It’s time once again to catch them all. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the newest entries in Game Freak’s evergreen franchise. Prior to release this game looked like it was going to take everything great about Sword and Shield and improve on it. As a longtime Pokémon fan myself, I booted up the game with a fair amount of skepticism knowing Nintendo’s penchant for innovating away from accessibility. However, I’m happy to report that for most gamers, both Pokémon Scarlet and Violet will be fully accessible regardless of disability. The sad thing is, I’m not able to say this as emphatically as I have for previous generations due to a reality that is foreign to Pokémon. Bugs. Not the Pokémon type, but glitches that turn this game into an unenjoyable slog.
For players with visual disabilities, from what I can tell, the ninth generation of Pokémon is reasonably accessible for most people. The truth is the game uses Nintendo’s patented art style that is supposed to make Pokémon in the overworld and other trainers easy to see. Here is where we see the first area where glitches might impact this game’s accessibility.
The graphics in the Paldea region aren’t just glitchy, they are downright broken, resulting in multiple instances where I ran into a battle that I wasn’t prepared for because I didn’t see the Pokémon that was literally right in front of me until after the battle engaged and the model finally materialized on my screen. Note: this is a completely separate issue from one that has cropped up in a lot of more recent Pokémon titles, where some of the modeled Pokémon are smaller and just generally harder to see, which can make it more difficult to track down specific Pokémon. For me, both of these are annoying, but I’m not sure if either of them qualifies as a barrier, especially given the extremely forgiving nature of the game, and the fact that there is no real harm in losing the occasional battle.
Other than that, however, this iteration of Pokémon is just as visually accessible as any of its other 3D predecessors, with one notable exception: the subtitles during cinematics seem to have taken a massive step backwards when compared to Pokémon Arceus. Gone is the standardized method for presenting in-game dialogue. Much of the game’s dialogue is still presented using the classic Pokémon text boxes, but in some of the game’s cinematics, these boxes are strangely absent leading to floating white text on busy backgrounds, which can make the story harder to follow for players with visual disabilities, especially in lighter environments.
Deaf/Hard of Hearing Accessibility
For players that are deaf and hard of hearing, the situation is very similar. Again, in my many hours of playing the game, I did not notice any vital sound cues. In fact, in the past Pokémon has been one of the few games I’ve been comfortable playing on mute while I listen to an audiobook or other media and the same seems true here. Although for reasons that I’m about to go into, I can’t emphatically say that there are no audio barriers in Scarlet or Violet.
Fine Motor Accessibility
Recently, reviewing Pokémon games for fine-motor accessibility has gotten more and more difficult. This is because mainly, when Nintendo adds new modes of play to the Pokémon franchise, they’re usually adding less accessible mini-games to a historically accessible franchise. This is certainly the case for Scarlet and Violet. The mini-game required to clear out the Team Star bases is timed and requires repeatedly mashing the R button. You have to aim your Pokémon and release them into the overworld for them to beat up wild Pokémon inside each Star Base. Once you’ve defeated 30 in the span of 10 minutes, it triggers the final traditional battle with the boss of each base. Although I can see this mini-game being a barrier for some players, in my experience, the aiming and the timeline were generous enough to make this activity only an inconvenience, not actually a hindrance to my gameplay.
The bottom line is, the bugs in Pokémon Violet ruined the experience for me long before any real barriers could. It’s true that the game doesn’t feature any dedicated accessibility settings, but Pokémon games have not needed them. In fact, this franchise is my go-to recommendation for disabled individuals getting into gaming. The broken nature of the game slows down gameplay making the experience much more fatiguing, which means that for the time being, I’m stuck recommending Sword and Shield.
Whether it’s being ambushed by Pokémon that haven’t popped in yet or the general chuggy nature of traveling through the wide-open spaces of the Paldean region, everything was slowed down and so much more taxing. So yes, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet on their face look like very accessible games and if Game Freak is able to address the bugs, they may even be good games.