okay, we just had a thing, let’s talk about the thing
anyone who hasn’t watched the Pokémon Direct broadcast and wants to watch it for themselves, or just wants to not watch it and wait for Sword and Shield, stay out, ’cause I’m going to be talking about the thing
So, the really big reveal here is generation VIII’s flagship mechanic that follows in the footsteps of Mega Evolution and Z-moves: we can cause our Pokémon to grow to colossal size. Called “Dynamaxing” (which… *sigh* look, I like it better than I liked “Mega Evolution,” “Z-Power” or all the different “Ultra” things, put it that way), this greatly increases a Pokémon’s power and upgrades all of its moves to “max” moves. Like Mega Evolution and Z-moves, Dynamaxing is a once-per-battle affair. Unlike Mega Evolution, it seems like any Pokémon can Dynamax, but the effects will only last for three turns before the Pokémon reverts to normal. I imagine that you’ll have to somehow choose before a battle which of your Pokémon you want to Dynamax, possibly by equipping a special item as with Mega Evolution and Z-moves, but this has not yet been made clear. I think Dynamaxing is intended as an effort to strike a balance between the strengths and weaknesses of its two predecessors. Everyone loves Mega Evolution because it’s super cool and flashy, but because it’s exclusive to certain Pokémon, most people’s favourites just can’t do it (and it’s a lot of extra design work); Z-moves were something that everyone could get in on, but aren’t as interesting or dramatic. In principle, you can Dynamax a goddamn Magikarp and Epic Flail your way to glory, and I look forward to seeing the Youtube clip when it inevitably happens.
The “stadiums” we’ve already seen in Galar are indeed its gyms, and are designed with the aim of providing space for battles between two colossal Dynamax Pokémon, as well as plenty of room for crowds of cheering spectators (what the broadcast actually said was that they’re constructed in “special locations,” which might also be construed to mean that Dynamaxing is tied to specific points on the landscape – this does seem to be the case for the other place where the broadcast shows off Dynamaxing, and it would mean that you can’t just pull out your horrendously powerful giganto-Pokémon against some poor Bug Catcher the way you can with Mega Evolution). Galar wants to embrace the idea of Pokémon training as a mass-entertainment spectator sport, which we’ve previously seen mostly in the anime rather than the games, and could be an interesting angle for storytelling and worldbuilding. In terms of Galar as an analogue to Great Britain, this is in reference to the importance of football/soccer in modern British culture (with apologies to the rest of the world, I’m gonna call it soccer; New Zealand actually tends to go with North America on this one). Prominent trainers in Galar dress like soccer players, and your character seems to change into a soccer uniform for gym battles.
And then there’s this guy:
Leon is Galar’s champion, and he is a universally-loved celebrity – a sports star who also embodies the values and virtues of Pokémon training. His design combines a soccer uniform with the luxuriant fur-edged cape worn by British royalty on certain state occasions, and his cap has a gold zig-zag design that, when you see him from the front in the gameplay footage we saw today, looks like a crown. The name Leon – “lion” – references the triple lion crest that has been part of the coat of arms of the English monarchy since the time of Richard I Coeur de Lion, “The Lionheart” (the greatest English king ever to spend most of his life in France and speak no English). The English national soccer and cricket teams also have three blue lions on their crests, and the soccer team are nicknamed “the Three Lions.”
The rival character of Sword and Shield is Leon’s younger brother, Hop, which is not so much a name as sort of brisk jump, or an ingredient in beer. There’s not a lot to say about him yet – he’s a young trainer starting his journey alongside the main character, and he has a much more famous and often-absent relative whose reputation he has to live up to (compare for instance Barry’s relationship with his father, Palmer, in Diamond and Pearl). Richard I had a much less renowned and competent younger brother too – John “Lackland,” mostly known to us today as the evil “Prince John” of the Robin Hood legend. I don’t know that there’s a lot of scope for parallels there, in the context of a Pokémon game that presumably won’t feature a crusade or an evil sheriff or an oppressed populace or a mysterious archer in green, and Leon’s design could be referencing English royalty in general rather than Richard I in particular… but, y’know, maybe something worth watching out for.
Galar’s resident Professor Tree is named Professor Magnolia. Magnolias are found in England, though I don’t think they have any particular meaning that’s relevant here (although the magnolia flower symbolises nobility in Victorian floriography). Something that is quite nice is that Professor Magnolia is actually the first Pokémon professor to be named after – in a roundabout way – a real scientist, since the name “magnolia” was actually given to the tree in honour of 17th century French botanist Pierre Magnol, who devised one of the first major forerunners to Linnaeus’ universal system of biological classification (is that relevant? I mean, probably not, but I SWEAR THIS BLOG IS EDUCATIONAL, DAMN IT). According to the Pokémon Direct broadcast, Professor Magnolia’s special area of study is the Dynamax phenomenon that occurs in Galar (no great surprises there – Professors Sycamore and Kukui were experts on their respective regions’ flagship mechanics as well). Magnolia’s cane has an elaborately carved wooden head modelled on one of the new Galarian Pokémon revealed today (see below).
Professor Magnolia is assisted by her granddaughter Sonia, who apparently decided not to be a total piece of $#!t disappointment to her great Pokémon researcher grandparent the way Blue did once upon a time. We’ve been told that Sonia is a childhood friend (and rival?) of the young champion, Leon, which suggests that she may have some kind of important role in the story. All we know about her for now, though, is that she acts as a sort of mentor to you and Hop. After all, her grandmother can’t be expected to dash around Galar giving you random advice like Professor Kukui did in Alola – I’d say Professor Magnolia’s within her rights to delegate the more hands-on component of the job.
