Sunday, December 1, 2019

How is Pokemon Sword and Shield Really?

When Pokemon Sword and Shield was announced people were excited. Finally we were getting a Pokemon console game that wasn't a spin off of the main series! It's something a lot of fans have been waiting many years for (myself included), and people had high hopes for it. Then came the announcement of Pokemon Home -- a service that allowed you to upload all of your Pokemon from nearly every entry in the series -- and once again people were excited. It was an evolution of the 3DS's Pokemon Bank, and it would even work with the mobile game Pokemon Go. Of course this would allow fans to send their Pokemon over to the new Switch games as well, and would allow casual players to keep their favorites, and let competitive players to keep using their already established teams. Then not long after... We found out we were wrong.

Turns out Sword and Shield would not feature all of the Pokemon from the past. It had a list of 400 that could be caught in game, and that was it. If a Pokemon was not available in the games themselves, then they did not exist in the data, thus could not be traded over. In other words, out of the close to 900 Pokemon in existence, the game only contains less than half. This did not set well with a lot of long time fans, and the news that followed didn't either.

So the game had many attacks removed. Dungeons/extra cave areas no longer exist. Models were reused from the 3DS games, textures weren't as high quality as a console game should've been, the game lags with pop in in the new 3D open map called "the wilds," and a whole list of other issues seemed to plague the game. It didn't make things any better when Game Freak told the world that they planned to release a new game yearly, and that Sword/Shield would not be receiving new Pokemon in updates -- those would come in the yearly releases. Needless to say, this also ticked fans off. But all of this was before the game released. How is it now?

What Sword and Shield is Really Like:

Let me just come out and say it. Sword/Shield isn't as bad as many would want you to believe. Yes it has a lot less content than past games, and you can't trade all of your favorites over to it. That's a major let down, but it's also not the end of the world. Being a long time fan myself, this is something I was already used to with the games. I wasn't a rich kid, and because of that I could only use what was given to me. In other words, I only had some of the 150 Pokemon in Red and Yellow, because I had no way of getting the rest. Even if I did get Blue version, how would I trade the exclusives over to Red or Yellow? Same with Gold and Silver. I owned both versions of it, but that didn't actually do me any good. Most of the original 151 could not be caught in the game, so I was forced to make due with the new Pokedex. Then came Ruby and Sapphire.

The GBA games were the start of something new. All of my hard work from the past was gone either way, and once again I was limited on what I could or couldn't use. Yes I owned the remake of Leaf Green to get some of the original generation, but again, how did that help me? With Sapphire I was stuck with whatever regional Pokemon there were, with the exception of some that I was able to get from the GameCube Games. I was used to this though, and to me that's just how Pokemon worked. Not once did it cross my mind that it might be possible to get all of them in a single game. That is until the DS generation.

Here's when this became a standard, and why it hurts so many that Sword/Shield doesn't allow it. Starting with Diamond/Pearl Game Freak added easy ways to trade your Pokemon over. The DS had a second slot to play GBA games, and if you had a Pokemon GBA game inserted you could use the in game transfer feature. This allowed you to send all of the Pokemon you caught in the previous generation over to D&P, and continue using your established teams. Sure there were requirements you had to meet before you could do this, but honestly Pokemon games never were the hardest to beat. With less than a day's work you could easily have everything you had back, plus much more. This is how things would continue for the DS generation, but with some hang ups.

While future DS games would allow you to continue trading your Pokemon over, you did need to have a second DS to do so. Considering Nintendo released multiple DS models during it's lifetime, it really wasn't that unheard of for people to have more than one. So while transferring between games during the GB and GBA days were a little less unheard of, it was a bit more common with the DS. (Although to be fair, the GBA did get the SP, Micro, and GB Player, but link cables were a little harder to come by and not as reliable.) That being said, many fans continued to trade up from game to game. Then came the 3DS games with Pokemon Bank to make things easier, and now here we are with Pokemon Home and Sword and Shield. It's just instead of continuing trading our Pokemon up, we're jumping back to how things were in the old days. Sorta.

Bottom line is, while it's something we are doing without now, it's not actually the first time. Just like during the start of the GBA games, Sword and Shield has a Pokedex of it's own, and we'll continue working our way up from there. This time however we're starting with 400 (technically 401) Pokemon rather than 200. Because of this Sword/Shield still has a lot of Pokemon for players to collect, so it's not like it's lacking in that department. Having 400 to actually catch without needing to trade up is a pretty large number, and this time around Pokemon and their evolutions aren't quite as straight forward.

As for the world... While it's true the game is much more linear without extra dungeon like areas to explore, it's still an adventure with many improvements made along the way. (The biggest of which being the Pokemon that appear on the field instead of as random encounters.) Along with the wilds area, where you can see other players in game, raid battles are a fun addition to the series, and they offer rare special Pokemon as rewards. Then you also have other multiplayer features that let you trade or battle others with a click of a button, or even get a random Pokemon in exchange for one of yours. It helps make it easier to "catch em all" this time around, and encourages you to work with other players to achieve that goal. Sadly the Global Trading Service is locked behind Pokemon Home for now, but it'll be out early next year.

Player customization is another feature that has returned from the previous entries, and it's still a nice option to have. Instead of everyone looking the same online, we all have the options to change our hair, clothes, and even face (to an extent). It's not a full blown character creator or anything, but it lets people stand out from one another, and make a character that is a bit more "theirs." This also extends to the trainer card where you can customize backgrounds, expressions on your face, and even pose. It's not a huge deal, but it's still a nice feature.

Battling hasn't changed. If you liked Pokemon before (or possibly TBRPGs in general), then you're still going to like it now. Yes the attack animations still aren't as expressive as Pokemon Stadium was back on the N64, but whatever. Laziness aside, it's still fun to play and doesn't hurt the game in any way. A bit disappointing they didn't do more, sure, but it's really not the end of the world. You have 401 Pokemon to work with here, which is plenty to keep things from getting old. (Heck we used to be happy with 151!) Mix in raid battles and online PvP, and you have hundreds of hours of playtime awaiting you. Not to mention the time it takes to breed and EV train your "perfect" team. That core part of Pokemon has not gone away, it's just now everyone is being forced to rethink their way of playing. Rather than trading up from the past, we are all starting on equal ground.

So, with all things said and done, Sword/Shield honestly isn't as bad as some might like you to believe. A let down in some areas? Sure. That's not a game killer though. What we currently have is fun on it's own, and will still last you many, MANY, hours. It would've been nice if Game Freak took more time with it, expanded the world, gave us the full Pokedex, etc, but what's done is done. If you can get past it's short comings, what you'll find is still a nice Pokemon adventure, and the start of what could be a very promising future on the Switch.