I feel like I’ve been tricked so many times, I’m sad when I’m not being tricked.
Wait a tick… That might be a little confusing. Let’s take a look at an obvious example. Pokémon, come on down.
Today’s game is technically not even a game at all, but an expansion of a game that was previously covered, Pokémon: Sword/Shield. I will save you valuable clicking and/or reading time and immediately sum up a general review of Pokémon: SS (that is still an unfortunate abbreviation): it is good. In fact, it is very good. It really might be the ideal Pokémon game, give or take how much drama you like to see in your games that also feature electric rats. It’s a very straightforward tale of a boy/girl ascending from humble beginnings to becoming the champion of the universe, and, along the way, you get to fight a giant, man-eating spike-dragon or two. And the post-game is pretty great, too, as, while it is lacking in any more plot depth, it has practically infinite possibilities in the “Wild Area” and its many opportunities for new catches (and, yes, I am counting the postgame “weird hair dude” fights in that calculation. That story should have been part of the main game, and you know it). Even before DLC, Pokémon Sword/Shield could have been a game that still would have delivered content for months.
But we live in a world where no game can ever truly be finished, so Pokémon Sword/Shield earned two whole new “campaigns” in the name of downloadable content. In the Isle of Armor, your trainer visits a hitherto unexplored island that is vaguely Eastern-themed, trains in a Pokémon dojo, and eventually defeats the grandmaster while earning a new, karate-based Pokémon. Meanwhile, in the Crown Tundra, your customized protagonist goes on a quest in an occasionally frozen wasteland to discover a host of legendary Pokémon, and maybe help out some manner of telepathic deer with popularity problems. In both areas, there are new whacky characters to encounter, challenges to overcome, and, of course, Pokémon to catch. Pokémon Sword/Shield started with what many claimed was an insultingly low number of Pokémon available to the player, and, while the expansions don’t fill in the entire pokéroster, you certainly have more of a variety available now (still no sign of Drowzee, though). And that’s great! Sure, you can just airdrop your entire living pokédex from Pokémon Home straight into Sword and claim you’ve completed the ‘dex, but it’s a lot more fun to pedal out into the ocean, and discover a tenacool for the first time all over again. This is bloody Pokémon, dammit, go out there and catch ‘em all.
And this is why DLC is perfect for the Pokémon franchise. Depending on how you look at it, every Pokémon game ever has been structured like DLC, give or take the first one (and even that we could reasonably claim that was simply DLC for Monster Rancher). Every time the story is the same: a few new characters, some fresh and interesting geography, and those adorable little murderous critters we all want to store in our balls. Are there new legendaries? A smattering of choice creatures that are so limited, you’re either going to have to buy a new version or hit the trade forums? A Champion that is like a billion years old, but is clearly going to lose to a preteen? It’s always all there, and it’s always just as predictable as last time. And that’s great! Said it before, and I’ll say it again: great DLC should be more of the same. You liked the initial package, so additional content should be like that opening gamut, but with just enough new twists to keep things interesting. And, whether that be DLC or a “mainline title”, that is every Pokémon game to a T. There have been some tweaks over the years (some were amazing, some should have been there from the start [looking at you, Wrap]), but every Pokémon title works like good DLC. So it should be absolutely no surprise that the DLC for Pokémon Sword/Shield is magnificent: it’s exactly what we expect from a Pokémon game!
Except… it pushed aside something else that we expect from a Pokémon game, and that is generating some confusing concern from this Pokémon Trainer.
Back in the far off past, back in a time when Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium cemented the idea that there would never be any more Pokémon than the original 151, we were introduced to Pokémon Yellow. It was an adventure that was simultaneously familiar and new. It was ostensibly an attempt to capture the universal popularity of the Pokémon Anime, and integrate that audience into the world of Pokémon videogames. But, somewhere along the way, it wound up improving the franchise as a whole, too. Whether it was in an attempt to capture “casuals” or simply right what once went wrong, Pokémon Yellow is an unmistakable improvement on the original Pokémon Red/Blue(/Green). There were many small quality of life improvements, and, what’s more, it was the first time in the franchise when a Pokémon could follow its trainer across the map. In short, even if you already played Pokémon Red/Blue, Pokémon Yellow had something new (and better!) for you. And if you never played any version at all? Well, Yellow was the one to get.
