Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: 11/15/2019
Available Exclusively On
I just want to start with a simple fact, I’m not the biggest Pokemon fan. I grew up with Pokemon in the late 90’s-early 2000s and stopped caring around Gen 3 when I was about 12-13 years old. I followed Pokemon afterward, but the card collecting and anime watching had pretty much stopped. My wife, on the other hand, continues to be a huge Pokemon fan to this day. This is actually the first Pokemon game I have ever finished including getting the legendary Pokemon. It was a chore I will admit. It was enjoyable sometimes and other times I put the game away for a couple of months. It was kind of exciting, then sometimes just plain boring. So, this review isn’t coming from a raging fanboy or a complete hater, so hopefully, this review will help people on the fence.
I’ve played nearly every other game in the series, but not for long. I love the idea of running around a world catching monsters, the problem is the series falls under 30-year-old JRPG tropes that still haven’t really gone away. My biggest hate with JRPGs, in general, is random battles. I feel they are time fillers, something to pad an extra 50 hours onto a 30-hour adventure. I want to explore more and these random battles prevent that when they’re happening every 5-10 seconds. It makes me want to give up, and I usually won’t play JRPGs with random battles. Sword/Shield has gotten rid of that with Pokemon that can be seen in the grass and random encounters that show up like exclamation marks and something following you in the grass. Yes, Pokemon is still confined to water and grass. That solves that major issue which made exploring more enjoyable.
When you explore the Routes, Wild Areas, and Towns, there are random items scattered throughout such as berries, candies, DMs (moves), and various items. You can ride a bike to get around faster and you can also fast travel to discovered areas which is a Godsend. This makes trying to go to certain regions that much faster and simpler to get. Wild Areas consist of level ranges and now that a weather system is in place you get certain Pokemon in certain weather systems for each area. Now, I had to run the system clock around to get to the month when I started wanting specific Pokemon. It’s actually quite fun to go around widdling down health and catching these guys and building up your Pokedex, that’s the entire point of the game.
Now the game had a lot of controversy by not having the full Pokedex of every game prior plus the new ones. It just has a grab bag of some from each generation. For someone like me, it doesn’t matter outside of the first three generations of Pokemon. I also found that older Pokemon were messed with and their looks and types were changed like Rapidash, Mr. Mime, and Ponyta. I’m not really a fan of all this switching around, but it’s not hard to get used to.
Battles are one of the main components of the game and they look nice. I’ll give the game that, seeing these guys in crisp 3D models is great, but the Pokemon battle system is something I’ve grown tired of. I’m sick of all the long animations to get into the battle and all the dialogue boxes that pop up. I know most JRPGs are like this but this is a 30-year-old trope that needs to change already. Some battles feel like they take longer only because of how little input I’m actually giving. When you introduce something like Dyna and Gigamax Pokemon that can grow to the size of buildings and do massive damage, I start to feel this is just filler and nothing that adds anything. These are literally just giant Pokemon that have powerful moves. It never turned the tide of a battle because either I knocked a Dyna-mon out in one hit or I could change too.
The strategy behind Pokemon battling is weaknesses. It’s grown more complicated over the years with additions like fighting, fairy, ghost, steel, etc. I had to sometimes look up weaknesses online to make sure I didn’t waste a move on some boss battles. These were the most challenging in the game but I never died once in my entire playthrough. Sure there were some cheap shots, but I always managed to pull through with most of my Pokemon knocking out opponents in one hit. I could chew through an entire gym leader’s stack with just one Pokemon. The balancing is really off compared to other JRPGs with it being overly easy or unfair. I wound up sometimes with Pokemon that my enemy was not weak against. You always want super-effective moves, and thankfully once you’ve battled that Pokemon once you can see which moves will work against it and which won’t which is super handy.
The visuals are another disappointing feature. They don’t really wow me in any way. They look like HD 3DS graphics and have the same bland anime RPG style that most other games have. It looks decent enough, but I just wanted this game to be the big game-changer that it wasn’t. The Dynamaxing, Wild Areas, and overall small additions didn’t add anything new but gave us the same experience in a slightly tweaked way. At least the menus are more simplified, but things like a cooking mini-game and being able to play with the Pokemon by petting them just doesn’t add to the experience. I felt bored most of the time because of how little player input there is, and I haven’t even gotten to the story.
Pokemon has never had an interesting story, Sword and Shield are no exception. It’s just something to make an excuse for dialog, which by the way, is another 30-year-old JRPG trope, you can’t skip the cut scenes. The first 2 hours of the game drag because it treats you like you’re stupid. With so many tutorials and drawn-out animations, cut-scenes, and dialogue, each Pokemon game is a chore just to start. It should ask you if you have played a Pokemon game before and just want to learn the new features, but they always have to integrate it into a story with dialogue and cut scenes. I honestly can’t really explain the story that much because I didn’t care. You’re trying to become the Pokemon Champion and some bad people get in the way to steal the legendaries away like every other game. Characters have no substance or appeal and there’s no reason to care for them.
Overall, Pokemon is a game that you either love or hate, and somehow I got lucky enough to be stuck in the middle. It suffers from issues in the series that have never been addressed such as the lack of player input, boring battles, story, and characters. I want to care about the world I’m in not just my favorite Pokemon, it has to be more than that for the investment. I want to see a visual change, stop making battles more complicated and make them more interesting, can we go after something besides badges? It’s a fine game and is done very well, but from a jaded Pokemon veteran, the series has just stretched itself too thin.