It feels like ages ago that Pokemon fans whipped into a frenzy in excitement over the inevitable announcement of a main line Pokemon game on the Nintendo Switch. Back in June of 2017 Game Freak President Tsunekazu Ishihara announced a slew of Pokemon titles for the Switch which included a core rpg title to be released at a later date.
The next 2 years would be filled with curiosity and mystery as news about the game was kept at a minimum while fans began dividing over features that were axed or allegedly fabricated. So here we are. After all of the anticipation Pokemon Sword and Shield is now in the fans hands to decide whether or not Game Freak did indeed put 100% of their love and care into this game and I must say, after over a week with it I can gladly say that Game Freak has pulled another highly addictive adventure out of their pocket albeit a few hiccups.
Before I dive into the guts of this game I’d like to preface this by explaining where I am as a fan of Pokemon games to show what I personally like and dislike in the core series. I have played every single Pokemon game to this point besides Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. The reason why I skipped this title was by how much Sun and Moon did not vibe with me. I personally didn’t like the story for Sun and Moon and I especially didn’t like the lack of gym leaders.
Overall I thought the game was too drastic of a change in such a short time between S/M and X/Y that my dumb brain pretty much called it a day and hopped out. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Sun and Moon for its effort. The Alolan forms were clever, the battles felt fresher with Z-Moves, and HM’s were the thing of the past for good.
I personally like the middleground that Sword and Shield takes between traditional competition of X and Y and the drastic evolution of the series brought by Sun and Moon but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Story as Old as Time
Pokemon Sword and Shield follows your character as you and your childhood friend Hop are endorsed by the Pokemon League champion Leon. Hop looks up to his brother Leon and starts a very close rivalry with your character as you both fight eachother constantly to get stronger in the hopes to dethroning Leon. The game essentially revolves around a world where Leon is Superman and everywhere you go given any sort of situation or emergency Leon is there like a superhero to either assess the damage or get to the bottom of it.
This time around there is no antagonist team to get in your way as the game is very much designed to display a more realistic competitive tone similar to that of European futbol (or soccer for my American friends). Starting from the bottom is the name of the game and all you have with you is a monkey, salamander, or rabbit by your side, multiple rivals stapled to you at seemingly any time of the day, and a dream to become the greatest Pokemon trainer ever.
The story doesn’t really falter from the lack of an established antagonist but it’s definitely noticeable when you go up against Team Yell. Team Yell is essentially a rowdy fan club for one of your rivals that cause mischief but nothing really comes about from them other than the easy to write inconvenience of road closures and the same two grunts constantly harassing you throughout the adventure. It’s not charming and it certainly never becomes endearing in any way even after the second half of the story.
The story picks up with the addition of the two legendary Pokemon Zacian and Zamazenta. These two legendary Pokemon are introduced through lore found throughout the Galar region. All of these pieces I have explained to you intertwine with eachother to create this 25 hour story and after it’s all said and done I think it was one of the easier plots to understand. I certainly enjoyed the adventure and I enjoy the character progression that happens between some of them including Hop and Bede.
The core combat of Pokemon is the same as ever with the usual balance to keep each games ecosystem alive and well. The newest inclusion to Sword and Shield is Dyanamax and Gigantamax. These moves allow Pokemon to grow to the size of a kaiju and wreak havoc against your opponent. In some cases your Pokemon may evolve even further Gigantimaxing to its full potential. The list of Pokemon capable of Gigantamaxing is very small and are extremely rare to find but once acquired it is easily one of the coolest features Game Freak has added to their games in quite some time.
But what about Mega Evolutions? Z-Moves? Unfortunately those didn’t make the cut in the Galar region but as a fan of both of them I am starting to come around to the idea of Dynamax.
The classic nature of Pokemon is alive and well for those who need their competitive fix with breeding, training, and battling feeling as powerful as it ever has. Some of the better additions to this game is the inclusion of jobs that you can send your Pokemon on. The jobs unlike our own every day jobs give your Pokemon a boost in one of it’s many skills and adds to the experience of truly perfecting your dream team.
Wild Wild Area
From the newest additions of gameplay to the latest features the newest addition to the Pokemon formula is the Wild Area. The Wild Area is an online location for trainers to play together and catch Pokemon. There are several sections to the area that offer different Pokemon at different times and weather conditions. I have a love hate relationship with the Wild Area and it is not Game Freaks fault at all. On one hand, the idea of an expansive online area where you can team up with others to take down raid bosses and collect Pokemon should be a home run, but with the limitations and lack of a fully functional online service the area faces several technical hurdles.
You can find an insane amount of Pokemon in the Wild Areas that are not able to be found anywhere else in the game making this a truly unique experience that Game Freak seemingly intends to constantly update and reward players who visit it whether it’s through collecting or participating in raids.
Each raid can be tackled either locally, solo with cpu’s, or online with others. Raids occur when you reach one of many dens that may contain a Dynamax Pokemon or joined via the hardly functional hub for notifications and news regarding open lobbies, trades, and battles.
The hub is awful connected straight to your modem and it’s even worse when your’e connected via wifi. The refresh button to see minute to minute updates in the menu is an absolute joke. When you check the online hub for an open raid half of the time the raid will either already be full or cancelled altogether. If you try to host a raid chances are noone will see it due to how poorly optimized the notification page is. The only way to truly refresh the feed at times is to disconnect from the internet and reconnect hoping that you will get more notifications if at all.
Terrible optimization for a massive online feature to a massive multiplayer game is unacceptable in 2019 plain and simple.
Where’s That Pokemon?
Simply put there are 400 Pokemon in this game. In total there are 890 overall throughout the entire Pokemon world. One topic that divided so many fans including myself was regarding the lack of many of the Pokemon. Being someone who was against the lack of a National Dex I am overall satisfied with most of the choices Game Freak made regarding the roster.
Some of the lower Pokemon could definitely have been better but when it came to the heavy hitters and some of the newest additions I eventually saw why they decided on these 40o Pokemon. These 400 help support the feel of the Galar region while the newer Pokemon defines it with unique and sometimes over the top personalities that make Galar so interesting to explore.
Look and Feel
Throughout my time with the game I found several small features that I liked a lot more than I thought I would and I would like to use this section as a space to list them off:
The games soundtrack is another masterpiece with an extra track featuring Toby Fox the creator of Undertale.
The map for this game is much different than traditional Pokemon maps with a vertical map.
Character customization is on point with the ability to change hair, makeup, and clothing.
With the traditional sports theme comes customizable trainer cards that can be traded online and offline.
Several menu features feel more seemless and easier to navigate through.
The game offers a camp feature similar to Pokemon-Amie where players can bond with their Pokemon while cooking to fill a separate Currydex.
Despite some of the games shortcomings particularly in the online portion Pokemon Sword and Shield serves as an excellent continuation of the core pokemon experience bringing with it an excellent mix of tradional gameplay with an emphasis on evolutions. Dynamax is an excellent and natural evolution for the series and I’m excited to see what they have in store for online events.
The music is extremely on point and continues the trend of fantastic compositions for a Pokemon game while the main stories scenario is mapped out at a healthy pace with no real slow down or grind.
While the art design of the game will not likely turn any heads the newly streamlined approach to Pokemon Sword and Shield will definitely bring in new players as well as hardcore fans looking to get the most out of the Galar region.