Pokémon Sword and Shield is finally available exclusively for Nintendo Switch, introducing players to the new Galar region outside of the United Kingdom. Ever since the Pokémon Blue version was introduced to the world of Pokémon on my old grey brick Game Boy console, I’ve been dreaming about what the game would look like if it was displayed on my TV and played on my home console. The N64 had Pokémon Stadium and its sequel, which allowed me to connect my Game Boy game pack so I could see what my favourite monsters looked like on the big screen, but apart from the battles, it didn’t offer much else. There was also Pokémon Coliseum and XD: Gale of Darkness on GameCube, which gave fans a taste of what a real Pokémon RPG might look like on a home console.
In 2019, we live in a world in which Nintendo’s home console and handheld systems are merged, meaning that the transition to the digital age will finally see the release of a true Pokémon RPG for the home console. But did all the fans want it?
Short answer: Sort of?
Pokémon Sword and Shield has been the subject of intense criticism since this year’s E3, when the game’s producer, Junichi Masuda, said in an interview that these games will be the first not to include National Dex or Pokémon from previous games. The absence of National Dex caused a protest from Game Freak fans, who demanded that all Sword and Shield monsters be included in the game. This is not the only criticism many fans have made of Game Freak: The animations and graphics are not up to the Switch, he said. With all the criticism of one of my favorite franchises, I couldn’t resist feeling my enthusiasm for these games fade. Still, it’s a Pokémon game, and it’s still fun, though with lots of highlights.
With my almost 40 hours with the Pokémon sword, I had a lot of fun. The story revolves around you and your childhood friend Hop as you travel through the Galar region collecting gym badges to defeat champion Leon, Hop’s older brother. It’s about the same story as the last 20 years. The story is quite short compared to previous games. If I hadn’t spent time on other aspects of the game, I could have finished it in half the time. Again, don’t expect many problems, because the EXP Share element is now permanently activated – meaning your team will be one step ahead of any coach or leader who is unlucky enough to challenge you in battle.
Like Pokémon Sun and Moon, your game will often be overrun by other characters. It seemed like every time I went down a new road, a character would stop me from explaining something or giving me an object, when all I really wanted to do was explore a new area. Leon, champion, is one of the worst offenders for me. Every time there was a catastrophic event, he stormed onto the stage and said something like This is Championship Time. I wonder which part of this game is my story or his.
All the scenes might not have been as badly done if voices had been heard to accompany them. It’s weird to think that a JRPG with a large budget on a home console wouldn’t have a voice, especially considering that you can simply use voice-controlled anime in games. I really noticed when Pierce, one of the leaders of the school, had a whole scene in which he sang a rock song, terribly muted.
The story doesn’t hold up well with previous entries in the series either. Team Scream is the new team of bad guys, although I wouldn’t go so far as to consider them a threat. You’re basically a fan of your other rival, Marnie. There wasn’t even a real team leader to shoot, like Giovanni from Team Rocket.
In terms of gameplay, it is the same games that we have had over the past 20 years, with some improvements in the quality of life. The wild Pokémon that first appeared in Let’s Go games last year can now be seen all over the world, and there are no more random encounters. Hallelujah! Another step in the right direction is the addition of the wilderness area. Here, Pokémon walks around freely and the player can control the camera. It’s a little strange to think that a feature as simple as camera control in 2019 could be innovative, but this is Pokémon we’re talking about, known for its lack of change.
Two hours into the story, players enter the Wild Zone. It’s a step in the right direction for the show, but it’s far from perfect. It’s closest to an open world for Pokémon fans, but it lacks the elements that make an open world or even a large JRPG interesting – things that could have been done. Apart from catching Pokémon and participating in raids, there isn’t much to do here. It’s an incredibly open landscape full of Pokémon, but there are no dungeons, no side missions, no Wild Zone missions, and not even anything interesting to watch. I went there a few more times because I want to collect as many monsters as possible. I also enjoyed being able to catch fully evolved Pokémon, like Steelix or Gengar, that need to be traded in order to achieve their final evolution. So if you want to complete your Pokédex, this is a great addition.
