Pokémon Sword and Shield: A Brief Discussion

Alola, PokéNerds! Welcome to Straight Outta Kanto, your brand new Irish blog for nostalgia, nerd culture, nonsense and… more!

November 15th 2019, the release date for the single most divisive and controversial Pokémon RPG in the franchise’s 23 year history: Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.

In spite of the constant pleas from the “#BoycottGameFreak” crowd for PokéFans across the globe to refrain from buying the games, at 8:55am there are queues outside the shut doors of my local GameStop, and others. This is a sight I have never seen in all my many, many years of Pokémon release day turn-outs.

The air is filled with nervous anticipation and there is an awkward, almost embarrassed banter among the members of the queue. It’s apparent that despite all the screamingly negative press, reviews and wild rumours and conspiracy theories, we’re all people who are hoping against hope that the rumours… are just that.

There was an unprecedented tension and furore about the game’s many restricted or deleted functions, cut-backs, and backwards changes not in keeping with the forward march of gaming’s progress.

These changes were especially unwelcome given the fact that the Nintendo Switch is a high-powered console with a tremendous capacity for larger, more impressive creative gaming outputs. That, plus the fact that 2018’s Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee games were so poor. So very poor.

I have not yet 100% completed the post-game story (and YES, there IS a post-game story) so I will only give a light over-all treatment of the main game in today’s review and leave the more in-depth essay for another time.

I will also endeavour to remain as spoiler free as possible for anyone waiting to play the games at Christmas time or for those like me who work full-time and have restricted time for gaming.

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The game starts out standard enough for a Pokémon RPG – you are a young trainer living with your single mom in a small town, have a local neighbourhood friend-turned-rival and there is a benevolent elderly Pokémon professor who is willing to enable your journey across the region.

The region in Sword/Shield ‘Galar‘ is based on the United Kingdom. The rural town of Postwick has a charming English country-side feel to it and the attention to detail in the names and visuals of each town big or small through-out the game is endearing and thoughtful.

A lot of research into the United Kingdom has evidently been undertaken – more so than the France inspired Kalos region of New York influenced Castelia City, Unova.

However, despite the routes, towns and villages being picturesque and visually pleasing – they are mostly empty or have the bare minimum of houses/shops/facilities, less than previous games. This, coupled with the sheer vastness of the areas you traverse, often feels like one is playing a game on a large desolate movie set surrounded by a façade.

The lack of dungeons/caves/forests, which caused concern amongst fans pre-game-release, only serves to further highlight the barren emptiness of the Galar region.

The soundtrack on the other-hand is engaging and enjoyable. Only time will tell if it will stand as a true Classic Pokémon Soundtrack, but it’s certainly making a solid case.

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There is still the traditional format of collecting the eight gym badges, but gone is the Elite 4. However, the Champion remains and his title is most definitely up for grabs.

Tweaks made to the Pokémon League make it one of the strongest, most positive aspects of Sword/Shield. No more is the Gym Challenge a solo, private journey – it’s treated in Galar as a formal televised sporting event in full-on “football” stadiums. I’m not a sports fan in real-life, but the uniforms, battle graphics, intense soundtrack and crowd audio effects make for the most thrilling and stimulating Gym Battles out of the entire Pokémon franchise.

‘Dynamax’ – Gen 8’s new battle gimmick is actually GOOD! I never cared for Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves, but the sparse way Dyanamxing is parcelled out through-out the game stops it being over-used and keeps it relatively fresh.

The inclusion of the ‘Wild Area’ is also a most welcome addition – it gives you a taste of what life alongside Pokémon would really be like. (Just stay away from hordes of angry Bewear…!) The new Pokémon designs for the starters, the region in general and the new typed-existing Pokémon are refreshing but comfortingly familiar.

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The story over-all, sadly, is the weakest out of all eight generations. I genuinely can’t determine whether ‘Team Yell‘ (a mixture of punk-meets-football hooligan) are actually a wildly scathing and ironic take on the stereotypical politeness of the British or just lazy, lazy writing. The worst that Team Yell does is occasionally cause some mild inconvenience that’s more of a nuisance than anything remotely malevolent. At least Team Skull were charismatic with an epic theme tune… 

The actual ‘villain’ reveal is… so… weak. And confusing. But not confusing in a “complicated in-depth plot way”, confusing in a “but nothing’s happened and they didn’t really do anything so what exactly is happening and how did we get here?” way. The lore that surrounds Galar and Dynamaxing is vague, scrappy and unfinished. I would have liked a more defined history and plot. And stronger character development.

The game also feels and looks RUSHED three-quarters of the way through and suffers for it, I fear.

The lack of legendaries/mythicals etc. in Galar is actually welcome for me as there has been a saturation of them in previous regions to the point where there were so many legendaries they didn’t feel very legendary…! However, we have one of the most evile looking surprise legendary Pokémon and the main legendary dogs Zacian and Zamazenta are standard non-threatening legendaries doggos, so I’m fine with them.

Over all the game feels more like a series of visually pleasing and enjoyable mini-games rather than any substantial, in-depth narrative that you the player are an active member of.

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While I appreciate that it is impossible to please every player, especially with such a beloved and deeply-personal franchise as Pokémon, this game raised more questions than it answered. I always hoped that the removal of certain features was to make up for the inclusion of bigger and better things, but it wasn’t… really.

I know that as a business there is tremendous financial pressure on Pokémon and Game Freak to release new games annually, they usually are up to this challenge and produce a high quality product, but I feel that Sword and Shield could be the start of Game Freak’s descent in to the world of poor quality, disposable and avaricious mobile-style gaming. Which would be heartbreaking for myself, a fan for exactly twenty years this December, and others.

Also, considering how much money Pokémon must bring in and the manpower out there across the globe of people who would be willing to be involved in working with Pokémon creatively on the gaming team, there isn’t really an excuse for low-budget, lazy outputs…

I still love Pokémon and hope that whatever upgraded version of Sword/Shield we’ll no doubt be getting Christmas 2020 fills in the gaps that we’re left with now…!

That being said, six million copies sold it’s first week, it just goes to show there’s no publicity like bad publicity.

I give this game 4 Pokeballs out of 6.

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There we have it, nerdlings! Keep watching the skeys! I mean, skies!

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