It seems to me that Pokemon Sword and Shield have been the perfect opportunity for less satisfied corners of the fandom to come out air all of their grievances. Either with the franchise in general, or towards its developer Game Freak. With varying degrees of justification in my opinion. I have already voiced my feelings on the “Dexit” controversy multiple times now, and with the gift of hindsight, I am less indifferent to the issue than I thought I would be.
That’s not really what I’m here to talk about today though. In the end, the issue still didn’t effect my enjoyment or experience with the game, if there were a list of things about the game I could change, I doubt that particular controversy would even be in my top five. Mostly there are other issues with the game that leave me wanting even more.
You might be thinking I’d got my title mixed up after reading those opening paragraphs. I assure you, this isn’t supposed to be a negative article. All in all I have really enjoyed my time with Pokemon Shield. At the end of the day; it’s a Pokemon game and no amount of internet drama is going to make me even toy with the idea of protesting the newest game in one of my favourite video game franchises of all time.
Rather than write a huge review and use all of my points for my eventual game of the year list, I thought I would just about the three major things I liked about Pokemon Sword and Shield, and the three main things I found wanting after doing pretty much everything there was to do in the game outside of building a competitive team.
Dislike #1: The Trivialisation of the Gameplay
This is something a wrote about shortly before release. I voiced concerns about accessing your PC anywhere and experience points being shared amongst your entire party. While they were certainly nice quality of life changes, I was worried that they would make an already very easy video game even more trivial.
And after playing it, this overly friendly approach to team building was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to how ridiculously unchallenging this video game is. The main aspect of “difficulty” that comes from the Pokemon games of yore was found in the gauntlet style caves and enemy hideouts. Areas in which your team would get whittled down by the sheer number of battles you had to take part in, sometimes ended by a rude interruption from a rival or boss.
These new games never surprise you with a battle you might not be ready for, whenever you encounter a rival or Team Yell gang it always gives you the option to prepare yourself before hand. And on top of that the game ends up healing your Pokemon beforehand anyway. In fact the game constantly heals your Pokemon without telling you, meaning you never, ever enter a situation without a full strength team.
It’s kind of frustrating, given the change to the league structure and the lack of an elite four, instead putting it into a tournament bracket and letting you go in with a fully healed team before every fight. It’s far too kind, hardly ever stringing a ton of battles together without giving you multiple easy outs to getting healed Pokemon. You don’t ever even battle a trainer who uses a full team of six Pokemon until the final battle of the game against the champion, which it utterly ridiculous.
It’s not like I want these games to become ultra-difficult or anything, I’m just becoming increasingly frustrated with how hand holdy they’ve become.
Like #1: The Pokemon
Yeah, the franchise is called Pokemon and it’s all about Pokemon. But to tell the truth, this newly introduced batch of Pokemon might be my favourite collective generation since generation 4. There are so many cool and interesting new designs in the mix that I was excited nearly every time I countered a new Pokemon. Sure, I have favourites from each generation, but there are very few Pokemon I actually dislike introduced in this game.
Even the ones I do think look kind of lame end up getting a really cool evolution of Gigantamax form. Honestly the Pokemon I feel are the weakest of the 80 introduced this generation are the starters, everything else I adore. Including the new regional variants, which is a concept I’m really get they carried over into the new games.
By the time I was finished, I loved my Toxtricity, my Frosmoth and my Appletun. I really think I’m starting to appreciate the goofier designs than the cooler ones I used to gravitate towards. There are a lot of pretty novel concepts, many of which make full use of ragging on every stereotype possible from the region.
You’ve got industrial revolution Weezing, the teapot Pokemon and a bunch mismatched fossil monstrosities nodding to just how clueless we were in the country when it came to stealing and reassembling everyone else’s dinosaur bones.
Dislike #2: Dynamaxing
Dynamaxing is gimmicky and I don’t especially enjoy it. It seems like a wasteful gimmick in my opinion. While it is essentially the same as Mega Evolution, only with a three turn limit, I feel like it lacks the impact and excitement that came with the mega evolution mechanics of X & Y.
The two biggest differences are that any Pokemon can Dynamax, although only a select few can change their form when doing do. And the power can only be used in certain set locations. Until the end of the game, it hardly felt like I was using the phenomena at all. And I was only doing it because the opponent was more often than not.
It’s also another factor into making battles super predictable, as each character who is going to Dynamax one of their Pokemon will always save them till last, even if would would have made more sense for them to send it out sooner from a tactical point of view.
What compounds my frustration with this mechanic even more, is that the alternate “Gigantamax” variations of certain Pokemon are exclusive to raids and events. I kept Dynamaxing my Coalossal, thinking it would change form before realising that the Pokemon I’d been raising for 30-something levels would never actually attain that form when going Kaiju.
