Thoughts on beating Pokémon Shield as a newcomer

Despite my years of gaming, since the early 80’s at arcades and home with Atari and Nintendo systems, I missed out on the Pokémon phenomenon during the late 90’s. I didn’t own a Nintendo handheld until 2013, and I simply perceived Pokémon as a “kid’s game” (oh, the irony). My daughter did become a huge fan in her preteens, despite her denials now, and I remember getting her Black and White as well as their sequels and later Pokémon X.

I did try a couple of titles – Pokémon Y, and later Sun. The latter held my attention longer, and I found it more interesting than previous entries. But at the end of the day, I found myself feeling little connection to the franchise. Maybe I had to be there from the beginning? Was I missing a nostalgia factor that underpins the franchise? It seemed as though the formula was painfully rote: walk a bit, random stranger challenges you to a duel, and the process repeats itself. A lot.

Part of the issue for me could be that, prior to that, my exposure to “monster taming” games were primarily the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series, which offer a darker, mature take on the genre, as opposed to Pokémon‘s cutesy, kid-friendly approach.

Maybe I was just too damn old.

Then Nintendo released the Switch, which easily became my favorite handheld of all-time (sorry, PS Vita), and inevitably a mainline Pokémon game would be released. As such, Sword and Shield were announced and I figured, why not? As a soccer fan, having the gym battles resemble fútbol events was a bonus. It’s the little things.

I chose Shield because I didn’t care for the wannabe Sif (there can be only one) on the cover of Sword, and Allister was a cooler looking exclusive IMO. I played through it, beating the game and getting to whatever amounted to the endgame. And by the time it was all said and done I was left with a big, “Hmm?”

Shield was a refreshing change of pace from the more intense, action-oriented games I typically play. Despite the backlash Sword and Shield received from fans, I had very little context to agree or disagree with them. Playing it with a fresh set of eyes and limited experience with the franchise, I found Shield to be a visually appealing, well-done game. It’s not a hard one, which again for me was a positive. I got used to the eye-rolling trope of battling random folks every few feet, even if most of the time there was very little danger. Despite absolutely not needing to, grinding XP was not an arduous process and in fact, makes the game even easier since your entire party (even the Pokémon not actively being used) benefits from the gains. The “gigamaxxing” mechanic felt very one-note. It was predictable to know when the gym leader would use it (always on their last Pokémon) and if you just tanked the 3 hits, you could than gigamax your Pokémon and get a guaranteed win. Also, why is this mechanic a thing if only appears in gym leader fights and raids?

And after taking my time, I was done with the core game at just about 20 hours.

I see why the franchise has its fans, but it definitely feels like this is a series that, if you weren’t there from the beginning, or wasn’t one of your earliest gaming experiences, the “wonder” factor won’t be there.

Because, honestly, I don’t get the love for the franchise.

Which isn’t a criticism, really. It’s a fun little game, and quite simple. But from my early, briefer experiences with the franchise, I felt like I was playing basically the same game, with a similar story. This latter point really shouldn’t be viewed as a backhanded compliment; after all, a generation of us grew up on Mario games, and that plot is never different either (Bowser kidnaps Peach, Mario goes to save her). But if I’m being real, I’m tired of the Mario / Bowser dynamic, so perhaps legit Pokemon fans feel the same?

I also felt very little desire to continue with the game after beating the main story. The “Raid” events are interesting in theory but fall apart due to the poor online implementation. Finding real people to raid with was rare, and the AI in higher difficulty raids were useless. I also didn’t have a desire to “catch them all”, although I can appreciate the collector’s appeal this has to many fans of the series. Outside of that, I found little interest in continuing and even less to pick up the forthcoming DLC.

It might seem like I’m hating on the game, but I’m not. It has a charm and aesthetic that makes for easy, relaxed gaming. There were no deep themes at play, no hair-pulling bosses, nor a need to grind much of anything. It’s just simple entertainment, and that has place and value in the gaming world. But as a Pokémon casual, I’m not inclined to pick up any other games in the series. Based on the prior games and actually completing this one, I feel like very little changed in almost 7 years, and I have no reason to believe the formula will change in the near future.

I guess once you’ve played one, you’ve played them all.

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