…well, here goes nothing.
As I have previously intimated, I’m not going to write a narrative playthrough journal of Shield, as I did for White 2, X and Moon, because while those are extremely fun and I genuinely like a lot of my writing for them (particularly in the Moon one, where I got carried away and fabricated an entire romance subplot with a random Team Skull grunt), they take a lot of time, and I think there are other aspects of this game that should be higher priority. But I can hardly leave my loyal readers without the benefit of my piercing insights into every aspect of this game’s features and story as they develop over the course of my playthrough, so instead we’re gonna have a more bullet-point-style approach, like I did when I played Alpha Sapphire. It goes without saying, of course, that here be spoilers, although I might do a short spoiler-free review thingy of the whole game at the end for anyone who still isn’t sure whether this game is for them, if that’s of interest to anyone (Sword and Shield are so polarising that it feels like 98% of the Pokémon community is already divided into “most perfect games ever!!!” or “betrayal of the series, the fans and basic human decency” so maybe there’s no point in that, but… well, it’s a possibility). If you already don’t intend to play this game and don’t care about spoilers, or if you’re already ahead of me, then read on – here we go!
- Weirdly, the first thing that struck me is how relentlessly British the dialogue is. A lot of the distinctive British figures of speech that this game uses are actually current in New Zealand English as well – “mum” with a u (not “mom” with an o), “flash” meaning fancy/expensive/cool, “mate” as a term of address for a friend or casual acquaintance, “telly” for “television,” etc. I’m so used to mentally translating Americanisms in game dialogue, though, that it’s actually kind of strange how naturally this stuff reads to me.
- When you meet the three starters, there’s a lovely little cutscene of them playing together in the garden. There’s a lot of nice little details like this.
- Hop, the rival character and younger brother of the Champion, Leon, is… a lot. Intensely competitive, fundamentally convinced he is destined for greatness, always energetic, always “on.” He’s like Hau’s positivity mixed with Blue’s attitude.
- Leon is… also a lot.
- Our first outing into the wild with Hop and our starter Pokémon ends in a confrontation with the box legendary (either Zacian or Zamazenta) which is immune to all attacks and leaves us unconscious in the wilderness. This is creepy as $#!t.
- Sonia’s “late-stage PhD student” energy is the one thing I never realised I needed from a Pokémon game and now I can die happy.
- I have gained 140 W by defeating a random wild Pokémon that had a yellow glow around it in the overworld view. I have no idea what this means. Jim the Editor (who is not playing this game) suggests that W stands for Wumbo, and it is used for embiggening things.
- Biggest concern at the moment is the difficulty curve. The Exp. Share mechanic from generations VI and VII is always on. I played both X and Moon with the Exp. Share turned off the entire time and thought that was a comfortable level of difficulty, which makes me think Game Freak still may not have adjusted to the more generous experience regime. Then again, this generation also seems to incorporate some version of generation V’s “diminishing returns” mechanic, where higher level Pokémon receive less experience, so maybe this is all right.
- Enjoying the greater options for character customisation, only slightly annoyed that the game still won’t let me wear a skirt (look, what if I promise to call it a kilt?). Screw the rules; I have pink hair!
- Somehow I was actually correct in inferring from the earliest teaser materials that Embiggening (I refuse to call it “Dynamaxing”) can only happen in special locations; it might even have something to do with “ley line” folklore. Maybe I should make random predictions more often.
- The variability of the Wild Area seems like it ought to be good for replayability; you can go there from a very early point in the game and it can give you different party options depending on weather conditions (and perhaps other factors beyond my present understanding).
- The camping minigame is cute. Do not write it off until you have played fetch with both Magikarp and Metapod.
- Interestingly, this game seems to split the difference on reusable TMs: TMs are reusable and contain less powerful moves like Swift and Pay Day; stronger moves like Drill Run and Dazzling Gleam come from TRs (not clear what this stands for), which are single-use but can be obtained repeatedly as loot from fighting wild Embiggened Pokémon.
- You have not known fear until you have fought a wild Togepi the size of a small office block.
- As the pre-release hype materials implied, Galar is very interested in the idea of competitive Pokémon battles as a mass entertainment spectator sport, which has always been in the background of Pokémon but never brought into focus like this.
- Apparently competing in the Galarian version of the gym challenge requires a letter of endorsement from a League official. Hop’s brother is the Champion, so no problem there. I assumed at first that this was just a regular part of his duties, scouting promising young trainers and endorsing them. When we got to the stadium in Motostoke for the opening ceremony of this season of the gym challenge, though, the guy at the registration desk was like “wow; we’ve never had someone endorsed by the champion before!” and then “two of you at once! Wow; what’s come over him all of a sudden!?”
- Nepotism. Nepotism has come over him.
