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Are Pokémon Sword and Shield’s issues as bad as fans are saying?

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Pokémon games are universally well liked. But while each game has its own issues, Sword and Shield has been met with a flurry of player criticism, under the #GameFreakLied flag.

The aggregated Metacritic score for the new Pokémon title is incredibly positive, at 82 out of 100, but the user score is a dismal 1.7 out of 10. But even before the game released, people have complained about the removal of the national Pokédex, which dropped the Pokémon count down from over 890 to 400, as well as the rehash of character models and animations. 

The #GameFreakLied narrative started when someone on Reddit shared Pokémon wireframes that suggest that developer Game Freak have reused assets from previous game. Despite the evidence against the #GameFreakLied take, as explained by an experienced game artist and director Laura Miller who detailed the simplicity of making a black and white versions of wireframes, people are still pointing their swords at Game Freak. 

But I am here, with a shield, to tell you that it doesn’t matter if Game Freak lied or not. Pokémon Sword and Shield should be judged by its own merit. It’s has its issues, but overall, are the specific complaints from players really valid?

National Pokédex

What most people are upset about, and understandably so, is the jump from 890 Pokémon to 400 in Sword and Shield, thus removing the national Pokédex. 

I, more than anyone, would like to get all 890 Pokémon into a main title. However, while it’s a valid complaint, it’s not a make or break feature. Most Pokémon games did not have all of the Pokémon available in one spot at the time of release, so you shouldn't have expected that that would be the case here. There is one exception, however, and that is Pokémon Ultra Sun & Moon, which had all 807 Pokémon that were available at the time.

Since Pokémon Home is coming out, you could argue that now’s the perfect time to have a game that hosts all of the Pokémon, but Pokémon Home isn’t slated to launch until Early 2020. For those who don’t know, Pokémon Home is cloud-based app that is going to release on the Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android, allowing you aggregate all of the Pokémon you’ve ever collected in one place. And if it happens to get pushed back, it’ll come out closer to whenever the next Pokémon game launches, considering that Pokémon games come out every year now.

You’re not going to have to wait very long for a new Pokémon game, and the next one might very well be the version will all of the Pokémon that currently exist. There’s no point hating on Pokémon Sword and Shield specifically, especially since all of the previous Pokémon games have been like this.

But, the #GameFreakLied crowd’s issue isn’t with the “short” list of Pokémon alone, it’s how Game Freak said the shorter list is a result of how much work is being put into the game, specifically the animations.

Reusing animations

The biggest complaint that fans are making is that Game Freak reused character models and animations when the company said that the reason that it cut so many Pokémon was because it need to recreate new models “from scratch.”

(Image credit: BigHailFan)

However, the issue with that argument is that the company’s promise to create new animations wasn’t actually the sole reason the company cut the national Pokédex, and that the “from scratch” line seems to be a mistranslation. Nintendo Everything posted translations that indicate that Game Freak simply needed to “redo models” due to the Nintendo Switch being a new system, but the interview doesn’t actually define to what extent.

In an interview with Polygon, producer Junichi Masuda said, “We need to be able to prioritize new gameplay ideas. We need to be able to find a way to balance the right number of Pokémon and also still introduce new ways for players to enjoy the game, new gameplay ideas to keep the series fresh and enjoyable far into the future.”

So, even if Game Freak did actually reuse assets from other games, that’s not what led the company to cut so many Pokémon. But, who really cares? A ton of great games such as Dark Souls are known to reuse some assets in the next iterations of their games. Yet, they’re still critically acclaimed.

(Image credit: BigHailFan)

There’s also a side by side image floating around comparing Pokémon Sword and Shield to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. First of all, the development for Breath of the Wild took four whole years, while the full production of Pokémon Sword and Shield started 2 years ago. Not to mention that Game Freak developed four titles (six if you count Pokémon games as double) between now and then with a staff of just 143 people. Does Breath of the Wild look better? Of course, but Pokémon Sword and Shield was not meant to look as good as a franchise that has a major title launch like every five or so years.

Are people’s Pokémon Sword and Shield complaints valid?

Should a modern game have better animations? Yes. But does that define what makes a good game? No. Should Pokémon, or any game, have all of the characters in it that series that were created? Preferably, but it’s not a must.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

When you think about how some fighting games cut a few characters out of 30 or so, that’s a small number to deal with compared to the 400 Pokémon that Game Freak had to put in Pokémon Sword and Shield. The developers literally cut half of the roster, so imagine what would happen if they added all of them? It would likely take them an additional year. And while most gamers would happily wait for that point, that’s likely not up to the developers but rather the people above them.

The developers at Game Freak get set specific deadlines for these games. Why make a game once every two years when you can have one game a year and make a ton of money off of kids, nostalgic gamers and the super competitive crowd? The issue comes down to money. Despite all of the controversy, Pokémon Sword & Shield sold six million copies during the launch weekend, making it the best-selling launch of the entire series.

There are several issues with the Pokémon games that could use a tune up to make them better, but if you think going along with the #GameFreakLied narrative is going to affect changes in future games, you’re wrong. And sending the developer death threats isn’t going to get your point across. Game Freak could reuse the same assets and cut the Pokémon count even lower next year, and you know what? The game will still sell amazing because at their core, Pokémon games are still good. The sales don’t lie, and neither do the critics.