Pokemon Sword & Shield Play Report 07: The Water Gym

Continuing my playthrough of Pokémon Sword & Shield. My focus is on the narrative experience of the game, more than the mechanics of play, though I will include some introduction to what the world of Pokémon is all about.

Pokémon 101

The roads and other routes of a Pokémon region are dotted with other trainers, opponents controlled by the game. A classic feature of every game is that if you make eye contact with another trainer, you must have a Pokémon battle with them. They are thus both an obstacle to overcome and a resource. You gain experience from fighting them — and money if you win. In early games, money was in short supply so it was important to manage trainer fights carefully for financial reasons. If you lost a battle, you gave up half your cash to them! In more recent games such as Sword & Shield it is very easy to earn money and you usually have more than you can spend.

The next stage of my Pokémon journey takes me to port town of Hulbury. There’s another journey through the Galar countryside, with new pokémon to catch and more trainers to battle. While the other trainers are always of a certain type — a school kid, a pokémon breeder, a mountaineer, etc — each is has individual name and always have some sort of comment, quip, or even a bit of their philosophy about pokémon to impart.

Along this route is the region’s pokémon nursery. This is a place where you can leave a couple of your pokémon for awhile and when you return later, if they have been comparable in certain ways, a pokémon egg might have appeared. It’s a running joke in the games that nobody mentions details about where these eggs come from, they just mysteriously appear. The rules for pokémon breeding are very complex but, while vital for competitive battling, they don’t matter for the game’s narrative experience. It’s an example for the deeper levels of game play explore or just skip depending on your preferences and interests.

A couple story events do take place before Hulburry. Firstly, I walk into the middle of an encounter between two Team Yell members and someone who appears to be a nurse or medical technician. They want to steal this guy’s bike — and use it to chase trainers so that they’ll be too tired for the Gym Challemge. I have to fight them in a pair of battles, but they are easy to defeat. In thanks, the nurse decides to give me the bike. Bikes are one of the reoccurring features in Pokémon games. They allow you to travel around much faster and, in this game, you eventually get an upgrade which allows the bike to cross water. Previous games would introduce puzzles where you needed a pokémon with a specific ability to carry you across water, to move heavy stones, cut through tall grass, or overcome other physical obstacles. Players over the years generally have found that annoying and, starting with Pokémon Sun & Moon, that aspect of the game has been phased out. Here in Sword & Shield it’s gone entirely.

After getting my bike, I soon meet up with Hop once again — and he’s ready for another battle as part of our training. In matches with Hop, and other main characters, my opponent responds to what goes on during the battle. Hop will playful boast or trash talk if he’s winning, or will praise me if I use a good type-match against him, such as when I use a water move on his fire-type pokémon. Hop doesn’t like to loose, but he remains a good sport about it, and considers it an incentive to try harder next time.

Hulbury is another richly depicted town, a port by the ocean, with boats and fishermen. There’s lots to people to talk to and many small quests to find items and hidden treasures. For the narrative, the most important encounter is when I spot Chairman Rose. He’s trying to be incognito in a hat, sunglasses, and other tourist garb, but everybody still immediately recognized him. He is accompanied by his personal assistant Oleana. She immediately gives the vibe of being the person keeping Rose focused and on schedule. Could her authority go even beyond that, to being the real power behind the throne? The arrogant Bede is also around. Rose has to be reminded of his name, despite his being Rose’s endorsed challenger for the competition. The Chairman actually seems more interested in me and wonders what I and Hop have that led Leon to endorse us. Rose would like me to join him at his favorite seafood restaurant — if we succeed in winning at the next gym.

I have to find the Water Pokémon Gym Leader Nessa first, as she’s busy with her doing non-pokémon activities. People I pass in town recognize me as a trainer in town for the Challenge. I find her down by her lighthouse on the shore. It seems Hop and I are quite the topic of conversation among the Gym Leaders.

Our match is at another of the large stadiums. Before the actual battle at with the gym leader there’s always a puzzle of some sort. Here is a series of switches that need to be thrown in the correct order to get through a watery maze. Three assistants to Nessa must also be beaten. If you can handle them okay it’s a sign that your team of Pokémon has probably gotten strong enough to proceed. When I’m finally facing Nessa, the crowd cheers and reacts to the back and forth of the match. Defeating the Water Gym is no big deal. Besides having a full compliment of six pokémon, I have the advantage of knowing Nessa is going to use water-type pokémon, so I assembled my team with that in mind.

Outside the stadium Oleana is there to remind me about my appointment with Chairman Rose. It’s important we make it since Rose is, according to her, the sort of person who gets downhearted is he can’t take care of things right away. At the restaurant we are joined by Sonia, who is an old acquaintance of Rose and Oleana. They end up absorbed in a discussion of the Darkest Day legends, Dynamaxing, and the Power Points that allow the phenomenon. Rose wants her to investigate the sealed Vaults in the city of Hammerlock for clues that might be there. After all that, Rose’s schedule doesn’t have any more time to talk with me directly. In any case Hop and I need to get to back to Motostoke to face the Fire Gym Leader.

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