Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield screenshot fist bump with scorbunny The Pokémon Company

Opinion post by
Oliver Cragg

Fresh off a blowout Pokémon Direct mere days ago, Nintendo showed off more of its next main series Pokémon games — Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield — at the E3 2019 gaming expo. In addition to a brief appearance during Nintendo’s superb E3 2019 video presentation, the Japanese giant also showed off close to half an hour of footage in a livestream following the show.

You can catch all of the footage on Nintendo’s official YouTube here (also embedded below), but it’s fair to say that the eighth Pokémon generation is shaping up to be one of the prettiest, most ambitious takes on the series yet. There’s just one problem — your favorite Pokémon may not be making an appearance.

Speaking during the Nintendo Treehouse E3 2019 livestream (around the 25:26 mark), Game Freak (the studio behind Pokémon) director Junichi Masuda explained that unlike previous main series Pokémon games, in Sword and Shield you will only be able to catch, train, and battle Pokémon found natively in the games’ new Galar region.

This announcement has, to put it lightly, not gone down well with Pokémon fans who each have their own unique favorite monsters. However, Game Freak and Nintendo only need to look to Pokémon Go for an easy, all-too-obvious solution to what we’ll call the “National Pokédex dilemma.”

“Gotta catch some of ’em”

First off, let’s examine the “why” behind the decision. Masuda (via a translator) explained that not including the full Pokémon roster — known in-game as the National Pokédex — came down to a few factors with the final aim of “preserving the quality of all the different Pokémon.” The problem seems to stem from that fact that the overall number of Pokémon species now stretches to over 800 monsters with wildly varied designs.

With the more powerful Nintendo Switch hardware enabling improved and more expressive designs, Masuda hints that the time it would’ve apparently taken to recreate each critter may have led to a longer development time. He also mentions battle balancing as a potential issue with bringing over every single monster.

“After a lot of discussion we decided to come to kind of a new direction,” Masuda said. “And so what that means for Pokémon Sword and Shield is that players will be able to transfer their Pokémon from Pokémon Home only if they appear in the Galar region Pokédex.”

Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield screenshot Wooloo The Pokémon Company

Nintendo recently unveiled the aforementioned Pokémon Home as a cloud-based hub where you can store all of your captured Pokémon from all of the current Pokémon games on console and mobile. This includes Pokémon Sword and Shield, Pokémon Let’s Go, and Niantic’s smash hit AR game Pokémon Go for Android and iOS.

Home also links up with Pokémon Bank, which was Nintendo and Game Freak’s paid cloud storage service for storing pocket monsters during the Nintendo 3DS-era. If you had the right consoles lying around and a lot of patience (trust me, I’ve done it), you could technically transfer Pokémon all the way from the Game Boy Advance games and the virtual console versions of all the classic Game Boy titles.

Image of the upcoming Pokemon Home cloud service.

Dedicated fans were under the assumption that all of those Pokémon coming into Pokémon Home would be able to be transferred to Sword and Shield like usual, but that apparently won’t be possible.

We don’t yet know all of the Pokémon that have and haven’t made the cut (the ever-excellent Pokémon fan site Serebii has a constantly updated list), but we’ve already seen that Galar has Pokémon from across the various generations — Pikachu, Eevee, Togepi, Charizard, and Lucario to name but a few — in addition to the new creatures native to the area like Scorbunny, Wooloo, Corviknight, and more. For mobile players, Pokémon Go is currently rounding off the fourth generation, but it now seems likely that some of your companions in Go won’t be able to follow you into Sword and Shield.

Some of your Pokémon Go pals won't be available in Sword and Shield.

Considering how (understandably) attached many players are to their Pokémon pals, the overwhelmingly negative reaction hasn’t exactly been a surprise. The livestream video on YouTube has 11,000 thumbs down ratings at time of writing and the comments are awash with frustration and anger at the decision. Meanwhile, a Reddit thread on the subject has over 35,000 upvotes and pokes fun at the series’ “gotta catch ’em all” slogan, changing it to “gotta catch some of ’em.” It also doesn’t help that some of the worst designed Pokémon in existence (hello, Vanillish, Diggersby, and Garbodor) have already been confirmed as taking some of those coveted Galar Pokédex spots.

