Review by Apocalypso
A great game with a few minor hiccups.
Pokèmon Sword is the latest entry in the epic monster catcher series, and it comes with a whole new region to explore - the Galar region. This is the 8th generation in the series - there are all new pokèmon, new rivals, and new features! Excluding Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee, this is considered the first mainline Pokèmon game for the Nintendo Switch, and I must say, it delivers. There are some features that the game does well, some that could have been done better, and some that are poorly implemented. To avoid spoilers, I may not refer to some characters by name if I feel it would ruin a plot point. Let's get into it, shall we?
THE STORY & CHARACTERS
I enjoyed several of the characters and thought they were portrayed quite well. Your main rival, Hop, is a trainer exploding with enthusiasm. Another character, Bede is a direct contrast to Hop in personality. I was amazed to see how well these characters were developed as the game progressed. Even some of the gym leaders appeared in unique roles; it was great to see one gym leader in particular have their own side story in search of a successor. Not every character received development; this is most notable in Team Yell, the Galar region's notorious group. Team Yell seemed like they were created just so the game wouldn't lack a "Team." They don't really offer much except for being roadblocks to areas that the game doesn't want you to reach yet; their existence falls short as they are tied to a character who completely overshadows them in personality and relevance. While Team Yell's inclusion didn't add much to the story, they didn't hurt the story either.
The Not So Good:
This plays out like your standard Pokèmon game with the familiar tone of meeting your rival and mom within the first few minutes of starting your adventure. Longtime fans will be familiar with how the beginning of the game plays out which could feel like a tutorial that lasts too long and interrupts the player too frequently. The story isn't anything groundbreaking, and I sometimes felt like the game couldn't decide what direction it wanted to go in. For instance, the game emphasized the league on a larger scale than other Pokèmon titles but then there was also a plot concerning a legendary (that occurred too late into the game without much buildup). The plot struggled in the end that made me feel like the game would have been better off just focusing on the league. A lot happened off-screen, breaking the fundamental storytelling rule of "show me, don't tell me." The other issue was that some scenes fell flat due to the lack of voice acting. While this was okay for the handheld games, it became clear that voice acting was needed to fully express the tone, mood, and characters during some parts of the story.
The Verdict: 7/10
The story wasn't anything special and really needed voice acting to bring out its potential, but I enjoyed it for what it was. I really liked the characters and thought they were the highlights of the story.
THE WILD AREA:
One of the most advertised areas of the game was the wild area, an expansive zone thriving with pokèmon. The camera is controllable in this area, giving the player a sense of freedom to explore. The wild area contains many different pokèmon visibly walking around the grasslands, swimming in the lakes, or soaring through the sky. Many of the pokèmon are interactive: some run up to you and give a playful cry, some will chase you down to battle you, and some will run away at the sight of you. The size of the wild area feels just right - not too big, not too small. There are different landscapes and weather conditions that affect the type of pokèmon you encounter. The wild area also contains dens, sites where you can battle enlarged (Dynamax) pokèmon in raid battles for various rewards; this is done in a team of 4 with other human players or CPUs. I spent most of my time in the wild area doing raid battles which became a favorite feature of mine. There are several NPCs around where you can spend watts, a form of currency in the wild area, to purchase items such as TRs (one-use TMs) and food for camping. I mostly never used watts since some rewards can be obtained through raid battles. There are some secrets to be found in the wild area, including ways to evolve your pokèmon!
The Not So Good:
The wild area is accessible early game but feels like it shouldn't be. The first pokèmon I encountered was at a much higher level than any of the pokèmon I had on my team. In my attempts to flee, my team was KO'ed one by one until I finally used a pokèdoll to escape. The problem is that there really isn't a way to tell which pokèmon are high leveled when you're just starting out, and the game doesn't give you much indication of this. As I progressed, I started to become aware of which pokèmon were high leveled based on certain clues such as if they were fully evolved; new players may not realize this. You won't be able to catch these strong pokèmon unless you have the appropriate gym badge, so there's no point in even facing them. The other issue is that early accessibility to the wild area creates a platform to become easily over-leveled. In a game about battling pokèmon, you have to restrict yourself from battling pokèmon in this area if you want to stay on level with the story. I used a separate team for the story and a separate team for wild area exploration which allowed me to use more pokèmon than I would have on my first run. Although I see that as an overall good thing, it was a slight nuisance to constantly switch pokèmon every time I took a trip to the wild area. I think having pokèmon party loadouts would have been helpful for this. Although I had fun in raid battles, the CPUs didn't offer much help and often became a liability. The pokèmon the CPUs brought to raid battles were weak and the AI often caused them to waste turns doing inefficient moves or not attacking when they should have.
