'Pokémon Sword and Shield' Review: Correcting Mistakes of the Past Pushes Franchise Forward in the Right Direction



Many of the criticisms from Gen 7 were addressed making "Sword and Shield" much better.
Pokémon Sword and Shield has been shrouded in controversy. The team behind the Gen 8 games has been criticized for what some fans call less-than-stellar graphics, battle animations, and then there's that whole National Dex debate.
While the decisions made by GameFreak prior to launch remain questionable, it was hard to not get excited for these two brand-new Pokémon games. My journey through the Galar region was a shining example of the franchise taking a step forward while addressing the problems of the past.
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Pokemon Company
STORY

Before getting to our traditional plot overview, it's worth noting that embargoes limit us to discussing narrative through the first four Gyms.
As a focal setting, Galar is a diverse and massive region for a Pokémon game. If you've seen the map before, you know it stretches far with plenty of varied environments that make traveling to each town memorable.
Galar is based on the United Kingdom, and there's a lot of apparent influences from that real-world location. From its cloistered town construction to rolling hills and witty character character dialogue, Galar is fantastical yet grounded enough to feel like a place one could actually visit.,
One aspect I absolutely loved about the Alola games was the region, atmosphere and how alive it felt. In that regard, Galar is no different. With Sword and Shield, the sports-centric themes shine through. There are NPCs cheering you on as you head to each Gym, and there's an "Olympics village" vibe wherever you go. Each town you enter feels as though a huge sports event is about to begin the second you walk past its threshold.

Pokémon can be seen roaming in grass and in caves similar to the Let's Go games, but there are still Pokémon that are random encounters in the grass. While the dual decision will please fans of both styles, it's difficult to search for Pokémon in the grass when Yamper start chasing after you to battle.
The characters in Sun and Moon were also given plenty of personality, and GameFreak continues that trend with Sword and Shield. The rivals, the Gym Leaders and the other important characters feel like a crucial part of the story and region. When one of them reappears, you're always happy to see them.
Your rival, Hop may seem like another Hau - and for a portion of the game he is - but his story is a lot more fleshed-out compared to other rivals. It was a change I greatly appreciate.
GameFreak has hit the construction of the region and characters out of the park for two generations. I hope they continue this trend for future titles in the series.
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Pokemon Company
GAMEPLAY

The gameplay in Sword and Shield is like any other main Pokémon game. You'll walk, run and bike your way through the region as you battle trainers and find Pokémon to catch in the grass.
Many criticized Sun and Moon for their pacing.. The first 10-15 minutes were a chore to get through because of the tutorials and dialogues. Sword and Shield does a much better job by nearly eliminating tutorials. You're asked if you know how to catch Pokémon, and the dialogue is kept to a minimum. The rest of the game is pretty breezy as well, especially if you're an experienced player. There are rarely any detours as you try and obtain your eight badges. The most time you'll spend outside of the main objective is in the Wild Area.
The Wild Area is a massive zone in the middle of Galar that lets trainers travel and catch Pokémon. Pokémon roami around and the weather changes are dynamic. There's a lot to do in the Wild Area, but be careful, because if you go into a region that has Pokémon stronger than yours you can get in trouble very quickly.
You'll find items, battle trainers, and more. It changes daily, which means there's always a reason to return.
Max Raid Battles are also found in the Wild Area. Similar to Pokémon Go, Max Raid Battles introduce Dynamax (and sometimes Gigantamax) Pokémon to battle and capture with help from up to three other players. This is a great way to introduce a more cooperative aspect to Pokémon while keeping players hooked through a varied Raid schedule. . Trainers will want to try and find Gigantamax Pokémon while also farming critical items that come from defeating them.
The difficulty of these Max Raid Battles is something else, though. You're only given a certain number of moves to take it down before being blown away, and the Level 5 Raids are almost impossible without other trainers helping you. While AI partners exist, they're not as helpful as they should be.
Speaking of Dynamax and Gigantamax, I wasn't too sold on this new battle mechanic leading up to release. But, after spending some time with the concept, I think it adds a fun new wrinkle to the established formula. The story doesn't lean too heavily on it, (thankfully) as you're only allowed to do it in the Wild Area and in Gym Battles. As such, when you do use it, you're already in a situation where you must. There are plenty of times where a Gym Leader will Dynamax their Pokémon, and in those instances, I had to find a way to survive three turns using Protects and switch-ins. It's a fun new way to battle that incorporates past mechanics like Mega evolution and Z-Moves without being too overpowered.
With regard to difficulty, the situation with Sword and Shield remains complex.. At first, the difficulty is challenging with levels keeping up with your nature progression. However, after one grind session of about three levels, I was overwhelming my opponents even Leaders. This does get rectified by the end of the story when your last handful of battles are some of the toughest you'll experience in the game, however.
GameFreak also made an interesting choice when it comes to level-up moves in Sword and Shield. From my point of view, the moves of new monsters seemed fairly weak compared to new additions in past titles.. Perhaps they wanted to simplify what moves are used and not give certain Pokémon some of the more powerful moves early on - or in TMs - because I was still using moves like Screech throughout my playthrough of Sword and Shield. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of the game, but it was something I noticed.
Other new features like PokeJobs act a lot like the Poke Pelago of Sun and Moon, offering experience and other items to your boxed Pokémon. The Camping feature is a neat way to interact with your Pokémon and the monsters of others. It's like Pokémon Amie and the secret bases of the Hoenn region combined. While I personally didn't feel the need to spend a lot of time camping, it's there for those who want to make fast friends with their Pokémon.
A new region always means lots of new Pokémon, and the ones found in the Galar region will likely be divisive. Without revealing too much there are new type combinations we haven't seen before, and Galar forms that are unique and breathe new life into older Pokémon through evolution. The designs of some of the new Pokémon, for me, are mixed. It's completely subjective, but there are some "cartoony" Pokémon designs with many having large eyes or odd shapes. But then there are designs that are absolutely fantastic, embodying their typings and real-world inspirations.
Although I may be critical of some of the designs, new Pokémon always set the foundation for future generations; and Sword and Shield have done that, giving fans long-awaited type combos and designs.

VERDICT

Pokémon Sword and Shield may be getting a bad rap before its launch, but there's no denying that these games are the future of the franchise.
Being on a home console makes these games look beautiful in handheld or docked, and the cutscenes are dynamic and fun. The music and atmosphere of the Galar region makes it one of my all-time favorites, and, while not having every Pokémon available is something that's eyebrow-raising, new ones are fun and will likely give fans a lot of what they've been asking for.
The new battle mechanic is fun, adds new wrinkles to Pokémon battles and the Wild Area is something that needs to be experienced. While the version you choose doesn't affect much - there are Gyms exclusive to which game you play - it did make me want to play through both versions more so than in past generations.
Sword and Shield will likely be divisive. The lead up to their release has proven that. But Gen 8 is a landmark for the franchise, moving forward with changes that make the experience much more enjoyable. With the series' proper Switch debut, a new era has begun.
Pokémon Sword and Shield releases November 15.
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