I get that Game freak want to create excitement around events and limited time multiplayer modes, like Pokemon Go have done with their raids. But I don’t play Pokemon that way, and it feels like a section of the game being held behind a multiplayer only barrier. Made all the worse by Nintendo’s perpetually busted ass net code that never actually lets you find a party to raid with anyway.
Like 2: The Wild Area
I know I just got done dissing one of the major components of the wild area, but to tell the truth, I think it’s a great new proof of concept for where the Pokemon could go in the future. People have been clamouring for an open world Pokemon game for decades, and while I don’t think it’s ever going to happen in the way people are thinking, this is certainly a step in that direction.
The achievement that was Breath of the Wild coming out on the Switch, coupled with the wild areas in this game makes me excited to see what they do with the same concept in the future, on a more powerful console. Maybe eventually adding an entire open world to their game akin to a Final Fantasy or a Dragon Quest instead of the super linear pathways that the game currently has.
It’s not just the potential of the wild area I enjoy though, there are some cool things going on within the open world area in this game. It’s a great big mixing pot of all the Pokemon available in the game, one that allows players to potentially catch Pokemon out of sequence if they manage to stumble upon certain area exhibiting a certain weather type. It makes the area far more random and repeated play throughs of the ever more varied.
Additionally, the inclusion of over-levelled Pokemon for you to challenge yourself against is a real nice touch, including Pokemon like Tyranatar and eeveelutions wandering around removing the need for late grind when trying to add things to your Pokedex.
Dislike #3: The Lack of a Story
I touched upon this a little the other week. There is a story to this Pokemon game, like most of the others, one that has a “villain” and involves a legendary Pokemon to some extent, however in Sword and Shield, the player’s involvement in the story doesn’t really seem to take place until the end, interrupting the player’s final battle with the champion Leon.
There are snippets of story there and about, but it actually feels like the vast majority of the buildup to the finale takes place off screen, getting dealt with by Leon before the player can even arrive on the scene. It’s nice that the player character isn’t the only competent trainer in the world to deal with all of these problems, but the fact that we only really see the fringes of it throughout kind of sucks.
On top of that, the story we do get, the tournament progression, is hugely underutilised, as I wrote about already. The early stages of the league are promising, but end up feeling like they’re rushing you through the final handful of gyms with not a fat lot happening in between.
Story in mainline Pokemon games has always been hit or miss, and while I had issues with Sun and Moon, I think it really has the edge over Sword and Shield in regards to its story, as dumb as it felt at times. Sword and Shield wasn’t terrible, but it just could have been so much more.
Like #1: The Characters
While the story in itself felt really lacking to me, the one thing I felt the game did really well was provide a cast of characters that all felt pretty unique, all having their own little journey of growth and discovery to go on throughout the course of the game. Sonia’s story; starting the game as a bit of a layabout and discovering a passion for research to the point she eventually becomes a Pokemon Professor herself is great. (also writing a book in the space of what could have only been a couple of weeks)
Bede’s transformation from an overconfident snot into an overconfident snot gym leader. And just Marnie and Piers in general. The character designs in this game in particular feel like they have so much more individual character than the relatively generic anime style that the human characters have had in the franchise for the most part before now. Their weird designs put so much more charm and character into them without you even needing to know what they’re about.
But Hop is actually the character that most surprised me after finishing the game. I wrote a piece about Pokemon rivals a few months back and lamented the loss of edge to the rivals in Pokemon games. Making them overly cheerful and friendly instead of the total bastards that Blue and Silver where in the first two games, y’know actual rivals.
In the beginning, Hop felt like the milquetoast best friend pretending to be a rival that Hau was in Sun and Moon; overly cheerful lacking in pretty much any teeth whatsoever. But at the story goes on, Hop actually becomes increasingly frustrated with his inability to defeat the player character. Not only that, the weight of his brother’s legacy at the “greatest” champion weighs down on him, and he does seem to have a crisis of conscious
Which is reflected in the teams he uses in battle, forgoing his regular Pokemon for something entirely new, giving a throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks kind of impression of desperation.
In the end, once the story is over and the post credits mini narrative has taken place involving Swordbert and Shielnord, Hop feels like he has gone on a journey of personal growth and actually forges a path all his own, not simply one following in the footsteps of the player or his brother. Which was really cool I thought.
I think I might have a little bit more to say about Pokemon Sword and shield in the future, but it’ll most likely have to wait until the new year at this point as I’m swamped with work in the festive period and my game of the year posts.