Pokémon Sword & Shield Play Report Part 11: Life’s Challenges

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

Each individual pokémon has up to 4 “moves” that it uses in a battle. These are most often different kinds of attacks, but there are also moves used for defense, or for other support actions. Some of these moves can be learned by any pokémon, others by a few, and still more that are “signature” moves that only one particular type of pokémon can ever know. Just as pokémon come in 18 different “types,” moves also use the same type system, i.e., Fire, Grass, Fairy, Dragon, etc. The moves any given pokémon can use might come in a variety of types — a Ghost type pokémon might be able to use, say, a Poison move. When a pokémon does use a move of the same type as itself, for instance Electric type Pikachu uses an Electric type attack, the move gets stronger. This is known as a “Same Type Attack Bonus” — or a STAB.

I have one more step in the Challenge, facing the Dragon Gym back in Hammerlocke. There’s trouble in the way though: More explosions, strange red light, and pokémon Dynamaxing out of control! Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about it! We see that in the Galar region, the Pokémon Champion isn’t just a sports celebrity. They have responsibilities and are expected to deal with just these sorts of emergencies. Which is a good thing, given how powerful some pokémon are. In the Pokémon World people aren’t just living with cute, friendly animals, but also with immensely powerful monsters that can command nature and the elements.

Leon, for all his colorful eccentricities and advertiser endorsed flare, is up to the job and gets the rampaging pokémon under control. It’s a very disturbing mystery about how this incident could happen. Is it an omen that the Darkest Day might come again? Chairman Rose seems too wrapped up in concerns about Galar’s energy supply to give it much attention. Leon assures Hop and I that he’ll handle any problems. We need to get on and face Dragon Leader Raihan.

As in every Gym, before facing the Leader, these’s a preliminary test. Here though there is no maze, puzzle, or quiz. I just have to battle three Gym Trainers who stand waiting in the Archive room. Given how elaborate things have been in early Gyms, the starkness suggests… well, that the game developers may just have run out of time to come up with anything more. As someone who worked in the video game industry for almost 25 years, I can believe that’s the case here. Games have pretty inflexible release schedules and sometimes you just have to do what you can and get it out the door.

I’ve met Raihan several times in the story. He’s got a lot of personality. He knows he’s strong, looks good, and it constantly snapping selfies to prove it. He gives me a difficult battle, since Dragon types are one of the strongest kind of pokémon. As proud and confident a battler as he is, like the other Gym Leaders, he’s a good sport and celebrates my victory over him.

The Gym Challenge is complete and so it on to the Champion Cup itself, where everyone who made it this far will battle each other for the right to go up against Champion Leon himself. Hop has gotten his head together and is back in the game, managing to defeat Raihan too. Sonia has gotten a promotion as well, earning her own lab coat and becoming Professor Sonia. Her job now is to keep investigating what is going on with the Darkest Day and wild pokémon inexplicably Dynamaxing.

It’s a train ride and a trip through snow covered countryside to reach the capital city of Galar: Wyndon — not the most original of the names the English Language version of this game has come up with. It’s a huge city with quite a lot of things to investigate, but for these posts, I’ll head right to the Wyndon Stadium for the Semifinal matches. Out of all the trainers who started out in the Gym Challenge, only four of use have made it this far. There’s Hop, Marnie, myself, and… someone else who is never seen or named.

I’m up against Marnie first. I’d say my first battle against her way back in the Challenge was the hardest, since I had no idea of the pokémon she’d use. By this time I know her style pretty well. Hop easily defeats his unnamed opponent and is comes down to the two of us, as we always hoped it would. But my old rival does get defeated. In a very powerful shot, once he realizes he’s lost, Hop turns away, trembling with anger and disappointment — just for a moment, before turning back with his usual grin and thanking me. These moments that don’t just present events at the surface, but give us glimpses of the inner emotional life of the characters, have been what makes this game’s story stand out.

The game, my challenge, and the narrative are far from over. Tomorrow are the Champion Cup Finals to see who will challenge Leon. Hop’s brother invites out to a fancy dinner, at the famous Rose of the Rondelands hotel. But Leon is late… later than is normal even for him. Gym Leader Piers wanders in with a clue. Things are about to get complicated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: