A Deep Dive Into Why Pokémon Sword & Shield Are Disgraceful
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
If you came to this blog for hard-hitting, knife-edge opinions about the state of the world or my existential musings, take a little break - maybe go get yourself a drink or something. I'm going to rant today about Pokémon. But you already knew that, because it's in the title. This is the first entry where I've used headings though, so that's exciting!
This is also a pretty long post so... you're welcome.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are the two upcoming entries in the long-running RPG series from GAMEFREAK where you, a young child, are thrust into the world on a sprawling adventure to capture a colourful cast of characters in balls, fight crime and become a world tournament champion. The formula for the main series of Pokémon games has remained pretty much the same ever since the original entries on the original GameBoy back in 1996. The simple formula has proven to be a huge success with each iteration, with lifetime sales for the series topping 340 million games sold. It's clear then, that the world loves Pokémon.
With the announcement in 2016 that Nintendo's next console, the Switch, would be a handheld/home console hybrid, people were very excited for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons was that every past "main" Pokémon title had been for the handheld console of that respective generation, whether that was the GameBoy, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, DS or 3DS. The prospect of a full-fledged Pokémon RPG with the power and graphical capabilities of a home console behind it was an enticing one. GAMEFREAK tested the waters with the Let's Go games on the Switch, enhanced remakes of Pokémon Yellow with added Pokémon Go functionality to cater for the mobile audience. The Let's Go games disappointed some fans who were hoping for the next big adventures from GAMEFREAK, but it was made clear to fans that these were a side project, and the game felt deliberately basic and held back on many features introduced in later games to help make the game more faithful to the GameBoy classic. So, hopes were high for the upcoming "main series" games that were to be announced.
Nintendo unveiled Sword & Shield in early 2019 to an initially mixed response. Some fans complained that the graphics were underwhelming, and that Pokémon models and animations seemed to be re-used from the previous 3DS titles. Others defended the announcement, praising the new Pokémon designs and overall theme of the game, being set in a world based on England.
But, as more and more information was revealed about the titles, the response online from many die-had fans has generally soured to the point where people are cancelling pre-orders, boycotting the games and declaring their intentions to pirate the game or leak info before release.
What's So Bad About Them?
Well, I'm glad you asked that, earlier version of myself. At E3 2019 it was casually mentioned by producer Junichi Masuda that not all Pokémon would be featured in Sword & Shield. Now, let me make a clear distinction here - there is no single Pokémon game where you can catch all of them. Version differences, ridiculously elusive legendaries and generational barriers between titles has meant that no single Pokémon title has more than around 200 different monsters actually obtainable in-game. However, almost every single title has supported every single Pokémon in existence being transferred over into the game from another title, meaning that even if you couldn't catch a Dragonite in Pokémon Sapphire, you could at least trade one over from FireRed and use whoever you wanted in your team once you reached a certain point in-game. The important thing to note here is that Sword & Shield will not support over 400 Pokémon being transferred into the game. Not only are they not obtainable in the game, they won't appear in the Pokédex, their models won't be in the game - they literally won't exist in the game's code. This is a huge issue for many long-time fans of the series, who have taken the time to amass an enormous collection of virtual chums, from as far back as the GameBoy days. It may sound dramatic but people have developed sentimental attachments to their long-time Pokémon pals from days gone by, and to now tell players that they can't use their old favourites at all is a real punch in the gut to the fanbase, and a dismissal of the amount of time and effort that they have invested. The franchise dropped this tagline a long time ago now, but it once used "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" as an enticing term to encourage players to collect all the monsters they could find.
Some have defended these cuts, citing that supporting the ever-increasing roster of monsters was eventually going to become a mammoth (or Mamoswine, ha!) task in itself. Excluding the new Pokémon announced for the new games, the total number of 'mon stands at a whopping 811. That is truly a huge number, and to an extent I can almost understand the argument that supporting them all in every game would be a lot of work. But, at the same time, these 811 were already modelled and animated in the previous games, Sun & Moon. And it seems clear to me that the Pokémon that are returning to the game are in fact, using the same character models as the previous games. The developers have defended their decision, citing that some 'mon had to be cut so that the quality of animation and expressiveness of the Pokémon could be further developed. But, again, people have analysed and compared footage from the new titles with that of the previous 3DS games and found that the animations are no different. In fact, the animations in games as old as Pokémon Stadium from 1999 had higher quality, more expressive animations. So not only are the developers removing a significant percentage of the Pokémon from the game entirely, they're also lying about their reasons why?
