Review – Pokémon Sword
Pokémon Sword & Shield is probably the most controversial game in the series, especially during the last few weeks prior to this launch. Fans started hating on the game because of the “reduced” Pokédex size and disregard for the continuity of previous titles in the franchise. Not to mention the supposed lies uttered by Game Freak regarding the game’s visual improvements. With that being said, I barely noticed people in my near circle boycotting the game. My Switch friend feed has never been as crowded like this before, with everyone playing Pokémon Sword in particular, myself included.
I’m going to base the review on Pokémon Sword, but given how the differences between the versions are minimal, the same score and criticism can be applied to Shield. And if you have Shield, please send me an Eiscue and a Larvitar. Thanks in advance.
Pokémon Sword is the first game in Gen VIII and it takes place on the brand new Galar region, or as I like to call it, Poké-Britain. This is the first region that doesn’t completely emulate its main source of geographical inspiration, with its cities taking inspiration from multiple British locales, mashing them altogether in one bloody jolly mess. There is a town that features the game’s own version of Stonehenge, a town inspired by Bath, a town that is a mixture between Birmingham and Manchester, as well as the capital of Wyndon, which, surprise, is an obvious nod to London. It’s a much smaller region than in previous games and I’ll talk about it in detail soon.
Not only is the region geographically inspired by Great Britain, but its culture is very unique and full of nods to that country’s culture. Instead of Team Rocket, we have Team Yell, which is basically a group of sport hooligans. Instead of gyms, we basically have full-fledged stadiums. There are lots of nods to Britain’s blooming alternative culture, with punks, goths, chavs, grime rappers, a town based on Camden Town, and even vinyl record stores.
The new monsters themselves are, more often than not, inspired by British culture, flora, fauna, and fairytales. The three starters eventually evolve into a rock drummer, a footballer, and a secret agent. This couldn’t have been more British. There are pokémon based off knights in armor, teapots, fairy imps, Stonehenge, the colonization of India, punk rock, and much more. New Galarian forms have been added to older monsters as well, with Zigzagoon basically becoming Paul Stanley from KISS, Ponyta becoming a unicorn from fairytales, and Meowth becoming the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Some older pokémon feature brand new evolutions as well, such as the brand new fan favorite Sirfetch’d, the Farfetch’d evolution we’ve been waiting for the past 20 years.
Not a lot has changed in terms of battling. The rules are basically the same and no new types have been added. A lot of moves have been removed from the game, but that didn’t reduce the amount of strategies you can come up with. Especially since a lot of what has been cut can be consider filler, such as Karate Chop. Experience points are given in full to each pokémon that took part in a battle, with the rest of the team earning 50% of that same amount, making it near impossible for one of your monsters to become way more powerful than the rest of your roster.
That doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t feature quality of life improvements, as there are loads of them. First of all, you can change your roster on-the-go, with the exception of a few locales, such as gyms, rendering PCs almost useless. There is a Move Reminder in every single Pokémon Center and he works for free. Fly isn’t an HM anymore and you can fly back to any previously visited town right from the get-go: just open the Town Map, pick a place, and voilà. The rod and the bicycle don’t show up in your item bag anymore, with the bicycle always being assigned to the + and – buttons, and the rod being automatically used whenever you press A near a fishing pond.
Finally, there are a few improvements that I can’t help but think that Game Freak took inspiration from Bandai Namco’s magnificent Digimon Story games. First of all, you can send your PC-bound monsters to work on “jobs”, which are essentially 24 hour-long secondary quests that will result in them earning a colossal amount of experience points once they’re finished, just like Digimon Story‘s farms. You can also collect pieces of Experience Candy, which act like a Rare Candy, but instead of just raising a monster by one level, it adds a set amount of experience points at once, making the act of leveling up a pokémon much easier. Finally, once the main quest is over, you can even buy items to alter a monster’s nature, just like in Cyber Sleuth and Hacker’s Memory.
Pokémon Sword runs well on the Switch. It’s not a visually impressive or realistic title by any means, but it gets the job done. The Galar region is beautiful, with some breathtaking environments, and the monsters are well-animated, contrary to popular belief. The framerate is decent for the most part, except when you’re in the Wild Area. Finally, there’s the soundtrack, which I can safely say it’s the best the franchise has ever had since the original games from more than twenty years ago. The Gym Leader Battle theme is a banger. I could rave to that.
