Calling all trainers, old and new: Pokémon is back with another fun-filled, action-packed game! And finally, one that can be played on the big screen. With the release of the Nintendo Switch in 2017 came the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! a year later.
While exciting for many fans, others were disappointed that they weren’t receiving a traditional, main-franchise Pokémon game. Fans of the game finally got their wish with the release of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield in November of 2019. This is the first time that fans have seen a game for console that follows the formula of the main handheld Pokémon games. The game takes place in the Galar region, modeled after Great Britain, and introduces players to a host of interesting and unique characters and Pokémon.
In the Galar region, Pokémon Tournaments are widely viewed and enjoyed as one might follow a sport. After choosing your character (still limited only to male or female), you learn that you and your friend, Hop, have been personally endorsed as Pokémon trainers by Leon, Hop’s older brother and the current Pokémon Champion.
This game introduces the second female Professor in the history of the Pokémon games, Professor Magnolia. She specializes in the research of Dynamax, or the transformation of Pokémon into much larger and more powerful forms of themselves. You also meet Sonia, Professor Magnolia’s granddaughter, who is appointed as the next professor by Magnolia later in the game. Players also meet Chairman Rose, the chairman of the Pokémon League.
The starter Pokémon in this game are Sobble (the water type), Grookie (the grass type), and Scorbunny (the fire type). Players with previous save files for either Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! or Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! will also receive their respective Pikachu or Eevee, and it is important to note that these Pokémon cannot be evolved, even with the use of stones. After choosing your starter Pokémon, you’ll be on your way to competing in the gym challenges, some of the gym leaders being different depending on what game version you have.
Aside from the different Pokémon introduced in this 8th generation, there are many new features in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. The most obvious of new features is the Wild Area, a new way for players to train their party and encounter new types of Pokémon to fill their Pokédex with.
Game developers took a page out of the Let’s Go book by making many Pokémon visible in the grass, while still allowing others to be seen by nothing other than an exclamation point or question mark in the grass and remaining as random encounters. This feature is cool because you can see the Pokémon to scale, some of them being much larger or smaller than they may have been perceived previously simply because you can walk up to them and compare their size with that of your player character.
You also receive hints that help you locate Pokémon you still need to fill your Pokédex. You can see these hints by visiting the Pokédex in your menu, and there it will show you recommended Pokémon and where they can be found on the map. There is also the Pokémon Camp, which allows you to set up camp and interact with the Pokémon in your party.
In the camp, you can play with toys with your Pokémon and cook curries for yourself and your Pokémon, filling out a Curry Dex as you discover new recipes you can create using berries and ingredients you can find or buy. You start out with two different toys to use with your Pokémon, but as you expand your Curry Dex, you may receive new toys from an NPC who will rate your Curry Dex.
This game also adds League Cards, which are cards that you will receive throughout the game from Gym Leaders and other Tournament competitors as you meet or compete with them. The League Cards feature the picture of the Gym Leader or Competitor on one side, and a description of them on the other side. You can customize your own League Card as well, choosing your character’s pose, facial expression, and the backgrounds for the card.
This is a new, interesting way to display your individuality with the styling choices you use in deciding hair, make-up, and clothing for your character. You can exchange League Cards locally with friends playing near you, or through an internet connection with international players (for which you will need a Nintendo Online membership for the Switch, which is only $19.99 for an individual 12-month membership, or $34.99 for a family 12-month membership).
The new form that Pokémon can take during battle is called Dynamax, where Pokémon transform into larger, more powerful forms of themselves. Many of the Galar region Pokémon and some earlier generation Pokémon have unique appearances when Dynamaxed, these are known as their Gigantamax forms.
One of the last big, new thing in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield is the Raid Battle. Peppered throughout the Wild Area are wishing wells that glow and some of them have light streaming out of them. When you visit those wells, you will receive some number of Watts, which are used to buy rare items and certain teachable moves for Pokémon, and then you will have the option of battling a mystery Pokémon.
This is where veterans will benefit from years of “Guess That Pokémon” because you will only be able to see the silhouette of the Pokémon as well as its type. You can only take one Pokémon into a raid battle, but you have the option to switch from the head of your Pokémon party to any other Pokémon that you’ve caught, whether it’s currently in your party or not.
You can also invite others to battle with you through your online connection. If you choose not to, you will be partnered with three NPCs to help you battle the Gigantamax Pokémon. Participating in these Raid Battles allows you to catch the Pokémon if you defeat it. Your Pokémon will not level up as a result of participating in the battle. However, successfully completing a battle usually provides you with items, many of which can be used to give your Pokémon experience points, resulting in a post-battle level up.
(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)
I wanted to address the things that I disliked about the game first because there weren’t too many, and I also wanted to be able to spend more times talking about what I did really enjoy about the game.
Those who have played Pokémon games in the past will know that there is a common formula for each game that the developers never really stray from. You have your character, the friend who goes on the journey with you, the Gym Leaders, the Pokémon Champion, the Team that seems always to get in your way at any moment, and the well-meaning but misguided and sometimes secretly evil Villain.
This game, as expected, didn’t stray from that tradition. However, my disappointment in that came from the way that the story unfolded, and how it seemed for the briefest of moments that it was going to take a slightly different direction. The game seems to try to mislead you, presenting three possible “villains.”
