Author’s Note: As of the publication of this article, Sword and Shield have leaked and a lot of the stuff up in air mentioned in this article has been confirmed unofficially. This article is still written without any leaks in mind and is 100% spoiler free. Please do not write down leaks in the comment section below or tweet them to me. I know the ones I wanted to know by now. Also, look forward to the Seafoam Gaming review of Pokemon Sword at the end of November, where I’ll let you know if I think that this new direction leads to a game worth your $60.
To say that Pokemon has problems would be an understatement. The franchise has gone through many highs and lows over the past twenty-three years, but typically things have ended up being pretty positive. That disaster of a spinoff known as Pokemon Dash? Largely forgotten despite the abysmal review scores. A pretty questionable anime arc for some of the most well-received Pokemon games in terms of story? People ended up liking the next arcs more than enough to make up for that rough period of time.
Whatever the case, there’s probably been something Pokemon has done or made in the franchise’s history that has made you disappointed or mad, whether it was from XY’s lack of a post-game, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire failing to meet expectations, or the jump to the Game Boy Advance, and the great thing about this franchise is that there’s a Pokemon game for everyone due to the sheer amount of spinoffs and merch available to pick up. If you aren’t into the VGC grindfest, you can just jump to the Pokemon TCG and have a good time playing that casually or competitively. On the other hand, you may just be a plush collector, or only play the games for the story. Needless to say, Pokemon has rarely had a moment that has caused such a major rift in the fanbase due to the fact that it’s not just a gaming series.
That is, until a few months ago when a producer for the upcoming Pokemon Sword and Shield made an announcement noting that there would be some restrictions on Pokemon you could transfer from the upcoming Pokemon Home app to the new games. For those who may not get what that entails, the previous games allowed you to just dump your old mons from the games before that into the then-current games, allowing you to continue the journeys you went on with them. Whether it’s a Pokemon from the GBA era that stuck with you during the harshest times of your life, to one that a good friend traded you years ago as a reminder of him, there are a lot of different reasons that people keep moving their old mons into newer games, despite how the GTS and new regions allow for players to just get another of the same species.
But in Sword and Shield, you won’t be able to do that if the Pokemon isn’t in the regional Galar Dex. If you’ve raised the ultimate Spewpa from XY and hope to bring it to Sword and Shield, there may be a good chance that Spewpa and his evolutionary line won’t come along for the ride. You can still import them to Pokemon Home for the possibility of them coming into the inevitable next pair of games to launch in 2020, but as it stands now not all mons are confirmed for the game, leaving some with the good risk of being unable to connect with their favorites. Granted, even if all the mons were in the game, Home still isn’t set to launch until 2020 anyway (leaving the months until then to still be just with the local dex), but some people still expected it as an inevitability.
Needless to say, people got mad, very mad, including me, as someone who worried that the Espeon that stuck with them since 2004, during the roughest times of my life and holding a lot of nostalgic value for me might not make the cut. Understandably so, since it was done in such a strange and nonchalant manner that caught a lot of people off guard due to the E3 hype train at the time. The reasoning stated at the event was for the staff to focus on higher fidelity for the Pokemon that did make the cut, but it also didn’t seem to make much sense since the models and animations for their bodies seemed to be pretty similar to the ones used ever since X and Y. This led to people desperately hoping for it to be added before the game’s launch or via a post-launch patch, since this is a really unusual change to the franchise.
While there has never been a single Pokemon title with every Pokemon obtainable in them without transferring or trading with other versions, they have still been in the game’s coding regardless. Yes, even the infamous Ruby and Sapphire situation where all those GBC mons were forever sealed in an 8-bit cart due to technical differences was mitigated by the fact that Ruby and Sapphire still had all 386 mons in the game for the sake of being usable when future titles came out that had them. (Keep in mind though, that before Colosseum, there wasn’t really any major way to get the rest of these Pokemon) But in Sword and Shield, any missing mons will flat out not exist at all, which means that it’s pretty much a locked in decision, one that the developers had a hard time making, to the point that it was even stated as such during the same E3 segment.
