So, it is no secret that I am a HUGE Pokemon fan. I’ve been playing since the Red and Blue days on GameBoy, picked up competitive in earnest with Black and White, and have since maxed out my hours in every subsequent game through thousands of online battles (except for the Let’s Go series: Those games were just for fun). You all could imagine, then, that the promise of a new Pokemon game that was pitched as catering towards the competitive audience would excite me. Well, here we are after a major stream and I’m pretty excited. I’ve split up my analysis and reaction into different part, so let’s jump right in!
What would a new game be without new Pokemon? Well, this trailer knew that us fans were clamoring for a look at some new ‘mons and that’s what we got! The trailer showed off Wooloo, the sheep Pokemon prized for its fur, Gossifleur and its evolution Eldegoss, flowering and cotton Pokemon that promote growth, Dreadnaw, the bite Pokemon that can be difficult to train, and Corviknight, the raven Pokemon that acts as a taxi across the region (Ride Pokemon instead of HM’s anyone?). We also saw the two legendaries, Zacian and Zamazenta, through a cinematic that also hinted at a third legendary that is typical of the series. The designs all oozed character, color schemes made Pokemon look really distinct, and even more new Pokemon were promised. After games that introduced less new Pokemon in favor of refreshes of old ones through one mechanic or another, getting to see brand new ‘mons was a treat.
Really and truly this section boils down to two things: The Wild Area and Dynamax. Let’s start with the Wild Area. The Wild area is an expansive open-world section of the game with roaming Pokemon, free camera controls, and seemingly random raid events that are multiplayer friendly through local or online connections. The Wild Area also has dynamic weather that affects the Pokemon that can be encountered. The trailer showed a Seismatoad walking in rain and a Tyranitar pushing through a sandstorm, for example. It will be interesting to see how immediately available the Wild Area is because of things like level scaling and Pokemon availability. Will the game go the path of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which allowed high level super-bosses to roam the open world regardless of level, or will it scale encounters with your party or progress, locking higher level encounters behind gym requirements? Only time will tell. What I can say is that I love the idea of feeling more free in the games, having more ways to play with friends, and having a reason to actively just wander the world without purpose. Many would say that Pokemon should have had these features years ago, since other games do, but I find this argument to be a moot point: Not every game needs to modernize along with every other one and just getting these features should be celebrated.
Let’s move on to the next feature: Dynamax. Dynamax is a feature that allows your selected Pokemon to grow HUGE for three turns, allowing for access to stronger moves and presumably higher stats. Like prior features such as Mega Evolution and Z-Moves, only one Pokemon can Dynamax a battle. Much like those features, though, Dynamax adds a whole new level of spectacle to battles through flashy and unique attacks. This really hammers home the idea that Pokemon battles are a popular form of entertainment in the Galar region: Who wouldn’t want to watch two giant Pokemon duke it out on the big screen? It remains to be seen how this is implemented into Wifi battles, but the presence of Dynamax in gyms (each leader has a Dynamax Pokemon to presumably up the difficulty) and raids (groups of players fight one Dynamax pokemon for the chance to catch it) again just adds to the spectacle. Let’s not overlook the fact that this new mechanic doesn’t change the majority of Pokemon as far as we know. Why is this important? The last couple of generations introduced less new Pokemon in favor of new forms of old Pokemon but here no such excuse can be given. A new sandshrew, for example, isn’t going to take the slot of another Pokemon if that makes sense, so this opens the door to even more new ‘mons by not pressuring designers to redesign for the sake of a new mechanic. Who knows, though, maybe some Pokemon will change form when growing? Ultimately, this seems more gimmicky than past mechanics but that isn’t a bad thing.
