With the last release of a console entry to the Pokemon series taking place on the Gamecube, the announcement of Pokemon Sword & Shield was an exciting prospect. I still have fond memories logging hours on both Pokemon Colosseum & Gale Of Darkness and remembering what a Pokemon game can be when fully realized on a console.
At the onset of our adventure, it all felt familiar in terms of story layout. You and your rival (Hop) set out from your hometown to begin your Pokemon adventure. However, there are distinguishable differences set in the storyline early such as your rivals’ relation to the current champion of the region. (Galar)
After finishing the intro section of the game one of the first things you notice is just how much more the towns feel fully developed and fleshed out. Graphical improvements are noticeable here and deserve to be celebrated. NPCs give the appearance of being more interactive with small touches like dialogue bubbles above their heads as you pass them by.
Galar sets the tone for how Pokemon battles are looked at as a sporting event better than any other game in the long history of the franchise. The celebrity status of the current champion throughout the game is evidence of this as well as the way the gym challenge is explained and executed. The addition of your secondary rivals was also a testament to this spirit of competition and the importance that is placed on who “sponsored” your journey helps cement the tone as well. Bede to me was reminiscent of Silver from the second generation Pokemon titles and that was a nostalgic bonus. Marnie is your last rival and she feels oddly left out during most of your endeavor. So much so that the only tie in that makes her character interesting is her adoring fanbase (Team Yell) which almost makes the idea of a villainous team feel obsolete. We are a long way from the evil that was Giovanni and Team Rocket.
Meanwhile, the way the player experiences Pokemon encounters is a bit different with the addition of the Wild Area. It’s a refreshing idea for the series in that it provides you a secure place to experience different Pokemon and raid style events. (drawing inspiration from Pokemon Go) However, the Pokedex additions to this new generation feel incomplete and could have used more new species to make the game feel more of a new experience rather than just sprinkles of new content here and there.
Gigamax is a game feature that didn’t add much benefit from my perspective, but you did get a thrill when defeating these oversized Pokemon without transforming your own. It felt like a test of true power, but I had little to no incentive to use the feature on my Pokemon. Only one gym didn’t promote the use of the feature, and that was more than fine with me. Gyms as a whole were refined a bit, adding the “live” performance with a crowd did reinforce that idea of celebrity and fame that I briefly spoke on earlier.
After the gym challenge is completed the quest to become Galars’ next champion is one step closer as the player goes through the semifinals. Once again a player may meet up with a rival or a previous gym leader they have faced. The storyline follows a similar trajectory of previous games in this way while randomizing these encounters or allowing you to pick who you’d like to rematch for the final round once you’ve become champion.
The post-game section does include a decent amount of the things we’ve come to expect including catching the legendary Pokemon, mastering the Battle Tower, collecting champion rewards, hunting shiny Pokemon, and Pokemon breeding. It always seems to me that there should be more to do at this point, but it is truly a sign of a great game when your left craving more adventure.
Pokemon Sword & Shield didn’t revolutionize the experience of what it means to be a Pokemon Master, but they did provide a satisfying journey that tweaks things here and there paying off more often than not. After roughly thirty-five hours of gameplay, I found myself still venturing back to the Galar region in my quest to “Catch Em All”.