- Seriously, Leon’s stated goal in life is to get more Galarians into competitive Pokémon battling… so why isn’t he endorsing young trainers left and right?
- Sonia is studying Galarian myth-history in hopes of learning something about the mysterious wolf Pokémon we met on the Slumbering Weald. She relates to us a story about how a young hero armed with a magical sword and shield was able to save Galar from a catastrophe known as “the Darkest Day,” when gigantic Pokémon devastated the countryside and the entire region was covered by a dark storm. This is already suspicious, as Embiggened Pokémon appear in the wild beneath supernatural storm clouds, which grow as their battles go on. Sonia mentions that nothing at all is known about the magical sword and shield, which makes me think that they might not be a literal sword and shield at all, but allegorical references to Zacian and Zamazenta themselves.
- Rose. Chairman Rose. Chairman Rose of the Galarian Pokémon League. There was some speculation before release that this guy would turn out to be the main antagonist and so far he… hasn’t convinced me that he’s not? His endorsee, Bede, is a massive prick whose only interaction with me or Hop, so far, has been to refuse all conversation because he’s far too important for us (I guess the Chairman’s endorsee outranks the Champion’s…?). More importantly, though, Rose himself strikes me as… oily. More about spectacle and profit than the love of the game.
- Leon has, like… a dumb, derpy authenticity to him. There’s something about his whole “soccer shorts and royal cape” ensemble, coupled with the brand advertising plastered all over his cape, that says to me something like “small-town working class kid makes good” (not that there’s anything “working class” about Leon and Hop’s family home in Postwick, but… well, you get the idea). All that crap, to him, is symbolic of the fact that he’s made it; he has no idea how tacky it looks and probably wouldn’t care if he did.
- Next to him, Rose is a polished, smooth-talking crony capitalist. I mean, I have biases here, and Rose hasn’t done anything suspicious yet, but… well, Lusamine and Lysandre both put on a pretty respectable public face, put it that way.
- One thing is for sure, and that’s that Team Yell – the self-appointed fan club of gym challenge competitor Marnie – seem pretty harmless so far. This could be a complex double-bluff on Game Freak’s part, with Team Yell unexpectedly turning out to be actually really dangerous, but from what I’ve seen, Marnie seems to be able to keep them under control when she’s around. They’re basically English football hooligans – they give the sport a bad name, but they aren’t about to destroy the world.
- Surprised but gratified that the game will still allow me to name a Trubbish “Crapsack” (it’s a very common name in their culture and not offensive).
- New Pokémon I have thus far encountered include:
- A grey squirrel called Skwovet, which I resent for being generic, and because grey squirrels are invasive in the UK and have played a major part in threatening populations of native red squirrels.
- A birb called Rookidee, which is a pure Flying-type (so I guess we’re just completely dispensing with the pretence that Normal/Flying ever meant a single goddamn thing), and which I suspect will eventually evolve into Corviknight, because of its Dark-type attacks, chess-themed name and similar-looking face.
- A caterpillar with a bowtie called Blipbug, which has evolved into a Psychic ladybird called Dottler (I mean, at least it’s not another chrysalis Pokémon) and appears to have a third stage waiting in the wings.
- A deceptive fox called Nickit, which looks like it might develop a chimneysweep aesthetic when it evolves (see black-tipped, brush-like tail). I must watch it closely, lest it abscond in the dark of night with all my worldly goods.
- Wooloo, with whom we are already well acquainted, and whose position in the Pokédex implies a single evolution.
- Yamper and Gossifleur, whom again we have already met (there is a blank space in the Pokédex between Yamper and Bunnelby… then again, I thought we’d been told it doesn’t evolve? More research is needed). Yamper amst a heckin’ chonker.
- Chewtle, a small turtle who will clearly evolve into… thing… y’know, whatever it’s called; the large bitey turtle from the trailers whose name I can never remember.
- An extremely derpy-looking otter-thing that works in Galarian Pokémon Centres but has not yet been formally introduced to me.
- The pike-looking fish Pokémon that Cramorant eats, which I can see from a distance swimming in lakes, but likewise have not yet been formally introduced to.
I’ve decided provisionally to go all-Grass on this one – I may yet be tempted to stray by something especially interesting, but for the moment my team is as follows:
Donkey the Grookey
Level 15, male, Quirky
Scratch, Growl, Razor Leaf, Taunt
Samba the Lombre
Level 15, male, Bashful
Astonish, Mist, Mega Drain, Water Gun
Oddment the Oddish
Level 15, male, Careful
Mega Drain, Growth, Acid, Poison Powder
YasQueen the Bounsweet
Level 15, female, Bashful
Splash, Play Nice, Rapid Spin, Razor Leaf
Leona the Gossifleur
Level 11, female, Timid
Leafage, Sing, Rapid Spin, Sweet Scent
…I just caught a Delibird in the Wild Area and honestly I’m tempted