Video Game Review: Pokemon Sword

Details: Spent about twenty-five hours playing through it. More information can be found at https://swordshield.pokemon.com/en-us/

Score: 7/10

Pokemon Sword and Shield are the newest games in the Pokemon franchise. I’ve been a long time fan of the franchise and was hoping that this game would be a huge leap forward since it is the first time the game has graced a Nintendo home console. While not a bad game, Pokemon Sword is mostly more of the same. It makes many, minor improvements to the overall franchise (and some mistakes) while introducing some new ideas that mostly feel incomplete, redundant and half assed.

Pokemon games take place in a world filled with Pokemon (no animals in this world, only Pokemon), which are monsters that have unique abilities and powers. In this world, Pokemon have grown together with human society and people partner up with Pokemon and battle one another for sport. It’s like making roosters or dogs fight each other… except not as bad in this world since no one ever gets hurt. This is a kid’s game.

As is the case in every Pokemon game, you play a young child about to embark on their Pokemon adventure. Your goal is to capture and train a team of Pokemon in order to do battle with a series of Pokemon gyms throughout the land. After defeating these gyms, you then get to enter the final tournament in hopes of getting a chance to challenge and defeat the current Pokemon champion.

I’d like to say that there is something unique or inspiring about this story, but it’s about the same stuff you’d expect in any other Pokemon game. It’s a light story that stays mostly positive, which is something I like. In an industry of very dark video games and a world going through some dark stuff of its own (e.g. coronavirus), it’s nice to play in an oversimplified, mostly positive world. However, such a simplified, formulaic, lazy story still disappoints me a little.

The most distinctive aspect of this game is the visuals. In the last few Pokemon games, each world has been heavily based on a real world location. Heavy inspiration was taken from places like France and Hawaii. Pokemon Sword and Shield take heavy inspiration from Great Britain and that perhaps is the one unique things about this game. It’s kind of ironic that the most original thing about this game is how they copied a real world place.

Throughout the game, you’ll see lots of things reminiscent of landmarks and tourist attractions in England and elsewhere in the region. The Pokemon tournament structure is stylistically altered, similar to how they altered it in Pokemon Sun and Moon. In this game, they base it off Football (or Soccer in the States) and how its structured. There are lots of little world building details like that and they all help to make the world feel more complete.

On a technical level, this game — or should I say the Nintendo Switch — is disappointing. Like Breath of the Wild, Pokemon Sword looks like it was designed for a last generation console like the Wii U or the PS3. As a person who mostly plays games on the PC and enviously watch’s the trailers for Sony’s first party games, this sucks. This was supposed to be Pokemon’s big debut on a home console. Instead, it looks like they just applied some anti aliasing to the 3D models from Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Gameplay is the same as its always been, which is good and bad. Good in that it is familiar and about as fun as any past Pokemon game. Bad in that it is repetitive, lazy, and fails to innovate on any level.

Like in past games, Pokemon is a turned based, role playing game where you take turns using moves against an opponent’s Pokemon. There are hundreds of Pokemon to choose from and you can go out into the world to look for them and recruit them into your team. I won’t go too much into it since this is a decades long franchise and I’ve reviewed Pokemon games in the past.

There are a few new developments in regards to gameplay. The single most important one to me is that Pokemon can now be seen on the overworld and you have to walk into them in order to start a battle. This was an easily implemented change that other role playing games had already done a long time ago. It’s long been time for Nintendo to implement this in a mainline game and I’m glad they stopped dragging their heels and finally did.

Another “big” change is Dynamaxing. During some battles, you can make your Pokemon turn big, making them more powerful and doing one of eighteen possible bombastic attacks (there are eighteen Pokemon types, one attack animation for each type). This only lasts for three turn though and can only be done once per battle. There’s nothing unique about this and its pretty much the same idea as mega evolutions or Z moves. It’s just that they wanted to incorporate Football-esque stadiums in this game so they decided to give it a different name and make them big. Visually, it’s cool. In regards to gameplay, it’s been done before and offers nothing new.

The last biggest change is the Wild Area. This is an open world area where you can run around and catch Pokemon. After Breath of the Wild, it was likely clear to Nintendo that people wanted more open world games. The Wild Area feels like a half assed, after thought that tries to superficially be “open world.” It’s basically a post game (after you beat the game) area where you can catch all the Pokemon you missed out on. There are no quests in it nor is there anything that fun to do in it. It’s just a place to catch Pokemon and fill your collection.

There are also raids within the Wild Area, an idea likely taken from the success of Pokemon Go. In these raids, you can play with three other players over the internet and battle a Dynamaxed Pokemon. These are simple excursions that warrant little review because of how short and simplistic they are. The only thing I dislike about these raids is how they caused many of the best TM’s to be one time use again.

In the most recent Pokemon games, the developers finally decided to make TM’s reusable. TM’s are basically in game items that can teach a Pokemon a single move. These items were integral for players as the moves were often powerful. For competitive players who played against other real life players, these TM’s were essential. The developers of Pokemon eventually realized this and made TM’s capable of being used more than once, which made life easier for most players. Unfortunately, Sword and Shield take two steps back and made some of the most competitive TM’s into single use TM’s (now known as TR’s) and forced players to grind out these things in order to obtain them.

There are now three forms of currency within this game: Pokemon dollars, Battle Points, and Watts. Pokemon Dollars and Battle Points have been in the game before. Watts is the newest form of currency meant to incentivize players into doing raids, earning Watts, and then purchasing TR’s. In other words, TR’s exist mainly to encourage players to waste time and grind out battle in raids. In my opinion, this is stupid and an immense waste of players’ time. There are no microtransactions in this game, thankfully. Why are they implementing a game mechanic meant to annoy players into paying real money when there is no vehicle to do so? Grinding out TR’s is a pointless game mechanic and makes the game more annoying than it needed to be. TR’s are a stupid idea.

Unfortunately, there is no voice acting in this game. Nintendo has a history of failing at including voice acting in games (excluding Fire Emblem). In this modern age of video gaming, narrative heavy games require voice acting. That this game which is part of a multi billion dollar franchise doesn’t have it is disappointing. They could easily have afforded it. I guess they were just lazy.

The music was pretty good though. It was the exact mix of electronic Euro trash music I’d expect from a world inspired by a European nation.

Overall, I enjoyed the game but was disappointed by how little the game innovated in lieu of just making another, cookie cutter Pokemon game. The most unique aspect of this game was the artistic direction. Otherwise, there is nothing new or original about this entry into the Pokemon franchise. What saddens me the most is how financially successful this game was, because consumers vote with their dollars. Because this redundant, unoriginal game was so financially successful, I fear that there will never be another Pokemon game that innovates or moves the franchise forward ever again. The consumer has spoken; we are just going to get the same game over and over again.

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