Just a few short days from now, on November 18th 2022, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the newest mainline entries in the Pokémon series, are due to be released on Nintendo Switch. Despite this, very little gameplay from the pair of titles has been publicly shown, outside of carefully curated trailers, and short gameplay clips that select media outlets were provided for preview coverage a couple of weeks ago.
I managed to get my hands on a copy of both Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet late last week, thanks to a retailer having broken street date on the titles, and have, at the time of writing, put 50 hours into one of the games, seeing the end of story credits roll, and experiencing some of the initial post story content.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. We’re going to give you a short spoiler light overview on what the games are actually like to play, we’re going to discuss which accessibility features exist in these titles, as well as discussing areas where the game may be less accessible for some disabled players compared to past series entries.
At their core, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feel like the formula established in Pokémon Legends Arceus, partially applied to the structure of a traditional Pokémon adventure, in a technically demanding but seamless open world.
Certain features introduced in Pokémon Legends Arceus, such as a Pokédex full of granular tasks to complete, catching Pokémon without battling them first, and Strong or Agile battle styles are gone, but in their place are many of the mainstays of the mainline series, such as held items, natures, and an increased focus on battles.
While you are still expected to travel to a series of gyms, defeat their gym leaders, and become the elite four champion, the games also contain a pair of separate plotlines that nicely interweave, with all objectives being able to be tackled in any order chosen, without narrative railroading, but also without level scaling.
While unlocking traversal tools will take time, there is no town on the map that the player cannot decide to just walk towards, basically right from the start of their adventure.
As an autistic gamer, I really felt disappointed by Scarlet and Violet not maintaining the Pokédex structure seen in Legends Arceus, where players were given a series of tasks involving each species of Pokémon to complete, which would in turn teach you about their behaviours in the wild, their best moves, or how to evolve them.
I understand that the Pokédex in Scarlet and Violet is considerably larger, and this would have been a more time intensive task to implement here, but its removal from the game was noticeable. Legends Arceus was incredibly satisfying for me, and the way that my autism personally manifests, and the removal of the feature felt like a step backwards for the series.
For players who struggled to play Pokémon Legends Arceus, due to the game’s action gameplay elements, where the trainer themselves could be knocked out and lose items if they fall off a tall ledge or failed to dodge out of the path of a charging wild Pokémon, it is worth noting that those elements have not carried forward to Scarlet and Violet.
If a wild Pokémon charges at you, all that will happen is a turn based battle will be initiated when they make contact with you. Fainting in turn-based battles will cost you some money from your supply, but you won’t drop important items the way you did in Legends Arceus. Additionally, Scarlet and Violet do not feature mechanics centred around relying on online players to retrieve lost items for you.
If you fall off of a tall ledge in Scarlet and Violet, not only will you not faint and lose items, but the game has a setting in the options menu that will cause the game to ask you, after that fall, if you would like to press a single button to be placed back up at the top of the ledge you fell from.
You can, if you wish, get to new areas by just falling off something high, in most cases without penalty. This works if you fall far enough, on a mount or not.
On that topic, let’s talk about the options menu in Scarlet and Violet.
When you first boot up Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, in the game’s pause menu, players can alter text speed, change the volume of game elements with some basic audio sliders (which are thankfully not hidden behind an NPC trainer like they were in Sword and Shield), alter controller rumble, as well as turn on or off “helper functions”, which is the previously described setting for allowing you to return to the top of a tall object you’ve fallen from.
You can also turn off auto save, which is useful for players who may find certain game elements difficult, and wish to be able to manually save before attempting a challenge, restarting their save after failure to avoid things like losing funds after a defeat.
The options menu also features several options designed to increase the pace of gameplay, lessening interruptions during play, and bringing the series design more in line with Legends Arceus.
Players can decide not to be prompted when a Pokémon is able to learn new moves, instead making those choices later by relearning skipped moves in the pause menu, whether or not to be prompted before sending Pokémon caught to your PC boxes, whether to be prompted about giving nicknames when catching a Pokémon, or simply doing so later in the pause menu, and whether or not to make cutscenes skippable.
As a player with ADHD, I really appreciated the ability to turn off many of these prompts, reducing interruptions to gameplay, and allowing me to hyperfixate on playing, going back and doing micromanagement all at once when I felt ready.
