Review by Manwithopinions

Reviewed: 01/06/20 | Updated: 06/23/20

Dear Game Freak, I'm done (DLC update)

Before I begin the review proper, I just want to say that apart from this brief introduction, this review will contain no mention of the National Dex controversy. Plenty of people already know about it, and no amount of apologetics from hardcore fans of this game could ever possibly justify its imbecilic removal. Yes, more than half of the Pokémon half been wiped from the game resulting in a diluted pool of Pokémon that kills replay value, hurts longtime fans who want to see the Pokémon they love, probably ruins competitive (Hereafter referred to as comp), and so on and so forth. You can go read someone else’s review if you want a full breakdown of the implications behind this decision. That’s not what this review is about.

I wanted to wait a month on this game before playing it myself and reviewing it for Gamefaqs because I had this small hope in my mind that they might fix some of the glaring flaws with this game. I realize now that was naught but a fantasy and by the time I finished this game’s main story, this game broke me. What’s more, there are people who are convinced that had the national Dex controversy never happened, this game would be regarded as good and worth playing. I am here to tell you that even if this game did have all the Pokémon appear polished to a mirror shine with pearly white, smiling teeth, this game would still be a giant pile of wasted potential and poor design overall.

This is, without a shred of doubt in mind, the worst mainline Pokémon game up to this point. No hyperbole here, and by the time this review is over, I will have fully convinced you that this game is not only not worth $60, it’s not even worth playing period.

Story

Let’s start with the story here, because I feel this is where the game really drops the ball the most.

“Who cares about the story, it’s all about the comp man! Stories are dumb in a Pokémon game. I just want to play comp all day, cause that’s what everyone does when they purchase a copy of the latest Pokémon game!”

But that's the problem right there! It’s terrible that Pokémon fans care nothing for the story in these games! It blows my mind that there are people who suggest that story is not important in an RPG first and foremost. RPGs thrive on storytelling, that means Pokémon too in case you forgot. Second, Pokémon is a franchise that appeals to many people for different reasons. I liken it to the old Halo games, Halo 3 specifically. Many people played H3 for the multiplayer, but there were people who also played it for the story which was really good. People, who were interested in the lore and gathered in forums to talk endlessly about the many subtleties and intricacies behind what went on in the games and books.

H3 also included score attack to single player and skull hunting and that attracted a different crowd who played campaign for leaderboards. Still others gravitated to forge mode which allowed people to flex creatively and create their own maps. Satellite communities forming behind this one game, and the other games too, because Bungie did the perfect balancing act of catering to these people and never dipping in quality.

Pokémon very much falls into that category. You got people who play for the competitive yes, but people also want to explore the new region and get immersed in the world, story, and characters. Then there are the living Dex enthusiasts who want to Catch Em’ all, as the catchphrase is quick to inform you of. Shiny hunters, breeding, trading, this game gave you everything! So, by stripping out the story, you are alienating a decent chunk of your audience and making the game worse overall. It should go without saying, but Pokémon stands to gain nothing by removing features like the story from the game, period!

Still not convinced? Okay, let’s look over the story together. The 8th generation of Pokémon introduces us to the Galar Region; a region inspired largely by the United Kingdom. Here you play as a young male or female protagonist who sets off on a journey with a starter Pokémon to become the champion of the Region. The player is endorsed by the Champion of that region, Leon, and competes in the Gym challenge to obtain 8 badges before qualifying for champion battle.

Along the way the player meets three major reoccurring rivals: Hop, your best friend and younger brother to Leon; Marnie, a punk goth girl who is pretty quiet; and Bede, the jerk who was endorsed by the Chairman who sponsors the Galar Region’s league and other business affairs whose name is Rose.

Did you get a good look at that? Cause that’s pretty much the whole story. Not even kidding, barely anything else is touched upon, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The problem with SwSh’s story is that there is no story…none. Stories need what exactly? A beginning a middle and an end? It needs character development, an antagonist that has a presence throughout the story. This game has virtually none that. It would be more accurate to say this game has PREMISE.

The premise: Boy collects 8 gym badges and defeats the champion to become champion himself. Sounds like a story you say? Then I guess Super Mario Bros from the NES had a story too? Travel to 8 castles to rescue the princess. Is that a story?

Ok, there is some more to SwSh’s story but not that much. Like I said, the story largely revolves around the player collecting the 8 gym badges so that you can take on the champion and become the champion yourself. Every new town you head to and earn a badge you are constantly interrupted by your good pal Hop so that he can drone on in your ear about how much he loves his brother and wants to beat you.

So, let’s get these rivals out of the way. I wrote down how many times you fight these rivals and broke them down like this:

Hop: 10 Bede: 5 Marnie: 3 You fight Hop a disproportionate amount of times in this game. Three of those fights occur within the first two hours of each other before you even get your first badge (which is totally Unnecessary). Bede is equally paced awkwardly, but in the opposite direction. The first three fights you have with him take place before you get your first 5 badges. After the 5th badge, the dude just goes MIA for the rest of the plot until the fourth encounter which occurs right at the end. And Marnie? Dude forget about her. You have three fights with her and only the first fight posed any challenge. After the main story you have two more fights with Hop and one more with Bede, with Marnie just falling off the radar. Personally, I'd take 4 or Hop's fights and distribute them among Bede and Marnie so that every rival gets around 6 battles each. Give one fight to Bede after the 5th badge and give Marnie two more fights in the story and one more fight during the post-game to round out her character.

Of the three rivals here, the only one that gets any real character develop surprisingly was Bede. You learn a little bit about his backstory and how he became endorsed by Chairman Rose, but not enough to be fully invested in his character. Silver from Pokémon Gold and Silver would be a direct comparison here as both are jerk rivals. The difference is Silver is much more fleshed out and you spend a hell of a lot more time with him and get to know his backstory in greater detail. On top of that Silver has a full complete arc while Bede only has part of an arc and you don’t really see this arc take place until the post-game. So, Bede is ultimately disappointing as a rival, which sucks because I know for a fact so many fans of Gold and Silver want another jerk rival like Silver, but Bede sadly falls short. His character arc would have been improved dramatically if he hadn’t disappeared for half of the game like that.

