Pokemon Sword and Shield have both been out for almost a week now and despite the controversy of ‘Dexit’ which saw more than half of all Pokemon not included in the game, people seem to be having a lot of fun with it. I bought myself Shield and my girlfriend Sword the day they released and she has yet to put it down. She also has yet to move beyond the second area, the Wild Zone, which brings something completely new to Pokemon that it’s been missing for a long time. It’s not all good in the land of the Galar region though, so if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you want to dive into this generation of Pokemon, let me break down some of the good, the bad and the ugly for you.
The Pokemon games have always been about exploration and catching wild pocket monsters to accompany you on your adventures. With every iteration of the game being on a handheld device there were always going to be technological limitations on what could be done in the game. Despite that, GameFreak and Nintendo always managed to deliver a great experience on the hardware at hand. Moving the franchise to the Switch has opened up the possibilities and while at the heart of the game you’re still just making your way through route by route in one direction, they’ve found ways to mask the linearity of the game at times. It makes exploring truly fascinating at times and when it doesn’t you still feel like you’re just playing Pokemon.
The biggest addition to the game under this idea is the Wild Zone. It’s what the Safari Zone would’ve been in Pokemon Red and Blue if it had been developed today. You’re put into this massive area and left to just explore and run wild. It’s not a route or a one way street like you’d expect to find in a Pokemon game, it’s more akin to a zone or area from a MMORPG. If you’re connected to the internet you’ll see other avatars running or standing around who give you items and vanish when spoken to. You see Pokemon of all shapes and sizes running around in tall grass and what Pokemon you see changed based on the area of the Wild Zone and the weather as well. I’ve seen Machops, Tyrogues, Wingulls, Ghastlys, Driffloons, Eletrikes…the list goes on! You even have the chance to see evolved forms such as Machoke, Haunter, Jolteon and more. They’re obviously much higher level than you are at when you first enter the Wild Zone, but it’s the first time a Pokemon game truly makes you feel like you’re out in the wild and anything could happen. My girlfriend has yet to leave the Wild Zone and has netted almost 100 entries in her Pokedex.
Another change that I’m particularly happy with is the social interactions with your Pokemon. GameFreak has always given us ways to show our appreciation for our little pocket monsters, but they’ve always ranged from out of the way and annoying to feeling necessary in order to gain an edge. In Pokemon Sun and Moon if you kept your Pokemon at 5 hearts of happiness they had an increased chance to dodge attacks or or survive a hit with one HP. In Sword and Shield if you set up your campsite in the Wild Zone or on a route you can play with your Pokemon and get to know them. There’s no inherent advantage out of increasing their friendship, which is required for certain evolution, but it regardless it’s cute and fun. You can also cook for your Pokemon which cures status conditions, restores health and even gives a bit of experience points. It’s nothing you’re ever required to do, but it helps!
Finally, as we’ve seen from generation to generation, the game is filled with more quality of life updates. The ability to access your PC storage box from anywhere in the game has come over from Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. They’ve also provided a nice change to Wonder Trades, now called Surprise Trades. You put your Pokemon up for trade and then you go back to playing the game. An alert will let you know when the trade is complete and you can open it at your convenience. So there’s no more waiting for the loading and saving screen as the game searches for a trainer to trade with. Plus, anytime you enter a Pokemon Center you’ve got access to the PokeMart and sort of new NPC…the Name Rater and Move Recaller! In EVERY POKECENTER! You don’t have to fly around from town to town trying to remember where the damn guys live! They’re easily accessible from any Pokecenter right from the get go. Praise GameFreak! Now if only I could rename Pokemon I get in trades. Seriously, my girlfriend got a Machop named Poop from the surprise trade.
While I don’t personally have too many complaints about the game there are some areas I think GameFreak could’ve improved to lessen some of the criticisms being levied against them. A trend we’ve seen get progressively worse from generation to generation is the hand holding. I’m aware that at it’s core Pokemon is a children’s game, but it also has a very die-hard fanbase of adults that fell in love with it as children and still play it to this day. That’s not to say that the game should be developed for them, but you don’t just ignore that demographic either. In the first 30 minutes of the game with no chance of random battles between fights with your Rival Hop, I had NPCs healing up my Pokemon that didn’t have a scratch on them. When you enter the Wild Zone there’s a lady at the entrance who will heal up your pocket monsters on a whim!
This leads directly into the second complaint I have, which is there’s no way to increase the difficulty. I don’t just mean an “easy, medium or hard” mode at the start of the game. Mechanics have been developed that continued to make life in the Pokemon games easier and easier, take the experience share for example. When it was first introduced you would put this item on a Pokemon and they’d share the final experience of a battle even if they didn’t participate. Eventually the item was made to share experience with the whole party. Then it became an option to turn on or off and now in Pokemon Sword and Shield, all Pokemon get experience no matter what. So, if people are looking to up the difficult they have to resort to self-imposed challenges like the Nuzlocke run. These are minor criticisms I grant you, but ones that could go to increasing overall enjoy of the game for everyone while hurting no one.
The final criticism I have for the game is the Dynamaxing. In recent generations GameFreak has added new battle mechanics to add a little spice to the combat system. The first was Mega Evolutions, which saw new temporary mega forms for certain Pokemon if they held the appropriate mega-stone. These were freaking awesome. In Pokemon Sun and Moon they added something called Z-Moves, which was in a way similar to Mega-Evolutions because you had to be holding a certain item and that gave you access to a special move you otherwise couldn’t use. In Pokemon Sword and Shield they’ve introduced Dynamaxing, which is essentially Mega-Evolutions and Z-Moves merged into one, but in the laziest way possible. Your Pokemon takes on a ‘new’ form by growing into a giant version of itself and all it’s moves turn into a special version based on the element. Water moves becomes Max Geyser, Dark moves become Max Darkness. It’s a homogenized way to give every Pokemon a Z-Move or Mega form without having to design specific moves or forms for every Pokemon. It was perhaps a necessary evil when they decided that not every Pokemon would make the jump into Pokemon Sword and Shield. On that note we get to…
In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of the biggest controversy surrounding Pokemon Sword and Shield, let me fill you in on ‘Dexit’. With the release of Sword and Shield there are now over 1,000 different kinds of Pokemon. In previous games, you could get every single one by one means or another. In Sword and Shield you can’t bring any Pokemon that aren’t included in the 400 Galar Region Pokedex. So, a subset of fans are upset about this and now refer to the controversy as ‘Dexit’.
The Ugly of the game isn’t that GameFreak didn’t include all of the Pokemon in their portfolio in Pokemon Sword and Shield. The Ugly of this game is the way fans are acting about it. I can sympathize with people upset that their favorite Pokemon wasn’t one of the ones to make the cut and you’re allowed to be upset by that. Any game that releases deserves to be criticized but let’s call like it actually is. There isn’t a single person that was going to use every damn Pokemon in their game. As someone who literally collected one of EACH FORM in every game I’ve ever played, I’m so happy that they didn’t include ALL of them. This even goes for Scyther, one of my favorite Pokemon of all time. Everything you actually loved about Pokemon is still in the game and more. If you think you won’t enjoy this game because your favorite was excluded, then you’re just going through the same phases of lose that everyone else has when their first pet dies. The best therapy is to just jump in and find a new favorite because it will happen.
Plus, whenever the mid-generation game comes along, whether it’s Pokemon Sword and Shield 2 or a re-make Diamond and Pearl, I’m sure GameFreak will include more of what we’ve been missing. Do yourself a favor and just grow up and go play with your pocket monsters.