Pokémon Shield Holds Potential For The Franchise On Mainline Nintendo Platforms

I know, I know, I should be doing this on Pokémon Legends: Arceus but I am making snail-sized progress through that game so I’m going to do what I do best: arrive extremely late to the party on a subject that other people know way more about than I do. That subject: Pokemon Shield.

The Setting: England?

The setting for Pokémon Sword and Shield takes place in the new region of Galar, which is itself inspired by Great Britain. This can be seen in the dress wear of non-playable characters and read in the dialogue spoken by the citizens of the various locations in Galar. This new location has a different feeling to it than past generations of Pokémon, with Sword and Shield game director Shigeru Ohmori describing it as a more modern setting. The sense of inspiration can also be seen in the landmarks of Galar, with many locales resembling famous British buildings. There is also a steampunk-esque element to the game with the first major (and main) city having a very industrial feeling to it. There is another influence that I have no possible way of avoiding – this being the fact that Gym battles are, in this game, the equivalent of English football matches with many stadiums modeled after major stadiums in Britain.

While the major cities have substantial “industrial revolution” vibes to them, there are certain locations that are the complete antithesis. Instead of focusing on industry, these focus on nature. As I have been playing a bunch of Pokémon X on 3DS, I have noticed a trend in that game and Sword/Shield that the towns reflect certain gym leaders, whereas in X only the gyms would reflect the style of the gym leader, be it personality, Pokémon type, or other. Speaking of gyms in Pokémon Sword and Shield, not any old Tracey Sketchit can enter the Gym Challenge. In Gen 8, you must be endorsed by someone of importance to attempt said gym challenge. This all makes further sense when you first see the Champion of Galar, Leon, who is first seen a couple of minutes into the game as a character you wouldn’t even accept as normal, as he wears a cape with all of his nominations on it.

Pokémon Shield: New Stuff!

Ever since Gen 6 (X/Y), every Pokémon game has had a particular “gimmick” to it. X/Y had Mega Evolution, Sun and Moon had Z-Moves, and Sword and Shield had the Dynamax effect. Out of all the gimmicks, Mega Evolution seems to be the most popular one as it has made its way into Sun and Moon, Let’s Go, and even the Ruby and Sapphire remakes. Well, that run has ended as the in-universe explanation for the lack of Mega Evolution in Sword and Shield is the lack of mega evolution stones in Galar. The entire region has a certain item scattered around the land, acting as the catalyst for you and your rival’s respective journeys. These are Wishing Stars, which can be made into a Dynamax Band. Generally, all that Dynamax – and later on, Gigantamax – do is make your Pokémon big. They also add G-Max moves which, albeit, feel pretty bland, ultimately do more damage. Having played X, I recently made the progression to Mega Evolution and gained Lucario, and I gotta say, that battle at the top of the tower with Korrina has made me realize I get more and more wrong with how good Pokémon games feel the farther I go back (Lord help me when the eventual Black and White remakes get announced).

The real calling card of Pokémon Sword and Shield is the “Wild Area” which – now that I think about it – makes me realize there had to be some cross-pollination after Sword and Shield and Legends Arceus. The Wild Area is, as the name implies, a vast open environment that is filled with Pokémon. Another addition to this Wild Area is Pokémon that are actually visible in the overworld and not solely based on RNG-based encounters. The only real downside is that not all Pokémon are available in this nature. That and the Pokémon are stuck behind the gym challenge. The very first Pokémon that I saw in the Wild Area was an Onix that pummeled my team, which was very under-leveled. Throughout the Wild Areas, there can be shining beams of lights that introduce another new element of Galar: Raid Battles. These are opportunities to get rare Pokémon that normally wouldn’t be available during the free-roam sections. You can also find XP candies, which come in all different sizes and can make rare candies look like tiny sticks of bubblegum. Going back to the Wild Area, more specifically the raid dens, you’ll receive a secondary form of currency, known as Watts, which are great ways to get supplies without having to break the bank. If you do a long run of collecting Watts and hoarding them until you have a large amount, you can easily break the game. There is even a type of Poké Ball called the Luxury Ball, which has a high sell price. Theoretically, you could acquire nine hundred and ninety-nine (the max amount) of those bad boys and sell them to the Poké Marts for high profits. I may or may not have done this. I’ll never tell.