You get virtually no time with Marnie and consequently is less interesting than Bede. She gets no development. Both Hop and Marnie are similar:

“Hey I’m gonna be the champion you watch! Oh poo, you beat, guess I’ll have to work harder! I’ll be the champion you’ll see.”

Rinse and repeat for both. Hop is constantly talking about being in the shadow of Leon and wanting to impress to protect his family legacy, but nothing really comes of it. Hop loses a fight to Bede and it bothers him for a bit, but he gets over it quickly and he goes back to the formula mentioned above. Would have been nice to see that battle, but you don’t. Here’s an idea Game Freak: Have the player watch the tail end of the battle where Hop loses to Bede and Bede chastises him for being weak. We than get some time to bond with Hop and learn more about him. This accomplishes two things at once: We hate Bede for beating Hop and want to crush him out of revenge, and we feel for Hop and want him to do better. Why it’s almost like…we’re writing characters or some crazy **** like that!

But no, it happens off screen and before you know it, the game shuffles you down to the next boring story bit, never to bring it up again. Even if you like Hop and think he’s a good rival because of that moment of weakness in his character, you must admit what I just suggested is much better than what we actually got, don’t deny it. Hop’s character resolution comes only after the post-game with his decision to pursue other interests, so I can’t say Hop has NO character development, just not much.

Honestly looking over these three rivals after finishing the post-game, Bede was the only one I can say I had fun watching him improve. I will say though that Bede’s character development went in a direction I wasn’t expecting at all, so props to the writers for doing something original with the jerk rival for Pokémon, I mean it. But ultimately all three of these rivals are equally disappointing in their own way. Hop is disappointing because he takes up too much of the spotlight as yet another friendly rival without much substance to him. Bede is disappointing as he became my favorite of the three, but Game Freak didn’t give him enough screen time for me to truly appreciate his character arc. Lastly, Marnie is disappointing because she literally does nothing of consequence in the story and we don’t really see development at all with her. They aren't bad per say, just disappointing. It doesn't help how short this game is and how easy it was for most of the fights so I couldn't get fully invested in their stories (more on that later).

There’s also Team Yell who are without argument the worst team Game Freak has ever designed, and this is the same universe where team Skull exists. Ugly designs and a lack of menace make this team the least appealing team to date. In terms of the story, they do absolutely NOTHING. Nothing, except block your path (invisible walls) and occasionally battle. Do you remember the good old days when teams in past games had hierarchies? Like Team Galactic had the commanders and they were named after planets? Mars, Jupiter, Saturn? The remakes of Gold and Silver created team commanders and included them in the story too! Remember how cool that was? Well wave farewell to that because Team Yell doesn’t have anything like that. All you fight are grunts. They do have a leader, and you do get to spend some time with him in the post-game which is nice at least.

Team Yell doesn’t even have anything to do with the main antagonist to this game, which on the surface sounds like they’re subverting your expectations, but my expectations are that the antagonist has a presence and does stuff to make me care which this character most certainly does not. Just to hammer this point home I’m going to compare the villain of SwSh to another famous villain from the same franchise.

In Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow, the main antagonist was Team Rocket’s leader Giovanni. Over the course of that game you encounter and fight him three times. Once in Celadon, then again at Saffron and then once more when he reveals himself to be the final 8th gym leader in Viridian City. Now imagine for a moment instead of fighting him 3 times, you fight Giovanni once and it’s at the Viridian gym and the dialogue goes something like this:

“Fwahahaha, it is good that you made it this far Red, but this is where your gym challenge ends. For I am Giovanni, the last gym leader and commander of Team Rocket (insert generic evil plan here), prepare to lose.”

You then beat him, and Giovanni runs away sad and defeated and thus Rocket disbands. How lame would that be? How disappointed would you be if that was the reveal of the main antagonist, instead of what we got over 20 years ago? It would also ruin the surprise since back then Giovanni being the final gym leader was crazy to a lot of young boys and girls who played the game back then. That **** blew our minds back then. Do you want to know why that was such a reveal? Because you invest time into this antagonist, learning his motives, realizing he’s a shrewd businessman with nefarious intent.

I bring Giovanni up because the villain in this game is similar to him but done exactly in the manner I described above. You find out he’s the villain within the last hour of the game. You have ONE SINGLE impressively boring fight with the guy. You beat him, fight the legendary of this game, and then you catch the legendary and then fight Leon and the game ends. Just like that! It was that quick, and it was that unsatisfying.

This is the absolute worst villain the franchise has produced to this point and basically yes, I just said that Giovanni is a better villain that this guy is. A villain from 1998 is better developed than this villain from 2019. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Anytime something cool does happen in this game, like an explosion or a strange event outside the gym challenge occurs, Leon the Champion or Sonia the professor’s granddaughter shows up to tell you they’ll investigate while you go back to playing you’re little kiddie gym games. So, you’re pretty much blocked off from doing anything cool because these events slowly tie into the villain reveal which would have been more impactful if you got to participate in these events…but you don't. This game even pulls that ******* Pokémon X and Y did where you see a building off in the distance that a character in the game points out that has some plot relevance, but you can’t go there because Game Freak won’t let you. WHY DO YOU TEASE ME LIKE THIS GAME FREAK??? THAT’S ANNOYING, STOP IT.

Then there is the insulting short post-game story, these two weirdos who I’ll call Egbert and Leo (gold star if you get the reference) show up to wreak havoc on Galar for exactly 2 hours and then apologize for their misdeeds. I’m not even going to bother telling you what happens not because of spoilers but because we never see these two before the post-game, and the game expects me to give a crap about them. I don’t even have the energy anymore…You know what would have been cool? If you included these two in the main story where they team up with the villain and have an impact on the plot? Scratch that, they should have been the main villains period because they make more thematic sense than the real villain we got for the main story. Honestly, I could have written this entire story better.

