Pokemon’s Postgame Got Me Off the Violet Train Real Quick

Often when I reach the credits of a game, I am more than happy to put that game down and move on to a different project. But from time to time I’ll finish a game at a time when I don’t have something else I am about to jump into, and so my thoughts will linger on the title I have finished and how I might experience it even more. Some games reward that instinct with postgame, special features or activities that only come after you’ve reached the conclusion of the main campaign. When I hit the end of Pokemon Violet, I took a few days off to collect my thoughts about the main game and then I decided to venture into the postgame to see what it has to offer. Part of what helped motivate that interest was having friends who were doing the same thing – Pokemon Violet has been a very communal experience for me, as I have played through it along with a group of friends who all got it at the same time and even talked some with my partner about it (a very rare occurrence!). Jumping online to do some raids with my pals seemed like a fun way to kill some time.

Before I could do that though, I had to finish a bit of postgame story. After the conclusion of Pokemon Violet (which I will not spoil here for the sake of those interested in this topic who may not have finished the game yet), you get the opportunity to revisit and rebattle all of the game’s gym leaders in order to unlock a tournament mode where you do four battles in a row with random characters selected from a finite group of NPCs. Winning the tournament is a prerequisite for unlocking medium difficulty tera raids (around 4 or 5 stars on a scale of 7). You then have to win a certain number of those raids in order to unlock the highest difficulty of raids (6 and 7 stars). So before my friends and I could set out to hunt down Super Dragon Charizard Alpha or whatever the heck, I needed to complete a world tour of all the parts of the game I had already completed.

Gym leader refights are a pretty cool part of a Pokemon game. These characters who you met at various points along your journey all return with newer, more powerful teams than what they had before; more unique typings and more competitive movesets often make these battles trickier than your initial battle against the gym leader. The issue here is that if you are using the same team of Pokemon you used to beat the game, you are easily going to be too overleveled for these fights to be challenging. I finished the game at around level 70-71, which is 3-4 levels above the final boss of the game. The gym leaders are then 1-2 levels beneath that, which meant that I had well surpassed all of them by the time I got around to them for the rematches. This made it easy to simply send out whichever of my Pokemon had type advantage and then roast the opposing team one by one.

The tournament is a bit more challenging. The characters you face are randomly chosen from a pool of possibilities, with some characters specializing in a specific type while others have balanced teams with a larger variety of Pokemon to deal with. However, these battles are not treated as a battle of attrition – you are fully healed between matches including having your Tera orb refilled. This wouldn’t be inherently bad if the fights were hard enough to justify needing that restoration between battles, but as it stands none of these challengers hit you with anything particularly difficult to deal with. Their ace always terastilizes into one of its own two types, so you’re never really thrown for a loop in terms of what to expect from their best Pokemon. And the character in the selection pool with the most powerful Pokemon is intentionally kept out of your first tournament – you can only face them in subsequent rematches, after you’ve already unlocked the higher-level raids.

I say all of this to make clear that Pokemon’s postgame is not intended to give you as a solo player a more mechanically challenging experience. The challenges are lower leveled than the endgame content, generous with healing, and don’t push the game’s systems when it comes to terastilizing or enemy movesets and AI. It is essentially just a series of final steps to get you a bit more leveled up for the real postgame content, the tera raids that you unlock by completing the tournament. These raids are the postgame experience, the one thing that you as a player are being prepared to take on as the definitive way to engage with the game once you’ve finished the main campaign. What that means is that your postgame experience with Pokemon Violet is going to be wholly dependent on how much you like doing tera raids, and how well those tera raids actually work.

I didn’t talk a lot about tera raids in my initial coverage of Pokemon Violet, so let’s dig into them more here. A tera raid is a four vs one battle between yourself and a group of other players or NPCs against a single, powerful tera Pokemon. This Pokemon is boosted significantly to make them a suitable challenge for four players, able to take extra actions, clear status ailments and buffs, erect potent shields to reduce the damage from your attacks, and recover health without the use of a move. How frequently these abilities will come into play depends on the star level of a particular opponent. Tera battles are also challenging because they require very careful Pokemon selection – you have to factor in the target’s tera type, their normal typing, and the coverage moves that they typically learn in order to approach these high-level battles with a chance to win.