But it gets worse. Not only are approx. 400 Pokémon not supported in Sword & Shield, but there are over 100 moves that are being cut too. These are actions that the Pokémon use in battle, and, much like with new Pokémon, new moves have been added in previous generations to further diversify and expand the range of options and variety in-game. There is a large competitive scene in Pokémon, and these large cuts are going to have severe ramifications across both casual and competitive players alike.
Similarly, features such as the EXP Share which used to be optional are now reportedly always on, making the game much easier and less challenging for expert players. In previous titles it was something that could be easily toggled on or off, but that option seems to have been removed entirely. Sadly, the developers seem to have a habit of canning successful features seen in previous titles for seemingly no reason. Early reports are coming in from pre-release players that the game is exceedingly short and easy in comparison. Some players have allegedly made it to the end of the main game in just under 15 hours, which is around half the time you'd expect to complete the main story in most Pokémon games.
In addition to the outrage over missing monsters, moves and absent features, there is the issue of the graphics. The series has long been held back by being limited to the power of a handheld console, and for a long time people have dreamed of what Pokémon could be with the power of the home console behind it. The Switch may be small, but it can run Doom, The Witcher III or Skyrim pretty well. And even its more simplistic first-party titles like Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey look pretty damn amazing on the system. Take a look at these screenshots below - whilst Sword & Shield don't look terrible, they certainly look underwhelming for what was essentially the series' big chance to utilise the Switch's capabilities. To me, it just looks like they've upscaled a 3DS game.
The general consensus, then, is that GAMEFREAK are being lazy. The series is wildly popular, with each iteration easily selling 10M+ copies. Many people seem to think that the devs are banking on the success and reputation of the series to be enough to sell the game. Bear in mind that a lot of the cuts made to the games have been uncovered by leaks and analysis of footage, rather than anyone announcing anything officially.
Why Are You Still Complaining? You Don't HAVE To Buy It!
Absolutely - I don't have to buy it. And in its current state, I absolutely won't be buying it. The problem with arguments like this though, is the assumption that people want to be angry and complain. I don't want to rant about Pokémon. I don't want to be angry about how many core tenets of the previous games have been lazily cut away from the game, and how the experience seems to have been watered down and simplified. I want to love Sword & Shield - I want them to be great games. I've loved every other game in the series so far. I'm sure there will be some enjoyable elements to them when they come out, but for me there has been too much corner-cutting and lack of understanding of what makes Pokémon, well, Pokémon.
The main reason that people are outraged over all of this, though, is pretty simple. Pokémon is the single most profitable multimedia franchise of all time. Yep. Bigger than Marvel or Star Wars. Bigger than Disney and bigger than Mario, Call of Duty, Candy Crush or any other video game franchise. With such a huge (Wailord-sized) following and such an enormous amount of money made from the series, the least that the developers could do is to uphold and maintain support for monsters, moves and features from the series' past. Every single Pokémon is somebody's favourite, and to respect that would have taken work, sure, but it's something that they have done for every other game in the series. But the developers have made it clear that from here on out, only a specific selection will be available to use at all in any future iterations of the series. And from what we have seen thus far, whatever it is that is being traded off for all of these cuts is certainly not going to be worth it.
What makes this all so glaringly obvious to players is the fact that the Switch has had such a plethora of universally-praised titles published by Nintendo since its launch. Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Fire Emblem: Three Houses are all classic Nintendo series titles that have all been hailed as the definitive versions of their respective series. All of these games have attempted to reinvent themselves somehow, and are all absolutely packed to the brim with high-quality content and fresh ideas. Pokémon Sword & Shield, by comparison, just look like a stripped-down, simplified experience that isn't even optimised for the hardware it is running on. It reeks of laziness and greediness, and it's disrespectful to the legacy of the series and the long-time fans. There's almost no reason for me to buy the new games, as the previous instalments offer far more in terms of content, value and fucking Pokémon that I can actually use.