So yeah, that’s the story, everything I can say without spoiling everything. Still think that stories don’t matter in a Pokémon game? Just to slide it on home for the three people who are still unconvinced let me hit you with more piece of knowledge:

I got this game for Christmas and finished it in roughly 24 hours after opening it on Christmas morning. The total play time for this game when I finished it…are you ready for this...? 17 hours and 24 minutes. Now I should mention that 50 of those minutes was spent with the game paused and me not doing anything. So minus 50 from that time and we are now down to 16 hours and 34 minutes.

“DUH YOU JUST SPEDRUN THROUGH THE GAME DIDN’T YOU!?”

No, I didn’t. In fact I spent time in every town the game had to offer talking to every NPC (I do this for every game) and that probably shaves off another hour of time, bringing the total story run-through to a whopping 15 hours and 34 minutes…Take a long hard look at that play time. Let’s not forget the 2-hour post game which brings the total play time to about 18 hours on average? Just to put this in perspective. I went and looked at the other games to see how long it took for me to beat them. Here were the play times I recorded:

Pokémon X: 28 hours, Pokémon Moon: 34 hours, Pokémon Ruby: 41 hours (UPDATE: Emerald took me about 24 hours to reach the Elite Four), Pokémon White: 30 hours, Pokémon Platinum: 38 hours. Bearing in mind, most of these times except Ruby I didn’t even bother with the post games. Making these pretty accurate times for how long the story campaigns are. Even if we take grinding into account with Platinum for example, let’s estimate 8 hours of grinding for the elite four, that still leaves the story with about 30 hours of campaign. Comparing SwSh to Heart gold and Silver wouldn’t be favorable either for obvious reasons.

I dusted off my copy of Pokémon red and looked at the time. I collected every legendary in that game, so take a guess at how long it took me to beat the game (Remember, Gen 1 didn’t have a post-game!)…38 hours (UPDATE: IT TOOK ME ROUGHLY 20 HOURS FOR LEAF GREEN VERSION TO REACH THE ELITE FOUR.). Again, taking grinding into account, the game is probably about 30 hours… 30 hours for the average Pokémon game, those are games WITH STORYLINES mind you…Sword and Shield can be beaten in roughly 16-17 hours…still think stories are pointless and irrelevant to a Pokémon game?

Am I seriously supposed to believe that the franchise that is the most profitable franchise on the planet, shouldn’t have a story? Am I seriously expected to believe that the most recognizable brand in history, is above having a story? And am I seriously made to believe that fans of this franchise should tolerate the fact this game has no story?

Seriously, are we to believe this franchise’s success is due exclusively to the fact everyone who buys the games only wants to play comp? Who believes this and says this with a straight face? Because you may be surprised to discover there are people who think this way. And after everything up to this point, if you’re still convinced that story doesn’t matter and you just want to play comp all day, all I can say to you is this:

“Merry ******* Christmas, here’s your perfect Pokémon RPG. This 15-hour long SNOOZEFEST of a game is your magnum opus. And you deserve it honestly. Hope you’re happy.”

For the rest of us who were probably hoping we’d get the next Gold and Silver or Black and White 1 and 2, this ain’t it chief. I can't even be invested in the characters of this world because you don't get enough time to be invested in them. If you want this game for the plot, don’t even bother, it’s not worth it. A final score for the plot? Like what does it matter? The story isn’t worth experiencing for the most part and I was left disappointed once again… 3/10

Graphics

Okay so now that I’ve pretty much spilled my guts about the plot, you’re probably wondering, can this game get any worse? Yeah, it’s about to. I’m covering the graphics next, but the gameplay is something I’ll get to later. So, you’d think that a Pokémon game being brought over to the switch would finally have the budget and presentation of a game like Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey. You would be wrong sir or madam.

Inconsistency abounds this game in terms of it’s graphics. Some places look decent. Ballonlea for example, looks gorgeous. It looks like a switch game. It has vibrant colors and is the perfect location for a fairy type gym which is what it amounts to. Motostoke looks cool too. This was the town we all saw in the reveal trailers. Industrial revolution inspired with steam-based buildings. There’s this cool elevator in the shape of a gear that you can ride. Hammerlock has this giant English style castle in the center of town. It all serves to exemplify the UK theme that Galar represents. It unironically looks good, I won’t deny that.

But other places in the game look like absolute trash by today's standards. The biggest offender here must be the Wild Area. The infamous meme tree garnered so much negative hate that it forever symbolizes this area in a nutshell. Worst yet, it’s not just a tree, it’s ALL OF THE TREES that have low quality textures placed on them; and they are all the same tree too! It’s like Game Freak opened an empty file on Unreal Engine 4, painted the base ground texture green, and just planted the same tree over and over again and shouted: “Look Nintendo, I made an open world segment!”

And on top of that, can we petition Game Freak to stop making the floors this boring flat texture? Where is the grass? I want to run through actual grass, not just tall grass where Pokémon hide. I’m so done with boring flat textures and 3 blades of grass protruding from it and pretending its grass. This is something that would be tolerable on the 3DS but not the Switch. It all just serves to make the wild area look like an N64 game. I half expected the Hyrule field theme from Ocarina of Time to kick on the moment I saw the wild area. This is something I would expect three console generations ago, not a Switch game in 2019.

Just to rub salt in the wound, modders have updated both the ground texture and the tree textures to make them look more vibrant, with the latter taking one modder only about an hour to do.

Boring, lifeless, bland. That’s the wild area. It’s so shocking to fly to Ballonlea and be blown away by its design, then fly back to the wild area and just be bewildered by the difference. Did I jump through time about 15 years (Maybe this game is ocarina of Time lol)?

That pretty much sums up the general graphics in this game: Inconsistent. On top of that the draw distances in this game are ridiculous for a switch title. I speak no hyperbole when I say that character models for both Pokémon and human NPCs (And even some interactable trees) will pop in and out of existence within 15 steps of each other. Some of these draw distances are so bad Hellen Keller herself rolled her eyes in disbelief. It really hurts immersion when you walk not 10 steps into a new town and off not very far from where you are standing a human will just *pop* into existence, and then you take one step away from them and they just disappear like that. It’s inexcusable and lazy. The worst example has to be this Onix you see in Motostoke. It’s so large and it pops into existence. Because of the fixed camera, you can accidentally bump into thing when walking towards the camera and it just takes you by surprise when it just *pops* right in front of you.