Pokémon games have never been known for their great graphics, but I thought that would change when the series finally arrived on the home console. I assumed I was wrong. The graphics aren’t bad, but I can’t help thinking that these games were not designed with the Switch in mind. Take the Wild District, for example. This should be a great seller for games, but when it is related to online communication within the game, it is a bug at its best. Cars appear out of nowhere and there are constantly images that are not suitable for a modern console-based RPG. Offline play eliminates this problem, but the player misses invitations and other features. It goes without saying that the player must not stop using the feature provided, as this will cause the game to stutter.
Fortunately, the other areas of the game look very good. Every place has its charms, and I especially loved the forest village of Ballonea. Unfortunately, many cities are quite small, and they have nothing to do there except fight in the local gym and move on. I felt the same way about the routes. There are no dungeons in Pokémon Sword and Shield. Most courses are quite easy and there are fewer coaches on the way to the fight, which is another reason why this game is much shorter than the previous one.
Like Mega Evolution and Z-Moves of the last two generations, Dynamax and Gigantamax are new combat tricks implemented in Sword and Shield. Dynamaxing a Pokémon is a hybrid of Mega Evolution and Z-Moves and increases its size and the power of all its movements by three turns. Gigantamaxing does all this and changes the appearance of some Pokémon. I ended up enjoying it more than I thought, but I was a little disappointed to hear that I could only use it for sports games and not for most of the story. Since Mega Evolution and Z-Moves are designed for these new combat features, I wonder if I care, because they will probably be removed in favor of a new gadget in the future.
Together with Dynamaxing and Gigantamaxing come the Max Raid Battles, which can be found in the Wilderness. Players can fight one of these powerful Pokémon with up to three friends (without friends) to get a chance. Some Pokémon can only be caught this way. To be honest, it was a lot of fun, and that’s the main reason why I always went back to the wilderness after every badge. Unfortunately, if you don’t have any friends, these battles can be quite difficult because the NPCs the game gives you are often pretty bad. I would like to be able to participate in Max Raid battles with randomly selected people online, but they are limited to your Switch friends list. It’s another strange decision we have to make in 2019.
The part that follows the sword and shield game is also rather sinister. There is a combat tower, but all you can really do is fight, unlike Battle Frontier in previous games. The question is whether these games really should be divided into two options, each costing $60. Other games like Fire Emblem: The three houses offer multiple scenarios with fundamentally different exits, with all paths on the same game cart. Asking players to spend $120 for the whole experience is completely ridiculous, given that the only big differences are a few different Pokémon and a few different gym managers. These games can easily be placed on the same trolley and offer players better replayability. It was never as important as the games cost just $40 each or $80 for both games on 3DS.
Most of the music in Sword and Shield is fantastic. The leader’s fighting themes include fan songs in the stands, which is a nice side effect. My favorite song should be in Wild Zone, that sounds like a Scottish bagpipe in the background. It reminded me of my Scottish grandmother listening to the bagpipes on her old tape recorder and made me feel that these games were played in Britain. The writing also had a few cheeky nods that I can only assume, born and raised in the U.S., British jargon that would have been much better for a full-fledged voting game.
It’s become quite long, and I always feel like I have a lot to say about these games. If you’re undecided, I’d say it’s normal to love them and acknowledge that they have a lot of unresolved issues. Pokémon is my favourite franchise, so I’ll always play and enjoy the latest game in the series, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. The absence of National Dex depresses me because I paid the Pokémon Bank and copied Pokémon from all of Ruby’s games. For each step forward, Sword and Shield takes at least half a step back, while still being fun to play. If you’re a Pokémon fan, you’ll probably enjoy these games, but in the end, like me, the bubble will probably burst and you’ll realise all the opportunities you missed.
Pokémon Sword Review
- Graphs – 7/10
- Sound – 8/10
- Gameplay – 8/10
- Late call – 6/10
Final thoughts: GOOD PAGE
I had a lot of fun with Pokémon Sword, exploring the wilderness and catching fully trained Pokémon walking around. There are a lot of problems, and it’s far from perfect. Still, it’s fun to dive back into the fantasy world of Pokémon with Arcanin at my side.
Tony’s been playing since he could walk. Pokémon Blue Version helped him learn to read. His greatest achievement is not only playing the entire Kingdom Hearts series, but also understanding it.
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