Pokémon Sword

released on Nov 15, 2019

Unsheathe your sword and take up your shield!

The world of Pokémon expands to include the Galar region in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield!


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What a difference a little perspective makes
For context, I originally played Pokémon Sword at launch. I did not enjoy it. In fact, as I mentioned previously in my Pokémon Violet review, this was the game that shattered the veneer of what Pokémon was for me. It was a profoundly disappointing experience, and after forgiving a lot of Game Freak's mistakes in past games, they simply became too large to ignore here. They no longer had the built-in excuse of these being handheld games anymore. This was the first time they released a new generation of Pokémon on an actual console, and boy did it feel like they were ill-equipped to handle that. It became apparent to me that Pokémon, much against its very nature, would not evolve with the times.
But this is not a review of my original playthrough. I am coming back to this game after experiencing Scarlet and Violet, a game in which Game Freak DID attempt to push the series forward with a new direction. I have seen the future! And I was not impressed. You can read my review of Violet for further context, but the summation of it is that I thoroughly hated my time with it. Their attempt at making an open world Pokémon game was misguided at best, an utter disaster at worst, so that left me with one burning question: Were Sword and Shield better games? In my desire to see the franchise head in a direction that ultimately disappointed me, did I inevitably judge the previous generation of games too harshly? Did I view these games too much through the lens of what I wanted them to be, and fail to properly evaluate them for what they were?
The answer, as it often is, lies somewhere in the middle, but I can posit this: my second playthrough of Pokémon Sword was far more enjoyable than my initial one. I dare say, I actually had fun with it this time around.
Bizarrely, I think Pokémon Sword's lack of ambition is primarily what saved it this time around. Having been thoroughly unimpressed with Game Freak's take on an open world game, coming back to a more traditional Pokémon experience was a breath of fresh air. Granted, I could have done this with any of the previous seven generations, but outside of Sun and Moon, I've already played those games a ton. I know what they're about. Sword, to its credit and detriment, really sticks to the tried-and-true formula of Pokémon, but I think I gained a newfound appreciation for their desire to seemingly make a bigger spectacle out of it all.
That spectacle primarily takes the form of the Galar region's gym battles. After discarding the concept of them altogether in Gen 7, gyms make a triumphant comeback here and I couldn't be happier with how they're handled. Treating Pokémon more in the manner of a sport was a smart decision and lent itself so well to the concept already. Instead of small buildings with a handful of trainers, now you have huge stadiums with thousands of people watching. Gym Leader battles have long been the core content of these games, the thing you look forward to and strive to complete, so allowing them to shine on a grander scale just made sense. And, for as much as I've always thought Dynamax Pokémon were a bit of a lame gimmick, I do admit it works well in concert with what they were going for here. Battles build to a great crescendo every time and it never really gets old.
The intention to make things feel bigger also extends to the cities of Galar as well. Truthfully, this is largely cosmetic, as the layouts of the towns feel about the same scale as always, but they're also filled with much larger buildings with some truly inspired designs like the rusty, factory-filled Motostoke or the grand castle architecture of Hammerlocke. There's a palpable sense of history here, and throughout Galar in general, and I gained a greater appreciation for that this time around. I really liked that when you get to Wyndon, the Galar region's equivalent to London, you can see a bunch of the city's skyline in the background; you can never go there, of course, but it makes you feel like you're actually in a huge metropolitan area rather than a few scattered buildings in the middle of nowhere. It's simple but it sells the concept a lot better than other games. These cities and towns at least feel somewhat alive, in stark contrast to the later games I had just experienced.
I'm a little more critical towards the routes in between towns, however. The game actually starts off strong in this regard, as you don't even reach your first gym battle for a good 4-5 hours into the proceedings. This includes a trip to the Wild Area, Pokémon's first take on a somewhat open world design, but they were at least giving you a lot to see and do before getting down to business. Later areas in the game, however, feel incredibly half-baked, like they ran out of time to flesh out these routes and thus they merely serve as quick connectors between gym battles. There isn't enough to explore here and there are too many straight paths. As a result, the end of the game feels more like a gym gauntlet without much else to do.
However, Sword and Shield eventually build to what was my favorite thing in the entire game: The Champion Cup. Gen 8 eschews the traditional Pokémon League/Elite Four formula in favor of a tournament that works in both your final battles against your rivals as well as rematches against gym leaders, followed by a decisive match against a Champion who up to this point has been built up as unbeatable. I was much more cool towards this in my initial playthrough but damn if I didn't enjoy the hell out of it this time around. I had long wanted the Pokémon games to borrow from the Pokémon anime and have the Pokémon League take the form of a tournament and I'm glad my wishes were heard. It's really the perfect culmination to what the game had been working towards.
Unfortunately this is also the part of the game where the story interjects itself to remind you how terrible it is, so I suppose I should cover that too. Outside of Black and White, Pokémon games have never had a huge emphasis on story; they've mostly been non-existent or harmless up to this point. Sword and Shield's story, however, is both absolutely nothing in terms of what happens, while simultaneously being beyond frustrating in its execution. Much like the rest of the game I talked about, the story also wants to feel like something grander, but there's no commitment to it. You're told big things are happening but you never see them. They're either depicted off-screen or never actually elaborated on. Oh what's this? There's a huge danger of Pokémon randomly Dynamaxing and wrecking havoc? Let's not show any of that, we'd actually have to spend money on it.
