And if they don't? It could be the right time to pass development off to another studio, or at least loop in additional developers to work on finalizing the game before pushing it to market. I can safely predict regardless of what happens development-wise, the next Pokemon game will continue to drive high sales for The Pokmeon Company.
It's possible that Pokemon is too big to be stopped. I just hope they're not too big to be held accountable for pushing out software with clear performance issues. Bugs are understandable; framerate declining to stop-motion framerates are not.
If we're lucky, Violet and Scarlet will be the foundation of something much more incredible to come.