Pokémon DLC in Perspective: The Rough Release of Sword and Shield

The fact that I didn’t see this coming is a surprise.

Early Expectations

When Pokémon Sword and Shield were first announced, expectations were incredibly low from those in the gaming community who had become cynical and jaded over the years. I must confess that I am in this category. To me, Pokémon is the perfect example of a stagnant franchise that survives on nothing more than the fan base it created in the first few games, but I digress. First footage of the full-priced Nintendo Switch game was quickly mocked for its incredible lack of texture quality. Likewise, early images of the Galar region map received mixed responses; a blend of excitement for the chance to explore something new and boredom at the apparent north-south linearity of the region.

Sword and Shield on the left, Breath of the Wild on the right. Both $60 games on the Nintendo Switch.

To make matters worse, Game Freak made an announcement in the middle of June that the National Dex would not be coming to Pokémon Sword and Shield. For those who don’t know what this means, Pokémon Sword and Shield would not feature all of the 807 previous Pokémon from previous games. Even the Pokémon Bank service, a yearly $5 subscription that allows for transferring Pokémon from one game generation to another, would be unable to put these Pokémon in Sword and Shield. The basis for this decision is unclear. In an E3 Nintendo Treehouse video, Junichi Masuda of Game Freak gave multiple reasons for implementing this change. Masuda points out that the hardware power of the Nintendo Switch allowed for them to be “much more expressive with each of the individual Pokémon.” Despite this, Masuda discusses the fact that there are “well over 800 Pokémon species in the game,” which he admits adds to the struggle of “taking into account the battle balance,” all in a “limited development time.”

So, according to Game Freak, the reason there is no National Dex is because “preserving the quality” of the 807 previous Pokémon, and making them expressive, and balancing them, and trying to get the game released on time was simply too much. This does make sense in a game design perspective, but the removal of the National Dex was still seen as too much. The Nintendo Treehouse video in which this was announced currently has nearly 90,000 dislikes, with only roughly 25,000 likes.

The shockwave this announcement created was quite widespread. #BringbackNationalDex quickly started trending on twitter, and the Pokémon subreddit became an absolute mess of frustration, anger, and betrayal. Dutch magazine Inside Gamer held an interview with Masuda regarding this matter in early November. “We now have no plans to make the Pokémon that are missing in the Galar Pokédex in-game available,” said Masuda. “That is an approach that we want to continue in the future with Pokémon games. Until now, it has obviously not been possible to encounter every Pokémon in every game, so people had to transfer it from old games via Pokémon Bank to the new game, for example.” Just to clarify, this does not mean that Pokémon Bank can transfer all Pokémon into Sword and Shield, only that certain Pokémon in Sword and Shield that cannot be found naturally can be acquired through the Pokémon Bank service.

What We Got

Truly, all seemed lost for those whose favorite Pokémon had been left out of Sword and Shield. I had the naïve optimism to think that Game Freak used this as an opportunity to cull the ever-expanding herd of worthless and poorly designed Pokémon. Voltorb and Electrode, the literal trash-heap  Pokémon from generation 5, the ice cream Pokémon from generation 5, all the unneeded Pikachu-type Pokémon: I had hope that these would be removed. Maybe this would be a form of quality control within the Pokémon franchise moving forward. I was so, so wrong. While generation 1 favorites like Blastoise, Nidoking, and Dragonite got cut, hilariously bad designs such as Stunfisk (with a slight redesign),  the ice cream Pokémon, and even the literal trash Pokémon made it in. At least Voltorb and Electrode were cut I guess.

It was a Weezing once. Taken by the Dark Powers…tortured and mutilated…a ruined and terrible form of life…

But with fewer Pokémon, surely Game Freak could make these remaining Pokémon really excellent, right? I don’t think it was unreasonable for fans to expect a level of polish equal to Pokémon Stadium, especially when Masuda mentioned the great improvement in processing power with the Switch. Well, it seems that this was wishful thinking. Dataminers found almost no difference in the models between Pokémon Sword and Shield and Pokémon Sun and Moon (a game that contained all models for all previous Pokémon and was released for the handheld 3DS system). Evidence strongly suggests that these models are essentially the same, except for a few dozen new faces and vertices here and there.

At least the animations are good… right? Again, wishful thinking. A short clip provided by videogamedunkey really shows the sheer laziness of the animations in Sword and Shield. In the video, a Dubwool uses the attack “Double Kick” and moves up and down as if selected and dragged like a Photoshop layer. When the move “Headbutt” is used, however, the Dubwool instead uses a kicking animation. It seems that even when the number of Pokémon is cut and the Pokémon models are mostly copied from a previous game, animation is still too difficult when trying to meet deadlines. If this were really the case, I think that fans would be more than willing to wait longer for the level of “expression” the Switch allows for. My personal belief is that these cuts and shortcuts were used to keep costs down, with Game Freak fully aware that the decrease in quality would not greatly limit profits.

The Downloadable Content Announcement

But, now we reach January of 2020, and Pokémon has announced DLC. The two DLC packs are The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra. Each one is a separate DLC that are purchased as a bundle, specifically for either Pokémon Sword or Shield. The cost of both DLC for a single game is about $30. Of course, like any good micro transaction, if you preorder you get your very own in-game Pikachu and Eevee clothing set!

What exactly do these DLCs provide? Each DLC has unique benefits, but overall they provide new areas to explore, new side-stories, more clothing items, and, interestingly, “new” Pokémon. By “new,” I mean 200 of the Pokémon from previous generations that didn’t make it into the initial release – 100 in each DLC. Remember when Masuda claimed in November that Game Freak had “no plans to make the Pokémon that are missing in the Galar Pokédex in-game available”? In only three months, it seems that Game Freak made such plans with great haste. However, some conspiracy theorists might see this as the plan all along: cut Pokémon from the initial release, sell them back with some additional content later, and make more money.

Don’t be fooled, though. Pokémon may claim that the added Pokémon are part of a “free” update, but what they mean is that you can trade the Pokémon into a game from the Pokémon Bank or from someone who has the DLC. You cannot find these Pokémon in the wild without the DLC.

The way I see it, it is only a matter of time before fans realize that their beloved franchise is treading water in a pool of nostalgia, gimmicks, and general laziness. Here’s to hoping for an upturn.

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