The Verdict: 9/10
The wild area is a nice addition to Pokèmon Sword and complements the main game nicely. While it's not perfect, it captures the essence of how explorable the world of pokèmon should be, with the wide array of wild pokèmon being its greatest strength. Encountering over-leveled pokèmon was a minor nuisance early on but didn't detract from my enjoyment or prevent me from wanting to explore.
THE GALAR REGION:
The sports-themed Galar region is based on the UK and there are many references that give so much life to the region. As someone who isn't too familiar with UK informal expressions, I enjoyed seeing the NPCs mention "telly" or use "pants" as a form of slang in their dialogue. As I progressed through the game, I encountered other references that served to further immerse me into the Galar region. Like in the wild area, pokèmon walk around the overworld which is a delight to see. The overworld pokèmon really bring life to Galar. This brings me to the best part: there are a number of brand new pokèmon, including regional variants of existing pokèmon! I was really excited to come across some awesome typings like poison/electric or ice/bug! The new pokèmon feel like a breathe of fresh air and most can be encountered early on. In fact, I think this is the first Pokèmon entry to feature so many diverse pokèmon early on or within the same areas.
The Not So Good:
There's a contrast between the wild area and the rest of Galar. The Galar routes are narrow with a fixed camera. There is minimal exploration since each route is a straight path. This is also true for caves and forests. Gone are the days of maze-like exploration or puzzles that filled caves and forests in prior games. I wasn't expecting an open world experience (and I didn't want that), but I was hoping that the limits would have been pushed a bit further to include routes and caves that were expansive similar to the wild area.
The Verdict: 8/10
Galar is quite interesting with its UK references that bring life to the region. However, traveling outside of the wild area kind of feels scaled back with how narrow and straightforward the region is. The narrow layout didn't impede my experience, but it did leave me wanting so much more.
This is pokèmon at its core - the pokèmon we know and love. Battles remain relatively unchanged from its core with classic turn-based RPG action. New to the mix is Dynamax and Gigantamax, mechanics where pokèmon become enlarged and gain more health and/or added properties. Gigantamax even results in a change of appearance! Although this may seem like the next big gimmick, I found that Dynamax/Gigantamax could really change the tide of a battle and make for a fun strategy in the heat of the moment. You only get 3 turns in Dynamaxed form per battle before the pokèmon reverts back to its base form, so knowing when to Dynamax/Gigantamax takes some planning. EXP share returns in this game to help level your entire team (even pokèmon you haven't used in battle). You can't turn EXP share off but the game feels balanced with it. I was always around the same level as other trainers while using my team for the main game, but I specifically used a team for the main game and another team for the wild area. The great thing about EXP share is that it eliminated any need for me to grind out levels.
The Not So Good:
Regardless if you're at the same level of the CPU trainers or not, the game is not challenging. Trainer AI is dumbed down and incapable of using any meaningful strategy. The game also tells you what moves are effective, super-effective, and not effective. I understand that may be designed to help newer players, but it just feels like the game thinks the player lacks intelligence. Another issue is that the game throws way too much EXP at the player, and I'm not talking about EXP share. I'm talking about EXP gained from rare candies, EXP candies, and simply from catching pokèmon. This wouldn't be an issue if obtaining these were only endgame or near endgame, but I was racking up EXP before I even went to the first gym. Had I not used a separate team for the main game, I would have been over-leveled just from spending time catching pokèmon. I chose not to use my EXP candies or rare candies early on, but no game should constantly give the player items that the player has to purposely restrict himself from using to prevent from becoming OP within an hour of starting the game.
The Verdict: 8/10
The gameplay is still pokèmon at its core. Dynamax/Gigantamax are a welcome addition to the series that adds strategy. It's so much fun, but I wish the game offered more of a natural challenge and didn't throw EXP at the player at every moment. Still, there are easy ways to add challenge or prevent oneself from becoming over-leveled.
THE GRAPHICS & ANIMATIONS:
This is the best looking pokèmon game to date. The towns look amazing, the pokèmon look superb, and the characters look great. The colors are vibrant; this is definitely one of the most colorful games I've ever seen. Characters express their emotions well. Signature moves of pokèmon look stunning and flashy. Cinderace's pyro ball is one of my favorite moves because of how well the pokèmon's soccer nature is integrated into the move (and it looks really awesome). Dynamax moves are also well animated with a lot of flair.
