It’s time to take a look at the latest Pokemon main game. We’ve been waiting for a true Pokemon home console game for many, many years. It’s finally here and that alone is a great milestone. It’s definitely a lot of fun and a great game. Pokemon’s always just a blast. Game Freak did their best to sabotage the hype with their surprising lack of effort here though. I’ll go more into that later on, but cashed in or not, it’s just great to finally be able to play a Pokemon game on the big screen.
The game starts you off with getting your first Pokemon as always. Your rival is a kid named Hop who is the younger brother of the undefeated champion Leon. Naturally there is a lot of pressure on him as a result, but he is eager to make a name for himself. The two of you decide to conquer all of the gyms in the hopes of entering the Pokemon league and becoming the new champion. It’ll be tough, but the kids are ready to give this their all and won’t give up.
The gameplay is top notch as always. One of the reasons why Pokemon pulls off the gameplay so well is how fast everything loads. It’s something that the series had trouble with with XD and Colosseum as everything took a while to load but this one gives you the option to turn off animations. Once you do then the game is on full speed. It’s always a lot of fun to switch up your roster and figure out which attacks are best. A quality of life update here is that you can see how much damage and how much accuracy an attack has right away. It takes the guesswork out of the match. The hub world is solid and all of the mechanics are explained well. You won’t have to worry about missing out on something and this is why the game series still can’t be beat here.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the Pokemon games are the opening hours. That’s where you get to catch your first few Pokemon and slowly begin building up the team that you will be sticking with. It’s unlikely that you will keep the first 6 that you catch but eventually you’ll have a pretty solid roster. Typically you’ll be ahead of the wild Pokemon curve although there were a few I bumped into who were stronger than members of my party so I would ultimately make room for them.
This was probably my least balanced roster from all the games at least from a competitive standpoint. I had my fire starter, 3-4 birds and 2 ice types. Basically if I fought a thunder type things would get a little tricky. Still, these 6 were a blast and they all got their moments to shine. Scorbunny handled most of the foes and matches up well with Hop’s team. I don’t know if this was intentional but all 6 of Hop’s fighters are weak against Scorbunny’s attacks. Togetic came in clutch during one of the final battles as well though. Every game will typically have you running a different squad so it’s always nice to see how they changed. One day I should dig up my older games and compare my top 6 of each one.
The levels here definitely look really good. Everything is bright and vibrant. While the graphics are in the same style as the 3DS games, you can definitely see the improvements. This may not quite be Odyssey, but I’d give the animations a thumbs up. Everything is clear as it should be and it all looks high quality. The game makes the tournament feel grand and likewise for the big battles with the loud audience in the background and through the solid tunes. Naturally you’ve got the soundtrack which is really good. It’s a little too bad that they added chanting to the best theme in the game, but Youtube still has the pre-release version in case you ever need to give it a listen. Even without that this game’s soundtrack is great. Pokemon never disappoints with that.
Then we’ve got the characters. Hop is one of the weaker rivals since he doesn’t have the edge that the older ones have got. He beats Hau, but I couldn’t really give him much more credit than that. That being said, he gets a lot of character development and has improved considerably by the end of the game. His Pokemon roster is also pretty solid, I can’t think of another rival having a team with Level 70 Pokemon at the ready from previous titles. Hop may lose most of the battles he is in, but he always does manage to get back up.
Hop isn’t the only rival this time though as we’ve also got Bede. He’s more of a traditional rival who is very confident in his abilities. He’s the best rival of the 3 I’d say even if his character arc doesn’t have the greatest end. He does have a good fight in the post game story though which does help him restore part of his rep. It was just nice to have a more ruthless character to deal with. The third and final rival was Marnie. She gets the smallest role out of the 3 though and surprisingly misses out on the whole post game content. She has some pretty good abilities like the other two and had the potential to be the best rival if she had gotten more screen time. Maybe Marnie will get more appearances in the future or through DLC because it does feel like there is a lot more left to her story.
Then we’ve got the professor in training for the region Sonia. Sonia’s a good character, but like most professors she is just here to slow down the story. The story is a weak point of the game which I will get to in a moment. This is mainly due to Sonia as every time she stops the game to talk about the legends you wait for her to go so you can go back to catching Pokemon. Catching the Pokemon is still the most enjoyable part of the game along with fighting trainers after all and the lore is fairly generic so it never feels like something you’ve just got to know.
