(Minor spoiler ahead for Pokémon: Sword and Shield)
For all of the consumer flak that Pokémon Sword and Shield has received throughout its 8-month PR cycle, it’s kind of disheartening to see that the majority of it has been in regards to the game’s major graphical flaws. While the criticism towards these flaws are valid and much deserved, it feels like a missed opportunity to tackle the truly predominant issues, concerning the game’s design choices. I want to highlight those said issues, so that more fans can see just how much corners were cut by Game Freak, all for the sake of more casual players easing into these games.
Firstly, I think it’s appropriate to start with the important features and mechanics that didn’t make it into Sword and Shield, namely the national dex. Now some individuals might defend this action (for some reason…), by noting that a similar incident happened with Ruby and Sapphire. But there’s one tiny, tiny flaw to that argument…it wasn’t technically feasible back then to trade with the older games. Nowadays however, we have everything we need in terms of the hardware, to play a Pokémon game with the full roster included. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case now, for reasons that are very, extremely well known by many. Since less than half of the whole pool of Pokémon are coming to Sword and Shield, it vastly limits the amount of move sets/builds and battling strategies that players could create with their favourite Pokémon (assuming they’ve made it into the game to begin with). Players have far less options for choosing which types of tanks, healers, supporters, glass cannons or utility Pokémon to include into their team. Want to use a Greninja who’s outfitted with the ability protean, a life orb (for increased damage output), and a move set that encourages a rapid and offensive playstyle? Well kiss that dream goodbye! ‘cause Daddy Game Freak said so. It is very telling that this design choice alone will affect the metagame in a severely damaging manner.
But here’s where it gets egregious. Alongside the removal of more than 400 Pokémon, are the expulsion of past battle features, namely mega evolutions (introduced in X and Y) and Z-moves (introduced in Sun and Moon). Both of which were huge determining factors into winning or losing a battle. In their stead are the arrival of Game Freak’s newest and most redundant mechanics: Dynamax and Gigantamax. Now in a sense, I can kind of understand with what the developers were going with for this. On paper, they seem to be a fusion of mega evolutions and Z-moves. They alter a Pokémon’s appearance, while increasing its stats just as mega evolutions do. Meanwhile, providing limited turn moves that deal huge base power, similar to Z-moves. At the end of the day however, the whole mechanic still comes off as a colossal gimmick. A dumbed down substitute to two more compelling features, which arguably changed the very nature of a Pokémon battle. In comparison, mega evolutions were not just glorified stat boosts. They changed almost every intrinsic feature of a Pokémon, including its typing and ability, influencing its build and playstyle. Meanwhile, Z-moves also provided changes to how non-damaging moves (otherwise known a status moves) behaved, by adding additional effects to them such as resetting stat changes. They could only be used for a single term, which encouraged a high-risk, high-reward playstyle for the player. As a result of their absence however, the ends just simply don’t justify the means for Game Freak.
The exodus of these mechanics however, might be the outcome to what the core fanbase refers to as the general downgrading of the series’ overall difficulty and challenge. Remember that time when Pokémon Black and White 2 introduced a higher difficulty mode? Remember back when exp. Share was in-game item where only one Pokémon could hold it? Because I do, and they made those games a lot more gratifying to overcome, especially for me (when I was a youngling). Back to when I first thought I could never beat the elite four in Diamond and Pearl. Speaking of the elite four, they’re straight up gone in Sword and Shield. They’re nowhere to be seen in the game. Instead, you must face off against key characters and gym leader’s that you’ve already beaten before, and have probably already memorised their weaknesses. The newest offender to the difficulty however is the mandatory experience share. Now, every one of your Pokémon in your party will get experience, not just the ones who participated in a battle. This alone just kills any necessary grind, effort and dedication one would otherwise put into to making one of their Pokémon evolve into a powerful, badass fighter. But more importantly, it just strips any sense of satisfaction a player would otherwise get when spending such as long ass time, levelling up and evolving their favourite Pokémon and developing a special bond with them. This is a case where the grinding has been streamlined to such an insane degree, that it’s more of a fucking chore to play than it is enjoyable. At least in X and Y or Sun and Moon, you were GIVEN the option to turn off exp. Share, but here in Sword or Shield?? Nah son.
Besides the biggest offenders, other minor design choices only help to add more fuel to the dumpster fire that Game Freak have seemed to have made for themselves. The removal of other, fan-favourite features for instance such as base building from gen 3, or the Pokémon world tournament from black and white 2. Where you could battle past iconic gym leaders and champions from thought out the whole series. Even something as small as quality of life options are restricted, with the game’s sound settings being locked behind the use of an in-game item, that players must go out of their way to find. Yes, it’s an actual thing that exists in the game.
Looking back at all that has unfolded with Sword and Shield and with the recent games in general, I’m left feeling just…beaten. Broken. I’ve honestly seen all of this shit coming from a country mile away. I could ventilate every bit of the rage I still have in my mortal body, at what this franchise has become now. But it still stands that the fucking normies and casual fans will mindlessly consume this product, like locusts eating up the newest field of crops. The 3D games reek of mediocrity and have no tangible sense of fun or satisfaction players could get from beating them. But hey, maybe the fan games or even Digimon games are better. I’ll probably play those from now on.