tl;dr SwSh are okay games, at best. They have some pretty major balance issues, and leave a lot of potential on the table, but they’re fun to play.
In February, I played through and completed Pokémon Blaze Black 2, a romhack of Pokémon Black 2 by Drayano, combining the brilliance of the Generation 5 games with a full 649 encounter table and a much steeper difficulty curve. I consider this hack to be nearly the pinnacle of the Pokémon experience.
In March, I played through Pokémon Sword, up to the ““postgame”” with Swordward and Shieldbert (as a side note - it is impossible not to read them in the voices of Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce). It was an okay experience, but nowhere near the brilliance of BB2, for various reasons.
For obvious reasons, this will contain unmarked spoilers (of what little there are) to the game. I want to talk about a few Gen 8 specific features before going over the main game.
Let’s get this out of the way first - removing the NatDex was very stupid. It was a blatant way to sell the DLCs, as the Pokémon restored in the two DLCs are virtually unchanged visually from USUM. The balance reason is a load of bullshit - claiming you care about it and then adding Zacian-C, or re-adding stuff like Landorus or Heatran, or creating Pokémon like Regileki. Other Pokémon also got made seriously unviable with the removal of moves like Return, Hidden Power, Pursuit, etc.
The removals do nothing to address the game’s general balancing woes either.
- You like physical dragons? Get fucked. Your options are Outrage, which is nothing but setup fodder for fairy sweepers, or Dragon Rush which has 75% accuracy.
- You like physical electric types? Get fucked. Your options are Wild Charge (which causes recoil), and Wild Charge.
- You like ice types? Get fucked. Well, you will, by basically everything in the game.
- You like bug types? See previous bullet point.
- You like fairies? Good for you! Game Freak is still stuck in the Gen 5 mindset of dragons being overpowered.
At least on junk Pokémon you can use a
tactical nuke Z-Move if needed, and megas make some
otherwise iffy Pokémon into top-tier threats.
Haha, nope, no megas or Z-Moves for you. Instead, SwSh introduces a new feature called Dynamax, which is meant to combine megas and Z-Moves into one. In reality, it’s just fucking annoying.
Unlike megas, Dynamax can be used by nearly every Pokémon.
Like megas, it buffs a stat - HP - but none of the others. It buffs this by quite a lot making it obnoxious to kill a dynamax Pokémon without your own because even boosted hits don’t take out large enough chunks of HP.
Like Z-Moves, Dynamax gives you boosted special type moves with a guaranteed secondary stat change for the user.
Unlike Z-Moves, you get three Max Moves per battle, and you don’t need crystals.
There’s also a special kind of Dynamax called Gigantamax, where a certain special set of Pokémon get their own G-Max form and a unique G-Max move, but otherwise functions similarly to Dynamax. Game Freak, in their endless quest to pander more to Genwunners, has made TWELVE of the 32 Gigantamax forms Kanto Pokémon. As if making Charizard a core part of Leon’s team isn’t enough, the GALAR STARTERS did not get a G-Max form until the DLC! Only one non-Galar or non-Kanto Pokémon gets a G-Max form, which is Garbodor (which, admittedly, is hilarious).
I hate this so much. Megas were fantastic - and the designs were great (why didn’t they reuse the megas for G-Max variants????????). Z-Moves, not so much, but they allow any Pokémon to nuke its counters making the game less stale. Dynamax is just a “press dynamax kill three enemy Pokémon” button. The only way to use it in the base game is as a counter-Dynamax against the gym leaders lest you get nuked by a 130BP Max Overgrowth.
The Wild Area
I love the wild area, both conceptually and the implementation. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but I don’t care! It’s fun! It’s cool! It’s a really good part of the game! Having such a big selection of wild Pokémon makes it far easier to build your team a LOT earlier. The strong wanderers makes the world feel alive - this is Onix’s world, and you are a mere human taking part.
Of course, it has some issues which I want to see corrected in future versions:
- Fog being post-game sucks hard if you like Psychic types (like me!)
- Pokémon don’t level scale properly until Eternatus is summoned, at which point they get set to Level 62.
- Even when they scale up, they’re all still unevolved… This is less of a problem as you can forcefeed Exp Candy but it’s still really annoying.