Here are a couple of examples from my own experience. One of the strongest Pokemon on my team is a Dachsbun that I specifically built for the Charizard tera raid event. It has perfect IVs and its EV training, nature, and item all lean into dealing as much damage as possible with its Play Rough attack. I tend to use that Dachsbun in any tera raid battles against dragon, fighting, or dark tera type opponents, and I did so against a 6-star Avalugg that was tera type dragon. I figured that Avalugg’s moves wouldn’t be a serious threat since Dachsbun takes neutral damage from them, but I failed to remember that Avalugg often runs Heavy Slam, a steel type move that deals damage based on weight. Avalugg is a BIG Pokemon, and that thing was easily able to smash my fairy type Dachsbun into oblivion despite the fact that on paper, I should have had the advantage in that tera raid. In another battle, I brought in my level 100, unaware Skeledirge to deal with a tera type grass Goodra. I had forgotten to consider that Goodra is often run on rain teams and can bring moves like Rain Dance and Surf to the table. Skeledirge was a terrible pick for that fight, and I basically spent my time trying to cheer on my allies because there wasn’t much I could do to contribute.

Hey don’t look at me, bringing Charizard wouldn’t have made it go any better.

In theory, tera raid battles are exactly what I would want from a postgame experience. They really push your knowledge of the game’s systems and demand preparation and skill at a high level. The problem is, you cannot do them alone. In a solo tera raid, instead of bringing in four of your own Pokemon to face off against your opponent, you are assigned three shitty NPC allies who will make dumb decisions and bring less than ideal Pokemon for the matchup you are trying to handle. This is fine for the 1-2 star raids but by the time you’re dealing with the late-game raids, doing tera raids solo is completely unviable. So Pokemon goes from being a single player experience to a multiplayer one, which for me personally is a big turn off. I can’t often make time to play the game with friends, and playing with random people comes with its own share of serious problems.

Actually getting into a tera raid battle can present a frustrating challenge. Your game world is seeded with tera crystals that you can interact with in order to start a battle. This makes you the host, which allows you to decide when to initiate a battle and whether or not you want to play with the folks you are currently teamed up with. However, if you’re doing the harder 6 and 7 star raids, your world is only going to have one or two of those crystals to work with. This requires you to open the raid board in the online menu and look for raids that other players are hosting if you want to continue doing harder raids. The raid board displays something like 8 to 10 options at a time for raids to choose from, a mix of raids of varying difficulty levels and with different tera types and base Pokemon. Theoretically selecting one of them will put you into that battle, but I’ve had multiple times where picking the same card multiple times in a row never connected me to a battle with that Pokemon, forcing me to reset the board and look for something else. Another time, I kept getting the same host, who would cancel and reopen the battle every time (presumably looking for “better” companions for the battle), forcing me away from that raid. I’ve had multiple times where I spent five minutes trying to find an eligible raid that the game would actually let me join and that I had the right Pokemon to take on. And what awaited me once I finally managed to push my way into a raid battle?

Remember all those stories about the awful glitches in Pokemon Violet? Have you ever heard about Nintendo’s reputation when it comes to the quality of their online infrastructure? Imagine an experience that brings both of these problems together at the same time: the glitches and bugs of Pokemon Violet along with the garbage connection and terrible lobbying of a Nintendo online game. This is what it is like doing a tera raid in Pokemon Violet. Periods of as much as thirty seconds where your menu voids out and you stare at a screen where no one appears to be doing anything. Your attack hits the enemy but the HP bar doesn’t go down. Is that because you’re not doing enough damage? Nope, your friend on voice chat saw it drop, your side is just struggling to catch up to the rest of the battle. Everyone you are playing with sees that the opponent just put up a shield but you don’t get that notification for another ten seconds. Now imagine all those issues but you’re not on voice chat with your buddies. When playing with random people, the absolute inability of tera raid battles to clearly convey information in a timely manner makes the entire experience a confusing mess. My pals and I spent two battles with Charizard playing an exciting game I like to call “Is that a bug or a mechanic?” where you try to determine if some weird thing you just saw happen was actually supposed to happen because of the battle’s difficulty or was simply a glitch.

Pokemon Violet’s postgame has been a huge disappointment for me. The bit of single player content it throws at you fails to make full use of what the game can do in terms of presenting interesting mechanical challenges to solve. Instead, all of the eggs are placed into the basket of tera raids, glitchy messes that take forever to set up and reward that set up with confusing and laggy battles where you are completely dependent on a team of internet randos to make the correct decisions. Tera raids are heavily team based and require skillful coordination and planning to pull off, but Nintendo offers no way for people playing together to communicate in order to accomplish that degree of coordination. And even if you have a group of friends you can do that kind of coordination with to avoid some of the issues that come with raiding with randos, the core experience of the tera raid is still fundamentally broken from a technical standpoint. The next time the urge to play Pokemon Violet hits me, I’ll just do a Nuzlocke or something rather than trying any more to navigate the disastrous postgame experience.

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