Pokémon Sword and Shield are here, meaning it’s time once again for Pokémon trainers to turn their hats backward, Ash Ketchum-style, and explore a brand new region filled with all sorts of new Pokemon and exciting challenges. James Grebey and Tom Philip, two GQ contributors with more than 100 Gym Badges between them, got together to discuss the new games, comparing their Pokémon adventures and seeing how Pokémon Sword and Shield compare to past entries in the franchise.
James Grebey, GQ.com contributor: Tom, it is killing me that I’m talking about Pokémon Sword and Shield with you, right now, instead of continuing my quest to catch ‘em all (or at least catch all the Pokémon in the Galar Dex). How has your Pokémon adventure gone so far?
Tom Philip, GQ.com contributor: It’s gone well in the sense I am successfully winning battles left and right. It’s as addictive as ever, and I’m trying to reconcile my impulse to play it every minute of every day with the knowledge that Pokémon games, by and large, don’t take very long to complete, and I’d like to enjoy it in portions for as long as possible. I already have a strong, deep team I would die for. But let’s begin with the obvious question: James, which starter Pokémon did you choose and why?
James: I chose Sobble, the adorable weeping water lizard, which was great because Sobble was my favorite from the start and all of the other final evolutions look like rejected Digimon. But I totally agree with you in that the game is going by way too quickly, so while I’m getting invested in my Pokémon team (my Galarian Weezing is named “Industry Dad” because he’s a robber baron who stole my heart), I’m not really connecting to the larger story or world, even though it’s beautiful and meant to be immersive. I can’t tell if it’s Sword and Shield, though, or if I’m better at Pokémon video games now that I’m almost 30 compared to when I was 7. How’s your starter doing?
Tom: Full disclosure: I too wanted Sobble, but for the sake of balanced journalism, I chose Grookey after you laid claim to the sad amphibian. A mischievous little monkey who likes to bonk stuff with a stick? An easy second choice. His final evolution, a drumming grass-type gorilla, isn’t really for me, but in my humble opinion, there hasn’t been a great final starter evolution since generation IV’s Empoleon, the regal steel/water penguin.
The game’s generous mechanics when it comes to shared experience points at least means, if you’re not feeling your starter a little later in the game, replacing them in your core team is easier than it was several games ago. I would say, in addition to us being grown adults who know the deal with Pokémon games by now, they have gotten easier over time. The forced EXP share and the ability to access your Pokémon storage box just about everywhere means the tradition of having a team of six strong Pokémon to travel the world with is basically theoretical now, since you can easily swap monsters in and out, and level them up, easier than ever before. I think this would be fine if the game were designed to last longer or even if there were difficulty settings. But as it stands, I feel drastically over-prepared and over-leveled after just four badges. Have you had the same experience?
James: Yeah, totally. I’m swapping out my Pokémon pretty frequently so I’m not wildly over-leveled, but I’m not feeling much of a challenge except for that one time I assumed the game would automatically heal my team (something that happens a lot in the recent entries of the series) and walked confidently into a hard battle with a nearly spent squad. It’s not just the difficulty level, though. I feel like I’ve played enough Pokémon games that I’m trained to be efficient, which means checking every house before going to the gym and essentially being done with an entire town in the span of a smooth half-hour.
I’m also finding myself annoyed by how much I know. Like, I wish it didn’t bother me that my starter has an "impish" nature, which means his primary attacking stat 10 percent worse than it would be otherwise, but I am cursed with that knowledge and I’m enough of a competitive gamer to be burdened by it. That said, I’m glad Sword and Shield make the stat differences of nature clearly visible for the first time, and offers ways to change those natures, even if that’s locked to post-game.
Maybe being “Too Good at Pokémon” would be less of a “problem” if the parts of Sword and Shield that are new to everyone—me included—were more interesting. Tom, are you enjoying Dynamaxing or cooking curry?
Tom: I am enjoying the former, which is thankfully not an overused gimmick and only really allowed during gym battles, which gives it a sense of occasion and scale (I would still give it up in a heartbeat for the return of mega evolutions, mind). I am not enjoying the latter, which is a half-baked attempt to recall the delightful cooking mechanics in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I couldn’t give a shit about the curries, frankly.