Speaking of immersion breaking, The Wild Area also has dynamic weather effects that change depending on what part of the area you are in. It even affects which Pokémon appear in that area. Sounds cool right? Right, except for when you take a step into another area and the weather just dramatically changes. One moment you’re in this crazy sandstorm, and then ten second of walking later, a freak snowstorm out of nowhere! This game expects me to believe that there is a raging sandstorm and a freak blizzard ten feet away from each other? What is happening here? It’s clear that the wild area was just cobbled together with no thought or quality put into it, a shame considering this was the game’s biggest selling point. (Not to mention the fact it’s basically the Safari Zone with different restrictions put on.)

Now let’s discuss the animations. A point of controversy revolves around the animations and how Game Freak decided to ditch allowing you to catch them all in favor of a focused emphasis on making new models with higher quality animations. That is actually a direct quote: High quality animations. Well we already know the “remade models” line turned out to be a complete lie as data miners discovered the “new” models were identical in terms of poly count. Only a handful of Pokémon have slightly different poly counts, but all signs point to these models being recycled, not remade as we were told.

So, does this game have high quality animations? Well there’s this tree you can shake that drops berries except the berries don’t land on the floor. They just noclip through the ground never to be seen again…oh don’t give me that look, I was told this game has high quality animations so, where are they? Well some Pokémon have signature moves that have high quality animations. Cinderace’s Pyro ball is well animated. In fact, all the starters get cool animations by their final form, so that’s nice.

But in all seriousness, the animations are largely the same animations from Let’s go and even back as far as X and Y. Not only are these the same animations, they managed to make some of these animations WORSE. Yes…Worse. One example is the affection stat. In past titles, if you maxed out the affection stat, your Pokémon would look back at you with a smile on their face. This was made to make the Pokémon you care for feel like they cared for you back. Well in SwSh they just rotate the model instead of just the head AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN DO IT RIGHT. The Pokémon never looks at you properly and just looks bad.

Another forgotten example is whenever a Pokémon uses transform, like ditto, special move animations are completely broken, like Game Freak never tested to make sure they work properly, and the model just slides around like an action figure. It’s awful.

Double kick, fury swipes, any move that has multiple hits aren’t even animated. The Pokémon just hops in the air, just like the previous games. To put the cherry on top, all the new Pokémon for Gen 8 only have 2 animations in total. Two new animations excuse me. One for a physical attack and one for a special attack. None of them are particularly unique, or memorable…or good. I’m sorry guys, I’m trying hard to find something.

Oh, there is this funny part where you get on a ladder and everything freezes in place, even trainers throwing their poke balls into the air. So now you can be like Neo and enter bullet time when on ladders, so that’s kinda cool…actually I don’t think that was intentional…oops? Yeah, they didn’t patch that either. Yeah and your trainer model will flicker in and out of battle depending on what moves you use; it’s really jarring to look at.

Some battlefields don’t sync up to where you were standing in the game’s overworld. One battle with Hop in particular is when you’re on a big bridge, but the fight happens in a field??? What? Where? How? Some random encounters are like this too. Fishing at a dock and suddenly a field again? Some fights just throw you in a generic white room like Game Freak couldn’t bother to create authentic battlefields, when they’ve done this in the past. Again, it’s just lazy.

Buildings all have the same interiors. I guess everyone in Hulbury wears the same blue raincoat with the same galoshes neatly placed by the front door? And everyone just buys the same furniture from the same Ikea store or whatever version of Ikea the Pokémon universe has? Seriously there is one town in this game with five houses neatly packed together, and they all have the SAME BORING INTERIOR. No variation in the furniture or anything! You couldn’t even bother to create even one different looking house in town? In fact, Spikemuth, the town with the 7th gym only has one building you can enter which is a Pokémon center. People keep saying that Spikemuth has two buildings but that’s a fat stinking lie because I can’t find this mysterious 2nd building. The gym isn’t even a building. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but a building has four walls and a door. There is only one interactable building in this city that fits that description and it’s not the gym.

Finally, the model scaling on Pokémon during battles look terrible too. As in the Pokémon are supposed to be bigger than they actually are and sadly they are not. That one trainer with the Wailord tho…Even Mystery Dungeon got this right. How is a spinoff game better than you at this Game Freak?

You may say that some of these things are trivial, but they all add up and bog down the experience. It’s death by a thousand cuts. Alright, this has gone on long enough so let’s move on to the next point…4/10

Sound/Music

Well let’s get the most disappointing thing out of the way. There is no voice acting in this game. Not even grunts from the human NPCs. It’s really apparent during the opening cutscene with chairman Rose and it gets REALLY awkward when you encounter the 7th gym leader.

Also, I am utterly shocked that no other reviewer on Gamefaqs has pointed this out so I will. Moment of silence people…There is…NO BIKE THEME in this game. You hype up bringing the bike back, BUT NEGLECT TO GIVE IT A PROPER THEME!? Every game before this had a bike theme. Even Sun and Moon had a bike theme which makes no damn sense because Sun and Moon didn’t have a bike!

Then there’s the trainer battle theme, which must be the weakest trainer theme at this point. I couldn’t understand why this theme never stuck with me and I always love the trainer themes in every Pokémon game (Even the ones I don’t like very much). I actually looked up the theme to listen to on YouTube, and I scrolled down to read the comments because I like listening to people’s opinions on the music and some of the top rated comments, I saw said something like:

“This is strange,” or “Not sure how I feel about this song,” or even “This song lacks a coherent theme.” That one hit me because I finally realized what made this theme so forgettable, it doesn’t have a theme behind it. I mean Gen1 and 2 were 8bit, Gen 3 was trumpets, Gen4 was Piano, Gen5 was drums, Gen6 was guitar, Gen 7 was Hawaiian. Gen8 has some bagpipes for some songs which do sound nice, but the trainer theme itself doesn’t have a theme that connects it to the world. It needed something like a bagpipe rendition of a trainer theme, or something with woodwinds. IDK, point is, this theme isn’t very good, and I didn’t like it, a first for this franchise.

