When we were kids, my twin brother and I wanted nothing more than to go on a Pokémon journey together, as a team, and we chased any approximation of it we could. Sometimes this meant playing the original Game Boy games in the same room. Other times it meant playing pretend on our childhood playgrounds, or writing stories about exploring the series’ expansive world. But still, the dream of exploring the forests of Kanto and seas of Hoenn together, in video game form, was never an option in our youth. That’s why it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotion of it all as I walk through the Paldea region alongside my brother in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s cooperative mode doesn’t completely nail the feeling of undertaking a sweeping Pokémon journey with friends. Most of the games’ story content is walled off from cooperative teams, which means the big touchstones, such as overcoming a tough gym battle or becoming the Pokémon League champion, can still only be done in isolation. Those omissions sting, but Scarlet and Violet make up for it with the sheer joy of exploring the expansive wilderness of Paldea together.
In Scarlet and Violet, up to four players can join up in one continuous world, untethered and unimpeded by one another’s progress. As was the case throughout most of the mainline games, grouping up allows you quick access to staple multiplayer mechanics, such as battling with your friends and trading Pokémon. In Scarlet and Violet, you can also group up for Tera Raid battles, in which you take on rare Terastallized Pokémon. But even outside of its sheer utility, the ninth generation’s multiplayer is replete with joyful, fleeting encounters. The more I play Scarlet and Violet’s multiplayer, the more I find myself falling in love with the mundane, stupid, small moments within my group of friends.
As the series’ first “true” open-world game, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are all about discovery, and when that discovery occurs communally, it’s amplified tenfold. Me and my friends will ride out to separate corners of the map, uncovering secrets and recounting them through voice chats and private messages. So much of the previous Pokémon multiplayer experience has been almost exclusively about battling, trading, and minigames — but with Scarlet and Violet, more of my experience has been colored by the stories we share when we meet back up. Having spent the last week playing with my brother and friends, Scarlet and Violet have become less about becoming Paldea’s champion or trekking through their endgame and more about showing off our evolving parties, letting our critters hang out around a picnic table, and staging photo shoots. Pokémon feels all the more inviting when it’s about building something together, rather than just min-maxing your lineup to overcome obstacles by yourself.
As with any multiplayer game, there are several factors to consider. I wouldn’t recommend squadding up with randos, for instance — my enjoyment of the open world stemmed from communing within voice chats in Discord servers. It’s also not without little annoyances like lacking an easy drop-in/drop-out method without completely disbanding a room. None of this is to mention the various technical issues that become notably worse when you’re playing with other players.
But the Pokémon franchise has long told stories about friends coming together in the face of extreme challenges, and Scarlet and Violet feel like the closest the main series has ever gotten to making that ideal into a mechanical reality. I spent both Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s main quests fixated by how far the series has come as a single-player, story-driven experience — but traveling through Paldea alongside my brother and friends has been a reminder: The journey is best when you travel it together.