Pokemon Shield Surprise Trade
Pokemon Sword and Shield Surprise Trade

While the next feature I’m going to mention is technically new to the Nintendo Switch line of Pokémon games, they have been around since Pokémon X and Y. I am, of course, referring to Wonder Trade, which has now been rebranded as “Surprise Trade”. Normally, I would just move on to something else, but I am noticing something that happens the more I do it. During my weeklong battle with Covid recently, near the end of it when I was able to think and act more like myself, I decided to catch a bunch of the starters from Hoenn, which are available in both Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. I caught one Mudkip and bred an entire in-game PC Box of them, solely for giving away via Surprise Trade in Sword. I had done a similar thing in Shield with Popplio. Once I started trading away the newly hatched Mudkip, I noticed I would get a Pokémon with the nickname of a certain website which would come with a shiny Pokémon, and a Master Ball to boot! Not only was I confused, but when I did some further investigating, I learned these were the equivalent of what used to happen on the old GTS (Global Trade Server), where you would trade Pokémon and get a hacked/corrupted Pokémon. From now on, I just take the Master Ball, release the creature, and move on trading away the next Mudkip to which the SAME DAMN ACCOUNT was picked. A similar thing happened when I did this with Treecko. Thankfully, I had already finished my Pokédex with Shield and no longer have to deal with Wonder Trade with Sword now.

Because this game is on the Switch and was in the window of Breath of the Wild, there is a cooking minigame that, while not liked by many, I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s all a part of setting a camp for you to interact with your Pokémon, which is how you get Togepi to Togetic, Eevee to Umbreon, and all the other evolutions that require high friendship levels to trigger the evolution.

Pokémon Shield: The Story

The game starts with you and your rival Hop getting your starting Pokémon from Hop’s brother – and Champion of the Galar region – Leon. As you get further along in your Pokémon journey, you and Sonia start investigating the history behind “The Darkest Day,” which was an event in Galar that caused Pokémon to grow massively huge and cause havoc and terror. The real problem with this story is that most of the time it doesn’t take center stage, and when it does, it’s only for a brief amount of time. A large amount of the Pokémon player base has been very vocal about how lackluster the story is in Sword and Shield, and I hate to do it… but I’d have to agree with them. Not only that, the big climax of the story has a lazy way of showing how you and Hop are the true heroes of The Darkest Day: Redux Edition. I’m not trying to sound like a “Genwunner” here but the boxed legendaries for Sword and Shield are literally holding a sword and a shield in the most unimaginative way I have ever seen. If you happened to have listened to the 2021 Game of the Year deliberations, Josh mentioned the antagonists who you encounter after the Downloadable Content adventures.

Pokemon Shield Breeding
Pokemon: Sword and Shield Breeder

Now, let’s take a look back at the beloved second generation of Pokémon. Your reward for going through the game and doing everything that could be done leads to a battle with the Gen 1 protagonist and hero of Kanto, Red. My problem with the story for these two games is not even remotely close to it being a sub-par story, but rather a story that had a string of distraction after distraction, which left things confusing and with a feeling of “wait, what was I doing in the story?” In a state of pure irony on my part, when I was binging Pokémon Journeys last year, I noticed that the storyline of a group of episodes felt somewhat familiar. It was then that I realized: the plot was just the story of Sword and Shield – being told in anime form – so much better than the game ever did.

Pokémon Shield: The Expansions

When Sword and Shield were getting closer to release, news broke that not all Pokémon would be making appearances in the game. These included classics from Gen 1 such as the Pidgey line, the Electa-line from Generation 1-4, and more. The reaction to this was pretty bad, as you might have suspected. I liked what Game Freak did with the approach to getting as many Pokémon as possible into the game. Shortly after the launch of Sword and Shield in January 2020, two expansions were announced for the games. The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra would serve as the standard “third game” – à la the first four generations of the Pokémon franchise – with a slight twist. You would get your first taste of the Isle of Armor when you get a Galarian Slowpoke in Motostoke. The Slowpoke is blocking the train line, so you must battle and capture it.