However, this hasn’t stopped the Pokemon fanbase from practically imploding on itself, to the point that even some who hope this change is gradually undone in future games such as myself have distanced themselves from anything to do with this movement due to the sheer amount of misinformation, toxicity, and poor behavior that erupted in the face of this ordeal, even five months later. So what exactly is all this misinformation, what might be the behind-the-scenes cause behind the dex cuts, and is Game Freak at any fault here? Well, we’ll need to dig a bit deeper into the series’ jump to 3D, and evaluate the course of the past summer to find out.
Truth be told, I actually planned on writing this article mere days after the E3 announcement, with the idea of supporting the cause to bring back all the missing pokemon, preferably in a post-launch patch timed with the release of Pokemon HOME. But after evaluating the past few months and learning some stuff for myself, I honestly have zero expectations that this decision will be reversed, neither in a post-launch patch for Sword and Shield nor with the release of 2020’s Pokemon pairing, and I found myself being totally fine with that. To get the elephant out of the room, I firmly believe that this was not caused by Game Freak’s so-called “Laziness” In fact, it’s beyond offensive to even infer that they’re a lazy developer when you take a step back and consider the sheer workload these guys have to go through on a yearly basis, and even for HD development in general.
Whenever a new generation’s main game comes out, the developers at Game Freak typically start work on the next gen’s main game many years in advance, while also focusing on other titles to bridge the gap to the next generation. Black and White were conceived around 2007/2008 for instance, which gave it at least two full years of development, while Pokemon Platinum and HeartGold/SoulSilver were also in the works. Despite those three games making lots of quality of life features, Black and White only included a small handful of them while focusing on its own new shakeups such as the C-Gear and Dream World.
This also would explain why a bunch of the QOL stuff from HGSS was nowhere to be seen in Black and White, since if focusing on new stuff like the C-Gear and story was done for a longer period of time, haphazardly shoving in a touch-screen run toggle like in HGSS near the end of development wouldn’t be practical. This has basically happened ever since the very first pair of games, with Pokemon Gold and Silver originally planned to launch a mere year after the original games before getting a major delay, something that would be impossible for the franchise today due to the multimedia aspect of it all. In fact, the prototype of Gold and Silver that leaked out early in 2018 shows a glimpse of how that game might have turned out if they just kept it safe and stuck to the original vision of making a similar-scale sequel with more Pokemon, before it went back for some fine-tuning and Game Boy Color support.
Likewise, we can easily assume that Pokemon X and Y started planning around 2010 after Black and White wrapped, as did Sun and Moon in 2013. In fact, you can even see a tease for Sun and Moon, clear as day in X and Y itself, despite the fact that the tease was added before anyone in the fandom even considered Gen 7 to be an upcoming event. With enough poking around, you can get a NPC to give you an idol statue from an unknown region, which is later revealed to be the Alola region and it even matches up with similar looking statues around the islands.
Thus, it’s silly to assume that Game Freak just rushes out the next generation of Pokemon on a whim and crams the entire game out in a single year of development, or that they get “lazy” and sit on games and hold off on releasing them for several years. These games take many more years of planning, as does any game these days. The Pokemon games that do get pushed out at a quicker pace end up being the third versions or remake pairs, which have been more evident as of late due to Ultra Sun/Moon seeming to come out of nowhere and the Let’s Go games being made with a more limited scale in mind, and sticking to that limited scale proved to be beneficial to having those games do well and keep their focus intact, even if the team still played things very safe with those entries.