Read more: 10 best Pokémon games for Android!

It’s worth noting that there is some precedent to all of this. Pokémon main series games typically have a regional Pokédex and a National Pokédex, with the latter containing a log of every single Pokémon in existence. In recent main series games, the National Pokédex is unavailable until you’ve completed the main quest and locks out transferring across any non-regional Pokémon to the games until you’ve become the region’s champion.

While it doesn’t seem like this will be an option at all in Sword and Shield at launch, not all hope is lost.

A Wild Area appeared!

Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield screenshot wild area landscape The Pokémon Company

If you’ve been watching all of the new Pokémon Sword and Shield teasers, you’ve probably noticed more than a few influences creeping in from other games, most notably in the all-new Wild Area.

This Wild Area is what many Pokémon fans have been praying for for several decades: a true open-world Pokémon experience. Clearly inspired by Nintendo’s modern classic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Wild Area is a mini open-world zone in Sword and Shield with dynamic weather, roaming Pokémon to battle and catch, and a fully 3D camera.

The Wild Area could be the solution to Sword and Shield’s National Pokédex dilemma.

Looking at the Sword and Shield map, the Wild Area sits towards the south of the reportedly U.K.-inspired Galar region. If I had to guess, I’d say the area below is your player character’s starting town where you learn the basics and pick your starter Pokémon before the game expands out into the Wild Area for a huge “wow” moment. The more diverse areas above, meanwhile, take on a more traditional Pokémon structure with numbered routes, Gyms, and the final battle with the Elite Four at the end.

As excited as many are to return to the classic Pokémon structure — especially after Pokémon Sun and Moon’s hit-and-miss trip to Alola’s archipelago — it’s the Wild Area that’s unsurprisingly grabbing headlines, and it could well be the solution to all of Sword and Shield’s National Pokédex problems.

Aside from the blatant Zelda influence, the Wild Area also shares a lot of DNA with Pokémon Go, as well as Pokémon Let’s Go by association considering the latter spin-off was an attempt to cash in on the Pokémon Go hype train.

The most obvious inspiration is Sword and Shield’s Max Raid Battle system where you team up with three other players (either human or computer controlled) to take down a Dynamax Pokémon a.k.a. a super-sized, ultra-powered version of a regular monster.

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These Max Raid Battles show up in the Wild Area as beacons where you can group up and start the fight. Once you’ve knocked the Pokémon out, each player gets a chance at catching it.

If this all sounds a little familiar, it’s because it’s an almost carbon copy of Pokémon Go’s co-op Raids, only in a virtual world environment rather than down your local park.

The other influence is a little more subtle, but Game Freak has confirmed that the Pokémon that appear in the Wild Area will change over time depending on the weather. This also occurs in Pokémon Go, but there’s a deeper possible connection.

The Wild Area shares a lot of DNA with Pokémon Go.

Niantic has been gradually introducing new generations of Pokémon into Pokémon Go since the game’s launch in 2016. This staggered approach has been split into further phases, with initial rollouts usually including a handful of Pokémon from each generation and more ‘mons coming once every few months.

This is great from a content perspective, as it keeps Pokémon Go interesting to players over time, but it also gives Niantic time to create the models and assets for each new Pokémon while also holding special themed or timed events.

Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield screenshot max raid battle against Pangoro The Pokémon Company

Both Max Raid Battles and/or the roaming Pokémon in the Wild Area could both be an option for slowly trickling out Pokémon not included in the Galar Pokédex following the game’s launch.

As with Niantic’s approach to Pokémon Go, this would give Game Freak enough time to do the necessary development and design work to re-introduce Pokémon from across the series into Sword and Shield. This could be done in phases similar to Go, with each new crop of Galar creatures letting users gradually import their beloved companions from their cloud prisons.

This would also make the Wild Area more of an evolving, alive region and a great way of maintaining interest in the games long-term — something which is more important than ever in the age of games-as-a-service.

We’ll have to wait to hear more about Pokémon Sword and Shield to see how Game Freak and Nintendo address what has quickly soured a lot of anticipation for the series’ big debut on Switch. But, if neither can think of better fix, they might want to have a chat with the clever folks over at Niantic.

Up next: Pokemon Go IVs: How to identify the strongest Pokemon!

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