Battle themes are kind of important to get right. In Pokémon games there are two factors that go into Pokémon battles: Animation and the music. I already explained why the animations aren’t that good, so the music here had to pick up the slack, but it doesn’t and so consequently the battles aren’t fun to watch or listen to. This ruins a lot for the fun for the game for to be frank.

I liked Hop’s theme a lot (It's probably like my top 5 favorite rival themes, no joke), and Bede’s theme has grown on me with time. But the generic battle theme for trainers just didn’t stick with me, as does the gym theme which a lot of people have jumped on, but personally I think it pales in comparison to previous gym themes. Gym themes are supposed to be these bombastic celebrations like it’s an important moment in the story! SwSh’s theme starts pretty cool and it even does that thing Pokémon Black and White does where the last Pokémon has its own theme. It’s meant to get you super hyped but honestly, I didn’t care, because the gym battles were so easy that the music failed to grip me. It’s hard for the music to get me pumped when the game presents no challenge to me whatsoever.

So yeah, overall the music is a bit of a mixed bag, some good, some meh. There really isn’t much else to say here. Time to get to the meat of this game…5/10

Gameplay

Not much left to talk about so let’s close this off with the gameplay. I’ll not bore you with the details because you already know this Is Pokémon, we all know how this plays so I’ll discuss the new stuff. So, in the wake of Game Freak removing mega evolutions and z moves from past titles we are instead treated to dynamaxing which allows one of your Pokémon to grow kaiju size and duke it out against other dynamaxed Pokémon in certain fixed battles. You mostly do this during gym fights, max raid battles (to be discussed later) and important story bits.

Honestly this feature is pretty limited as you can only do this during certain points in the game and not like during any fight like Z moves and Mega evolutions did in Gen6 and 7. That makes this feature an objective downgrade from these competing features no matter how you slice it. It looks nice, but mechanically speaking it’s like Mega evolution only you’re limited to 3 moves, one Pokémon, and certain fights. Hooray.

Then there’s max raid battles, oh boy! In the wild area there are these pink honeycomb things you can interact with that give you Watts which is a separate currency. You can buy TMs, ingredients, and other useless stuff, but some of these have max raid battles. This is one of the multiplayer features of the game where you and three friends can team up to fight a dynamaxed Pokémon. You beat it down whereupon you get to catch it (You never fail to catch it btw) and you are showered with goodies like exp candy and other valuables.

If you don’t have friends, you can always play with bots. Sometimes they can be helpful…sometimes it’s just comical. Like yeah little girl, you’re going to fight that giant Octillery with a Magikarp? Apparently, this girl is a wiz kid because she somehow taught her magikarp Hydro Pump. There's also this gentlemen character with his Solrock and OH MY GOD, HE'S A MORON. All he does is spam Cosmic Power and die because he never attacks, and gets the party killed before you can win. If you get him on your team, soft reset, because he's useless.

To really drill home the fact that Game Freak is making this game with the kiddies in mind, the exp share is now mandatory and just as broken as it was in X and Y. You get access to fly very early in this game in the form of a corvinight taxi, but sadly there is no animation that plays here. All you get is a black screen and a little load icon in the bottom corner so, that’s lame, sadly. You constantly get healed in cutscenes. Hop constantly shows up to interrupt the flow of the story. Some tutorials you can skip, other you can’t. Don’t want Leon to show you how to catch Pokémon? Too bad, you’re watching it for the 8th time. (Okay so it turns out you can skip the pokeball tutorial, but only if you caught a Pokémon before hand, otherwise you have to sit through it)

Hop picks the weakest Pokémon, so don’t expect a challenge with him. Oh, and did I neglect to mention there’s no elite four in this game? Nope, instead you just fight three of the gym leaders again. It’s not as bad as Alola’s Elite four, it’s actually worse because we don’t get to see any new personalities and are just stuck fighting the same people again. Speaking of gyms, one positive I can say about this game is that a surprising amount of effort went into the gyms this time. Each gym has a little challenge you must complete, which I appreciated a lot. Like Milo’s gym has you herding Sheep. Nessa’s gym is very classic gym structure with water valve puzzles. Kabu’s gym was the most unique. In his gym you have to catch Pokémon to earn points, but gym trainers join your battle and try to mess you up by fainting the Pokémon before you can catch them, so you have to deal with that on top of catching Pokémon. All of these challenges are nice until you get to the last two gyms which sadly fall apart as you just fight a series of trainers to get to the gym leaders and that’s it. No puzzles to solve, no real challenge to overcome. The 7th gym doesn’t even let you dynamax.

I don’t remember being given a fishing rod at any point, you just have one at the start and you can only fish in certain spots, which is just yet another downgrade. I mean c’mon even Red and Blue version let you fish anywhere there was water. Hell, you could even fish inside of statues. It’s a glitch, but the game let’s you do it. You know it just dawned on me, but there are no HMs or HM based puzzles in this game. No Strength, Flash, Cut, none of that’s in this game. All routes are linear with no puzzles of their own like past games. Even Sun and Moon had puzzles like that with the unique rideable Pokémon, why isn’t anything like that in this game? There are also only 10 routes in total and most of them are straight paths with little exploration to them. There are two caves total in this game. Sonia hilariously gives you an escape rope which is a key item now, but you never use it because there barely any dungeons in this game. I mean, it’s not like you’re gonna get lost in these dungeon anyway. I dare you to try and get lost in one of these caves. Remember the Sliph Co. Building? That dungeon had 11 floors to explore. The Macro Cosmos building doesn’t have any floors. It’s just a reception desk and one elevator where you are forced into a gauntlet of fights. What happened to dungeons man!?

I went through this game never going into the wild area except out of story obligation (And also to test features for this review). I fought every trainer and never fainted a single wild Pokémon and only fought wild Pokémon to catch. So, with no exp candy and considering the exp share (Which begs the question if I can just do max raid fights and get exp candies, why even have the exp share?), I was surprised to learn the game is relatively balanced. By the time I had the third gym badge I was under leveled by two whole levels! But by around the 6th gym I was back to normal. So, I’d say the difficulty curve is a little wonky but overall more balanced than I thought it was going to be. If you want to challenge yourself just do everything I mentioned above, and you’ll have the best experience this game has to offer which isn’t saying much, sadly.