The main reason I’m overpowered at the moment is my favorite new addition to this generation: The Wild Area: A vast expanse in the very middle of the Galar region that spawns all kinds of rare and powerful Pokémon. For the first time, there’s a real danger in wild areas that your team, fresh off winning their first badge, might encounter an obstinate level 50 Snorlax and get utterly decimated. I love exploring the Wild Area’s different regions and being literally chased out of the place by an angry Corviknight I have absolutely no chance of beating at this stage. But the risks are as good as the rewards because there are all kinds of cool catchable Pokémon if you know where to look. James, tell me about your first run-in with a scary super-powerful wild Pokémon. And, hell, tell me about your core team right now.
James: I am also loving the Wild Area, and I’m generally a big fan of the way Sword and Shield handle wild Pokémon. It’s clearly a nod to the Go franchise, but being able to actually see them in the tall grass, and go after them or flee before a battle starts, is fantastic—plus, you still get some mystery when you go after Pokémon who the game simply marks with a “!” and can’t be seen in the over-world. If Sword and Shield’s towns feel a little too on-rails, the wilderness feels... well, wild in a way that the games never have before.
My team MVP right now is a Hitmonchan named “Fight Boi,” because he knows all the elemental punches and can provide me with the coverage I need to brute-force my way through most battles with super-effective hits. I’ve also got my starter, my Galarian Weezing, and some filler, though I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying having Orbeetle—the last evolution of the new basic Bug-Type—on my team. I have caught a Galarian Ponyta, which is exclusive to Shield, and I will trade it to you as promised. Anything you’re enjoying in Sword compared to Shield?
Tom: Sirfetch’d is obviously a highlight, a long-awaited evolution to a cult favorite from the original 151, Farfetch’d. I will give you one of those in exchange. For all their fearsome power in Pokémon lore, I’ve been disappointed in my Gyarados this time around, but am utterly in love with Corvinknight. Every generation gets a three-evolution flying-type early in the game, and the armored crow is easily my favorite since Pidgeotto first soared onto our screens with Ash in the first season of the anime. I’m still experimenting with types in this game, but Fire seems a very tough type to attain if you don’t start with Scorbunny, and I’ve hard trouble with bug, grass, and steel types as a result.
Can I also just object to the over-saturation of Dark-type moves in this game? It seems like “Bite” is foisted onto every single one of my companions at one point or another, and the number of Dark-type Pokémon is ridiculous, too. GameFreak went to no small lengths to cull the Pokédex to make this a balanced game, but I feel at sea trying to pick up a usable fire type compared to the number of dark and bug-type Pokemon roaming around. Where’s my “Flamethrower” at??
James, what are your final thoughts on the game so far, and what would you like to see from a Pokémon game in the future now that it has the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch to tap into?
James: Honestly? Just more of it. GameFreak has been getting lambasted by Redditors who are upset that about half of the old Pokémon got cut from the game, and have found reasons to be upset about pretty much everything else because the Internet’s favorite movie is “Outrage” (Dragon-Type, 120-base power). And, sure, as much as I do kinda wish that Crobat, my personal favorite, could fly around the Galar Region with me, I don’t think I would care about missing features from old Pokémon games if Sword and Shield’s core gameplay had a bit more to offer.
With the exception of The Wild Area, Pokémon Sword and Shield looks big, but the games don’t quite feel big, and for an expensive blockbuster franchise, I really want to be able to get lost. The Switch is perfect for Pokémon, but because I can play it at home or on the go, I’m gonna be a Pokémon Master before the week is over. Sword and Shield feel like proof of concept, but there’s another stage of evolution left for console Pokémon games.
Tom: I have to agree. There’s not a hell of a lot in Sword and Shield that doesn’t feel like it couldn’t have been achieved on the Nintendo 3DS. GameFreak maybe just doesn’t have the time or resources to meet the standards other Nintendo games the new console has set, and that’s an underlying problem with what is, by all accounts, another satisfying but pedestrian addition to the Pokémon franchise.
Fans are already protesting.
We’re talking the original 151 here, folks.
Ryan Reynolds's tiny yellow sleuth is the highlight of a nostalgia-fueled story that'll satisfy new and old fans.
There are no skills I gain by playing. That’s the point.
Originally Appeared on GQ