In terms of those above mentioned settings, let’s talk a little bit more in depth about learning new moves as your Pokémon level up.
When one of your Pokémon levels up, and wants to learn a new move in battle, if you’re unsure whether or not to learn the new move offered, and if so which move to delete from your Pokémon to make space, Scarlet and Violet allow you to press a single button to receive a recommendation regarding which move to replace, if any. The system seems pretty well designed, and generally keeps a creature’s moveset balanced, if not necessarily tuned for high end competitive play. Any move you chose not to learn, or choose to forget, can be relearned at any time without cost or penalty.
In terms of photosensitivity, while I’m not qualified to give an in depth review of this game’s photosensitivity risk level, I will note that in the version of the game on the cartridge, prior to downloading the day one update, Version 1.0.1, both Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feature bugs where lighting effects and textures occasionally flicker on, and off, randomly. This is not a common issue, but there are certainly areas where this can essentially cause full screen flashing, as shadows pop in, and out, of existence. I say this not to worry anyone, but to emphasise the importance of making sure you download Version 1.0.1 before playing, if this is likely to be an issue for you.
Additionally, and this issue persists beyond the day one patch, sometimes in rare occasions Scarlet and Violet’s camera struggles with the series’ new open world design, causing mildly disorienting camera glitches. They’re not common, but they’re worth being aware of going in.
When first starting a new save file for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, players are given a wide variety of character customisation options, which are not gender locked. However, it is worth noting that while all character creation options are available to all players, the game does still decide on binary gendered pronouns for the player, based on their choice of starting character model. Selecting one of the four characters on the left will result in he/him pronouns, and the four on the right she/her pronouns. Gendered pronouns and skin tone cannot be changed once the game has begun, but all other aspects of appearance can be changed at will. Your choice of pronouns doesn’t limit your choices of outfit, makeup, or hairstyle, which can all be freely changed at any time.
For players like myself, with conditions such as aphantasia, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet contains a mini-map, which moves and rotates in real time during gameplay. Players can, on the main map, set one objective marker at a time, which will show up on your minimap for reference, and point you towards that objective, as the crow flies. There is no pathfinding to lead you to that objective on foot, likely because as the game progresses traversal options open up that facilitate travelling more directly toward objectives, but the reference direction reminder is appreciated.
Additionally, by opening the main map then closing it, the minimap will show nearby species of Pokémon which may spawn in the area. This spawn data does not automatically update, and requires the player to manually refresh it.
I would, however, have really appreciated some kind of feature that would allow me to see where I had, and had not, previously visited on the game map, since the start of my adventure. The ability, for example, to toggle on and off a line charting my adventure would have helped me to better recognise which areas I’d missed while exploring, as someone with very poor spatial awareness and visual memory.
For players who struggle with indecision in open world games, or who are struggling with the game’s new open world nature and want a recommendation of a level appropriate challenge to aim for, Pokémon centres will now recommend, on request, a new objective for the player, usually the uncompleted main story objective located in the lowest level area of the map.
In a change to the traditional mainline Pokémon series formula, NPC trainers will no longer initiate battles automatically when you walk into their line of sight, instead only starting battles when you walk up to them and speak to them. Trainers who wish to battle will have specially coloured speech bubbles above their head, and it is now possible to run away from non-story trainer battles, although doing so will result in the same penalty as a loss, returning you to the nearest Pokémon centre and losing you money.
While Shiny Hunting mechanics are not going to be of interest to everyone watching this video, I do want to, in brief, discuss the state of shiny hunting accessibility in Scarlet and Violet, compared to Legends Arceus. I will have a more detailed video on this topic to come in the near future.
In Pokémon Legends Arceus, a game that Scarlet and Violet closely mirrors in many regards, shiny Pokémon were visibly shiny on the overworld. They made a distinct noise when they spawned, and played a visual sparkle animation if you were looking in their direction when they spawned in. While this was not perfect, deaf shiny hunters were at a disadvantage based on the visual cue only being visible if you looked in the right direction at the right time, the system was generally pretty good at alerting hearing players to the existence of a rare colour variant species nearby.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet has taken a huge accessibility step backwards in this regard, with shiny Pokémon no longer featuring either the sparkling animation, or audio cue, when they spawn, only when you initiate a battle with them. The only clue that a Pokémon on the overworld is shiny is that its colouration is different, which you have to recognise while walking around the map. This is particularly notable as several species of new Pokémon in the game have shiny forms that are barely distinguishable visually from their regular counterparts.
