Pokémon Sword and Shield has been nothing short of an incredible success for Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, racking up way over 6m sales in its first week and becoming the fastest selling Nintendo Switch game in history. It doesn’t seem like it’ll be long before the two games combined become the highest selling game on the handheld platform.
That said, it’s a release that hasn’t been without its controversies, chiefly among them being the lack of a National Dex, as around 400 Pokémon have been thrown into the void, either never to be seen in the Galar region, or waiting to be introduced via some form of post-launch update. There have also been concerns that Pokémon Sword and Shield is too easy, with many decrying the game’s lack of challenge.
As for me, I’ve really been loving Pokémon Sword and Shield, and the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s because of those “controversies”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sat here sadistically gorging on some popcorn delighting in the misfortune of others, but these changes have been the reason why I’m now interested in the Pokémon series.
Perhaps a little background is in order. My experience with Pokémon games in the past has been minimal, to the point of non-existent. The only time I’ve ever really played a Pokémon game is when I borrowed Gold/Silver off a mate back in primary school, and it didn’t really grab me. Very few turn-based RPGs do. For nearly two decades, my Pokémon exposure is limited to the characters I played in Smash, and even then, I only sort of main Incineroar. The point is, Pokémon and I have never really mixed.
Sword and Shield actually interested me, and not just because I finally had a Nintendo platform to play the game on for the first time in forever. Some of the changes Game Freak were making, like a large, open-world area where you can catch Pokémon to the removal of random battles and the ability to play online, sounded appealing to me.
But it’s these “controversies” that have stuck with me, and helped me to love Sword and Shield when perhaps I wouldn’t have. The reduction of the Pokédex means it’s easier now for new players to get into the series, as they don’t have to learn match-up knowledge for 800 different species of adorable little critters. Even if they did have 800+ Pokémon, Sword and Shield gives you the relevant information of which moves are effective during the fight if you’ve already encountered that Pokémon before, so you don’t have to consult guides every other encounter.
As for Sword and Shield’s lack of difficulty, it’s no secret that the games are a little bit on the easier side, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. With RPGs like Dark Souls pursuing harder difficulties above all else, sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and chill out; to play a game that still requires some thought and strategy but isn’t dead set on pushing you to your breaking point.
Grinding out levels has become a much less tedious affair now as well, due to features like full party EXP share. With each member of your party gaining EXP (though your party leader obviously gets more), the idea of levelling up your Pokémon to get ready for the next gym or trainer battle is no longer a daunting prospect.
The addition of Max Raid Battles, locations in the Wild Area that contain massive Dynamax’d Pokémon, also helps lessen the tedium of the EXP grind. Completing these battles can not only grant you the ability to catch new Pokémon, but also grants Rare Candies and various forms of EXP candies like they’re, well, sweets. Being able to use those sweets to boost my Pokémon at my own pace felt rewarding, even if I’m now a tad overleveled.
Though many might consider the idea of playing just Max Raid Battles to be a repetitive grind in and of itself, the ability to find players online to help you, or invite friends to take on the battle together, adds a social aspect to the game that alleviates any feelings of banality, much in the same way playing co-op RPGs like Destiny use social challenges to eliminate the boredom that comes with doing the same activity over and over again.
Admittedly, Sword and Shield, along with Nintendo in general, haven’t really done a good job at maximising the potential of their online component, but there are ways around that. Myself and my girlfriend ran our Switch’s HDMI cable through the back of the Xbox One and played Pokémon through that using the Xbox’s Party Chat feature. If I’d just relied on Nintendo’s own features, Max Raid Battles probably wouldn’t be as replayable as they are, but the potential is there. Oh, and you can have that free life hack on the house.
Honestly, I don’t want this to come across as someone taking enjoyment out of a situation where fans seem to be genuinely falling out of love with a franchise they’ve adored for decades, because it’s not like your concerns aren’t valid. They are. When half the Pokédex gets Thanos snapped into non-existence, a lot of favourites are going to become collateral damage. As for the difficulty, some players get more satisfaction out of the lengthy grind, and it’s not like Game Freak couldn’t add the ability to toggle full party EXP share for those who do or don’t want it.
In truth, the changes that Game Freak have made with Pokémon Sword and Shield don’t, to me at least, feel random. The tweaks to the established formula feel like an attempt to make Pokémon more streamlined in order to bring in new players. Considering how much I’m loving the game, I guess it was a success.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are out now on Nintendo Switch.
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