REVIEW: The Ins and Outs of ‘Sword’ and ‘Shield’
By Cam Alsbrook
Be advised: this review will contain slight spoilers of the story and some of the features of the game.
“Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield,” (SWSH) is the newest installment in the Pokémon (Pocket Monsters) video game franchise Game Freak.
SWSH is the eighth generation of the Pokémon franchise and offers a slew of new creatures for the player to catch, fight and trade with friends, family and online players.
As a standalone title, the game delivers nicely for first-time players, boasting a well-done soundtrack, quality of life enhancements to make transitioning into the competitive scene easier and plenty of options for player customization to allow a more personal experience through the game’s visually charming Galar region.
Inspiration and references from Britain abound in the Galar region, ranging from architecture, music, fashion trends and even some of the Pokémon players interact with.
The landscapes for the game match the style of the series and make scenery worth the time spent playing through the storyline, providing something new to appreciate at each stop.
The designs of the newly added Pokémon are amazing, offering something for all players to find and love, and the higher tier legendary Pokémon featured on the box art have interesting backstories that, unfortunately, are not touched on as much as fans hoped.
With all these positives, the few negatives the game has are rather glaring.
Game Freak always takes one step forward and two steps back when it comes to innovating and reshaping each installment in the series, and SWSH seems to have suffered the worst in the series for this reshaping.
They removed a large chunk of Pokémon available in previous generations to make graphics more fine-tuned. Conflict and tension in the Pokémon community spiked heavily with Japanese players not finding out until shortly before the release of the game.
After SWSH’s release, Game Freak ended up admitting that the graphics carried over from Pokémon were reused from the previous game on the Nintendo 3DS, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
Instead of SWSH being the strong upgrade and defining culmination of over 20 years of Pokémon that fans were hoping for, SWSH dropped the ball as a next-generation installment due to issues such as the lack of interaction between player characters and Pokémon and the lack of a Global Trade Station.
Players cannot communicate with other trainers unless they initially meet on social media platforms in forums or private messaging — or if two real-life acquaintances communicate.
The game’s story has the player character traveling through the Galar region, with frequent run-ins with the rival Pokémon trainer protagonist, Hop.
Both have the goal of dethroning the renowned champion of the region, Leon, by taking part in gym challenges, ultimately competing against the best in the region through the Champion Cup and along the way learning about the region’s history.
Gym challenges are check-point fights through the region that serve as testing grounds for a team of Pokémon. Upon completion of a gym, a gym leader bestows a badge and sends the player on their merry way.
The problem with this is that the story revolves around the completion of challenges above all else and places events on the road toward the next gym.
This makes the game dialogue heavy — even for Role Playing Game standards — and holds the players’ hands for a majority of the story.
The other issue is that through the new feature of battling tall, towering Pokémon in raids, players can easily acquire materials needed to over-level/equip their Pokémon to make gym challenges a cakewalk.
The problem with the game’s story is that it holds players’ hands and punishes players for choosing to make the game harder by not participating in raids.
The hand-holding accompanies forced and unavoidable interactions with poor Hop, where the character challenges the player almost every single time to fight their team of Pokémon.
Hop is a well-designed character, but he does not contribute to the story as he should have, namely because developers were seemingly adamant on forcing Hop to fight the player at every turn.
Hop’s initial goal is to beat his brother, Leon, but at the end of the story, he decides he wants to focus on being a professor of Pokémon rather than being a champion-level trainer.
After the player defeats Leon, the player and Hop meet the only two badly designed and written characters in SWSH: Sordward and Shielbert.
These two characters, when boiled down, are a trapdoor into more hand-holding and provide players with frustrating dialogue for the game’s post-game story, bullying Hop and calling themselves Galar’s rightful kings.
At the climax of the post-game story, Hop and the player defeat Sordward and Shielbert and tame both legendary Pokémon.
After all is said and done, players are rewarded with free reigns through — compared to past games — the linear, rather short roaded, Galar region.
The content available for players after the story is fun to replay; players can take full advantage of creating powerful teams or filling up information on the Pokédex (Pokémon Database) to completion.
Players can also enjoy a revitalized competitive mode with new items to cause effects in battles, an extreme mode of battling versus AI in the Battle Tower, and the ability to cook curry with friends to feed bands of Pokémon.
Despite the flaws, as a series installment, the game gives first-time players a warm introduction into the world of Pokémon and Pokémon battling and boasts post-story replayability and a beautiful soundtrack.
As a part of the series, “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” ranks a 6.5 – 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, and as a standalone title without the value and features of previous games weighing it down, it goes up to a solid 8/10.
Game Freak left fans of the series wanting more out of SWSH, but when they did right, they did an amazing job.
If Game Freak would stop taking two steps back in production and capitalize on well-received features of past games, fans very well may see one of the most popular game series of all time soar even higher.