Max Raid Battles
Max Raid battles are conceptually an okay idea. I’m sure with other players it wouldn’t suck. But dear god are the default NPCs so TERRIBLE. Solrock, Wobuffet and Eevee are all garbage partners who never do anything but get KO’d ending the raid battle early. I suspect this was a deliberate decision to try and make you pay for NSO, but I just installed a mod to make the partners suck less shit constantly instead.
Otherwise, I like Max Raid battles. They give you TRs which is useful, and the Exp Candies are really good for leveling up fast.
Now, onto the standard game-y stuff.
Generation 5 set the high bar for a Pokémon story, with both games exploring the themes of moral greyness and the exploitation of Pokémon for the usage of humans. Whilst it was a far cry from the depth of story that some JRPGs can have, and the sequels dropped the ball a little making Neo Team Plasma more generically evil, it was still fantastic. N is easily one of the best characters in the entire franchise; he sure does make some good points, too!
Unfortunately, during the transition from 2.5D to 3D with the 3DS games, the writing got left behind. For what little story it had, X/Y had an incredibly generic evil villain team; a big contrast to the ecoterrorist Team Plasma from Unova. I never played through the Generation 7 games, so I can’t comment there.
This trend continues into Generation 8, but seemingly worse. The game is INCREDIBLY linear, even for a Pokémon game. Go to gym A, beat leader, go to gym B, beat leader, etc. You do this eight times, with the Pokémon Professor’s assistant Sonia occasionally interjecting to give extremely obvious takes on the hidden lore of the Galar region. There’s no hint of an evil team, there’s no hint of the evil legendary Pokémon (see: Giratina, Kyurem in B2W2), until literally the VERY end of the game once you’ve beaten everyone in the Champion Cup. What the fuck??? Who the hell approved this? I know the standards have been low since the 3DS but this is too much.
(On a side note, it is very fitting that a region based on the United Kingdom has you crush the dreams of a poor kid, a brown kid and an orphan).
There’s not much to say here. It looks… like a Pokémon game. Yeah, it’s not the best, but whatever. I don’t care too much. Except for one thing.
At launch, the game was widely lambasted for its pop-in issues. Whilst there was some degree of exaggeration around this, it is far worse than you would have imagined. Not a SINGLE town in the game has a good draw distance - it’s most noticeable when you get to Motostoke, walk towards the weird lift, and suddenly there’s a gigantic Onix staring at you out of nowhere.
Outside of this, the game does look pretty bad but again whatever.
There are two things I wish to say about the audio. First, the music is (as it always has been) fantastic - the gym battle theme is the best gym battle theme in any of the games. My only complaints:
- the Vs Elite 4 (ok, the gym leader rematch music in the Champion Cup) music sucked way more than the regular gym music
- where’s the Macro Cosmos Grunt music???
- Oleana had a way cooler theme than Rose
Second, it is very obvious that voice acting was cut extremely late into the game. The unskippable cutscenes in battles with lip synching to nothing show this was the case - if they weren’t meant to be voice acted, why are they unskippable? It’s especially apparent in the Piers fight, where he sings before battle - you can’t hear his voice, but you CAN hear his foot tapping!
Let me dispel a myth here. Many fans think that older Pokémon games were harder, and the new games are for little babies. Whilst EXP share and the power creep has made new games a bit easier, the old games were not really that much difficult - they have always been made for children. Many fans played the old games also as children, and the average child’s team composition at the champion consists of:
- Their starter (level 70)
- Route 1 bird (Level 40)
- Box legend (Level 60/70 depending on game)
- Three untrained Pokémon usually caught on the first few routes
Unsurprisingly, you will get curbstomped into the ground.
That’s not to say that Sword and Shield aren’t easy games, though, because they are very easy games. Still no trainer besides Leon and post-game Hop has six Pokémon. The gym leaders run monotype teams with terrible coverage; even the two strongest leaders are easy to sweep. Piers has no way to deal with any Fairy or Bug (would it have killed you to put Iron Tail on Obstagoon or Scrafty???), and Raihan melts to Seismitoad with Scald+Earthquake.
The difficulty is also hindered by grinding being really, really easy - you don’t even need to grind really. Once you make it to Hammerlocke, you cann forcefeed your Pokémon EXP Candy and then send them on seminars overnight for EVs.
Gen 8 has a lot to like about it, from the cool new mainline features such as the wild area to the new Pokémon designs (which are nearly all fantastic), to the QoL features such as the Box link. But it also has a lot to hate, such as removing Staraptor, the extreme lack of story, and the quite frankly pathetic difficulty level.