Pokémon Scarlet and Violet characters deserve voices of their own

best Pokemon games: a male, ginger Pokemon trainer laughing with his Fuecoco
(Image credit: Nintendo)

“This doesn’t make any sense”, my brother says. “Why aren’t they talking?”

Despite having been a serious Pokéfan during our childhoods, my brother has been out of the game for nearly a decade. As soon as I got my hands on Pokémon Violet, we sat down in front of the TV, and prepared ourselves for some serious nostalgia.

Despite the choppy framerate, Pokémon Violet is an exercise in prestige; an attempt to realize the dreams of adventure slumbering in the hearts of Nintendo gamers since the mid 90s. However, as the cutscenes roll on, it becomes clear that something is off. My brother’s brow furrows at the characters’ silence. 

He’s right. These well-designed characters greet cutscene after cutscene in eerie quiet, their words punctuated only by Scarlet and Violet’s excellent music. In 2022, it feels wrong. 

In contrast to many previous Pokémon games, these characters often have interesting things to say, too. Without spoiling anything, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet deal with bullying, peer pressure, and even grief. It’s not exactly The Last of Us, but, though developer Game Freak’s storytelling uses simple, broad brush strokes, the colors are no less vibrant and enjoyable. 

However, the step up in storytelling serves to make the lack of voice acting all the more conspicuous. It seems cruel to deny these characters a voice when they have important things to say. This was especially true during Scarlet and Violet’s emotionally charged and rewarding ending. 

Enjoy the silence

Dialogue with Miriadon and Arven

(Image credit: Future)

While the Nintendo Switch certainly has significant technical limitations, especially when compared to the PS5 of the Xbox Series X, vocal characters isn’t one of them. A huge number of the best Nintendo Switch games have leaned heavily on strong voice acting to help immerse players in the worlds they create. 

Fire Emblem Three Houses, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and Bayonetta 3 all give their characters distinctive voices. Even Super Mario Odyssey wouldn’t be complete without the plumber’s iconic “wahoo”. 

Even Super Mario Odyssey wouldn’t be complete without the plumber’s iconic “wahoo”s.

So why is it that Game Freak keeps its characters mute? The Pokémon themselves have distinctive cries, and have done so since the early days of Pokémon Red and Blue, so don’t their human opposites? It’s unlikely to be a question of budget. The Pokémon Company’s doing rather well for itself and reported record profits this year (via Gamesindustry.biz). They clearly have resources to spare.

Is it a product of time constraints and tight release windows, or simply a stylistic choice? Perhaps Game Freak wanted to evoke the nostalgia of the wordless text boxes that have been with Pokémon titles since the very beginning. Perhaps they want us to invent voices for the characters within their own imaginations.

Seen but not heard

Katy, Nemona and Grusha on a white background

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Scarlet and Violet boast excellent character designs. The outfits of almost every named character tell a clear story on their own. Take Katy, Nemona, and Grusha, all pictured above. 

Katy, the bug type Gym Leader dresses in an elegant but unassuming chef’s outfit with a single spider web embroidered on her apron. A tuft of light green hair pokes out of her chef’s hat and she has a small beauty spot on her left cheek. One look at her tells you that she’s a gentle, kind soul who loves baking, but who also possesses a mischievous streak. 

Your rival Nemona, meanwhile, is a consummate jock in her altered school uniform with all its sporty accessories. Lastly, you can tell from a glance at Grusha, the ice type Gym Leader, that he’s withdrawn and secretive but, perhaps, might have a softer side. 

In previous games, these character designs were enough to conjure a unique voice in my mind. However, now that Pokémon has come to my television, it feels silly to have to rely on my imagination in the same way I had to back in the days of the Game Boy. It’s clear that Game Freak pours a huge amount of effort into its character design – an act that only makes their silence all the more jarring when seeing these figures rendered on my TV screen. 

Can we imagine Jessie and James from Team Rocket without their camp, over-the-top monologues?

Pokémon and voice acting have gone together since the days of the anime in the 90s. The idea of human beings in the Pokémon world having their own distinctive voices is hardly new. Can we imagine Jessie and James from Team Rocket without their camp, over-the-top monologues? What is protagonist Ash Ketchum without his high-pitched, optimistic tones? 

The Pokémon games are no stranger to borrowing aesthetic inspiration from the anime. Even the Pokéballs in Scarlet and Violet use blue beams of light and iconic sound effects reminiscent of the TV show. Game Freak loses out by not embracing this final element of the anime.

These great characters deserve a voice.

Cat Bussell
Staff Writer

Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.