Generation 8 is finally here!
With Nintendo announcing a new Pokemon Direct yesterday, many fans were expecting a mainline entry into the franchise.
That’s exactly what we got, so let’s jump right into the details.
Many speculators were betting on a region themed around Great Britain this time, and they were spot on. The Galar Region appears to be shaped like a long island, much like Britain itself.
We also got some clear shots at what appears to be a clock tower, likely referencing Big Ben. Some lesser known landmarks like the British Hill Figures also make an appearance.
Even the outfits of some NPCs feel distinctly British, especially the school girl outfit of one of the trainers.
The actual shape and climate of the region is rather interesting as well. Unlike most Pokemon regions that tend to have a more horizontal or circular shape, Galar is very vertical in nature. A change like this could end up eliminating the typically circular route structure of past games. This might make movement feel much more linear in a directional sense, but not necessarily a progress sense.
There’s a noticeable lack of large water routes, save for a few lakes in southern Galar and some islands in the northeast. Perhaps some coastline exploration will be included to keep Water-type trainers satisfied.
There also appears to be a contrast between the rural and industrial areas. The new trailer opens on a small town with windmills and farmland plainly visible. On the other hand, the big city at the center of the region is hyper-industrialized. The giant gears and pistons feel like blatant references to the Industrial Revolution, a key moment in Britain’s history, so perhaps there will be some sort of conflict between these two lifestyles present in the games’ narrative.
Long gone are the days of simple color schemes for naming Pokemon games. Sword & Shield is certainly an interesting combination for a lot of reasons. With it being a direct reference to combat weaponry, a theme of conflict comes to mind rather quickly. Perhaps there’s more at play than just a rural/urban conflict. I’m sure we’ll find out more once whatever evil gang plagues this region is introduced.
There doesn’t seem to be any direct reference to royalty in the trailer. However, the wolf head crest on top of the new logos does suggest that Houses might come into play. This would most likely not be a major game mechanic, but more of a story feature.
Leading off the Starters’ introductions is Scorbunny, the new Fire-type starter. As expected, Scorbunny continues to follow the pattern of Zodiac-themed Fire starters. As for the color scheming, this is definitely the lightest-color we’ve seen from a Fire starter so far.
Whereas Litten had a black base last generation, Scorbunny goes for the exact opposite with a white base. For me, this new color scheme invokes the imagery of “white hot flames.” The patch on its forehead does have me a bit worried though; I don’t think fans can handle another Fire/Fighting starter.
After that comes Sobble, the new Water starter. Sobble appears to be a timid water lizard from the look of things. Very fitting that its introduction involves a camouflage ability, reminiscent of Vaporeon’s Pokedex entries. Perhaps this could be a clue as to Sobble’s moveset.
Lastly, we have Grookey, a monkey-like Grass starter. It’s pretty apparent that this one has a very lively demeanor, cheerfully banging a stick against a rock and quickly climbing up a tall chimney. The stick in its hair is a rather intriguing feature that reminds me of a caveman with a bone in his hair. This seems to give more credence to the theory that Grass starters are based on actual evolution, from dinosaurs (Bulbasaur) to primates (Grookey). I suppose Gen 9 would be the true test of this theory now.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear frontrunner yet in terms of popularity.
Scorbunny seems to have the most fanart so far, but Sobble seems to have a lot of backing as well, likely due to its timid nature. Personally I default to Fire types whenever I start a new game, so I’m on Team Scorbunny for now.
As previously announced by Nintendo, Sword & Shield will be on the Switch. This will make it the first mainline Pokemon game on a home console. Graphics have been one of Pokemon’s weakest points since the transition to the 3D space, but so far Sword & Shield looks fantastic. Everything looks crisp and clear so far. The camera angles in the trailer suggest a wider available field of view. Even the cinematics have improved dramatically.
The only thing I’m worried about at this point is player character movement and expression, which is easily Pokemon’s greatest weakness visually. The player character typically acts very stiff and robotic, and most shots that would show this seem to be excluded from the trailer. Still, there were also some cool shots of interesting character animation, like the player character dusting off her skirt before leaving her house.
The framing of Pokemon battles also seems to have gotten an upgrade. The environments the Pokemon battles take place in are exponentially more detailed than any game before, and the camera seems to have even more range to what it can capture.
As for the structure, we’re back to the gym-and-badge style of previous games. Sun & Moon was a strong break away from this formula, but the formula still works so I’m happy they haven’t dropped it entirely. What interests me the most, however, is the end game content. The Direct presentation only mentioned “becoming the Champion,” and not a word about the Elite Four.
Additionally, the trailer shows several shots of an arena-like building, as well as the player character wearing a uniform with a number on it walking into said arena. This is purely speculation, but this might mean that the end game content is getting a slight makeover.
Trading in the Elite Four grind for a more structured tournament would be an interesting choice. Of course, the specifics would be what make or break it. Again, this has not been confirmed by anyone yet, but it’s still fun to theorize.
The Pokemon selection seems to be pretty strong so far as well. Favorite like Lucario, Tyranitar, Flygon, Pikachu, and Munchlax all make appearances in this trailer. Other, less talked-about Pokemon like Hoothoot, Meowstic, Minccino, and Wishiwashi also show up to bolster the roster, while not feeling too out of place considering the region’s climate.
Some fan-favorite mechanics still seem absent, such as the ever-popular Walking Pokemon feature that allowed players’ Pokemon to follow them around. Some fans also expressed disappointment that random encounters are back after their removal for Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee. However, as annoying as some might find it, I feel that this is a core aspect of Pokemon’s JRPG design that keeps the game challenging and exciting.
All in all, it looks like a pretty solid Pokemon game. Nothing so far that drastically changes how the game is played, but small, incremental changes have always been Pokemon’s way of doing things. As a lifelong Pokemon fan, I’m hyped to get my hands on these games later this year.
All I need now is to get a Switch.