Pokémon Sword and Shield

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  • Pokémon Sword
  • Pokémon Shield
Pokémon Sword and Shield.jpg
Icon art for Sword and Shield, depicting the legendary Pokémon Zacian and Zamazenta, respectively
Developer(s)Game Freak
Publisher(s)
Director(s)Shigeru Ohmori
Producer(s)
Artist(s)
  • James Turner
  • Suguru Nakatsui
Writer(s)Toshinobu Matsumiya
Composer(s)
  • Minako Adachi
  • Go Ichinose
SeriesPokémon
Platform(s)Nintendo Switch
ReleaseNovember 15, 2019
Genre(s)Role-playing
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield[a] are 2019 role-playing video games developed by Game Freak and published by The Pokémon Company and Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch. They are the first installments in the eighth generation of the Pokémon video game series and the second in the series, after Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!, to be released on a home game console. Originally teased at E3 2017 and announced in February 2019, Pokémon Sword and Shield were released on November 15, 2019.

Sword and Shield's concept planning began immediately following the completion of Pokémon Sun and Moon in 2016, while full production began a year later in late 2017. Like previous installments, they chronicle the journey of a young Pokémon trainer aiming to become the Pokémon Champion, this time in the new Galar region, which is based on the United Kingdom. The main objective of the games is to dethrone the Pokémon League Champion, Leon, in a tournament that various other Gym Leaders and rivals also take part in, whilst dealing with Team Yell and a nefarious conspiracy within the League. Sword and Shield introduce 81 new Pokémon alongside 13 regional variants of pre-existing Pokémon; Dynamaxing, which increases the size of Pokémon under certain conditions; Gigantamaxing, which additionally changes the form of certain Pokémon; and the Wild Area, which is a large, open-world area with free camera movement that contains co-op raid battles. The two games also reintroduce features previously seen in Sun and Moon and Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!, such as regional variants and roaming Pokémon depicted in the overworld. The games will receive two expansion packs in 2020, The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra.

The decision to not include all pre-existing Pokémon in Sword and Shield was met with backlash from a segment of the fan community, creating terms such as "Dexit" and "Bring Back National Dex" and calling for a boycott months ahead of their release. Despite this, Sword and Shield received generally positive reviews from critics. Particular praise was aimed at the creature design, new features, and the emphasis on simplicity, player freedom, and streamlined encounters, although some criticized the game's smaller Pokédex and lack of polish or substance. By the end of 2019, Sword and Shield had sold more than six million copies worldwide, becoming the fastest-selling games on the Switch.

Gameplay[edit]

Several new features for the games are also firsts for the series, including cooperative raid encounters, akin to those seen in Pokémon Go; the Wild Area, a fully explorable open world area with free camera movement and dynamic weather, which has implications on which Pokémon species appear at a given time;[1] and "Dynamaxing" and "Gigantamaxing", both of which temporarily allow Pokémon to grow to larger sizes.[2][3] Gigantamaxing is limited to select Pokémon and feature different forms from the Pokémon's normal appearance.[4] A new mechanic called "Poké Jobs" tasks the player's Pokémon with completing requests, such as assisting in construction or cooking, to gain experience or rare items.[5] In addition, Pokémon native to the game's region can be transferred to the games from the Nintendo 3DS app Pokémon Bank, Pokémon Go, and Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! via the Pokémon Home service, launching in February 2020.[6][7] Pokémon Gyms make a return after being absent in Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, and Ultra Moon.[8] As is typical with the series, the two games have version-exclusive content, such as available Pokémon and, for the first time, Gym Leaders.[4] Some features from previous entries, such as Mega Evolution and Z-Moves, are absent from the games.[9] A new 'Camp' mode allows the player to interact and play with their Pokémon and cook different types of curry to provide bonuses for Pokémon. New customization options for the player character have been added, like outerwear and other accessories.[10] In most instances, the PC box can be accessed outside of Pokémon Centers, except when inside Gyms, for example.[11]

Plot[edit]

Setting[edit]

Sword and Shield are set in the Galar region (as viewed from the south)

