Why Is Pokemon Sword and Shield So Controversial?

Pokemon Sword and Shield Starter header

The dawn of the eighth generation of the franchise, Pokemon Sword and Shield mark the first mainline entries in the series made for home consoles, and the first in high definition. Unfortunately, what should be an exciting time for the fanbase has instead elicited an endless supply of controversy. In fact, it's easily the most divisive entry in the franchise ever, a status achieved long before its release window. While the crowd of anger is fairly small, it does stick out, given the hype that the title should be generating. Justified or not, what are the reasons that fans are heretofore critical of the game?

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Pokemon has never been a graphically intensive franchise, nor have most of the mainline Nintendo intellectual properties. In Pokemon's case, however, much of that could be laid at the fact that the series was typically reserved for handheld. These systems lacked significant graphical power compared to their home counterparts—that excuse isn't flying so well now that the franchise is being put on the Nintendo Switch.

While fans by no means expected graphics on par with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, many gamers expected something more along the lines of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, instead of an upscaled version of the series' previous aesthetic. Another element of this are the apparently reused assets from previous games, which drive home the lack of care that commenters increasingly accuse Gamefreak of.

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Missing Features

One sore point with Pokemon games throughout the years has been developer Gamefreak's continual practice of adding features in one generation, only to remove them in the subsequent games. This dates all the way back to the second generation, when the Day/Night feature introduced in Pokemon Gold and Silver and abandoned by Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. The latter games also introduced Secret Bases, which were expanded in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl with the Underground, all of which was scrapped in the following games and never brought back.

Sword and Shield's equivalent of this practice is Dynamax and Gigantamax. These features allow players to change the shape and especially size of their Pokemon, allowing for powerful new attacks. This makes it very similar to previous generations' Z Moves and Mega Evolutions, with the latter immediately landing as a huge hit when introduced, as it allowed old fan favorite Pokemon to be reimagined and stronger than ever. Losing these features removes the most impactful evolutions (no pun intended) of the series' battle system, also making certain Pokemon less viable in battle as a result. Instead, the biggest focus seems to be on new features such as camping, where players can cook curried sausage.

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Can't Catch 'Em All?

Possibly the biggest cause of fan derision has been the announcement that the game will not feature the ability to catch all of the existing Pokemon in the franchise. There is no National Pokedex that expands the number of Pokemon that can be caught, traded, and registered, with the in-game Pokedex only recognizing Pokemon that reside in the Galar region. Bringing every single Pokemon into the game would require Gamefreak to develop high-definition assets for over one thousand unique characters. This was probably unfeasible, given the fairly tight turnaround between games in the series. Though it was realistically unlikely, it still sadly means that the Pokemon that can't be caught in-game are essentially missing, which didn't sit right with some fans.

It also brings to fore an issue that the last several generations of Pokemon have had, which is a lack of post-game content. Former games in the series would give the player a National Pokedex after defeating the Elite Four, giving them access to new areas which housed Pokemon from previous games. X and Y and Sun and Moon also lacked this, which severely undermined replay value. While those games could at least trade Pokemon with others in that generation, Sword and Shield will not have that option. In some fans eyes, the duo of games essentially betray the franchise's motto of catching them all, and potentially foretells of another dearth of post-game content.

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Big Loss, Big Gain?

The combination of these games' biggest complaints brings to question each problem's existence. Some fans have asked, since the graphics aren't very intensive, why is the game missing Pokemon? Since the game is missing Pokemon, why also take out some of the key features from the previous generations? If the features and Pokemon are missing, why couldn't more data be put into the game's graphical power?

Alternatively, since these fans haven't actually had time with the game, their issues may fade away like a Ghastly. Reviews have been massively positive for the newest iteration, with many critics remarking that these issues matter little when the gameplay is compelling.

In moving to home consoles, the game seems to be pushing a sort of "back to basics, new beginning" vibe, somewhat similar to Pokemon X and Y's launch on the Nintendo 3DS. That event-like sense of spectacle would be easier for fans to swallow if the presentation matched the occasion. Unfortunately, it seems that fans' cries of a lack of effort on Gamefreak's part may not be entirely without reason. Fans will have to pick up the long awaited (and debated) game this Friday to see if the wait was truly worth it.

Pokemon Sword and Shield launches Friday, 11/15, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.

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