The fantastical world of Pokémon has always been something of splendour. The idea of gathering your favourite pocket monsters and having them fight off an entire region of aspiring trainers will always and forever be a selling point for the franchise. However, in an attempt to please the die-hard fans of Pokémon, Game Freak have blatantly neglected the idea of innovating the series, giving us a game that feels rather uninspired, and quite frankly, a bit disappointing, even through its more captivating moments.
Pokémon Sword takes you to Galar Region, a Victorian era-inspired locale, filled with beautifully styled buildings, multiple biomes, and Wild Areas to explore. Galar is a small nation whose focus situates around the Pokémon Gym Challenge. It’s a giant spectacle, inspired heavily by soccer, that’s screened on television for all the world to see. Galar spares no expense when it comes to the festivities and it shows in almost every aspect of Sword. You initially embark on a journey to compete in the Gym Challenge, but you slowly end up intertwined up in the history of the Galar region. The story is pretty standard and has the usual Pokémon character tropes, but there are a few twists and surprises in between.
Galar spares no expense when it comes to the festivities and it shows in almost every aspect of Sword.
Hop, a character who started out as the most annoying rival in Pokémon history, eventually started showing some character development and changed in a way that I never really expected. The other characters are fairly well-written, with the narrative carefully guiding you along and teaching you about the new features in the latest game. It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s a fairly decent Pokémon story.
The game also introduces Dynamaxing, which is a new move that allows your Pokémon to increase in size and improves their health and stats dramatically. The real spectacle comes in the way everything looks during a Dynamax battle. Transformations feel more like earth-bending sequences, with the unique moves looking like cataclysmic events. You can Dynamax in PvP, Gym battles, and special areas but it will only last for three turns. This really helps because it can shift the tide of a battle, without feel too overwhelming. Another welcomed feature has to be the Raid battles. This PvE style system allows you to connect online with your friends and take on behemoth-sized Pokémon for large rewards. That being said, I often found very little people to play with, but that should change as time goes on. You can also do these battles with AI, so it’s not exclusive to the multiplayer aspect.
Probably the best feature that sees a return from Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee and Pikachu is the fact that you can see the Pokémon roaming around the areas.
Aside from that, there has been multiple quality of life improvements, and the addition of the Wild Areas. Wild Areas are basically a giant portion of land, filled to the brim with Raid battles, new Pokémon to fight, and high-level Pokémon for you to grind levels with. I’ve probably spent most of my time in the Wild Areas, camping with my Pokémon, and occasionally, cooking a nice spot of curry for them to enjoy. Probably the best feature that sees a return from Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee and Pikachu is the fact that you can see the Pokémon roaming around the areas. This gives you the choice of engaging or simply maneuvering around the Pokémon. A lot of the Pokémon are biome-specific, so it’s nice to see that players are given the freedom of knowing the various encounters they will have. That being said, long-time fans still have the option of random battles in certain patches of tall grass, with the Pokémon being hidden and the iconic exclamation mark signalling a battle.
However, all of this immediately falls short as you continue to play the game. The combat is still centered around the one-on-one style, where the Pokémon take turns to hit each other until one of them faints. The combat itself feels really dated, with uninspired animations and rather lacklustre visuals bringing it down any further. With games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, Super Mario: Odyssey, and even Luigi’s Mansion 3 taking leaps and bounds to bring out the most of what the Switch is capable of delivering, you feel as if Pokémon Sword didn’t put any effort to try match that level of polish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for a 3DS game, but Pokémon isn’t limited to just being on a handheld console anymore. The constant pop-ins of Pokémon, trees, and other objects in the Wild Areas can get very annoying at times.
Game Freak has always excelled in their attention to detail through their art-style, but Sword comes across as very bland and is visually trumped by Pokémon games of the past.
If you’re just looking to catch some Pokémon, build up a team, and battle them, Pokémon Sword will probably scratch that itch. However, it does very little to really take the franchise to new heights like the other IPs from Nintendo’s first-party range. It’s just doing more of the same, which will please some, but leaves fans like me wishing Game Freak would be a little more daring with the game. It’s hard to ignore this and the game can come off as very disappointing at times. Sure, you can make the argument that Pokémon has never been about the flashy animations and throwing new features at players, but it would be nice to see the franchise grow. Game Freak has always excelled in their attention to detail through their art-style, but Sword comes across as very bland and is visually trumped by Pokémon games of the past. I came into the game thinking the company chose to focus on quality over quantity, but even the usual quality seemed to be absent for the most part.
Thankfully, the soundtrack is amazing, with background music really doing well to build atmosphere and give you a welcomed sense of adventure while exploring Galar. On the other hand, I wish Game Freak would start to fizzle out the synthesized sounds, and give us more accurate sounding Pokémon, as they have already done with Pikachu and Eevee. That being said, I can live with the synthesized sounds, if they simply improve on the other aspects of the game.
Pokémon Sword introduces some welcomed features, but the game feels as if it would be more at home on the 3DS, with the dated visuals, lacklustre animations, and a lack of polish that leaves you wishing they had taken more time on the game. While Galar region is beautiful and the Wild Areas have a lot for you to do, the game doesn’t do enough in terms of innovating the series and leaves a lot left to be desired. However, Game Freak’s first attempt at a Switch title feels like it should have been more impressive, especially since they reduced the Pokedex. If you’re just looking for more Pokémon, this game will be just fine for you. However, if you were hoping to see the same level of innovation that other Switch titles have received, you will be very disappointed.
Pokémon Sword delivers a few exciting features, but Game Freak doesn’t do much to innovate, rather stagnating much of its creative potential.