Shortly after Nintendo’s impressive E3 2019 presentation, the real news of the day dropped for Pokèmon fans. After decades of supporting every single character in the franchise in each new main series release, GameFreak has decided to change tracks. With the release of Pokèmon Sword and Shield there would no longer be a National Pokèdex, allowing players to import any of the franchise’s over 800 creatures into the new game. Instead they would be limited by only those Pokèmon found in the Galar Region Pokèdex, limiting choice and significantly dampening fan excitement.
Now, to be clear, we don’t have all of the details of this decision just yet. How big is the Galar Pokèdex? How many characters will be featured in the game? How limiting is this for players? We don’t know for sure yet, but even a small change in this area is too much. This is because no matter how small the limitations are, someone, somewhere will find that their favorite Pokèmon can’t be imported into Sword and Shield, and that potential now sits over every future release in the series.
Pokèmon has always operated on the principle of “Gotta Catch ’em All”, as cemented in the theme song of the show. It was also emblazoned across the box art of most of the early games. It’s gone now, but the spirit has remained throughout the most recent titles. Oftentimes, the dedication to this principle has been admirable and near-insane. Players can take a character from games as early as Pokèmon Ruby/Sapphire on the Game Boy Advance, and through some effort get them into the very latest releases on Nintendo 3DS. Once there, the potential was endless going forward with fans excited to always have their trusty team of Pokèmon by their side for future adventures.
But in one short interview, held after the E3 2019 presentation proper, GameFreak has demolished this idea. And just as they are on the cusp of making it a permanent fixture of the franchise. Pokèmon Home was said to be the replacement for the 3DS’s Bank service, allowing fans to bring in their massive collection of characters, then be able to use them in any game going forward. Now what appeared at first to be a freeing and open service instead looks like a prison.
Now what appeared at first to be a freeing and open service instead looks like a prison
Imagine this, you have stuck with the Pokèmon series for decades, playing each new game as it releases and collecting all the characters inside. You spend time and effort facilitating this collection and reap the rewards each time a new Pokèmon game is released. You meticulously work them into the Bank and get ready for Home and the release of Sword and Shield. Then you find out that some of your favorites aren’t included on the Galar Pokèdex and can’t be imported into the game. If you find this out after transferring the characters to Pokèmon Home then they are essentially stuck in Pokèmon purgatory. You can’t import them to Sword and Shield, and you also can’t bring them back into Ultra Sun/Moon or any previous games.
Home only works one way from older titles but is two-way with Sword and Shield. Meaning Pokèmon from older games can be sent to Home but can’t be retrieved. If you bring your Timburr over from Bank and he doesn’t show up in the Galar Pokèdex then he’s now stuck in Home and can’t be used until GameFreak decides to release an update, or a new game with him available. And currently there’s no confirmation about how far reaching this decision is.
According to the interview with Junichi Masuda that set this news upon Pokèmon fans, this could be the way the series continues into the future. Depending on the translation, he either said that this was their choice for Sword and Shield, or he said this was how every future release would be. If it’s the former then Sword and Shield will feel like broken forms of what the series could be, but the damage will at least be minimized. Either way though, the promise of the series is destroyed.
The reason given for this monumental change to the Pokèmon formula was that the team would need more time to craft high quality animations and textures for all 800+ Pokèmon, along with balancing the game for that many variables. Balance has never mattered to anyone outside the professional Pokèmon circuit, and there they simply use ban lists to exclude overpowered characters. For the regular, everyday fans who pick up the latest game, transfer their old team in, and have fun with it, this decision is devastating. And the other reasons behind it don’t make much sense either. The models and animations we’ve seen so far in Sword and Shield don’t really show a high level of effort above what was already put into previous games.
And even if there was a huge level of effort required to fulfill the “Gotta Catch ’em All” promise, Pokèmon is the highest grossing media franchise of all time and deserves this sort of high level work from its developer. If they need more time to get them all in there, the fans will understand and wait. I don’t want to sound entitled or callous toward GameFreak and its incredible team of super dedicated developers. I’m sure they’ve put their heart and soul into this game, and the backlash at this decision is killing them. But this is a big deal for Pokèmon fans and the series as a whole. If main series games going forward don’t allow you to “catch ’em all” then there will be consequences in terms of poor sales and reception. Hopefully the massive fan response so far is enough to get GameFreak’s attention and they can figure out a way to change this at some point.
Despite the current controversy, millions of players will still buy Pokèmon Sword and Shield and they’ll almost surely enjoy their time with it. The game looks great, and is certainly delivering on a lot of what fans have wanted from the series for a long time. But this seemingly small decision changes the landscape for the series going forward. Why even try to catch every Pokèmon in Sword and Shield or all the other games going forward if there’s a chance they’ll be cut from future releases? Unfortunately the answer for many will be that it’s no longer worth the effort, and the series will suffer for it.