I feel like I should apologise. But I’m not gunna. Apologise for what you might ask, well at the start of this month when I drafted out my entire December’s content for my blog. this past week, I had fully intended to write reviews of the latest Dragon Ball Super manga chapter and a review of the latest Jujutsu Kaisen episode. In the end, 30 posts in 23 days was just too much for me to keep up with on top of having to work six nights back to back in the lead up to Christmas.
There really wasn’t enough time in the day, if I wanted to get any sleep whatsoever. So yeah, those two promised posts are going to get crammed into the backend of the days following Christmas. I’ll have the time then, lord knows I can’t do anything with all this tier level lockdown going on in the U.K.
#5: Pokémon Sword/Shield: The Isle of Armor
Played on Nintendo Switch | Released 17th June | Developed by Game Freak
Originally, I had intended to make this entry encompass both of the expansions to Pokémon Sword and Shield. But while looking back what Crown Tundra provided us, especially in comparison to the Isle of Armour, I couldn’t in all good conscious celebrate that piece of content for how horribly devoid of enjoyment that thing was. Something I talked about in this post right here.
Isle of Armor on the other hand feels like the missing piece of the puzzle that was holding particular aspects of the original game back. I could make a career about dumping on the Pokémon franchise and how it feels like its actively trying to self-sabotage at times. It might seem weird to be praising a piece of content that arguably should have been in the game in the first place, but I want to try and keep thing in the tone of celebration for this post.
So, to grasp at the positives, I’m going to talk about how Isle of Armor made me enjoy the Pokémon franchise the most I’ve done since playing X & Y seven years ago. (Seven years? Christ…)
When Sword and Shield came out, I had very mixed feelings about it. There were aspects to it I loved, while I felt other parts came out half baked, as if there were a bunch of mechanics and ease of use decisions that didn’t make sense to me. Isle of Armor rectifies almost all of those issues, at least in terms of my mechanics issues with the game, and doubling down on the aspects of the game I most got something out of.
A first for the franchise, Isle of Armor is the first piece of post-release content for a mainline Pokémon game. What used to be a new version of the game, or a sequel to it, now gave us updates and new content to play after finishing the main game itself. This first taking players to the titular Isle of Armor, a very un-British location inspired by mountainous dojos and hidden martial artists.
The player finds themselves roped into the training of an eccentric former league champion as he trains a legion of students in the ways Pokémon battling, through the form of martial arts training. The journey introducing the player to new legendary Pokémon Kubfu, and building up the partnership between it and the player, eventually picking one of two evolution paths for the little bear, then going on to unlocking its unique Gigantamax form.
Through this story, the player is introduced to the Max Soup item. Something that rectifies one of my major problems I had with the original release of the game, and allows players to unlock a Pokémon’s unique Gigantamax form with their existing, trained Pokémon. Where as before we just had to hope we found on in a max raid battle and then train that one. Throwing away the Pokémon we’d painstakingly trained from an egg or during our initial playthrough.
It was through the necessity of participating in Max Raid Battles to spawn the mushrooms needed to make the soup that I actually started to gain an appreciation for the Max Raid battle mechanic in itself. I wasn’t too hot on the option in the base game, despite the significant reward it provided. Being able to turn my EV trained Cinderace or my Appletun into their alternate jumbo forms was enough for me glomp onto Max Raid battles and finally appreciate them.
In addition, the DLC itself provided a ton of new, long form tasks to perform, including upgrading the dojo, catching the newly returning Pokémon in the expansion and playing around with the new moves and hidden diglett that litter the island. Ever since Platinum, I’ve felt that the Pokemon franchise has had a real lack of end game content for people like me who don’t care to involve themselves in the online competitive scene.
This has felt like the best big of end game content since we got a battle frontier to play in, despite the fact that, while there is a ton to do in this world now, not a whole lot of it is actually based around battling. That being said, I invested more time into Isle of Armor than I think I did from playing main game itself upon release. Like I said, it’s the most I got back into a Pokémon game in years.
It’s just too bad that Crown Tundra felt so disappointing by comparison. I really do feel like the Pokémon has become too big for its own good, at least when it comes to the video games. The mainline games have found themselves on such a tight schedule that it prevents Game Freak from being able to reach too far and do anything too different than we’re used to. And from a personal standpoint, that’s slowly making me fall out of love with the franchise.
I really think Game Freak need a break, akin to what Ubisoft took with Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Some time to really think about he franchise and come up with a new unique take for it. Because for as much as I enjoyed my time with Isle of Armour, it was only in the context of it being a Pokémon game that was a much better experience than the base game and not really having an alternative without blowing the dust off one of my older handheld devices.
While Isle of Armor plucked out all of the best aspects of sword and shield and built upon them, it felt like too little too late. It’s hard for me not to be hard on the franchise given how much love and time I have invented into it over the past two decades, but when they get it close to being right, they make something like this that can engross me for hour and hours. Imagine what they could do if they were just taken off the leash.