Gaming Chronicle #6

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

Now that it has been some time since launch, I figure I can write a little about the games. I bought Violet version, and like many fans of the franchise I expected to have a good, fun adventure. Indeed, the game is really fun and true to the usual Pokémon experience. Sadly this has been a rather disappointing launch due to the number of glaring technical issues that make it clear the games were rushed. Among the problems are crashes, players clipping through the environment, pokémon spawning behind walls and many other performance issues. The game implements animation level of detail that changes the amount of frames played on character and pokémon animations depending on how far the camera is to them. The problem lies in how close the player has to be to actually see the full animation play. Windmills in the distance will show playing just a few frames of animation. Then there are the problems with frame rate. An area like Caseroya Lake can have a low frame rate while moving around it. These technical issues will hopefully be resolved in future patches.

Another subject is the matter of Tera Raids. The game’s main endgame content has a number of design issues that add difficulty by removing player agency. Tera Raids feature a battle against a Terrastalized pokémon. For anyone who hasn’t played yet, or is unfamiliar with the mechanic a terrastalized pokémon has its type changed to its Tera Type which can be any of the 18 types in the game. The Tera Type will provide the Same Type Attack Bonus (+50% power) and even more if the Tera Type matches the original type of the pokémon. In raid battles players can go against a terrastalized pokémon that has had its health scaled depending on the amount of stars. Their level also scales. The concept is actually pretty fun and challenging but there are elements added in its execution that cause some frustrating points of friction. Let’s start with the battle itself. Tera Raids are a multiplayer focused mode, though a single player can take them on with the help of NPC trainers. Solo players will sometimes have a difficult time when dealing with certain pokémon. Right off the bat solo players are pushed aside. In the battle itself the basics are there more or less. Players pick a move to use and so on, but there is one quirk of these battles. They run on a sort of active time battle. Players can act at different times without having to wait for anyone else to pick a move or action. In a way it resembles a one on one battle with all players whittling down the same health bar. These battles also have a time limit. Each time a player’s pokémon is knocked out a time penalty occurs. For some reason players are also penalized with a delay in returning to battle, which feels excessive given that everyone has already lost a chunk of the main time limit. One problem I found is related to the user interface. Each time the player’s pokémon performs an attack the UI is hidden. It’s counterintuitive because this happens very often and it leaves the player without one of the most important pieces of information, their pokémon’s health. Speaking of UI, it is terribly minimalist. There is little in the UI to show when something will happen, despite Pokémon Legends Arceus having a visual action queue that was not carried over for some reason. Something like the action queue could certainly help players strategize better. Players doing these raids solo will notice that NPCs will not move until the player has chosen an action first. Other events will also hide the menu and reset selection. There have been times when even an attack is outright canceled. On the other hand sometimes the menu is shown but cannot be interacted with. For a game mode that has a time limit, having the menu either frozen or not showing at all is frustrating. Stat changes, boosts or reductions, can only be seen in yet another menu that must be navigated to, instead of having a clear symbol for such in the UI. Legends Arceus had this and, once again, this feature is missing here. Wasting time running through a menu that could disappear at any moment is absurd. Any players focusing on managing buffs have to make due with that menu navigation. The problems with the UI are only a part of the issues plaguing Tera Raids. The Raid pokémon has the ability to perform certain actions when it reaches specific thresholds. There are two particular thresholds, when the pokémon reaches a certain health, possibly a percentage, and when a certain amount of time has passed. These thresholds can have a number of actions performed by the raid pokémon. Sometimes they can perform an extra attack. They can also remove debuffs, stat reductions and afflictions like poison or they can remove buffs from the player and disable their pokémon’s ability for one turn. Although these seem fine to add for the challenge, they’re sometimes used multiple times, discouraging the use of stat increase moves. The raid pokémon will also put up a shield that reduces damage to ¼. The game itself will tell the player to terrastalize their pokémon to deal with the shield, except they can only do this after charging their tera orb three times. Each damage dealing attack charges the orb by 1. The raid pokémon can also steal a charge, delaying what is a crucial step in the battle. The fact that damage dealing moves are necessary may discourage players from using status moves. On the other hand, moves that deal damage and have guaranteed status changes are much more valuable in this situation.

Something the developer should have phased out by now is hiding certain values. Since their introduction Individual Values and Effort Values are hidden values that affect the total points a pokémon has in their stats. On one hand Effort Values are only shown as an ambiguous graph and gained by defeating other pokémon. On the other, Individual Values are assigned when a pokémon is generated. There is no specific way to actually see these numbers. On the Effort Values graphs there are cues that can be followed to know when the pokémon has maxed out its effort points on a single stat and overall.

It was such a great experience to see Gamefreak try out new things when they launched Pokémon Legends Arceus, only to backtrack some of the changes made there. The quality of life improvements were well received and it is surprising many of them were not kept. One of which is being able to evolve a pokémon at any point after the option became available. The strategies of choosing between strong and agile style attacks added new depth to a progressively aging battle system. Hopefully whatever the developer has planned will include fixes to the current issues and some quality of life improvements to remove or at least alleviate the points mentioned above.

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