And, whether this was inspired by the success of Yellow or a general need to always see improvement, nearly every following Pokémon generation published a “Yellow Version” of its own. Pokémon Crystal brought some actual animation to the franchise, and Pokémon Emerald saw the Battle Tower (which may or may not have absorbed years of my life). Pokemon Black/White and Pokemon Sun/Moon even earned entire sequels (or they were just excuses to turn another single title into two games). It seems the only generation that didn’t receive a “third option” was Pokémon X/Y, and its obvious “Pokémon Z” hooks were rolled into the rushed (in a good way! I swear!) Pokémon Sun/Moon. Many expected Pokémon Sword/Shield to follow suit with Pokémon Armor… but there is that Isle of Armor right there. And I don’t think we’re going to see Pokémon Gun anytime soon…
Yes, of course, it’s still entirely possible we’re going to see Pokemon Sword/Shield 2. Hell, Nintendo would be leaving money on the table by ignoring such a possibility. But there are a lot of indicators in this DLC that this is the last we will be seeing of this generation. There are many benchmarks from these “third” Pokémon games, and they all seem to exist in this DLC. Cool features that should have been there from the beginning? The DLC has starter gigantimax forms. A host of extra moves and move tutors to enhance the meta battling? Trade your ore in the Isle of Armor for all sorts of moves. A refinement of a system that was just shy of making sense in the main game? Please enjoy the gigantimax expeditions in the Crown Tundra. Complete with a new way to challenge champions and gym leaders, everything about this expansion screams “here is your traditionally mandated sequel”. As one might expect, the first official expansion in Pokémon history is very familiar to those that have followed the franchise, and seems to deliberately preclude the idea of these “ideas” being presented as new for the sequel.
And, God help me, if we don’t see a Pokemon Sword/Shield 2, I’m going to miss buying the same game again. I’m going to miss forking over money that could be better spent on literally anything else (including another, whole new game), and settling in for more of the same (but with a new hat). I’m going to miss battling through the exact same fights, but slightly rearranged, so I can finally battle a champion that now has a Blastoise for some reason. I’m going to miss wasting my time on something that already consumed hours and days of my life, all in pursuit of one extra Technical Machine that teaches Earthquake. Or maybe a Gigantimax Hypno? I would waste so much sweat for such an opportunity…
I am very happy with the Pokémon Sword/Shield DLC. I have enjoyed my additional adventures, and the characters that have populated these new locations. But knowing that its existence likely means I won’t be playing through Pokémon Sword/Shield again because, unprompted by a new “version”, I will never find the time/will saddens me. I know I’m avoiding an unnecessary time-sink. I know it is literally saving me money. But I like my rituals, and when they’re interrupted, I am apparently disappointed.
Guess I better pre-order Pokémon Soul Sword on the Nintendo SweeCube now. November of 2033 will be here before you know it.
FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra
- System: Nintendo Switch, home of the franchise (that isn’t on mobile devices).
- Number of Players: Have you tried these four-person raid adventures? They’re a lot better than the old raids, but I still feel like there’s way too much randomness involved. You are gifted a grass pokémon, you fight a water pokémon, but it ice beams your bulbasaur right out of the gate. Whoops! Four deaths and you lose forever! Very good system you have here.
- Did you catch ‘em all? Not only in the game proper, but also in Pokémon Home, which I think means I have caught every pokémon ever for all time.
Except maybe the new mythicals… dammit…
- Favorite Pokémon (DLC edition): Okay, technically not many new Pokémon were introduced with the DLC, and that is an absolute shame. New monsters are what this franchise is all about! With that caveat out of the way, I’m going to throw my support behind the new electric trashcan, Regieleki. Its ridiculous electric glass cannon status is amazing, and I’m glad there is something faster that speed-demon Deoyxs. Eat it, alien DNA Pokémon!
- Watch the Weather: Over the course of the previous article, I noted how scary it was that a huge chunk of the Galar continent apparently has snow storms next to sand storms next to thunder storms. That’s a lot of storms! That said, the new “Wild Areas” pull the same trick, but they seem a lot more desolate, so it’s okay. Some rinky dink dojo or a town that has to pray to Pinky and the Brain for crops is obviously going to have issues with their localized mega storms. I mean, duh.
- Favorite New Trainer: Klara is my aesthetic (poisonous cotton candy), and she’s a failed musician who “only sold 8 copies of her debut album”. So she decided to enter the challenging world of Slowbro battling by training at a remote dojo to maybe inherent a karate bear. I can get behind that.
- Best Partner: If you chose any partner but Marnie for the Championship Doubles Battle, I don’t want to talk to you.
- Goggle Bob Fact: This expansion was first announced/revealed last year when I was vacationing in Poland. I will never forget being hunched over a laptop in my (now) wife’s childhood bedroom, desperate for Pokémon news… Or maybe just excited to hear something 100% in English. I may or may not have been homesick, so the prospect of a new kind of Articuno is always going to hold a special place in my heart.
- Did you know? Most of the trainer numbers are secret, relevant jokes about their respective trainers. For instance, Klara’s number, 881, can be pronounced in Japanese as “dangerous”. This is, obviously, very appropriate.
- Would I play again: I think that was the point of the whole article!
What’s next? Random ROB is taking the next two weeks off, and I’ll be presenting four articles that are part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). Look, I know this is a hedonistic blog on most days (dude, it’s a blog), but there are a few articles related to… events in my life that have been rattling around my head for a while, so I figure I’m going to put pen to paper on those before this blog runs its course (sometime in about another hundred articles). So we’re going to kick off this indulgence with The Legend of the Mystical Ninja come Monday. Please look forward to it!
Still the best ending