The game's main villain, Chairman Rose - oh, spoilers for this game everyone has played I suppose, not like you couldn't guess it from the first time he shows up on screen - wants to prevent a huge disaster from occurring in the future, so he brings about a repeat of The Darkest Day, a huge disaster from Galar's past. The problem? It's an issue that occurs a thousand years from now. There's no real justification or motivation given to his actions; he just wants to prevent a calamity that is never fully explained, that may or may not happen, from a time well beyond his lifespan. The frustrating thing is that you could easily rework this into being a more impending problem in the present and have it function just fine. The link between the true big bad, the legendary Pokémon Eternatus, and the rest of the game's events feels nebulous as best and like it was added in last minute. It also features a mostly scripted battle with the game's box legendaries that falls flat as well.
I want to double back to the topic of the Wild Area, because at the time of release it was the game's big selling point, but now feels more quaint in comparison. When first playing the game, I wished they had done more with this area, but seeing where they took the concept in Scarlet and Violet, maybe this really was the best they could do. There was at least an attempt here to make it feel more alive and dynamic, with shifting weather patterns and different Pokémon appearing when that happens. None of that excuses the terrible performance, however, which still persists even after multiple patches this game received, and heaven help you if you play it online because the crash in framerate makes it borderline unplayable. The best thing I can say about the Wild Area, I suppose, is that it was a decent change of pace from the rest of the game.
I'd be remiss if I didn't touch upon the Donphan in the room when it comes to Sword and Shield, which was the National Dex controversy. It's not particularly relevant to a single playthrough of the main campaign and the obsession over it has always overshadowed the game's actual flaws, but it is important in terms of the larger conversation about this game. I was one who heavily argued at the time that the removal of half the cast of Pokémon was a terrible move, and I remain steadfast in that belief today. It certainly didn't help that Game Freak outright lied about their reasoning for it, but putting that aside, I do think it's part of why my love for this franchise took a nosedive with Sword and Shield. In a series about "catching them all" you've now robbed it of some of soul, its identity, and for what? So you could save a bit of work? Because you refuse to give these games proper development times, and would rather push them out to market as quick as possible because you know people will buy it anyway? This topic has been discussed to death and you're never going to make headway with people who simply don't care about quality, they just want to play their newest Pokémon title, but I do like to make my feelings on the matter clear whenever I can. Pokémon deserves better.
With that out of the way, I'll go over come rapid-fire thoughts on Pokémon Sword before wrapping things up.
- I liked Marnie, Bede, and somehow even Hop a lot more the second time around. I wish the former two had been given more screen time to flesh out their characters, but there was at least more to them than I initially thought. I do think Hop's personality conflicts a lot with their attempt to make him sympathetic and they don't show enough of his struggles to the player directly but the angle of going through a journey like this in his brother's shadow was a good one.
- Whoever came up with the idea to lock the goddamn volume settings behind an item you need to acquire from an optional NPC needs to be fired. Game Freak has a long history of baffling decisions but this one remains the absolute worst. It annoyed me even more this time around because I realized I actually DID need to change the volume! The default music level is too low!
- Prior to Gen 9 this was definitely the weakest crop of Pokémon they had ever made, and my opinion on that hasn't really changed over time. There were just too few new Pokémon in general introduced here, and the standouts were largely the regional variations of older Pokémon. Hatterene can beat me up any day though.
- Sword and Shield's soundtrack was much better than I initially gave it credit for too. Marnie's battle music is definitely the standout, which I enjoyed before but really fell in love with this time. Sonia's theme is adorable and feels like something out of Gen 6. The gym battle music is of course amazing and really contributes to how fun those moments are. Much like their designs, the towns have far better music than the routes do (usually the opposite in Pokémon games). The lobby music before your tournament battles at the Pokémon League is probably the most underrated track in the game.
- I was really only here for the main campaign so didn't touch the post game, but given what I remember of it, there's not much to talk about anyway. It's beyond disappointing that Game Freak refuses to invest more in giving players things to do after finishing the game, a trend that absolutely continued in Scarlet and Violet. Very likely another casualty of having to rush these games out the door on a yearly schedule.
All in all, I came away feeling much better about my time with Pokémon Sword than I did three years ago. When you examine this game as a whole, I think it's fair to point how it represents the point of no return for this franchise; it's now become too big for Game Freak to handle, and Sword and Shield were where the cracks became too evident to ignore. This is not a game that's representative of one of the biggest IPs in video games. But, I've also seen it get much worse, and there was at least enough here to cobble together a somewhat compelling final sendoff to the traditional Pokémon formula. It's a disappointment when held against the generations that came before it, but a surprise enjoyment compared to the one that came after. I guess that leaves Sword and Shield somewhere in the middle: it's just okay, and maybe that's all it ever needed to be.

my first pokemon game
kinda meh but i enjoyed it

This was my first Pokemon experience, I know this might have not been brilliant for a lot of hard core fans from what im seeing...but imma just say this, this game got me into the Pokemon world and made me interested in Pokemon. I was addicted to this for about 2 months straight so that has to mean something.

Es un buen juego, el Dinamax es un concepto tremendo y creo yo que bien aplicado durante el juego, ya que son solo situaciones específicas donde podemos usarlo. La historia es meh, como la mayoría de los juegos de la franquicia, por lo que no me decepcioné ni nada por el estilo, los combates son divertidos aunque bastante más fáciles que los de sol y luna. En general me gustó mucho.

non mi ricordo un cazzo di sto gioco