Right now, the best way to tell quickly if a Pokémon is shiny or not, without engaging it in battle, is to use the new Let’s Go feature, where you send a Pokémon out to auto battle wild creatures. This feature can be targetted at specific wild Pokémon, and if a Pokémon is shiny, your Pokémon will refuse to battle it. Right now, this is the best way to quickly tell if an overworld spawn is Shiny or not. For partially sighted or colourblind players, this feature is going to be a must for shiny hunting.
Additionally, certain in game features, such as boosted shiny odds or increased experience gain, are locked behind a sandwich making minigame. This minigame requires players to carefully and accurately place, and stack, ingredients into a sandwich, while a timer counts down. This time limited minigame cannot be skipped, and locks behind it certain elements of the game that, while not technically necessary, are designed to improve your experience while playing.
For players new to the series, and wanting a better understanding of how Scarlet and Violet operate, the in game school features lessons that teach, among other subjects, shiny odds, how damage multiplier mechanics work, and how to make the best of aspects of the in game economy.
When I went on social media recently, before writing this accessibility review, to ask disabled players what they wanted to know about Scarlet and Violet before release, easily the most asked question I received was whether the game was, or was not, comfortably playable one handed, with a single Joy-Con controller. Unfortunately, the answer to that is no.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet does not feature any controller remapping of its own, and while you can remap controls on a system level, remapping the full game to a single joycon is not viable, primarily due to the fact that there is no automated camera option, meaning that you need to use both analogue sticks to move the character and rotate the in game camera. While most of the game can be mapped to one controller, you’ll either need a controller grip to reach both sticks, or to switch between controllers periodically, or have a second player assist with camera control.
At the end of the day, it seems clear that we’re moving away from the era where a player with use of only one hand can navigate through a Pokémon game with, say, just the use of a d-pad and face buttons, not needing to press either of those simultaneously. One handed Pokémon play is becoming a thing of the past, and does not look set to return any time soon.
To rapid fire answer other social media asked queries, no the game does not feature any colour blindness support, or text to speech menu narration. Footstep sounds do cease if you walk directly into a wall, but there is no audio cue to actively tell you that you hit an object while walking. There are distinct footstep sounds for walking on a path vs grass, but much of the game is designed to take place off of those paths.
For players who struggle to keep track of plot objectives, the main map always contains a list of all your current objectives, where they can be found, and a plot summary, as well as a reminder of what can be found at that location.
Lastly, for players like myself who sometimes struggle with perfectionism and completionism while exploring large games, it is worth noting that Scarlet and Violet’s world is deliberately designed to be large, sprawling, difficult to be meticulous while exploring, with areas that need revisiting and cannot be reached the first time you get to them. My main advice is to go in aware of that fact, and try to get comfortable with the knowledge that you can’t be a true perfectionist here as early as you can.
Also, don’t get frozen by obsessively trying to catch every terratype of every species of Pokémon, just in case you need it later, terratypes can be altered later if needed. And don’t stress about finding every single Gimmighoul coin either, locations refresh, meaning you can come back to locations previously found if needed.
Overall, when it comes to the state of accessibility in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, its closest comparison title is very much Pokémon Legends Arceus, with minor tweaks.
While the inclusion of a minimap is really appreciated, as are features like recommended moveset advice and recovery after falls from high ledges, the game has slid backward on topics such as audio and visual cues for shiny hunting. In some regards it’s more accessible than Legends Arceus was, but that doesn’t come without caveats, it’s not universally more accessible.
As much as I personally loved my time playing through Scarlet and Violet, I recognise the game is another step towards Pokémon becoming something that will be, for many disabled players who joined the series prior to Sword and Shield’s release, less accessible than it used to be. While most of my complaints personally aren’t deal breakers, focusing on things like the removal of the Pokédex task checklist system that I found deeply satisfying as an autistic gamer, many of the more fundamental changes towards this being a seamless open world exploration game with platforming challenges and a lack of clearly defined linear routes are going to be deal breakers for many.
As much as many of the new features that have have been introduced in Scarlet and Violet are helpful for specific disabled players, it does feel like blind or colour blind players in particular are receiving the short end of the stick in regards to the game’s overall design accessibility.