Sword and Shield take place in the Galar region, a large, narrow expanse of land and one of many regions in the Pokémon world. Game director Shigeru Ohmori described it as a more modern setting.[12] The region itself is inspired by Great Britain,[13] with its many landmarks resembling places such as the Houses of Parliament and the Cerne Abbas Giant.[14][15][16] The Galar region begins with sprawling countryside towns featuring cottages and Victorian architecture to the south.[15] An Industrial Revolution-like city with steampunk-style elements populates the center of the region.[17] Many of the region's towns and cities feature Pokémon Gyms stylized like football stadiums, which show off both Dynamaxing and Gigantamaxing, implemented by the Galar Pokémon League Chairman, Rose.[18] Snow-covered mountains dominate much of the northern areas of the region.[12] Encompassing a large portion of the south-central part of the region is the Wild Area, an open world area with numerous roaming Pokémon species. Weather across the Wild Area changes regularly.[1] Like with Pokémon Sun and Moon, Pokémon previously introduced in older games, such as Weezing, gain regional Galarian Forms with new typings, stats, and appearances. Some Pokémon, such as Linoone, even gain regional evolutions.[19]

Story[edit]

The Galar region was heavily inspired by the United Kingdom, with the main city—Wyndon—being a representation of London (pictured). The in-game city has the Rose of the Rondelands, a building inspired by the Houses of Parliament.

Similar to many previous entries in the Pokémon franchise, players embark on a journey to become the strongest trainer. The player and their best friend, Hop, receive one of three starter Pokémon: Grookey, Scorbunny, or Sobble from Leon, Champion of the Galar region and Hop's older brother. Afterward, the two explore a forest called the Slumbering Weald but are driven off by a powerful Pokémon. During their subsequent visit to the regions' Pokémon Professor, Magnolia, they convince Leon to endorse them to take part in the Gym Challenge. After traveling to the next city to register for the Gym Challenge, they encounter rivals Bede and Marnie along with Team Yell, a devout group of hooligans who act as Marnie's unintentional fanbase and are determined to stop anyone else from completing the Challenge.

As their quest continues, the player and Hop learn about two Legendary Pokémon who saved Galar from an ancient crisis called the Darkest Day and deduce that they are the same Pokémon they encountered in the Slumbering Weald. After beating the 8 Gym Leaders, including the leader of Team Yell, the player makes their way to Wyndon where they compete in the Champion's Cup for the opportunity to fight Leon. After winning the tournament, the player and Leon agree to have their battle the next day and decide to go have dinner together with Hop. They meet at the hotel, but Leon doesn't show up. The player and Hop find him discussing something with Chairman Rose. The next day, before the battle between the player and Leon can commence, Chairman Rose awakens the Pokémon Eternatus in an attempt to harness its power to provide energy to Galar, triggering a second Darkest Day. The player and Hop return to the Slumbering Weald and secure the aid of the legendary Pokémon, Zacian and Zamazenta, to defeat Chairman Rose and Eternatus, after which the player catches Eternatus. The player then faces and defeats Leon in a battle and becomes the new Champion of the Galar region.

After defeating Leon, the player and Hop return to the Slumbering Weald to return Zacian and Zamazenta's artifacts to their rightful place. However, they are confronted by Sordward and Shielbert, two brothers claiming to be descendants of ancient Galarian kings. The two steal one of the relics and begin forcing innocent Pokémon to Dynamax. The player and Hop work with the Gym Leaders to subdue the Dynamax Pokémon and then track down and confront the brothers. They use Dynamax energy to drive Zamazenta (in Sword) or Zacian (in Shield) berserk, and the player drives them off with the help of Zacian (in Sword) or Zamazenta (in Shield). They then are challenged to a battle by the Legendary Pokémon and allowed to catch it, while Hop follows Zamazenta/Zacian back to the Slumbering Weald and calms it down, being chosen by it as its Trainer. The player and Hop have a final battle, after which Hop decides to become a Pokémon Professor.

Development[edit]

Producer Junichi Masuda said the decision to cut some Pokémon from the games was a difficult choice

Development of Pokémon Sword and Shield began immediately following the development of Sun and Moon in 2016. This started with an initial concept phase that lasted for approximately a year before the games moved into full production.[20] Approximately 1,000 people from multiple companies were involved in the development, marketing, and public relations associated with Sword and Shield. Approximately 200 Game Freak employees worked directly on the games while around 100 Creatures Inc. employees worked on 3D modeling, with an additional 100 involved in debugging and game testing. Junichi Masuda estimated the total number of people involved to be 50% greater than previous Pokémon titles. Masuda also revealed that Nintendo, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company agreed to cut down the National Dex.[21]