Just like the Pokemon, the character designs here just exude…well…character! While we didn’t see a lot of the new professor, Magnolia, or her granddaughter, Sonia, we do know that they study the new Dynamax feature. The more interesting characters are the Champion, Leon, and his younger brother, Hop. As the number one trainer in Galar, Leon has an undefeated record in official matches and is adored by the people. From his design and mannerisms, he looks to fall into the “goofy in every day life but serious when battling" archetype that has abounded in anime (kind of like a Gildarts or Jiraiya). His younger brother, Hop, is one of the main character’s rivals and strives to be just like his brother (notice they said ONE OF in the trailer so maybe we’ll get multiple?). This type of rival isn’t the jerk that people wanted, but his dedication to training and drive to succeed could lead to an interesting “break out from my brother’s shadow" storyline. Speaking of which, Pokemon has toyed with trying to subvert story expectations in previous games before with Lysandre and Lusamine ending up being the villains so maybe another “L” character in Leon will have nefarious intentions….
This is the section where I just point out random thoughts that I had or noticed so it might seem a bit rambly. Concerning the Pokemon, I wonder how many they showed are actually early game. Pokemon like Corviknight and Dreadnaw look a bit too well-designed to be early game to me, but if they are then I have hope for future reveals. For all we know, though, they could themselves be evolved forms of things we haven’t seen yet. The designs of the Pokemon, too, seem very distinct from prior generations. Yes, the HD graphics are part of it, but I feel like having a brand new western art director has influenced the feel of the Pokemon. I really like them, but in a way their fresh feel and not overly-designed models also have this feeling of the start of something new. In past generations I thought some Pokemon were way too much (as much as I love you Kommo-o I’m looking at you) and while the shield legendary Zamazenta definitely falls into that category for me the rest of the Pokemon revealed were all aesthetically pleasing. The characters fall into the same trend. Outside of Leon, who I admit has a lot going on design wise, character designs appear to really express what they’re all about. I didn’t talk about him earlier, but the design of the Grass leader Milo, for example, is simple yet super effective (haha) in getting his farmer aesthetic across. Also on the characters, can we talk about how their mouths moved during the in-game cutscenes but there were no dialogue boxes? It is highly unlikely that voice acting is coming to these games, but with how expressive the character designs are and how willing Nintendo has been to bring in voices for their other flagship franchises (most recently Zelda and Mario) getting some form of voice isn’t out of the question. Isn't this trailer the first one to have a theme song with actual lyrics instead of humming, too?
I want to wrap this section up by expressing my hype concerning the Wild Area raids. In a way, they seem to be blending the social aspect of Pokemon Go with the core aspects of the main games and I love it. Nintendo has been known to drop the ball with online before (thankfully they confirmed online raids are a thing) but could you imagine raid themed time periods a la Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s limited time spirit boards or even Pokemon Go’s real world events? With an emphasis on getting people to come back frequently to a changing wild area, it would be great to see weekend events where raid bosses are a certain type or are from a certain region. In all likelihood, not every Pokemon is going to be in this game but what if they introduced older Pokemon absent from the game over time as raid bosses? Maybe they could even be introduced as new wandering Pokemon in the wilds! There is a lot of potential here to keep this game alive instead of just a one-and-done playthrough experience and I really hope they capitalize.
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are looking to be the best Pokemon game experiences in a long time, if not ever, thanks to a whole host of reasons. Pokemon designs strike a balance between cute and cool, simple and well designed; modern features provide the potential to keep this game feeling fresh and updated as time goes on; the new gimmick seems important enough without taking away from older features; characters seem expressive leading to the potential for an involved and emotional story. From hearing Ishihara-san and Masuda-san talking about how the world is inhabited by people and Pokemon working side by side to seeing it in action (it also looks like Rotom is going to play a part again thanks to the Rotom Phone they briely showed in the trailer), the Galar region looks to be vibrant, fluid, and alive. It’s hard not to by hyped up after seeing that trailer and, although recent memories of a slower, overly complex, and ultimately underwhelming Alolan adventure still creep into my mind, I plan on remaining excited until the game’s release on November 15th. Thanks for sticking around and remember, #GrookeyGang.