We can’t forget about Leon. He’s definitely a solid champion and does a good job of making a name for himself amidst a stacked roster. Naturally he won’t be overcoming Steven, Lance, Blue, Cynthia, or Iris anytime soon, but he’s probably the next best as he is an upgrade over Wallace, Alder, and Diantha. The fact that he is undefeated is also crazy because not losing a single fight is really unheard of. He also isn’t afraid to keep reminding that fact to everyone and the way he just casually tells the main character that he will be crushed is great. You can’t go wrong with having a Charizard either. He doesn’t have the air of mystery or thrill that the top champs have, but he does have the skills.
Finally we’ve also got the two villains from the post game story. I won’t say much about them here, but they do have the best cutscene in the game. It was a great way to introduce a threat to the game even if it came at the very end. When you see their designs you probably won’t be able to take them too seriously but it can’t be denied that their skills are the real deal. As they are post game bosses their Pokemon stats are through the roof. They’re actually incredibly powerful and it was pretty unexpected which is why it worked out so well.
Lets talk about the story now. That is the main weak point of the game as it is by far the worst story in all of Pokemon. There’s never been a main game with a worse story and naturally most of the spinoffs win as well. There isn’t an actual villain group this time. Team Rocket may not be the most serious group at times, but at least they do raise the stakes a bit. This group is only about cheering on their leader and aren’t actually criminals. Most of the game doesn’t truly have a plot beyond the whole “Get all the Gym badges” arc. It seems like the game traded having a real plot for giving Hop a big character arc. Most of the game’s plot happens off screen with the characters checking things out as you fight.
This may be for the best in a sense since the plot that we did have wasn’t all that interesting. Whenever the characters would look at another mural I felt like the game was repeating itself. So those parts are good to keep off screen. I think we should have had some real villains though. Even the villains we did get didn’t feel too genuine as they changed quite a lot immediately after fighting them. I also have to say that the plan didn’t make any sense even as far as villain plans go. The villain plot is so short that the game stalls by having you fight the same guy 4-5 times in a row. That really felt like the game was pushing it.
The story is at its best when you are fighting one of the 3 rivals. There may not be any stakes but at least they have some attitude on them. You are also defending Hop’s honor in some of these fights so that also makes it a little personal at least. Terry (The main character) definitely isn’t the type to back down. It’s interesting that they give you some options on what he says at times. We know that he is talking, but of course his personality will be way different depending on how you answer.
Now the big topic, how Game Freak did their best to sabotage this game. First off, it’s Pokemon so no matter what this was always going to sell amazingly well. The game is smashing records left and right. It’s just a shame that we didn’t get everything here as this could have been what Ultimate was to Super Smash. Lets quickly look at what Game Freak took away and discuss which ones were important. Game Freak cut out around 400 Pokemon, They cut off a large chunk of moves so there is less variety now, fewer attack animations, the over world map is one of the smaller ones in recent memory, there’s a very short post game selection, caves are basically extinct, and EXP share is on by default and can’t be turned off.
For the EXP share part, I understand why people are upset by that one even though it doesn’t affect me. Pretty much all RPGs have this feature on by default and with no option to turn off. Pokemon was unique in not having it and I’m extremely glad that it’s here. It’s way more of a hassle to train everyone up one by one even if it does make the game more strategic. That being said, there should always be an option to toggle this on and off considering how easy it would be. The attack animations being limited is a non factor to me. I turn those off almost immediately when booting up the game anyway. They make each battle take way too long. Likewise there are already a ton of attack moves in the game so I don’t need the extra ones.
The post game being so short is a little iffy. The main story part only takes around 2 hours and that’s pretty much it for the story section. After that you can tackle the Battle Tower and catch all of the Pokemon. Make no mistake, this will take a very long time, but it’d be nice if there was a bit more to do. The normal game takes around 20 hours and the post game is 2 so all in all 22 hours is a great length for any title. There’s not a lot of complaints from me on the length. Sure, it can be longer but you can say the same for any game. The map being super small is pretty noticeable though. I remember having caves with multiple floors and having fun driving around the world map. This game’s map just feels tiny with less areas to check out. Part of that could be just being younger when the other games came out and minus the caves the layouts could be similar. This one does feel a lot smaller though and that’s even with the bike moving way slower than it used to.