The idea of strength and striving to be the greatest and strongest was one of the core themes that Game Freak used in designing the games. This is expressed through the Nintendo Switch's status as the most powerful console to run a Pokémon game, with features such as Dynamaxing, and references to British folklore.[20] The games' soundtrack is inspired by British rock music.[20] One track was composed by Toby Fox, best known for being the creator of Undertale.[22] The Switch's ability to render larger Pokémon models and better show size differences between species is the root of the Dynamax feature. The idea of "growing and evolving" is a core concept of the games—for both the trainer and their Pokémon—stemming from producer Junichi Masuda and director Shigeru Ohmori's experience with the franchise.[23]

Unlike other core Pokémon games, not all existing Pokémon species appear or are usable in Sword and Shield. Masuda addressed this as a potential issue in a 2018 interview with GameSpot, at which point he said that "it does get complicated when you talk about the details and we're still figuring it out, but we do have plans to find ways to let players use their Pokémon in the next game."[24] By 2019, Masuda explained that the sheer number of species, combined with the need to produce assets relating to new features such as the Dynamaxing system, preserve game balance, and maintain a degree of quality made it infeasible to include all existing Pokémon without extensively lengthening development time. As such, only Pokémon that appear within the Galar region are transferable from previous titles via Pokémon Home.[6][25] Furthermore, according to the developers, the higher fidelity models, which were designed to be more "expressive," had to be built from the ground up as simply transferring existing ones produced for the 3DS platform was not possible.[26][27]

Release[edit]

The games were originally teased through a special message by The Pokémon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara during Nintendo's E3 2017 presentation, where Ishihara mentioned that Game Freak was working on a new core series Pokémon role-playing game for Nintendo Switch but it wouldn't release for more than a year.[28] During a press conference held by The Pokémon Company in Japan on May 30, 2018, Junichi Masuda confirmed that the next Pokémon core series games would release on Switch in the second half of 2019.[29] Ishihara also assured that the then-upcoming titles would not have influences from Pokémon Go like Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! had and that it would introduce many new Pokémon and "polished" graphics.[30]

Sword and Shield were fully unveiled in a special Nintendo Direct presentation on February 27, 2019, introducing the games' region and starter Pokémon. The presentation coincided with Pokémon Day, a fan celebration of Pokémon on the anniversary of the Japanese release of Pokémon Red and Green.[31] A second Nintendo Direct about the games was held on June 5, 2019, which revealed some of its new features, characters, and Pokémon, including the legendary Pokémon Zacian and Zamazenta, which appear on the box art. The release date of November 15, 2019, was also announced as part of this presentation.[2] Game Freak intentionally limited the number of new Pokémon revealed through promotional material to encourage players to discover them in-game.[32]

A promotional crossover between Sword and Shield and Tetris 99 occurred from November 8–11, during which a limited-time unlockable theme based on the games was available.[33] A web app was also released, allowing the viewer to explore the Wild Area online.[34] In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, an online tournament themed around Pokémon was held from November 15–18 to promote Sword and Shield's release, while a spirit event occurred from November 22–27, with some Pokémon being available as collectible spirits.[35][36]

Expansion packs[edit]

During the Pokémon Direct on January 9, 2020, a pair of expansion packs were announced which will be released throughout 2020 as part of an expansion pass. The first pack, titled The Isle of Armor, will release in June 2020 while the second pack, The Crown Tundra, will release in Q3/Q4 2020. The expansion packs introduce new legendary Pokémon such as Kubfu and its evolved forms in The Isle of Armor and Calyrex in The Crown Tundra, along with new regional forms for pre-existing Pokémon such as Slowpoke.[37] Between both expansion packs, more than 200 pre-existing Pokémon will be added into Sword and Shield.[38]

Reception[edit]

Pre-release[edit]

The decision not to include all pre-existing Pokémon in the games drew criticism from many fans, who referred to it as "Dexit", a portmanteau of Pokédex and Brexit,[39] and used the hashtag "#BringBackNationalDex" to discuss the matter on social media.[40] Fan backlash focused on the removal of a long-standing aspect of the franchise, the discarding of its former English tagline "gotta catch 'em all," and a perceived lack of improvements in other areas of the games, such as graphics and animations.[40][41] Some fans called for the games to be delayed until all of the Pokémon could be added.[42][43]