Recent Game Informer interviews have indeed noted that the decision to cut the out of region Pokemon from Sword/Shield was due to a desire to focus on adding more in-game content rather than just putting all the mons into a game and then trying to cram other stuff in later. In fact, they also stated that prior games have had to have some things not included due to prioritizing including all the Pokemon in a single game. Thus, it makes an awful lot of sense when you consider how Pokemon X and Y brought all 649 creatures into 3D and gave them extra animations for the sake of side activities such as Pokemon Amie and Pokemon Showcases. Sure, not everyone even used some of these features, (in fact, I only recall making a showcase video once in my entire 200 hour session with the game) but these models alone no doubt took up a lot of the development time on Creatures Inc’s end, and the final product definitely feels less like a natural progression into 3D, and more like a safe transfer of the basic elements without doing too much to shake things up.
Considering how the games also had less things to do in general compared to the previous pairs of games on the DS, it’s not hard at all to infer the move to 3D was a monumental task by itself, one that Game Freak seemed to struggle with even with their final Pokemon games on the 3DS, which suffered from framerate issues in double battles just like XY did four years prior. The technical reason for the drops was because the 3D models were made with such high quality textures that their future-proof nature caused the system to lag horribly. Thus, it was easy to assume that if the series moved to a new system that could handle the assets better, then everything should be easier, and importing all the Pokemon into Sword and Shield should be a copy-paste job now, right?
Well, that’s where an awful lot of people are wrong. Not only is it common sense in game development to reuse assets for sequels, but it’s not quite as clear cut as hitting a magic “Turn into HD” button. Just because a model was made with one system in mind and could work on a future system, that doesn’t mean copying it over will make the model act 100% exactly the same as they did before. More often than not, you’d have to tweak some aspects about it to prevent the model from breaking or looking out of place, so to assume that they could just copy all 800+ Pokemon with a press of a button is pretty darn ignorant. Having the previous models helps, but it doesn’t solve their problem. Even Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee had to tweak the models from the 3DS games a bit to work, despite them looking relatively the same. Other game developers in the industry have also chimed in on this fact, noting how the sheer amount of Pokemon to keep modeled in 3D alone would be a gargantuan task for any developer, let alone a more compact team such as Game Freak.
Sure, doing 649 sprites might have been doable on a yearly basis when the games were 2D, but keeping them all in 3D with a Pokedex count that would continue to grow and grow over time, having to do several forms of animations for every new Pokemon while keeping the old? I’m honestly surprised that X and Y weren’t the first games to cut the National Pokedex due to how everything had to be converted into 3D, along with all the new Mega Evolutions introduced for older Pokemon, and I feel that looking back with this knowledge in mind, X and Y might have been a significantly beefier game if they just stuck to the Kalos Dex and focused on adding more things to do and fleshing out the new features they did include.
So you may be reading this all and going “Yeah, I know that all the Pokemon have to be made in 3D now, but they already finished the work in X and Y! Why would they still need to cut out Pokemon? I didn’t mind the newer games having less side activities to do, I just wanted to stick with my old pals!”, but the truth is, this was an inevitable possibility, as the game developer I linked to noted. In the same interview I linked earlier, it was noted that this wasn’t an easy decision for Game Freak to make, nor did they do it in the middle of development for the heck of it. Game Freak got together with their partners from the very beginning to work on an idea that they felt would be better for the franchise, and that was to make Pokemon rotatable with every entry, using Pokemon Home as a base camp for all the old creatures to return together.
Will it lead to Sword and Shield having more content than the other 3D games? Maybe, who knows. That’s for the game’s launch to decide on. Will they keep this up for many years, or only a few? I don’t really think that it’s practical for them to ever go back to the older method for anything outside of a possible Battle Simulation game, since cramming 1000 or more Pokemon into a single game several years from now could come at the cost of extreme crunch or cutting out literally every other side feature in a Pokemon game. It’s an incredibly difficult task and Sword and Shield’s team of around 1000 came together to make the games coming out in the next week. Throwing more people onto the pile won’t solve anything, nor will adding more development time, not that Game Freak could anyhow with TPC seeming to encourage a yearly release every November. I’m personally very optimistic that this will get the core focus of a new region back on track, and help make newer Pokemon games feel like memorable experiences that I’ll replay a year or two from now instead of yet another disposable game I’ll retire for the next one the following year.