This just came to mind, but there aren’t much in the way of mini games either and I talked to every NPC this game has to offer. Like where is the Pokémon coordinator mini game, or Pokémon musical from gen 5? This game doesn’t have anything like that!

This game just feels completely naked, like it’s missing features that should be in the game but just isn’t for some reason. In fact, the closest thing this game has to offer as a “minigame” are these time attack races which is fleeting and simple with your rotom bike in the wild area. You can upgrade the rotom bike, but only the cooldown time for when you peddle faster. Finally, there’s camping where you do two things: Make curry and Interact with your Pokémon.

Making curry just heals your Pokémon and grants xp boost, and all you can really do with your Pokémon is toss a ball and play with a feather tool. I’ve been told that this camping feature is less interactive with your Pokémon that Pokémon Amie from X and Y and Refresh from Sun and Moon, which is just yet another downgrade. Who honestly plays the ball mini game with your Pokémon and unironically uses the word "fun" to describe this? If anything, the camping features needs more of those mini games I mentioned earlier, that would give camping a purpose. This game can pretty be summed up as “Like the other games, but worse.” I know I’m just rattling off these features in rapid fire, but that’s because there’s nothing to these features. It’s the bare minimum that Game Freak can get away with and call a “finished product.” Other then that, all you get for a post-game is the battle tower from Sun and Moon and that’s it. 5/10

Conclusion

I honestly felt defeated by the end of this game. As I sat there and watched the credits this overwhelming sense of sadness crept into my soul. I couldn’t help but feel like this game was just incomplete, like Game Freak rushed the game. Even the credits screen is lazy. And that’s when I saw it, the infamous mouse cursor that appears for a brief second in the credits. They screen recorded that animation and put that in the game and didn’t edit out the cursor. It’s just…I’m done.

Hence the title of this review: I’m done with this franchise. I have been disappointed three times now. X and Y was too easy, Sun and Moon ditches the gyms and was also easy. The lack of a satisfying story, too many friendly and unintimidating rivals…and now we have this mess. SwSh are the worst games in this franchise yet released. They are the worst based on playtime alone. 18 hours? Who defends that? All of this just culminates in an experience that is merely a shell of its former self and since each title has slowly dipped in quality, it’s getting well past the point of being mildly annoying.

This franchise deserves a satisfying story, with GOOD characters (not just passable), a decent 30-hour length story at least, and a post-game that actually wants you to go back and play, is that too much to ask? And don’t tell me I’m expecting too much from Game Freak here, as if Game Freak is the homeless guy in tattered rags with an eye patch and a tin cup asking: “Could you spare some change ma’am?” Game Freak Isn’t an indie studio and they aren’t working on a budget title. This franchise is the most profitable franchise of all time, there is no excuse at this point.

You may also be thinking to yourself that the next generation will be better, but didn’t we all say that about Let’s Go and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon? How much longer are we going to keep telling ourselves that the next game will be different until you stop panning for fool’s gold?

Who is seriously going to look back on this game fondly? So many people rightly upset for not only the lack of content, but Game freak straight up lying to them about the models. Even if this game had the national Dex, would it change anything? This game would still be bad even if we could all explore this region with our favorite Pokémon. And the worst part about all of this? Game freak isn’t going to learn from this. You think they care what you think? When have they ever listened to their fans? The fact that they were willing to lie to you and got the **** away with it proves they don’t care what you think.

And so, with that, I am taking my ball and going home, I will no longer support this franchise. I have burnt my candle at both ends with these games and I’m just sick of being disappointed every year. While this controversy was spreading, I took the time to check out other monster collecting games. Yo kai Watch and Digimon specifically. Yo kai watch is actually good, I’m looking forward to the 4th game getting localized here. Go play Cyber Sleuth complete edition, it’s on the switch (120 hours I put into those games for the record).

Hell, even that Tem Tem game is coming to Switch and it looks pretty sick, and with Digimon Survive coming in 2020, a game that’s going to have branching story paths, I would be sweating bullets if I was Game Freak right now. Go check out those games. Stay away from Sword and Shield. Don’t even wait for a price drop or the enhanced editions, just walk away. Walk away and Never look back…

Overall? 4/10. I never reviewed X and Y and Sun and moon, but I’d give each game 6/10 then a 5/10 with this latest title continuing its plummet into mediocrity. Some may find redeeming qualities to Gen 6 and 7 despite their faults, but with gen 8 the redeeming qualities are harder to find.

Isle of Armor DLC

Well here we are again, it’s always such a pleasure. About one full week after my review gets accepted onto GameFaqs do we get confirmation of DLC being added to the game, rather than a third version or ultra-version people were expecting. 30$ for this DLC. Some defenders of this game even went out of their way to argue that this is a good deal, suggesting that this is better than “paying $120” Such a good deal, right? WRONG! So, before I review the Isle of Armor, let us crunch some numbers here:

Base game is 60$ + 30$ = $90. $90 for the complete experience. Let us contrast this to the old model. Say you bought diamond version which at the time was $40 dollars. Then you bought Platinum which was another $40 dollars. That mean you paid $80 dollars for the first game and then the “definitive” version. Sword and Shield is $10 dollars more expensive than the old model. $90 for one game vs. $80 dollars for two games. Which one is the better deal?

“That is not fair,” you’re thinking, “If there was a third version it would be $120 dollars instead of $90, which is what we’re getting. Even with the inflated price due to Switch hardware, this is still a good deal!...” Or is it? You’re forgetting the other kind of customer when it comes to these games: The kind of person who knows ahead of time Game Freak is selling a third version, and so waits for that one, since he knows that one is going to be the definitive version. That guy would only pay at most, $40 dollars for one game, or pay $60 dollars only for the Definitive version of Gen 8…except OH NO…. There is no third version of Sword and Shield. So now he is forced to choose between Sword or shield, neither of which are the definite edition. So now he has to pay $90 for one game that used to be $40 dollars TEN YEARS AGO! $50 dollars more than normal!