The absolute biggest mistake here was definitely getting rid of 400 Pokemon though. This is not something that should have happened. The developers proudly stated not too long ago that they future proofed all of the models so it would be easy to keep on porting them each time. They tried some damage control in recent interviews about how they re-did all the models, but Reddit quickly disproved that. The developers have been spinning a lot of yarns lately but the long and short of it is that they didn’t want to do the extra work. Perhaps there was a time crunch, but they should have been up front about it. It’s also odd that no other part of the game got big improvements as a result. With the time saved from copy and pasting 400 Pokemon you’d expect some new features, but there are none. Part of their explanation was that this way they could bring a fresh experience to the users, but that didn’t happen.
Pokemon Sword is effectively a portable game brought to the Switch. You could play this on the 3DS and aside from the improved graphics you wouldn’t notice anything different. If anything it has less features and content than some of the portables. I believe Pokemon Sun has virtually the same amount of Pokemon as Sword if not more and that was a portable game. This one definitely feels like it was rushed in some areas. Another hint to this is how broken the raid battle system is. It’s very hard to find anyone to join you in a fight which is crazy considering how new the game is and how many people are playing. There’s no way there aren’t 3 other players online at the same time. This seems to be a tech issue with the stamp system the game is using.
All right, lets wrap things up here. The main issue really boils down to the fact that Game Freak owns the Pokemon license and it seems like Nintendo can’t really do anything about it. As a result they don’t actually have to do all that much each time because the franchise is already legendary. In a sense they are like EA in that they give the game a fresh coat of paint and bring it back out to market. As this is the first home console release and there was some whispering during the initial announcement that it was originally planned for 3DS we can cut the company a tine bit of slack. A great game is a great game even if it was given a far lower amount of effort than such a big IP deserved. I just want a proper Pokemon game that has all of the Pokemon available in it though. A true Pokemon Master title where all of the Pokemon are available and we get a solid story and gym battles. That would be awesome.
One thing I’d like to see from the next big Pokemon game is some voice acting though. That’s something that basically all big RPG titles have nowadays. It was also weird to have a Gym Leader whose whole thing is that he’s a singer yet you can’t hear him. You have cutscenes of him silently singing. Voice acting would be a big change to the series, but I think that it’s absolutely worth it. It’s just the kind of thing that will really take the title to the next level.
You’ll definitely appreciate the difficulty level in this game though. While I did not drop a single fight, the computers were always at a very close level. If not for doing a lot of grinding in between gyms then definitely could have taken the edge at some point. This is one game where you will need to do some extra battles as you go through the story or you will end up tasting the sting of defeat. It may be the most difficult Pokemon game if anything as I can’t recall any others where the enemy trainers were always so close in level.
I almost forgot to talk about the game’s new gimmick, Dynamaxing. There’s also Gigantomaxing but it’s basically the same thing. The idea is that it turns your Pokemon huge and then you get to use big attacks. It’s a fun enough gimmick although it’d be nice if you could turn the animations for these off as well. It’s definitely not as good as Mega evolutions which are still the best, but I’ll take it over the Z moves. The best Dynamax Pokemon are the ones who actually get a new design like Charizard. The form just looks cool as a result and feels like a proper super form.
This game definitely gave me some good ideas for future editorials that are Pokemon related. Best champions, rivals, etc. In the meantime though here’s a list of the Pokemon main games from best to worse. I won’t be able to count the Pokemon Johto games or Black/White because those are the only 2 I have yet to play. Pokemon Ruby is definitely still my favorite with that game being perfect in every way. Second is Pokemon Fire Red, just a great game that takes you back to the basics. It was a nostalgia title done right. Third would be Pokemon Y which did a good job of bringing together a modern Pokemon game that took bits and pieces from all the others. Fourth is Pokemon Diamond. It didn’t really do anything unique, but it was just fundamentally sound. Fifth place is Pokemon Sword. A great all around game introducing the series to new audiences. Finally at 6th is Pokemon Sun. Still a great game but I did miss the classic Gym setting and the island angle didn’t really do the trick for me. Although that one did end up with the higher score due to the impressive story. In terms of pure gameplay and aesthetic it couldn’t catch Sword though.
Overall, Pokemon Sword is a great game. After waiting for 20+ years it’s superb to finally be able to play this game on the big screen. Pokemon is perfect for on the go, but it’s also perfect for the couch experience. It’s still the king of the turn based combat formula and by putting it on a big console hopefully people who’ve never had a chance to try it out before can also get in on the action. If you don’t have this game yet then you’ve definitely gotta shell out the cash and pick it up. You don’t want to miss out on the latest installment in the series. It’ll likely be quite a few years until the next one so you’ll want to enjoy it now.