The Not So Good:
As good as the game looks, there are some areas that contain unappealing textures. However, it's pretty inconsistent. For instance, the tall trees in the wild area look poorly textured but then the berry trees (and trees outside of the wild area) look great. Some animations, like double kick, are taken directly from prior games and don't seem to have much effort put into them. However, moves like double kick are fully animated during raid battles which makes me think it was an oversight. Once again, it's inconsistent. Another inconsistency are the pop ups that occur when you approach some pokèmon or NPCs. I'm not talking about pokèmon that spawn in the grass, but idle NPC pokèmon in towns or routes sometimes pop up once you come within 5 feet of them. I'm unsure if this was an intentional design choice since draw distance isn't an issue in the wild area where even beams of den lights can be seen from a distance.
The Verdict: 8/10
The game looks gorgeous with some stunning visuals. Some animations were given a great amount of detail while some others weren't. The game doesn't use the full power of the Nintendo Switch, so there is room for improvement. There are some unappealing textures and pop ups, but all of these are minor issues that didn't hinder my experience at all.
The OST is great. From Hop's battle theme to the Gym battle theme, the music has a rich flavor that I have not experienced since the earlier generations. I found myself just putting down my Nintendo Switch during gym battles so I could listen to the music play out. Overall, the music is more upbeat with a modern vibe that I think most people would find enjoyable.
The Not So Good:
The only downside is that some tracks may sound like they don't transition well from one part to the next. Wild pokèmon battle music is the biggest culprit of this.
The Verdict: 10/10
One of the best OSTs in a pokèmon game. Truly fun, upbeat music.
As with any pokèmon game, there are features that contribute to the game's overall experience. I listed some in the above sections: Dynamaxing, raid battles, EXP share. However, there are features outside of battling that really give the game that adventure feel. Camping is a neat feature where you can spend time with your pokèmon and even boost their friendship bond. While camping, you can make curry from ingredients and berries which add benefits such as awarding EXP. I must say, it was cute seeing my pokèmon have fun around camp, interacting with each other. Other features include the rotom bike and Corviknight taxis; both can be accessed early in the game and make traveling around Galar much more convenient than traveling in any prior pokèmon game. I also loved that I could upgrade my rotom bike to improve the frequency of speed boosts. There are a number of quality of life improvements featured in the game that really enhanced my experience. I was able to switch my team on the go with the ability to access my PC box almost anywhere. Egg moves can be transferred from one pokèmon to another of the same kind by putting both pokèmon in daycare - this is so, so convenient. Want one of your pokèmon to gain some EXP while you venture out? You can set them on pokè jobs. Want to alter your pokèmon's stats? There are battle tower mints you can get for that. A lot of the late game quality of life improvements seem geared toward the competitive scene but also help the casual crowd to mold their ideal pokèmon however they see fit. Getting to level 100 is not as daunting of a task endgame which makes building a team a lot more fun.
The Not So Good:
Although there are a wealth of new features, there are also some features from previous games that don't return in Pokèmon Sword. Z-moves and mega evolutions don't make a return in favor of Dynamax/Gigantamax. Galar is also limited to a little over 400 pokèmon with no means for the pokèmon outside of the regional dex to be transferred in. This has sparked some controversy. Although I'm including this here, I want to be clear that this has not impacted my enjoyment of the game at all. I never once felt like I couldn't make a diverse team or that there wasn't enough pokèmon in the game. In fact, I still have lots more to catch and many team combinations to try!
The Verdict: 9/10
There are many quality of life improvements that provide convenience and allow for a much better experience. Creating the ideal team is easy and fun! Although there are pokèmon that did not make the roster, there are still plenty of pokèmon available to build diverse teams.
Unfortunately, I haven't used the online features to give it an appropriate review, but I wanted to touch on what is included. The game uses a system called Y-comm for link trading, surprise trading, link battles, swapping league cards, and online activity.
Pokèmon Sword is a great game that feels right for the Nintendo Switch. There are some cons, but the pros far outweigh them. I remember the first time playing pokèmon Blue on my gameboy; Sword has brought some of that feeling back as I finally played a pokèmon game on my TV for the first time ever. The characters, the new pokèmon, the wild area, the region - this is without a doubt one of the best pokèmon games I've played. My first run took me about 37 hours to complete; this included playtime in the wild area, doing raid battles, and just having fun encountering all pokèmon in different areas. I think Pokèmon fans and new players will enjoy what Sword has to offer; it is Pokèmon at its core, and it's an incredibly fun game. I highly recommend it.
For those wanting information on the post-game: I don't want to reveal too much, but there is a quest and battle tower. There are some other things to do as well, including obtaining a few items (I won't spoil what they do) and post-game pokèmon. Overall, the content isn't too long or expansive, but I enjoyed it.
Product Release: Pokemon Sword (US, 11/15/19)
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