Pokemon Sword And Shield: A Tumultuous Road to Release

It’s been a somewhat chaotic past 8 months for Nintendo and Game Freak when it comes to its newest installment in the Pokémon franchise; Pokémon Sword and Shield. Every major announcement for the eighth-generation game series was met with push-back from its fan base, calls for changes, accusations of poor work ethic and lying to its consumers. With this being the first major Pokémon title on a home console Nintendo was gearing for a much smoother transition but what caused all the controversy?

Photo Credit: The Pokemon Company

May 2019: Pokémon Home is Announced

After the reveal of Pokémon Sword and Shield in February, the Pokémon Company followed up in May with what they dubbed the ‘Pokémon Business Strategy Announcement’. It is here that they showed a slew of new spin-off and mainline games, one of those being a new application called ‘Pokémon Home’, a cloud-based storage service that would build upon the current ‘Pokémon Bank’.

This would allow players to import Pokémon they had taken on adventures with them across multiple generations of games and consoles so they can be traded or used in future titles including the newly announced Sword and Shield. Long-standing Producer of the series Junichi Masuda said at the event:

‘With so many parts of this Pokémon world, we wanted to make a single location where they could all come together.

Photo Credit: The Pokemon Company

June 2019: Sword and Shields Director Reveals Controversial Details at E3

After another successful Pokémon direct a few weeks earlier, the games developers, Game Freak showed off some extended gameplay via live stream at E3. During this segment, the first major drawback for fans was announced.

Game producer Junichi Masuda mentioned that players looking to transfer Pokémon from the Pokémon Home Service into their copies of Pokémon Sword and Shield may only do so if the desired Pokémon appears in the game’s newest regions (the Galar region) Pokédex, meaning not every Pokémon would appear in the much-anticipated release.

The Pokédex or Pokémon Index is an encyclopedia that players use to record and learn about Pokémon they have caught or interacted with in that specific region, but by the end of the game, it evolves into the National Pokedex. The National Dex is a listing of every single Pokémon that has appeared from the first generation and is usually only able to be completed by the player importing Pokémon from earlier titles in the series. This functionality has been used to make players interact with all the new Pokémon created for the title while still letting them import their favourite Pokémon from as far back as 2002.

Photo Credit: Giphy

Junichi Masuda announced the news preemptible saying “At Game Freak we really spend a lot of time thinking about what the best way to move forward was, really preserving the quality of all the different Pokémon, while also taking into account the battle balance, having so many different Pokémon available all within a limited development time so we don’t keep fans waiting too long for every new entry in the series. After a lot of discussion, we decided to come to kind of a new direction”

In a follow-up interview with USG days after E3, Mr. Masuda expanded on the decision making behind the cuts.

“We already have well over 800 Pokémon species, and there’s going to be more added in these games. And now that they’re on the Nintendo Switch, we’re creating it with much higher fidelity with higher quality animations. We knew at some point we weren’t going to be able to indefinitely keep supporting all of the Pokémon, and we just found that Sword and Shield would probably be a good point,“ Mr.Masuda said.

Though the response by developers does seem rational fans were not happy with these changes. The official Pokémon Twitter was bombarded with angry tweets, Pre-release footage on YouTube was being downvoted, and the hashtag #BringBackNationalDex was trending over many social media platforms.

Enthusiasts of the series aren’t accepting the reasoning provided by Masuda saying pre-release footage of battle animations seem dated, not living up to the expectation that was promised. The precedent that Masuda had mentioned became a springboard for fans to use against the company with fans posting comparisons online of battle animations and NPC blocking that had been reused from the 3DS line-up of games.

Although it is not uncommon for Pokémon to re-use animations from past titles, fans expected that if 400 plus Pokémon were going to be cut from the game then the resources to create an immersive and unique experience would be far superior than anything produced before.

