So! Pokémon Sword / Shield.
Let's address the elephant in the room: No, I'm not happy about the lack of the National Dex. In fact, that was the final deciding factor in my opting not to get the game, at least not yet. While it is certainly not the first generation of main-line games I've not obtained shortly after launch (Gen I took me maybe a year because, while I'd seen it in store ads, I had no idea what the games were; and I only got my first Gen IV game, Platinum, maybe a year ago), it's definitely the first game in the series to come out and actively make me not excited for its release before it released. I wasn't a fan of X/Y, and generally hated Sun/Moon (with US/UM barely making the base game more playable, but shoehorning in all sorts of extra crap that... I'll be getting to later), but, when Sword/Shield were announced, I was actually excited, hopeful. And everything they said after that initial announcement made me much, much less so.
So, right now I'm watching someone else play through the game, because in addition to not really feeling the game, I especially wasn't feeling paying almost twice what every other Pokémon game has ever cost for something with almost half the actual content. And at the moment... yeah, I'd probably have fun if I were to buy the game here in two months when the price drops, but I'm feeling pretty justified in my decision.
First, this game gives the player the ability to customize their character far more than pretty much any game thus far; while a lot of similar content was in S/M/US/UM, this gen takes it to a new level with updated hairstyles, makeup options, and a larger selection of now UK-inspired clothing. (These new games take place in the Galar region, which is analogous to the real-world island of Great Britain.) While I totally understand the desire to create your character as yourself, to make it a proper self-insert and whatnot, I feel like an important part of the charm of the older games was the fact that your player-character was, in fact, their own character; sure, all their decisions were ultimately made by you the player, but the direction of the game was itself influenced by the character these PCs had. Silver might not have been your huge rival had you not been Gold, and you might not have tried to chase off Team Rocket from the Lake of Rage; Brendan and May (and Wally)'s relationship wouldn't have blossomed the way it did were it not for any of those characters being themselves. The self-character is an integral part of the story; otherwise, you're just some kid at an amusement park.
Which brings me to my next issue. Arin Hanson I feel voiced this the best when talking about The Legend of Zelda, up to but not including Breath of the Wild: Tourism. The game directs you along, tells you where to go and what to do, which isn't playing a game; it's being given a tour. "Look at this amazing world we created! Guess Corviknight's weight: Win a prize!" And look, let me just say up-front: The Galar region is amazing. It's the reason for my statement above, that I'd probably have fun playing the game in spite of my issues with it. But, this game does exactly what the last two Gens did, holding your hand as it forces you to see and do all they've added to this game.
Look, I know the game needs tutorials, and of course this is far from the first game to have this issue; hell, even Gen I effectively forced you to follow the game's path by adding things like cutable trees and pitch-black caves to block your forward progress until you finished a specific task at hand, often beating a gym or knocking back Team Rocket. But see, there's still a difference:
Okay so, going back to Gen III, Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald: This generation added a new thing, Pokémon Contests. These were effectively beauty contests, but with a little more depth; in addition to beauty, there were contests for each of a given Pokémon's stats, including things like "Cool", "Cute", "Clever", and "Tough". The overall winner of a given contest was not for a given category, but for their overall score regardless of category. This also came with a new mechanic called PokeBlocks, itself a new means to use the Berries introduced in Gen II; with these, you could combine Berries into Blocks, which would change (generally improve) the stats of each of those categories. The Block mechanic was... confusing at best, requiring a weird sort of four-player match-up, and I never got the hang of it; however, while I never really participated in the Contests myself, it was a fun thing to just exist in the world, something that made the world feel more complete, more fleshed-out. But that's just it: At least in the first two (because I never played Emerald), it was present, and the game told you it existed, but you could absolutely just bypass all the Contest locations with no issue. They were a fun part of the game; that's it. Alas, the Contests were dropped in the very next Gen, though I believe the PokeBlock mechanic was retained sort of?
In Gen VII, the aforementioned S/M/US/UM, they introduced a new form of battle called Battle Royal (sic). This form of battle involves four people, and as the name suggests, it's basically a free-for-all, with the last one standing declared the victor. There are a few more rules than that, but that's kind of the gist. It can only be played in a specific location; in other words, it's similar to Contests, a fun little diversion that doesn't actually affect the story in any way and can easily be ignored if that's just not your thing. But, that's just it: These games, you can't ignore it; in order to progress through the story, you are literally forced to play at least one Battle Royal, pitted against Hau (your rival), Gladion (a boy your age who I guess is supposed to be this game's Silver, but, not quite?), and "The Masked Royal", Professor Kukui (the region's professor). This battle does not move the story along; it does nothing to or for any of the characters involved, least of all the player. It exists solely as a tutorial: "This is how you play this part of the game!" But that's just it: If I never wanted to play that part of the game, well fuck me because we're doing it, god dammit!
And this is far from the only similar infraction in that Generation: You're forced to go clothes-shopping. You're forced to try a Malasada. Hell, in US/UM, you're forced to interact with the Photo Club at least once, and to play the Mantine surfing minigame at least once (even though ferries do exist between the islands, and are infinitely faster without the added stress of worrying about minigame bullshit).
You can have a tutorial occur as the beginning of the thing, if someone approaches said thing and actively tries to participate. You are absolutely allowed to have the great big Battle Royal stadium in the middle of the island where it's super-obvious, where players will seek it out because it's interesting, and then start up the tutorial if it seems like they're actually interested in playing it. These sorts of things are FINE. But ripping me out of the game I'm playing, the game I'm actually fucking enjoying, because you want to show me some pissant bullshit you put together for this game. NO. BAD. STOPPIT.
And Sword / Shield immediately started with this.