Once you are finished with the base game, you can go to the Isle of Armor with your Armor pass. I generally preferred this expansion over Crown Tundra, not that there’s anything really wrong with Crown Tundra (but I’ll get into that later).  The Isle of Armor gives you a new questline consisting of training a particular Pokémon called Urshifu. Before you do this, you get to choose between getting a Squirtle or a Bulbasaur to raise into either a Blastoise or a Venusaur, respectively. Throughout your experience raising Urshifu, you have the option of what type it will be, and even better, get a Gigantamax form for the Kanto starter you chose, as well as Gigantamax forms for the Galar starters. Something I forgot to bring up was the fact that in my time away from the series, certain Pokémon appear at a set time. This throws a large chance of potential encounters into the wind and makes prioritizing the Wild Area in Galar and the Isle of Armor rather frustrating. There are also a few false assumptions with the two expansions, as some of the Pokémon included are in the respective games’ regional Pokédex. However, if you have completed your regional Pokédex, the only way you can fill out the not-so-National Pokédex is if you have a hankering for Surprise Trading.

Entei In Pokemon Shield

Now when it comes to The Crown Tundra, if you are anything like me, you will get addicted to the “Max Raid Dens” feature in the expansion. This allows you to rent one of three Pokémon, with the chance to capture a legendary Pokémon. I am unsure of what Pokémon are exclusive to each game, but in my encounters in Pokémon Shield, I have run into Cresselia from Kalos, Suicune, Raikou, and Entei from Johto, Tapu Koko from Alola, and Zekrom from Unova. That would mean the other counterparts from the respective games would fill the spot of each respective legendary. That being said, you have a set number of faints before you have to restart your adventure. With my very clear disdain for playing multiplayer games, I was incredibly glad to find I was able to do these Max Raid Dens on my own. The artificial intelligence in the game tends to be a tad capricious, as I will go from a great session to one that is downright pitiful. To be honest, I was having more fun with the Max Raid Dens, as they present a challenge and reward you with a legendary Pokémon.

Once I decided to stop dilly-dallying with the Max Raid Dens, I decided to get started with the main story of the Crown Tundra expansion. You arrive and get tangled up in a “treasure hunt” that involves finding, and ultimately catching the three Legendary bird Pokémon: Zapdos, Articuno, and Moltres, all three of which have Galarian variants. Along with these Pokémon, you seek out the Regi Pokémon. While this isn’t related to Legendary Pokémon, there is a pretty nice callback to Generation 4 of the Pokémon games with the inclusion of Spiritomb. More specifically, the way you encounter it; you must speak to thirty-two other unique players while connected to the internet.

The Crown Tundra expansion introduces two new Pokémon that are quite the combo. First is Calyrex, a Psychic type that gives you the task of locating its other half. This would be Spectrier who – depending on where you plant the seed of its favorite carrot – can net you a Ghost-type version or an Ice-type version. You also have the chance to combine both Pokémon into a combo Pokémon that is deified by the residents of the main village in The Crown Tundra. When using the reins of unity, Calyrex and Spectrier become Shadow Rider Calyrex. This combination is known to the village as a “bringer of bountiful harvests” type of deity. This leads to a problem for me – that is, a lame problem. The real pain to people like me who love collecting Pokémon is the inability to move this creature into Pokémon Home.

Pokémon Shield: Final Thoughts

While there are still people out there in the world who have not liked Sword and Shield – and likely Sun and Moon – with the first two being of the “Dex-it” controversy and the latter two over the radical changes made to the formula of the games. Contentious changes include the addition of Ride-Pokémon and Island Challenges, the lack of Hidden Moves, and the drastic alteration to the Gym challenge mechanic of the first six generations of games. I still feel like this is moving in the right direction, however, in terms of making the game accessible to newcomers. Despite dropping the ball when it came to creating interesting new characters, a few were able to make it through – such as Leon, Bede, and Raihan – and be somewhat intriguing. In the long run, though, does this game sit even remotely close to the earlier games in the franchise? No.

Alas, Pokémon has become a monopoly, with numerous clones that over the course of the past two decades have tried – and failed – to unseat the champion from its throne. When Pokémon was beginning in the 1990s, it was an unknown thing. But as time went on, it became an innovator of the formula for these types of games. These days, if you show a young gamer an image of Lucario or a historical figure and ask if they know one or the other, I think they would pick the Pokémon every time. Sword and Shield may have been a bit of a misstep, but Pokémon always comes out on top. You can hear me go in-depth on the two games in the 2021 VGU Game of the Year Deliberations.

Sadly, Pokemon Shield and Pokemon Sword will receive their final update next month.

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