Could Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Fix the Series’ Difficulty Troubles?

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Could Doom, or Revive, this Beloved Feature

This is gonna be a difficult conversation.

Ok, that’s my joke out of the way. Here’s something that’s definitely not a joke: difficulty in Pokémon games.

No, really. It was always barely present in the series’ opening few games, but something about the new games has taken things to another level. And players have taken notice – myself included. Having played Pokémon FireRed for the first time shortly after beating Pokémon X, the differences really are night and day.

The #1 suspect here is the Exp Share item – which got a massive power boost in generation 6, and became mandatory to use in generation 8. A 250% boost in experience gains with zero downside is going to cause some problems for sure, but I don’t think it’s the main culprit. (It still deserves some blame though. Does anyone actually have fun being 10 levels overleveled for the entire game?)

pokemon scarlet and violet shakes up traditional format

Surprising Nobody, Pokémon X and Y are Absurdly Easy Games

It’s the game’s climactic moments. You’ve just caught Xerneas, and the game just gave you a chance to add the legendary Pokémon to your party. The last time a chance like this happened was in Black and White for your fight against N, and that fight was super cool… so you add Xerneas to your party here too, expecting a similarly cool fight. That’s your first mistake.

Your second mistake, should you end up making it, is to send Xerneas out first, in the ultimate battle against Lysandre. This is because Xerneas’ Moonblast (it’s not even the Pokemon’s signature move, it’s just a decent option) can one-hit-kill half of Lysandre’s team. Lysandre’s ace Pokémon, Mega Gyarados, falls in two hits instead of one. The remaining Pokemon (yes, he only has four), a Pyroar that resists Moonblast… has no tools for overcoming Xerneas. Its best move here is Fire Blast, an inaccurate move that can beat Xerneas in three consecutive hits. Moonblast still dishes out more damage, despite Pyroar’s resistance. Pyroar can’t even learn any moves that would be useful here, until the very next games where Iron Tail becomes a move tutor option. And so, what should have been a climax instead becomes a circus, as the story’s final boss flails hopelessly against you.

The new Exp Share had no chance to ruin this fight, the game didn’t need its help. It was able to ruin things just fine by itself.

What “Difficulty in Pokémon” Even Means

When people talk about Pokémon’s loss of difficulty, moments like that are what they’re pointing out. Utterly pitiful attempts at resistance from the game, where all you need to do is say “yes” when prompted and click the same move over and over. Where grinding isn’t a crutch anymore, it’s practically game-ruining; draining all tension from fights when your single Hawlucha can solo-kill the entire elite four.

Anyone who seriously argues that “The games have always been easy!!”, in my professional opinion, need to leave all online discourse as soon as possible (joke). The ability to grind levels is hardly a Pokémon-exclusive feature. Because there are ways to retain a sense of challenge, even in other Pokémon games. Yes, even the recent ones – though even they use it as a fleeting moment rather than a game-long experience.

In Sun and Moon, most of the flaws of X and Y are still there. The Exp. Share still completely breaks the game. The constant handholding made the game seem desperate to funnel you through the game. That slog was still there – I could breeze past trainers without a second thought, and I found myself dodging fights to avoid the game-ruining experience gains. But when those Totem Pokémon powered themselves up, when they called ally Pokémon to fight you two-on-one, when the game is presenting you with meaningful resistance… it’s still easy, don’t get me wrong. But don’t make the mistake of saying that all ease is the same.

In those moments, where the game is able to surprise you with an unexpected challenge, when you’re not led by the hand and have to actually change your strategy, to overcome an unforeseen obstacle… it’s appreciated.

Sinnoh Remains the Best Region

In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, we were presented with a genuinely tough final fight. I’ll avoid spoilers for now, but if you’ve played it, you know what I mean. The game twisted the odds in its favor, at a time you might not be ready for. You’re not given a chance to strategize, you simply have to adapt and overcome. The game will not help you win.

And that’s not the only instance. Even in the wild, you can face several Pokémon at once. The few trainer battles that exist may see you fighting against three-on-one odds. Are they challenging? Not always, but they’re there. They can come out of nowhere. And when you succeed, you feel as though your team can accomplish feats even you didn’t realize. You feel strong, meaningfully so. The game might still hand you wins on a silver platter, but they’ll still feel unmistakably like wins – not a guided tour. And for people who want more difficultly in Pokémon, that’s the feeling they’re waiting for.

And Now, the Modern Day

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet don’t need to be Scary and Violent, they just need to bring back that feeling of overcoming obstacles without the game’s help. Overcoming anything, really, I’m not that picky. They just can’t bend over backwards to make sure you never feel challenged at any point in the game (looking at you, 6th generation games).

Rumors hint at the removal of “Set” mode in the upcoming games. It’s a mode where you’re not given a chance to switch out your Pokemon before the opposing trainer sends in another to replace a defeated Pokemon, giving the battle a shift in momentum in their favor. Is this removal bad? It’ll certainly make retaining the feeling of challenge harder, but it won’t be impossible to fabricate a way to recreate it. The fact that we’ll have to fabricate it certainly sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And hey, the rumor might not even be true.

It is, however, an extremely bad omen. We’ve seen this song and dance before. If you were around during the X and Y days, you know how easily complaints about the broken Exp Share were dismissed by fans. The ending was disappointingly predictable.

Granted, Scarlet and Violet are already taking a lot of cues from Pokemon Legends: Arceus, and that game did a decent job of retaining a sense of challenge. The fact that Pokemon’s next games could lean in either direction is… worrying, to say the least. But if things can go back to the way they were, if players are really given a chance to push their team to the limits, if players can take advantage of the open world to tackle challenges they might not be ready for… Scarlet and Violet could really be something special.

These games could either banish the idea of difficulty as an “archaic design choice”, or revive it in glorious fashion. I know which side I’m wishing for. See you on the road, trainers.