Pokemon Sword and Shield (I played Sword) were mired in controversy all the way till release. These controversies ranged from claims of reusing 3D models from other games, cutting back in graphical quality, and Dexit (removing the National Dex and many of the 800+ pocket monsters). It seemed like the hardcore fans would to tear the Pokemon Company a new one, and make this the lowest selling mainline Pokemon game ever. Then it came out to great reviews and strong sales numbers.
Now, just because most reviewers liked the game (and it was one of the fastest selling games for the console) does not mean the critics did not have any points. The game is good. It has great characters, strong art design, some great new monsters, fun new mechanics, and also has many repeated and lazy animations (Why does Scorbunny kick his opponent when he’s doing headbutt?), terrible pop-in, and less than stellar graphics in comparison to other games on the console (Dragon Quest XI). It also has a middling and underwhelming end game experience that makes continuing on after beating Hop a daunting task.
It’s not just Sword and Shield that have this problem, but all (really most, but all sounds better) of the mainline games have this problem.
What do you do after you’ve beaten the gyms, the Elite Four, and the Champion are often where Pokemon? That question is where the games fail hardest. The solution is to write it off and say catch and evolve the remaining Pokemon and hypothetically complete your Pokedex. After, raise them all up to lv 100. Now that professional and competitive Pokemon is a thing the other option is to raise a perfect team to compete in tournaments by digging into the IVs, EVs, personalities, and general min-maxing optimization of the game.
Those end game options do not sound so pitiful and middling. I just have a follow-up question: What is the easiest way to level all those wonderful creatures to level 100?
If you want to be pedantic (you can, I physically can’t stop you) the answer is just to battle. I mean obviously. But that answer of “to battle” is where everything breaks down for me. That solution of battling really means to just go to the place where the highest level monsters are and continually grind through them, or go through the Elite Four over and over. And… isn’t that sad?
Let’s back up a minute. The first Pokemon game I played to completion was Pokemon: Emerald. It was a great time (it was Hoenn, so of course it was). After you caught Rayquaza, Kyogre, and Groudon, beat Steven, and unlocked the Reggis it had the PokeNav – Trainer’s Eyes. This mechanic allowed you to activate it in a trainer heavy area and see if any of them wanted to battle you again. When you went to battle them again they were stronger. The other function of the Trainer’s Eyes was the ability to battle stronger versions of the Gym Leaders. Furthermore each time you battled through the Elite Four and Champion Steven they got progressively stronger until they capped in the 70s.
The potential for increasingly more intensive battles made it easy to level up your Pokemon to higher levels. It was great and they never used this system again.
Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (I played Ruby. A chance to actually get Zangoose, of course!) did not even have the PokeNav as it was used in the originals. You could rebattle the Elite Four like usual and you can go to the Battle Hotel island to rebattle pretty consistently. You just couldn’t rebattle everyone like the game it’s a remake of. Pokemon Sun and Moon (I didn’t play Ultra Sun or Moon so tell me if I’m wrong and it does all this right) had no way to have rematches with trainers at all. You could only battle high level encounters.
I don’t want to make it seem like the PokeNav – Trainer’s Eyes was perfect. It capped all non-Elite Four members after the first time, and it seemed random as to who was ready for a new fight and those who were not, but it had potential.
Sword and Shield has released with new ways to level up. The ability to camp, send Pokemon out on jobs, and farm rare/exp candies have helped to remedy this problem. They’re all fine, but it doesn’t help build the world out after you catch you Nobel Wolf and beat your rival for the last time. Everything is stagnant. You can go to the Battle Tower and make your way to the top and beat Leon again, but after that there is nothing.
The PokeNav – Trainer Eyes had the potential to expand the world outside of you and give you a stronger impact on the world as both player and character. Pokemon Emerald was a GBA game. That came with obvious limitations but as they expanded to DS, 3DS, and now Switch those limitations are obsolete. Endless evolution in the trainers is an obtainable possibility, and something Game Freak has messed around with before
The Let’s Go Pokemon games innovated in many ways on the classic formula. Those innovations were the active catching (let’s call it), and the master trainers. The master trainers had a single lvl 100 Pokemon and only wanted to battle the best version of that same Pokemon you caught. That went in tandem with the active catching where the more you caught a single Pokemon the stronger the subsequent ones got. This fleshed out the gameplay and delivered on the mottos of “Be the Best” and “Catch them All” to their logical end points.
Those systems could not be taken wholesale without adopting and adapting the Let’s Go model. If Game Freak doesn’t want to do that (staying traditional is fine) making Pokemon masters from other regions, or master of a Pokémon type, who arrive after the game to challenge is an option. OR what really should be done is rebattle all the trainers, gyms, and Team Yell hooligans. Give them a level boost to be competitive with you (low 60s at the start) and then battle through them again. You beat them through your playthrough. They took that loss you gave them to grow into stronger trainers. That story can continue until everyone is at level 100. You (the player) invigorated those around you, pushed all of them be their best, and in turn they pushed you to be your best. That is part of what Pokemon is all about.
The Pokemon master or leveling trainers would keep the game consistently engaging as you go and battle old, stronger foes over and over. Once everyone is at level 100 the same problem of dwindling enjoyment due to decreased challenges would arise, but (hypothetically) they could be used to farm level ups for competition Pokemon, or just complete and have lvl 100 for all Pokémon (along with jobs and everything else Sword and Shield has).
That could be asking for too much. That would be for sequel (a new mainline game, a remake, or Super Sword and Shield) so what could be done in the game as is, is make the tournaments at the endgame more impactful. It is easy to have level 80s and 90s sweeping an entire team or whole tournaments without Dynamaxing (Dynamaxing doesn’t totally click. Its presented as being dark and monstrous with the evil legendary causing it and being the catalyst for The Great Darkness. After catching Eternatus and cleansing him Dynamaxing still makes the sky dark and the giant versions of the Pokemon evil. Does not make a whole lot of sense and doesn’t totally work out). They’re supposed to be the strongest trainers Make them strong and level up to 70s (like Emerald) at least.
Pokemon is great. Pokemon Sword and Shield are good games that I want to play for the same 200+ hours I did when I started Emerald, Diamond and all the others. The controversies these games had to endure are inconsequential in comparison to the fact that I completed the campaign and am ready to turn it off ( to play the Digimon Cyber Sleuth Two Pack) and wait for the next main line release to come out instead of sink hundreds more hours into the one I got. It’s easy to say “Just keep playing it then!” You can hit the bottom of the barrell and try to keep going, but you’ll just be destroying the barrell by that point.