Pokemon Sword and Shield is Nintendo’s flagship release for 2019. A ton of hype followed this title up to its release, but also a lot of controversy due to the ways in which this game veers from precedents set by past games. We’ll get to that later in this post.
As of writing, my character “Jettt” is standing on the steps of the first gym. With a full review not coming anytime soon, I thought I’d share a few early notes about my experiences thus far.
Get to the point
Every Pokemon game is someone’s first. While I’m old enough to remember the launch of Pokemon Red and Blue on the Game Boy, I didn’t start my journey in earnest until Pokemon X and Y. Back then, it was important for me to learn the basics, such as how to catch a Pokemon or how to use the Pokedex. But by the time I got to Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, I didn’t need those tutorials. Even so, the game forced it upon me anyway, slowing me down from getting to the good stuff.
Pokemon Sword and Shield makes these tutorials optional in a really elegant way. Characters will offer advice during normal dialogue and you can simply say no. Doing so smoothly transitions to the next beat and you don’t have to sit through a tutorial that you don’t need. This, along with my next point, have helped me a great deal when it comes to enjoying the game’s early moments.
Pokemon of the Wild
Pokemon Sword and Shield is not the Breath of the Wild open world experience many of us hope that the franchise will grow into someday. In the grand scheme of things, the world is probably about the same size as any other entry in the series. However, the game does take steps forward in terms of making the adventure feel more grandiose.
I adore Sword and Shield for leaning a bit more into the realm of cinematic presentation. Swooping camera angles, hilly environments, and numerous cutscenes go a long way towards immersing me in this world. A complete lack of voice acting becomes jarring with this new level of visual presentation, but it’s a step in the right direction overall.
Better yet is the Wild Area. Located in the middle of Galar, it’s a sprawling field filled with Pokemon of all sorts. It looks a little odd, as it’s a largely empty area with a few trees and patches of grass for Pokemon to frolic. However, its introduction early on gives players the opportunity to catch way more Pokemon in the early stages than in most other entries.
By the time I hit the first gym in most games, I’m dragging along the five-or-six Pokemon I saw repeatedly and not feeling very good about it. This time, I have over 40 and I can’t wait to mix-and-match. Having so many to start with helps to create an opening stretch that might be my favourite in the series thus far.
Catch me if you want
Once a staple of the franchise, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee completely removed random encounters. Good riddance, as I hate that mechanic in basically every game it appears in. They sort of return in Sword and Shield, but in a much more reasonable manner.
This time, most Pokemon are visible in the overworld. Simply make contact with them to battle. At times, optional random encounter opportunities will appear in the grass and it’s up to you whether or not you want to take the gamble. Unlike the Pokemon you normally see in the grass, there’s a chance that you’ll get cool that doesn’t normally spawn in that area, giving you a positive incentive for taking on a random battle.
One of the unfortunate side effects of this system is that the Pokemon you can catch are limited by the number of badges you have. For example, beating the Grass Gym gives you the ability to catch Pokemon up to level 25. 26 or over, and it’s impossible. I’ve lost out on a bunch of amazing Pokemon roaming in my world because of that limitation. I get it from a pacing and mechanics perspective, but it sucks every time you run into a Pokemon that’s just out of reach due to video game logic.
Less is not necessarily less
Let’s take a moment to talk about the juicy stuff. Leading up release, word came out that not every Pokemon would return. This is a first in the series, as every game up to this point has supported the ability to import legacy Pokemon after completing the main story.
I empathize for those who are really affected by this. Shiny hunters, competitive players, and those whose favourite Pokemon didn’t make the cut this time. If these are compelling enough reasons for you to leave this game behind, so be it. Street Fighter is my all-time favourite franchise and I stopped playing Street Fighter V years ago for reasons that are much more nit-picky in nature.
For everyone else, I think there’s still more than enough. At its core, you’re still going through the process of collecting Pokemon to fight other Pokemon, collecting gym badges by defeating worthy adversaries, and proving you’re the very best (like no one ever was). It’s still a game that’s going to take about the same amount of time to complete as any other in the series. Even after the cuts, there are still way more Pokemon, moves, and gameplay systems than I’ll ever touch.
I also think it’s doing more than people are giving it credit for, from the inclusion of the Wild Area, to the streamlined tutorial system, to implementing random battles in a better way, to the cinematic approach to the game’s presentation that have been introduced as part of this game. These add to the overall experience in ways that more Pokemon and more moves wouldn’t.
It’d be nice to have both, but I don’t think enough was lost by cutting those Pokemon or those moves to completely dismiss this game outright. Wherever you stand on this matter, I hope you’re able to come to your own conclusions based on research from credible sources and ideally, from your own experiences with the game.
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