There’s Competitor Bede, who was personally endorsed by the Chairman himself and basically just conducts himself like a pretentious ghoul throughout the majority of the game. There’s Marnie, the little sister of one of the Gym Leaders, whose following calls themselves “Team Yell,” that classic gang of bumbling goons who are terrible at winning battles. And then there’s Chairman Rose, the one in the position of power, the one controlling the course of the Pokémon Tournament, and the one investing in the research of Dynamaxing.
And although the game does try to subvert expectations by throwing a couple of possible antagonists your way, it remains clear as the story progresses that there is something fishy going on with Chairman Rose. The story in this game is an interesting and poignant nod to real-world climate change issues, and Chairman Rose’s character development fell short.
To spoil a bit of the ending, the Chairman is adamant about using Dynamax research to summon an ancient legendary Pokémon in an attempt to save the environment. Cue my disappointment. For a split second, I thought that the developers were throwing us a curve-ball, and turning the well-meaning but misguided powerful character into the one who would help save the world. His passion for saving the environment would have been a really interesting change from the previous format of Pokémon games.
I thought it would have been cool to see the powerful character team up with the player’s character and their rag-tag team of friends and helpers, but instead he fell flat and right back into the predictable mold they used to make him. He was, of course, actually the bad guy, who now suddenly wants to save the world… by destroying it?
I feel that Game Freak really missed out on giving players a new, unique, and compelling story. It essentially ends up feeling like a palette swap: same suit, different colors. On top of the lack of depth in the story, it does feel as though the player’s hand is held throughout the whole thing. It isn’t lost on me that the target audience is primarily children, however veteran players may find it frustrating that it feels like there are almost no stakes at all.
And this wouldn’t be an issue if flying through the training of Pokémon and the defeat of gyms helped to guide the player through a compelling story, but it isn’t that. It just thrusts the player quicker through a story that feels familiar, and not in a fun, nostalgic way. This game also only has around 400 Pokémon that players are able to catch in-game, leaving out more than half of existing Pokémon, and many fan-favorites at that.
Still with me? Good. Because I do believe that there is still plenty to love about this game, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy getting to play another Pokémon game.
After all that I said about the predictable storyline, it is easy to feel at ease while playing this game and knowing exactly what will happen throughout the course of it. If you are a person who has enjoyed past Pokémon games, this does have plenty of similarities so as not to alienate those who may be returning after not having picked up a Pokémon game in a while.
That is to say: if you like Pokémon games, you’re probably going to like this one.
The expansive Wild Area is captivating, and the design—from Pokémon to landscapes to clothing options—is all beautiful and visually interesting. My favorite area in the game is the picturesque altar to the Sword and Shield Pokémon located deep in the Slumbering Weald.
There are plenty of new Pokémon, some adorable like Yamper or Wooloo, and some badass like Corviknight or Eternatus (a legendary Pokémon). I’m always a sucker for character customization too, which is why I really enjoy all of the options for character clothing and hair and the ability to customize your League Card.
The Pokémon Camp is another main draw for me, as I enjoyed in the newer games the ability to spend quality time with your Pokémon. The addition of the Curry Dex to this game reminded me a lot of the cooking element in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, although I don’t believe it is as vast as BotW’s menu.
I enjoy getting to spend time in the Wild Area a lot, simply hunting for new Pokémon to catch, camping, and doing Raid Battles. Although some may dislike it, I do enjoy how easy it is to level up Pokémon in this game; it makes it a lot easier to integrate a newly caught Pokémon into your party without having to turn it into a total grind-fest to get a level 16 Pokémon on par with level 70 Pokémon.
Raid Battles also award you many different TMs and TRs that you can teach your Pokémon, so it’s a lot easier to switch out moves if you don’t like the current move set. The Pokédex guide for finding Pokémon makes filling the Dex way easier and way more bearable, which is great for someone like me who never previously completed a Dex primarily because I was too lazy to try to figure out where I could find all of the Pokémon I hadn’t caught yet.
I think the Legendary Pokémon in this game are also really cool; Zacian (Pokémon Sword) is a Fairy and Steel type, Zamazenta (Pokémon Shield) is a Fighting and Steel type, and Eternatus is a Poison and Dragon type. This game also features diverse character design; there are many characters who are people of color, elderly characters, plump and curvy characters, and of course, there are two women who work or worked as Professor for the Galar region. It’s refreshing to have major characters who are women in positions of power, and many other characters who are diverse and unique.
This game also makes it a lot easier to play and connect with many other players all over the world. You can even visit each other’s Pokémon Camp. And to top it all off, Game Freak recently revealed that they will be releasing the Expansion Pass, which will introduce all new Pokémon and game play. “The Isle of Armor” expansion is set to release on June 30th, and “The Crown Tundra” expansion is set to release on November 30th. Even if players choose not to spend the $29.99 for the expansion pass, they won’t be totally left out as new release Pokémon will be introduced for all players.
Although I may have seemed rather critical, I genuinely enjoyed Pokémon Shield and would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested in trying it out. Those who are new to Pokémon will be able to easily adjust to the play style of Pokémon games, while veteran players will be able to jump into the familiarity of previous games, and explore the new ways they can grow as trainers.
On a 1-10 scale, I would rate this game an 8.5, and I’m really hopeful that the extended game play offered by purchasing the expansion pass will reignite the love and joy I felt while playing this game.
Thanks for reading, now go out there and catch’em all.