Other fans turned their attention to the footage shown during the live stream, being unimpressed with the fidelity of the overworld. One of the major selling points for the Game is the introduction of the ‘Wild Area’, an open landscape full of dozens of different Pokémon that change with the Weather and time of day.

To Pokémon enthusiasts, this comes as a very empty feeling environment. It’s hard to disagree with fans when the power of the switches launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, regarded by many as the best game on the system, had a booming ecosystem with awe-inspiring landscapes, something that should be able to be replicated on a smaller scale. In particular, is one tree that is being dubbed as an asset pulled from the Nintendo 64 era.

Photo Credit: Reddit

Another major piece of news that was dropped during E3 was that the ever-popular Mega-Evolution and Z-Moves system would be removed altogether in the mainline games. These two mechanics had changed the face, of competitive battling making the game an exciting landscape for two generations breathing new life into usually weak or forgotten about Pokémon. Though Sword and Shield will have its own battle mechanic through the ‘Dynamax & Gigantamax’ system, fans feel that blowing a Pokémon up to the size of a skyscraper is uninspired.


October 2019 – Early November 2019: Difficulty Settings, Leaks and #GameFreakLied

The Pokémon Company continued to push out announcements throughout the year to stir positivity about its big new release, unfortunately, they were met with continued backlash, at every announcement of a new mechanic or new Pokémon the community hit hard with its new hashtag, #Dexit. With Galar being set in the UK it’s only fitting that the Pokémon world equivalent of Brexit be Dexit.

On November 4th the entirety of the PokeDex was leaked online, showing over half of the current National Dex was cut leaving the Galarian Regional Dex at 400. Supporters of #Dexit were furious with claims that Nintendo and Game Freak were using Pokémon Home as a paywall in which player’s virtual companions were going to be trapped.

White Boxes are the Pokemon not featured in the newest titles

Criticism of the Pokémon franchises difficulty has come under fire since the series left the Gameboy advance, while the game has always been targeted at children, it’s understandable that a series that was started almost 25 years ago has some older fans looking for a more difficult experience. In early October Game Informer were given the opportunity to visit Game Freaks HQ and play the game before launch.

During this visit, they discovered that the item Exp.Share from previous titles, usually something that had to be found than equipped would be an automatic function as you make your way through the game. The Exp. Share is used to level all your Pokémon at the same time instead of one at a time, equally dividing up all experience in battle. This item created a pseudo difficulty for fans, who enjoy more of a challenge when leveling up their party.

This news was not received well by fans and only intensified when game director Shigeru Ohmori spoke with InsideGamer saying “Those who have it turned off want to train one specific Pokémon. We thought: is there a way to achieve that? There is, simply by putting the rest of your Pokémon in the PC “

Just days out from the release of Pokemon Sword and Shield the internet was flooded with Leaks, spawning the hashtag #GamefreakLied. This is mostly in reference to the comments made by Ohmori when he spoke to Japanese Magazine Famitsu and said that the team had to redo models from scratch, of all Pokémon included in the game.

November 2019: Release & Reception

Although the controversy, backlash and boycotting that’s run rampant online for the better part of a year the opening weekend sales of Pokémon Sword and Shield surpassed that of any other stand-alone launch of the year. In the UK it outsold last year’s Pokémon title Let’s Go Pikachu & Let’s Go Eevee by 53% on release. The game wasn’t just a success with a sales but is boasting a score of 82 on Metacritic with mostly positive reviews with IGN dubbing it “The new gold standard for Pokémon”.

It was undoubtedly that the games were always going to sell incredibly well, regardless of controversy, although it does seem that post-launch that rambunctious fans have become silent.

Pokémon has created new and varying titles for decades now and although its first foray onto the switch seems to have had a mixed response by members of the community, the power of the brand stands tall as it dominates sales and critical reception.

With a series as popular as Pokémon, it will always have those fans wanting more from developers and we can only expect that in this new era of the franchise and with its rocky launch we can only hope they will be listening.

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