While Pokémon Sword is great and much better than what rabid fans are saying, I won’t lie, the game is very flawed. It excels in many things, but it also falls flat in other important gameplay-related aspects. And no, I’m not talking about the Thanos snap on the Pokédex. There are still 400+ beasts to capture, there’s more than enough variety in here for you to come up with a bagillion different teams.
One of my main gripes lies on the story. Simply put, until the very last end of it, there’s little to no plot to follow. You’re basically a kid who wants to become the very best, like no one ever was. The story won’t become important until the last hour or so, when it picks up and becomes really fun. Sadly, it will be over soon after. The few plot twists included in here are as predictable as a Mexican soap opera, and the lack of a proper villainous team is a bummer. Team Yell is nothing more than a bunch of sports hooligans that do little to no harm to you or others. There is not a lot of post-game content in here either. There is a very small campaign that starts once you become the region’s champion, but once that’s over, all you have left is a Pokédex to fill and Battle Tower to conquer.
My second main gripe lies in the game’s online multiplayer. If you thought Sun and Moon had a bad online infrastructure, think again. That game looks like a proper MMO in comparison. Gone is the well-developed online transfer center that allowed you to search for a specific pokémon you wanted to add to your collection. Gone are friend lists. Hell, you can’t even properly invite a friend to a fight or a trade session directly from your Switch friend list. You’ll need to talk to each other in real life, decide on a “code”, and input the same code in order for the game to understand that yes, two human beings want to interact with each other in the game.
My final gripe is a weird one, because it’s also the thing I liked the most about Pokémon Sword: the Wild Area. Think of your typical Pokémon route, but a LOT bigger in scope, to the point that it reminds you of Breath of the Wild‘s open world. There, you can catch a gigantic amount of pokémon in different subsections of the park, with fauna that changes with the weather. You can also partake in raid-style battles against gigantic pokémon with up to three friends (guess what, matchmaking sucks here as well). Four people against one gigantic monster. Yep, Pokémon actually feels like an epic JRPG for once! You can capture those gigantic monsters after defeating them. You will also be rewarded with tons of items, pieces of candy, and technical machines.
My gripe with the Wild Area is that, well, most of the pokémon can only be caught here. The Wild Area takes a huge chunk of the Galar region, rendering the rest of it nearly obsolete. There are only ten routes in the whole game, as well as two minuscule caves and two small forests. The region might be gorgeous, and the Wild Area looks like the perfect first step into transforming Pokémon into a proper open world RPG. But I won’t lie, I really disliked Galar as a whole. It is, without a doubt, the single most underwhelming region in Pokémon history, if you don’t count the Orre region from the Colosseum games.
Pokémon Sword is a fantastic game, but it’s flawed. I had a great time with it, and it’s an easy recommendation for Switch owners, but it’s far from being my favorite game in the series. Hell, it’s not even my favorite monster-based RPG on the Switch, as I still think Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth is a lot meatier and a lot more entertaining. With that being said, I loved the new quality of life additions, and also appreciate what they tried to do with the Wild Area, even if it rendered the Galar region itself bland and obsolete. It’s a Pokémon game for crying out loud, of course it’s still fun. Go for it, and if you do, please buy the Shield version and trade its exclusives with me. I’m desperate for a cute little Tyranitar!
Contrary to popular outrage, I really enjoyed the game’s visuals, animations and environments. With that being said, a game like this shouldn’t have featured severe framerate dips like those, especially when you enter the Wild Area.
While the controls are your standard Pokémon fare, there are many quality of life improvements that make the game a lot more enjoyable and less convoluted to play. The same can’t be said about its online interface, which is too archaic even for Nintendo standards.
Even though the monster cries are still a bit too underwhelming, with the exception of Pikachu, Pokémon Sword & Shield might have the single best soundtrack the franchise has ever seen since the original games.
There are tons of excellent quality of life improvements: the inclusion of the addictive raid battles, some great new designs, and a story that takes a while to become interesting, but when it does, it’s great. With that said, Pokémon Sword suffers from featuring very little post-game content and possibly the worst region the franchise has ever seen.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Pokémon Sword & Shield is available now on Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.