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Why It’s Such a Big Deal That ‘Pokémon Scarlet’ and ‘Violet’ Are True Open-World Games

Finally, a beloved franchise breaks from its formula

The three starters from Pokémon Scarlet / Violet: Sprigatito, Quaxly, and Fuecoco

There are a number of ways in which Pokémon Scarlet and Violet will break ground for one of the most beloved gaming series out there. Pokémon Centers will be available as outdoor kiosks you can waltz right up to. For the first time ever, your professor will differ depending on which game you buy. The legendaries might be available significantly earlier on in the game than usual, because they are literally motorcycles. There’s also a chance the games will take Pokémon Legends: Arceus‘s approach to wild Pokémon, making the flow of action significantly more streamlined. But the biggest evolution for the series, without a doubt, is that it will be Pokémon’s first-ever bonafide open-world game.

This was confirmed in the second gameplay trailer for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, and subsequently by Pokémon’s official UK Twitter channel. Hell, they called it an “unbound adventure.” The entirety of the new region, Paldea, will be available for you to explore from the get-go. In addition, players can elect to challenge the game’s eight gyms in any order they please. There will be two other mainline stories to the game, as well. We don’t know much about those yet, but it seems like you’ll be able to pick what order you want to approach tasks in.

To understand why this is a gargantuan deal, we have to journey back to 2019—the BeforeTimes, the Good Ol’ Days, which also happen to have seen the release of the previous mainline games, Pokémon Sword and Shield. Leading up to that release, players began to expect a huge shake-up of the tried-and-true Pokémon RPG formula. And everyone knew that the best way to do that would be to introduce non-linearity and an open-world. The glimpses we were getting of the expansive-looking new Galar region looked to fit the bill, and the phrase “Pokémon’s Breath of the Wild” was tossed around liberally.

And yet, when we finally got our hands on Sword and Shield that November, they were not the radical departure we had all been hoping for. They were fine. But I use “fine” deliberately here. Outside of the introduction of the Wild Area, they didn’t do much to shake up the formula. At all. They were incredibly linear games. And, to be honest, I didn’t really like the Wild Area—it felt more like a place I should go in the interest of “filling my Pokédex” rather than a place I wanted to go, or was even rewarded for going to by the game at large. Sword and Shield were quite easy, except for the final battle with Leon. It’s not like gameplay incentivized me to hunt down a bunch of new, strong Pokémon.

And so, fans were disappointed that the open-world revolution had not come. But then: we heard about Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Arceus seemed to be a complete reimagining of what the Pokémon series could become. It was not a mainline game—it was something new, and that really excited fans leading up to the release. The phrase “Pokémon’s Breath of the Wild” popped up all over again, with renewed vigor. Because, again, it seemed like it could be the open-world game we all wanted.

I love Pokémon Legends: Arceus. (I actually … haven’t finished the final battle. You know when you don’t want a game to end, and are looking for some Perfect Time to finish it, and then end up not finishing it at all? Yeah.) It did a lot to deliver some much-needed shake-ups to the aforementioned Pokémon Formula, especially when it comes to approaching wild Pokémon and catching them. I never want to go back to the Old Ways. Even though it took place in the distant past, it did a lot to “modernize” the series.

But Arceus is not, technically, open-world. You have a lot more flexibility on what order you can do your various side-quests and where you can go, but the game is still relatively linear. New areas open up to you one at a time. So ,the true open-world Pokémon game remained elusive, as recently as earlier this year.

After 25 years of games and two incredibly recent false alarms, the assurance that Scarlet and Violet are actually open-world RPGs represents Pokémon fans finally getting one of their biggest wishes delivered on. Whether or not this iteration is a successful take on the open-world remains to be seen. Given how deeply gyms have relied on level-scaling in the past, I’m a little worried the gym challenges in Scarlet and Violet will be way too easy. But I’m beyond excited to see what the game doles out. At the very least, this means that Game Freak can maybe start looking into another one of Pokémon fans’ greatest wishes: a Hard Mode.

(featured image: Game Freak)

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Kirsten (she/her) is a musician, audio person, writer, and nerd. When not talking about One Piece or Zelda (among other anime and games), she's finding surprising ways to play the guitar.