They'd introduced the concept of the Wild Zone in one of the Nintendo Direct videos a few months back, and as soon as they did, the first words out of my mouth were, "Well, can't wait to be torn out of my game to be forced to experience that." And sure enough, literally on the way to the first Gym, the train you're riding just happens to be blocked by a flock of Wooloo, right at the damn Wild Zone station. You are forced to play that section of the game before you can even get your first badge.
Now don't get me wrong: I actually like the Wild Zone concept (not so much the Dynamax, but...); in a base game, I'd probably play the hell out of that area. It'd be better in my opinion if the wild Pokémon you could see in the overworld only existed in the Wild Zone like that, but, you know, it's still fun. You get to go camping for the first time in a Pokémon game! You get to make bloody curry! (Not, bloody curry, I'm just, I'm trying to affect a British thing.) It's actually a super-cool fun thing, and you advertised it in a Nintendo Direct leading up to the release of the game! So why, WHY, did y'all feel the need to force players to go through it!?
And it's just, it's a problem indicative of the direction of the Pokémon series as a whole: You can't just experience the game anymore; you're not allowed to plow through the story and "Catch 'em all", because they put these new things into the game and you're going to experience them at least once, dammit! Which, ultimately, not only puts me off that new and interesting thing you just put into the game, but puts me off the entire game as a whole. By holding my hand and guiding me through your world, you make me less interested in your world.
Sword and Shield DID back off on this a little bit; you're not FORCED to go clothes-shopping, for example. But it's still an issue endemic to the series as of right now, and I genuinely think The Pokémon Company needs to take a step back and re-examine their reasons for doing it. If you're doing it because you think players will have fun with it, but won't try it for themselves, all you're doing is ruining it for the players; this is the exact same mentality behind forced reading assignments in English class, and more often than not it just ruins what would otherwise be perfectly good books. There is NO reason for there to be freaking homework in a damn video game. And if you're doing it because you don't think players will have fun with it or hold any interest, guess what? It needs to be removed from your game.
Which brings me back around full-circle to my opening arguments: The National Dex problem.
Look, I get it. With this new Generation, there are now AT LEAST 890 Pokémon. Back in Gen III, when Iwata re-wrote the game's database to allow for a larger variety of Pokémon and ultimately made it so small and compact they were able to add things like new stats, Abilities, and Natures, it was a Big Deal; it was such a big deal in fact that, there simply wasn't a means to trade backwards to the previous games, no matter how much I wanted to. It made completing the National Dex actually impossible in that Generation until they released FireRed and LeafGreen. (This was easily, EASILY, my biggest problem with Gen III and the primary reason I stopped playing that game, and ultimately skipped Gen IV.) BUT: They released FireRed and LeafGreen, specifically for that reason. At the time, there were only 386 Pokémon, and so completing the Dex wasn't an insurmountable feat. Frankly, I would claim that 890 Pokémon isn't either; hell, that's a lower number than the highest number I've ever actually sequentially counted to (2000, and could've kept going). BUT, I get it: As a database grows, so does its drain on a system, and if that database isn't well-optimized, it becomes an exponential problem as it gets that much bigger. Iwata's no longer around to help them out, and it seems like the folks programming Pokémon right now don't know a whole lot about database programming; it's something of a niche even in Computer Science. I totally get it.
And here's the other thing: Gen VII did a number of other things I fucking hated too, and one of those things was the Ultra Beasts. These are Pokémon that are literally from other dimensions, creatures that technically, truly cannot even really be called Pokémon, but the game treats them as such. And there were a lot of these bastards. They were effectively those games' Legendary Pokémon, including the damn Legendaries that served as the games' mascots, Solgaleo and Lunala. Outside of those games, without the Aether Foundation, there is little excuse for those "Pokémon" to exist, to even be seen. Yes, you've got the aforementioned two and Necrozma, all three of whom are capable of punching holes in spacetime and traveling willy-nilly wherever they please, but ultimately, those Pokémon were Gen-specific for reasons of story. Similarly, the Tapus were also region-specific (though that didn't stop the Lake Spirits of Gen IV...). Effectively, Gen VII cut itself out of a different cloth deliberately, and in doing so made it near-impossible to reconcile including a lot of new Pokémon from it in later Generations.
So, there are good reasons for a good number of Pokémon to be cut. And with the database problems being what they are, I'd probably be content trying to collect everything in the Galar Dex. But, there are SO MANY good Pokémon, so many that almost always wind up getting cut because they simply aren't "popular". And if they had to cut the Pokedex down in order to deal with database issues, that means they actually cut certain Pokémon entirely out of this game; otherwise, the database issue would still be present, just slightly less visible. And that's effectively what they did when they fully disabled trading to previous Generations anyway, so.
And also... look. Different regional Forms do make sense, but... stoppit. You're trying to cash in on nostalgia, when frankly the best way to do that is just to include the damn base Pokémon. Quiddit. I love the Galar Form Zigzagoon and its new Obstagoon evolution, but... fucking, stop. If I had to choose between keeping all the old Pokémon and getting the National Dex, and having all these new Forms, it'd be National Dex, hands-down.
Pokémon is many things for many people, but in my opinion the most fun thing is the thing the series became known for early-on: "Gotta Catch 'em All". And if I can't do that, the game feels like a massive waste.
There's probably more to say on the game, but frankly this other person I've been watching has only just gotten started, and these were just my grievances that have been brewing since ~2013 that weren't addressed or even attempted to be acknowledged in this Generation. We'll see if anything more rubs me the wrong way as they progress.
Pokemon Sword and Shield
- Written by: Grady Owens
- Category: Switch
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So! Pokémon Sword / Shield.