Writing for Polygon, Patricia Hernandez commented that "to some degree, the backlash makes sense" while adding that it had "gotten out of hand".[40] Alex Donaldson of VG247 noted that feature creep—the increase of content in-game sequels and potential loss of older features—finally reached Pokémon, and long-overlooked design shortcomings of Game Freak were brought to the forefront as a result.[44] Kotaku's Gita Jackson summarized the backlash as "the tension of a desire to indulge in nostalgia against a desire to experience more complexity."[45] Joe Merrick, the webmaster of fansite Serebii, considered Dexit to have caused the most unrest among Pokémon fans since the troubled launch of Pokémon Bank in 2013.[39]

Masuda formally responded to the criticism on June 28, 2019, two weeks after it erupted, expressing appreciation for the love and passion shown by fans.[46] He reiterated that the removal of certain Pokémon was a difficult decision to make and that they would be available in different games in the future. Michael McWhertor of Polygon noted that while Masuda's statement acknowledged the fans' discontent, it "[did not] amount to much".[47] On January 9, 2020, it was announced that over 200 pre-existing Pokémon that weren't available at launch would be added to the games through free updates, to tie-in with the expansion packs.[38]

Critical response[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
Metacritic80/100[48][49]
Review scores
PublicationScore
Destructoid7/10[50]
EGM4/5 stars[51]
Famitsu38/40[52]
Game Informer8.75/10[53]
GameSpot9/10[54]
GamesRadar+4.5/5 stars[55]
IGN9.3/10[56]
Nintendo Life8/10[57]
VG2473/5 stars[58]

Upon release, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield received "generally favorable reviews" according to review aggregator Metacritic.[48][49] Critics praised the games' simplicity, new elements such as Dynamaxing, and streamlined battle encounters but criticized the incomplete Pokédex and not taking full advantage of the games' potential.

Brian Shea from Game Informer particularly praised the new Dynamax feature for being visually and strategically exciting without being overused: "while the Dynamax mechanic has the potential to disrupt the flow of any battle, it doesn't factor into most encounters, since it can only be used in Gym battles and select other situations".[53] Casey DeFreitas for IGN also praised Sword and Shield for their fun gameplay and lack of monotonous activities, while criticizing aspects such as cutscenes and lack of a full Pokédex.[56] Writing for GameSpot, Kallie Plagge also praised the pair for easy-to-understand game systems and a sense of freedom stating, "you're not held back by overly complicated back-end systems or hoops to jump through; from the outset, you can start wandering the Galar region, seeing its new Pokémon, and trying out its new battle strategies with very little in your way."

Conversely, Chris Tapsell for Eurogamer criticized the games, commenting that it lacked substance and did not live up to previous titles in the series. Tapsell commented "this is a new generation of Pokémon games that promises much, with brilliant new Pokémon, a raft of intricate system-tinkering for long-term fans and a series-first stab at an 'open-world' area. But all that's new seems to have come at a cost – and the cost is almost everything else in the game."[59] James Grebey and Tom Philip of GQ also felt somewhat underwhelmed, praising the Wild Area but stating that the games were "satisfying but pedestrian" and feel like "proof of concept [with] another stage of evolution left for console Pokémon games". They also said that "there is... a lot in Sword and Shield that doesn't feel like it couldn't have been achieved on the Nintendo 3DS."[60]

Sales[edit]

In Japan, Sword and Shield sold two million copies during their first three days on sale, surpassing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the fastest-selling Switch games in that region.[61][62] In the US, they sold more than two million copies in their opening weekend. As of November 21, 2019, Sword and Shield have sold more than six million copies worldwide, surpassing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the fastest-selling Switch games worldwide.[63]

Awards[edit]

Year Award Category Result Ref
2019 Game Critics Awards Best Role-Playing Game Nominated [64]
Best Family/Social Game Nominated
Gamescom Best Role Playing Game Nominated [65]
Best Nintendo Switch Game Nominated
Titanium Awards Best Family/Social Game Nominated [66]
2020 New York Game Awards Central Park Children's Zoo Award for Best Kids Game Nominated [67]
Tin Pan Alley Award for Best Music in a Game Nominated
23rd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards Role-Playing Game of the Year Pending [68]
NAVGTR Awards Game, Franchise Family Pending [69]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Japanese: ポケットモンスター ソード・シールド Hepburn: Poketto Monsutā Sōdo & Poketto Monsutā Shīrudo

References[edit]

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