We’ve also been introduced to a red-haired, freckled and… and, well, truly unbelievably buff Grass-type Gym Leader named Milo, who is clearly just the most blatant and shameless kind of fanservice designed specifically for, and directed exclusively at, me. FRANKLY, Game Freak (since I now know that you read this blog; don’t bother trying to deny it), I find this level of targeting downright creepy.
(…just so we’re clear, though, I didn’t say “stop”)
A good chunk of Galar, referred to as the “Wild Area,” seems to be designed in an open-world style rather than as traditional “routes.” Different Pokémon will appear across the Wild Area from day to day depending on weather conditions, migrations and so on, allowing Sword and Shield to incorporate a wide range of the franchise’s ever-growing inventory of Pokémon and give us all a bit of choice in our team-building. Specific sites in the Wild Area can be used for a special multiplayer feature called “Max Raid Battles,” where up to four players cooperate to fight and catch a single powerful Dynamax Pokémon (who can remain in the Dynamax state for the entire course of the fight). The Wild Area and Max Raid Battles both seem to me like an effort to incorporate things that people liked about Pokémon Go into the core series – the wide open exploration and the cooperative “raid” battles against extremely powerful Pokémon. The Pokémon Direct broadcast also implies that some (legendary?) Pokémon can only be caught this way.
And of course we’ve been shown a few new Pokémon, and obviously I’ll have full reviews of these in my usual inimitable style when the games come out, but I think some first impressions are in order:
Wooloo – I mean, it’s a sheep, and we’ve had one of those, and at the moment it doesn’t look terribly interesting. However, there’s an argument you couldn’t really have a British region without a sheep Pokémon, and it’s almost certainly the first stage of two or three. I’ve learned in the past few generations to give early-game Normal(-looking?) Pokémon like Wooloo the benefit of the doubt. For now, its only job is to be cute – and it turns out it does that well enough to become the breakout internet star of the entire broadcast!
Gossifleur and Eldegoss – These two are another take on the “adorable wind-blown Grass Pokémon” archetype (see also Jumpluff and Whimsicott). The design basis seems to be dandelions, which grow bright yellow flowers (like Gossifleur’s) that, after being fertilised, turn into balls of downy fluff capable of carrying their seeds long distances on the wind (as we see on Eldegoss). Eldegoss, the evolved form, is Milo’s signature Pokémon. I always flirt with the idea of doing an all-Grass playthrough on my first run through a Pokémon game… I don’t know if these are enough to convince me, but we’ll see.
Drednaw – Okay I’m gonna level with you, I completely forgot this thing’s name and spent five minutes typing nonsense like “new bitey turtle Pokémon” into Google (reminder that I am a SERIOUS MEMBER OF THE POKÉMON FAN COMMUNITY WITH IMPORTANT IDEAS TO CONTRIBUTE). Uh… so yeah, it’s like a snapping turtle! I love that! I love all Pokémon that are just unrelentingly grumpy bastards and live to bite off their own trainers’ hands, because frankly theirs is a lifestyle and an attitude that I aspire to. I… I don’t even know if I have anything else to add here; I’m 50/50 on this thing getting an evolution at this point and I have no idea what type it is.
Corviknight – A raven or crow Pokémon with a “Dark Knight” aesthetic, apparently sinister but actually quite helpful (real corvids used to have a bad reputation, but are some of the most intelligent of all birds and can form lasting “friendships” with humans). I’ve seen a tweet that I quite like suggesting a link between Corviknight’s particular aesthetic combination and the historical figure Matthias Corvinus, a 15th century Hungarian ruler nicknamed “The Raven King.” Corviknight is featured in the broadcast to show off its special role in Galar – Corviknight provide the public service of flying people between the different cities of Galar. This is perhaps in the broadcast to reassure us that HMs are dead, buried and not coming back (or at least, that was what I took from it, thank Arceus). I think the choice of this particular Pokémon to run Galar’s aerial “taxi” service is probably meant as a reference to London’s legendary black cabs.
Zacian and Zamazenta – the legendary Pokémon of Sword and Shield, respectively (hence the wolf’s head design in the logos of the two games). And I… well, I… why is the sword in its mouth? How is that efficient or useful? And… Zamazenta’s “shield” looks like it’s part of its body but I think Zacian just… fµ¢£in’… found a sword somewhere and thought “yep; this is gonna be my thing now; I’m gonna be Sword Wolf and I’m gonna look so badass.” I… I mean I like the designs well enough, sure, they’re very regal and very distinctive and everything, but… why…? And apparently Dark Souls, of all things, did it first? Anyway, from the cinematic in the broadcast it seems (to me, at least) like these two are rivals who, perhaps, will have to team up against some greater threat during the course of the story. I estimate that I have about three days before someone comes up with a crackpot theory that they are based on Aztec mythology and I have to spend the next five years debunking it.
So those are the things that I think. Perhaps you think other things, and that would also be great. There’s not really anything about this preview that jumps out and makes me think “these are gonna be the best Pokémon games yet!” but I can see some interesting creative decisions going into it and I am looking forward to seeing how that all pans out in the finished games. Uh… share your thoughts in the comments!