At Least Pokemon Scarlet & Violet Gets The Cinematics Right

I’ve written about the poor performance of Pokemon Scarlet & Violet. Our review mentions it several times. You’ve seen the clips of the worst offenders being shared online. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. You know Pokemon Scarlet & Violet was not ready for launch, and even if the bugs can be fixed later (a much rarer occurrence with Game Freak on the Switch), it will always be a game of cut corners and unachieved potential. Right now, just for a moment, I want to focus on something Pokemon Scarlet & Violet does well: the game has superb cinematics, and Pokemon needs to carry its energy forward.

I’m not here to distract you from Scarlet & Violet’s terrible launch state, nor try to justify it. I’m cautious of the creeping ‘good vibes only’ tone of a lot of pop culture criticism these days, where a game being fun for you personally is the only benchmark it should ever be critically evaluated against. Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is not a good video game – I make no claims against that fact. But in the midst of the shouting of good and bad, of bugs and fun, I want to focus on the cinematics of it all.

Traditionally, these have been a weakness for Pokemon. Cutscenes were not part of the original formula, but as the series grew to 3D from 8-bit, they have been added to the mix. A lot of the time they have been stunted, over-acted, and unbelievably terrible. There is evidence of this still in Pokemon Scarlet & Violet, through the truly rotten sandwich eating animation, and in the initial conversations between Arven and Nemona when the camera cuts back and forth while they spurt out ridiculous exclamations then fake laugh into oblivion.

Enough (for now) about what doesn’t work in Scarlet & Violet. When it’s on song, it’s a glorious melody. Koraidon’s first arrival is probably the best shot scene Pokemon has ever produced outside of the anime or movies. I’ve long complained that Pokemon’s games need to embrace the anime’s ability to surprise and excite, and this feels like the first step to that. As Koraidon swoops in, the camera swerves with it, frenetic yet controlled. It’s a common technique, but feels bold for Pokemon.

Video game critics love the word ‘visceral’, but the vein on our collective neck has been getting bigger as we have strained to find a way to apply it to Pokemon, yet always come up short. Now, thanks to the initial appearance of Gen 9’s box Legendaries, we can finally say Pokemon is visceral.

It’s not just that one scene, either. Though there are wild misses, there has been a real attempt to modernise Pokemon’s presentation along with its newfound exploration. Catching Tera Pokemon has its own nifty animation, while the Titan Pokemon provide a spectacle. Graphically it’s still below par for the Switch, and battles really ought to have authentic and active animations by now, but for all there’s two steps back, it does feel as though there has been three steps forward.

Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is a bit of a mess, and Pokemon has enough money in the bank that we shouldn’t be trying to overlook these flaws to desperately justify our own connection to the series. It’s a bad game, all said and done. But it won’t be the last game, and in fact should serve as an important stepping stone for the future. While there are lessons to be learned from the game’s failures, we should value its successes with its cinematic presentation too.

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