What about from the completionist’s perspective? They buy all three versions of $120 dollars, but then has to spend $180 DOLLARS FOR BOTH VERSIONS. Another $60 down the drain for that guy. Bearing in mind I have not said a word about the online which is $20 more dollars! So, for the guy who wants everything, he has to sink at least $200 dollars, or $110 dollars for the single buyer guy, if he wants to experience everything one game has to offer.

If an EA logo was slapped on the boxart of this people would show up to Nintendo headquarters with pitchforks and shotguns out for blood! This is dangerously close to EA, if not completely surpassing them! There is only one combination where the price is reasonable and that’s if you buy one version, then the definite edition, rather than all three if this was gen 8. There you would save $30. But that’s an Asterix in what is otherwise a price gouging nightmare!

Isle of Armor (for real this time)

Now that that tangent has been itemized, how’s this first batch of DLC? Well I wasn’t too excited about touching this DLC because I had already grown tired of playing my copy of Sword. It seems Game Freak must have sympathized with me here because I was finished with this game’s “plot” in about 2 hours and 30 minutes. To be fair, that is slightly better than the post-game story from the vanilla content which is just 2 hours. I’m just going to rapid fire through these points because honestly, there isn’t much to say about this DLC.

Story

So, the story of this DLC is your character is mistaken for being a brand new student of a Dojo maintained by a couple whose names combine to read… *groan*…. HONEY MUSTARD. Depending on which version of this gen you bought, you get a new rival. Klara for Sword and Avery for Shield. Klara uses poison types and Avery uses psychic Pokémon. Both of their character designs really do not fit with the look and feel of this island. They are both just bizarrely dressed, but both essentially have the same personality from what I understand (even having the same dialogue in a few scenes.) Even though these two serves as jerk rivals, don’t get too excited, because their character arcs begin and end within the span of 1 hour. You have 3 fights with them, and their arcs come to an end.

I’m not really spoiling anything here, don’t worry, because I’m gonna tell you not to buy this DLC, because this DLC is the dictionary definition of “not worth it” insofar as we don’t know what the crown tundra has in store for us. This warrants repeating: DO NOT BUY THIS DLC YET….YET, we don’t know if the Crown Tundra is good enough to warrant the $30. Just wait if you haven’t touched this yet, ok?

Anyway, after completing 3 trials which comprises that first hour, you get Kubfu, the much-marketed aspect of this DLC. And you know what? I actually quite like him. He’s cute, and his evolved form, Urshifu, is actually kind of adorable and awesome at the same time. He is the best part of this DLC, hands down.

The 30 minutes you spend with him both in bonding and the challenge towers has you “bonding” with him, which involves exploring the Island and seeing the sites. The two of you stare at the meh quality biomes with your mouths agape like idiots. One of the biomes is a desert called the Potbottom desert and I busted a gut where your character and Kubfu stare at an empty desert and Kubfu basically jumps for joy. See, this is the thing that really annoys me about GF: they legitimately think this constitutes bonding with a Pokémon, when this sort of thing will only be amusing to 10 year olds. Perhaps that’s who they are targeting here, but honestly, as cute as Kubfu is, I felt no connection with him because GF only works in half measures (something I’ll get to in the gameplay portion in just a second.)

After this you choose one of two towers to evolve Kubfu: A water tower that turns Urshifu into a water/fighting type, or the dark tower which turns your Urshifu into a dark/fighting type type. Each version gets a unique attack and even a unique idle animation in battles which is kind of nice honestly.

After that, your remaining quest is to collect mushrooms and honey so you can make a soup to give your urshifu so that it can get a gigantimax form. You do with the help of…Hop!? Yes, Hop is back and helps you out in this DLC to my surprise. He doesn’t do much, but at least he’s along for the ride. You have one more fight with a full 6 party team with Mustard and that’s it… The end! Abedee Abedee THAT’S ALL FOLKS! That’s all you get. It just abruptly ends...just like this part of the review.

Music

Gonna talk music next because this is the shortest section of the review. The music is pretty alright. Mustard has a good fight theme as does Klara and Avery. The wild area’s music is great too. Overall, the music in this DLC is better than the Vanilla content, trust me it’s one of the better aspects of the DLC, just look up the ost for yourself on Youtube. Thumbs up there.

Graphics

Ok let’s get this out of the way, the overall graphics of the of the wild area for the Isle of Armor is a noticeable improvement over the Vanilla Wild area. There are no meme trees in this DLC, the trees actually look like trees. Not great trees mind you, but better than the travesty that was the Wild Area in the vanilla content. What’s more is that some of these biomes actually surprised me. In particular is the Forest of Focus and the Soothing wetlands. Both are the highlights of this little slice of land you get to explore. The forest is an actual forest and the wetlands look like someone put some thought into making the area lusher than normal. Brawler’s Cave is kind dull looking but has some verticality where the vanilla wild had nothing like this. I don’t think the Vanilla wild area even had caves!

One thing I noticed was that NPCs acknowledge your existence and turn to you in a way that’s a little more realistic. No longer are they turning while standing still, they lift their leg to turn. I know that’s a weird thing to mention, but GF is famous for having their characters pivot in awkward ways.

Pretty much everything else I mentioned in the graphics section of my original review still applies here. Draw distances still suck for wild Pokémon. They still pop out of the ground with a dirt effect. Berry trees are still hilariously out of place next to the scenery trees. It’s only more hilarious when you’re bonding with Kubfu and you’re supposed to gaze in awe of the “beauty” this island has to offer. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 you are not, Pokémon. It stings even more than usual, as we were just treated to a teaser for the new Pokémon Snap game the same day this DLC dropped, and even in it’s unpolished alpha state, it already looks better than SwSh. It’s an improvement overall, don’t get me wrong, but only by so much.

