sethparmer's Pokémon Sword (Nintendo Switch) review

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Pokémon Sword Could Have Used 'Sharpen'

Pokémon Sword is a video game that has a ton of ambition but never sticks the landing. Everything from the Wild Area, to Dynamaxing/Gigantamaxing, and gyms just feel stiff and poorly implemented.

The game's opening does a great job of setting up the word and its characters and does an even better job at setting up the drive behind your character's dream at becoming the Champion. However, the pacing of setting up the context, story, and overall characters, and their ambitions, is pretty abysmal. Being stopped seemingly every two seconds, or so, by your rival/best bud Hop is infuriating and unnecessary. Hop's character is one of ambition, excitement, and dreams. See, his brother Leon is the current, undefeated, Pokémon Champion of the Galar Region and Hop wishes to achieve the same goal in his life... That's all great, but it seems that Hop is only there to slow the pace of the game to a grinding halt. Especially at the start of the game. Hop will stop you every three steps to point out the most obvious, non-important, thing and then run forward and wait to interrupt your progress once more. Everything he tells you could have easily been summed up in the cutscene before it but, instead, is spaced out in a way that slows the intro of this game to a pace that just feels clunky and sluggish. Hop, at the core, isn't a bad character and has a playfulness to him that is very endearing... However, the way they implement him, in the early ongoings of the game, is very bizarre. This is just one example of the many head-scratching things going on in this game.

With all of the pacing issues aside, what we have, in terms of the world, is pretty intriguing. At least on the surface. The region we find ourselves in is the Galar Region (which is loosely based on the UK) and the Pokémon that inhabit it are incredibly unique and wonderful. The gimmick of this region, however, is that these Pokémon have the ability to Dynamax, or in some cases Gigantamax. Dynamaxing allows a Pokémon to grow massive in size and allows them to deal and take more damage. Whenever you Dynamax, however, you only have three turns in battle before your Pokémon shrinks back down to its normal size. It sounds cool, in theory, but whenever you learn you can only do it in Gym Battles, and Raid Battles, it makes it a thing you just do whenever you opponent does it and pretty much cancels out any sort of strategy seeing as once you do it, that's it, you won't be able to do it again for that battle. The overall concept of it is cool and should be the main talking point of the game, but it just falls flat and isn't fleshed out to the extent it should have been. It's awesome seeing some Pokémon take different looks in this form, but very change their look drastically to even care about and it's only a thing you do whenever the opposing side does it. It has no staying power and doesn't feel rewarding in the grand scheme of things. This is one of the most disappointing executions in the game by far, and I just wish more focus was put onto, what could have been, the next big step in the series.

Ultimately, the game isn't terrible but it isn't exactly great either. Catching, battling, and bonding with your Pokémon is still as captivating, and exhilarating, as ever and the charm of the random NPC's, gym leaders, are also on point. The game does a fantastic job of allowing you to constantly want to try out new, and exciting, Pokémon as you can swap them out on the go, similarly to the "Let's Go" series. There are some incredible new Pokémon, and some very clever changes to classics, that make the world feel both worth exploring and interesting. With a ton of Pokémon missing the cut, I was a tad worried going into this installment knowing there may be less, and exciting, encounters but all of that has been subsided when running into the hundreds of bizarre Pokémon that still inhabit this world. I never felt cheated, or that I needed more Pokémon in the world, and felt overall satisfied with what was there. Sure, not having some of the favorites in there hurts a bit. But it never took away from what was there, which was a huge sigh of relief.

In addition to catching, and battling, your Pokémon there is a new area referred to as the "Wild Area." This area doesn't quite hit on any of its promises but, instead, feels very empty and only there so you can grind. There are a lot of things in this area that looks like it's going to lead to some grand secret but, then, leads to nothing. Like, a dilapidated castle that you can peek into that does absolutely nothing... No secret ghost Pokémon or anything of that sort waiting for you inside of it. Just a broken castle you can look at... Great! Or take the mansion for instance. Just a cool looking mansion, in the middle of nowhere, that is only a daycare. It's preposterous how many things in this game look like it might kickoff this grand secret adventure, then immediately falls flat or the payoff isn't particularly interesting. That's the entire Wild Area in a nutshell. The entire area is rather dull and lifeless and sort of feels slapped on to give the game more replayability via grinding out "Raid Battles" which are also very underwhelming. Raid Battles are important, but only because completing one gives you EXP candies that can be used to get your party up to speed to tackle upcoming gyms. Raid Battles are, to put simply, battles where you and three other people take on a Gigantamaxed Pokémon. Those three other people can be actual players, which is kind of cool, or three NPC's. Either way, these battles fall flat and offer no real challenge. The only reason you do this, as mentioned before, is to grind them for EXP candies to give to your current pool of Pokémon. Sure, you can catch them after the battle but, chances are, you already have the Pokémon you're battling and just want the EXP and other goodies they drop. The Wild Area just seems odd and slapped together. There's nothing to do or see in it, but you HAVE to go into it and grind your way through it if you want to progress further into the actual game.

Overall, this game has some honest issues that are confusing but also has a world that's very clever, intriguing, and worth exploring. Pokémon Sword has so many ambitious ideas that never have a satisfying payoff, which is a bummer. If you liked past Pokémon titles, this one feels no different and doesn't exactly move the needle forward. But what it does right, it does right in aces. It's enjoyable, but not groundbreaking by any means.

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