That should be the end of it. That recap of game development woes and how cramming all the mons into a single game isn’t as easy as people think should be enough to tell the average person that yes, game development is hell and even the biggest games ever created have had their own sacrifices and development struggles. But unfortunately, there’s one last aspect to go over, and that’s just how I honestly do not feel proud of the fanbase I once admired and called home. Out of anything I’ve ever seen in my life, this National Dex discourse is easily the thing that has made the Pokemon fandom the most toxic and violent I’ve witnessed in my entire 19 year history of being a Pokemon fan, and not even the upset reaction to the Pokemon Bank delay came remotely close to some of the sheer angry and outright nasty posts I’ve seen on the internet since E3.
Whether it’s racist memes or insults towards the producer or staff team, non-stop spamming on everything to do with Pokemon even if it has zero to do with a video game, spamming the Producer when he tweets about honoring the fallen of the Nagasaki Atomic Bombing (Unfortunately yes, this actually happened) fighting with people who just want to enjoy the games and play with their friends online, or even spreading misinformation about the games or Little Town Hero, Game Freak’s other recent project, blaming that game for the faults of these. (The most notable piece of misinformation that went around was that Game Freak supposedly split their entire team in half and put all the A Team members on Little Town Hero… Despite that not being the case at all and only a very, very tiny portion of the company worked on the game, with most of the lead Pokemon developers still being on Sword and Shield.) It’s pretty disgusting and the toxicity hasn’t died down much at all since then, and even the biggest Pokemon subreddit has been filled with sheer toxicity for months now, drowning out the people who want to just wait and see on some things or are still looking forward to the games.
There’s a huge difference between being disappointed or even mad about the games not turning out the way you wanted them to be, to outright attacking the dev staff that spent hours upon hours of their lives making the games a reality and labeling them as “lazy” just because your precious Kingler can’t be taken with you in the newer games, or even going to the extremes and being rude to anyone showing a remote shred of enthusiasm for these games. Even as someone who couldn’t stand Game Freak’s Hoenn remakes and considers them to be truly terrible games, I don’t hold hatred for the development staff for doing what they did with that one. In all honesty, the two year development cycle for those games were probably very hectic and they ended up probably having a lot of ideas they wanted to do being cut from those games because of having to keep all the Pokemon in under a tight budget and timeframe.
Risky development cuts happen in game development, but if they truly feel like this sacrifice will lead to them fleshing out the region of Galar as a more memorable and ambitious landscape than regions before it, then so be it. At the end of the day, even if you don’t want to buy these games, that’s totally fine. Just don’t be the kind of person who gets after the development team or picks a fight with someone because they’re looking forward to the game, nor be someone who thinks that any of this was the result of Game Freak falling asleep in their office for a week and forgetting to include some Pokemon.
Chances are, everything about these games were the result of weeks of agonizing decision making and knowing full well the sort of reaction they’d get. That still doesn’t excuse the behavior from the community that I’m seeing, and I ask all who read this to respect one another and just move onto other games if these aren’t your cup of tea. The Switch has plenty of other RPGs already so it’s not like you’ll lack in games to play if you decide to skip these. But we as a community need to improve ourselves instead of letting the fighting break out into more chaos.
It’s also not like Game Freak hasn’t taken fan feedback into account before, either: whether it’s from reverting the wifi system from Festival Plaza to something similar to the positively received PSS in the form of the Y-Comm, increasing the difficulty of the games after the sheer auto-win nature of Generation VI and adding auto-save, Sword and Shield already have some fan feedback taken into account, and I have no doubt the discourse about this will lead to them doing things slightly differently for future games. But spamming or throwing a huge fit about it won’t speed up the process or make them magically reverse course with this game, especially since they get the point by now; they got the point before we even knew the dex cuts were a thing. At the end of the day, Pokemon’s about playing with your friends and having a good time, so it’s time to get back to that instead of breaking everyone apart, don’t you think?