Gameplay

Moving onto the final aspect of this review, the gameplay. What’s new? Well aside from the quick story, we have a new wild area to explore. Based on the size comparison, this wild area is about half the size of the main wild area. In it are 200+ plus Pokémon on this island and the upcoming Crown Tundra DLC. The funniest revelation from the grapevine is that GF had intended all along to include the remaining Pokémon in the DLC which begs the question why all the secrecy? When Yo kai watch 4 dropped in Japan, Level 5 made it absolutely clear that not all the Yo kai were in the game but promised to add the rest in as free updates over time. Just be transparent with your audience Game Freak because the more you fail to communicate with your customer base, the more they will hate you and assume the worst. Just be honest and up front to save yourself the trouble. Collecting all the Pokémon grants you some cosmetics for your avatar and trinkets that’s are probably useful for competitive. It’s not worth getting all the Pokémon if you’re not a completionist, breeder, or PvP player.

So aside from the new Pokémon, and all the item hunting you do, you can hunt down Alolan digletts to get some Alolan versions of Pokémon from gen 7; 151 digletts to be precise. I actually managed to do all of this for some insane reason. Apricots are back, so you can make pokeballs and you can recycle items into rare items using a cramorant robot Mustard’s son came up with. You create gigantamax versions of Pokémon you have by finding mushrooms in the wild area and bringing them to a chef to turn into soup. You can rematch story characters after completing the main story.

You can upgrade the dojo using watts to get things like a PC, a hairstylist, and vending machines. Honestly none of that is worth doing if you have not collected 2 million watts beforehand, especially since you can buy these things by flying to other parts of the world anyway. The only thing that’s new here is collecting 2 million watts triggers a secret battle with Honey, but they didn’t even bother to give her a unique theme. Other than that, maxing out the watts in the dojo just gets you a throwaway cutscene with Honey and her rare League card, not exactly worth the effort.

There is a restrictive sparring option at the dojo. This is basically like the battle tower where you pick one type to restrict yourself with and challenge five trainers who also limit their Pokémon to that chosen type. You are also only granted a limited number of heals between fights, meaning you must be strategic with your fights and heals, otherwise you get wiped out. This is probably the only cool replayable thing to do in this game. You get battle points for winning, and it’s a fun distraction.

You also get a free Bulbasaur or Squirtle during the main story, and a Porygon after completing the story and talking to Mustard’s son. There aren’t any new generic trainer fights in this DLC. You get an exp charm which further boosts EXP earned in battle, and like the EXP share, you can’t turn it off. I’m just rattling off features but honestly, I think that’s it. There could be more, but nothing important enough to warrant mention…except for one thing.

So, one of the things this DLC offers you is that once you get Kubfu, you are actually allowed to travel with your Pokémon outside their ball. Wait, follower pokemon are back!? Did they implement this feature properly? WRONG, this is GF we’re talking about! You expect them to get anything right? Follower Pokémon are back alright, but they implemented it in the laziest way possible. They ripped the walk speeds and animations from Pokémon camp and made them follow you in the wild, but they didn’t scale the speed to the player, nor do the Pokémon return to their balls when you hop on your bike. Whenever you do jump on your bike, your Pokémon stops in place for a second, which is weird and totally unnecessary.

So, the speed of each Pokémon are random, some are so fast they catch up to you, then stop, then chase you again. Some are so slow it can take upwards of 3 whole minutes for them to catch up to you. What’s worse, is that in HG/SS follower Pokémon had different reactions based on their present state and nature. Some even found items on the floor for you to take from them. This implementation doesn’t do that. They just react to whistles and give an ‘!’ response. You cannot even touch them because they have an invisible wall placed between you and them.

And trust me, I have heard every excuse in the book to justify this, NONE of which are valid excuses.

NO, they did not implement these based on “realism” or based on the nature of the Pokémon (Dragapult would be faster and Metapod would not even move because he’s a cocoon if that were true).

NO, they did not implement these based on a Pokémon’s base speed stat (Meltan would be faster than Metapod if that was case).

NO, they did not implement it like this because of a third person camera when Yo kai watch 4 has a third person camera the Yo kai have no trouble keeping up with the player; even having better pathing AI than the Pokémon in this game (The person who made this argument to me was a special kind of stupid).

They implemented this the way they did for one specific reason: Because Game Freak….IS ****** LAZY!

How many examples of this do I have to show you before the goobers stop defending this? Flickering player avatars during battles? People freezing in the environment when on a ladder? The wild area looking like an N64 game? Glitching into your bike early on by falling through a bridge? Pokémon not scaled properly??? GF straight up lying about new models being made for this game!?!?!? What does this game have to do before you admit it’s horrendously unpolished? Brick your Switch upon booting the game up? There is literally no excuse for this BS, save for the shameless act on GF’s part to give us the bare minimum, because they know they’re on top right now, so they don’t have to try as hard. You can’t even have the follower Pokémon outside the island by the way, so don’t think this works with the main game.

Just to shove glass shards between the fingernails of Pokémon stans, Level-5, the developers of Yo Kai Watch 4, went bankrupt during the development of that game, and yet they finished that game, and is infinitely more polished than this game. That’s right, a competitor of Nintendo’s created a game under the thumb being broke at one point, and still created a more polished product than them. LOOK IT UP, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

If I were Game Freak, I’d be thoroughly embarrassed right now because, quite frankly, your competitors are much better than you at this and it blows my mind how these franchises haven’t surpassed you yet. Yo kai watch has been patching in new Yo kai, for FREE, and Bandai Namco recently bundled Cyber Sleuth and Hacker’s Memory into one $50 package that gives you over 100 hours of story-based content for the Switch. At this point if you’re one of those Poke fans who poked fun at Digimon or Yo Kai Watch for trying to copy their monster collecting formula, yet happily throw $90 to $180 dollars to play this below average game? You, my friend, are evidently a fool, and we all know what happens with a fool and his money.

So no, I don’t recommend you grab this DLC just yet. Please don’t if you haven’t yet. I’m actually trying to stop you from making a purchase you may end up regretting. Wait for the Crown Tundra before sinking another $30 on this. Believe it or not, I’m more optimistic about the Crown Tundra than this, but don’t buy the DLC pass until we know for certainty that it’s worth it, because if it’s anything like the Isle of Armor, I’m just going to tell you not to bother.

Stay tuned for when I update this review one last time with the Crown Tundra DLC and I give my final thoughts on this generation. Next time on Pokeball Z.

Rating: 4

Product Release: Pokemon Sword (US, 11/15/19)

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