My Reaction to the June 5th Pokémon Direct

It’s nice to see The Pokémon Company putting all that extra Switch power to good use.

With E3 nearly upon this, The Pokémon Company decided to serve up an appetizer for its fans with a brief Direct outlining some of the major features of the game. Pokémon follows a pretty strict formula, so we all had a pretty good idea of what was coming: A few new monster reveals (including the Legendaries), a few core mechanic reveals, and a long look at the world and the atmosphere Game Freak and TPC have created for us. We certainly got the first two, but I found the third to be the most intriguing part of the Direct, and while we don’t know any specifics about the story yet, this game certainly looks like an experience worth having when Pokémon Sword and Shield are released this November.

My specific thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • The biggest surprise to me was how The Pokémon Company decided to handle the hosting duties for the Direct. Instead of laying things out themselves, they handed the reins over to Game Freak for most of the reveal, and we were introduced to several new faces from the development team as they walked through the various components that they specialized in. I thought it was a neat way to bring players closer to the folks doing to heavy lifting behind the scenes of their favorite franchise, and I wonder if this signals a transition towards getting more people involved in the public-facing duties going forward.
  • While the art style still looks like a straight port from G7, the thing that struck me about the Galar region was its sheer size and scope. The games ave been trying to impress the vastness of their worlds on players for a while now (Castelia City from Pokémon Black/White, Lumiose City from Pokémon X/Y), but the limitations of the handheld hardware really kept these areas from making a huge impression. The Switch, however, has no such issues (it may be limited compared to the PS4 and XBox One X, but it’s a veritable monster next to the DS and 3DS), and The Pokémon Company is taking the opportunity to expand their designs and immerse the player in their world. The best example of this is the Wild Area, a massive open-world area where Pokémon roam freely and the environment changes with each season. A Breath of the Wild-like setup for Pokémon seemed like one of those unrealistic pipe dreams we all have, but for the game to come this close to one is really great to see.
  • Similarly, I like the fact that Pokémon battling actually seems to be a big deal in the Galar region. In past games, Pokémon Gyms are often nondescript buildings where battles take place completely separate from the rest of the world, and great battlers just kind of exist without fanfare in the world. (I remember how excited I was in Pokémon XD when random NPCs actually started acknowledging my battle prowess!) Here, however, official Gym battles are treated the way we might treat a football or fútbol game, with large stadiums packed with raucous fans, and crowds gather and cheer when the Champion is in town. It makes Pokémon feel like a much more central tenet to life in the region, and I think it makes the player experience a lot more vivid as a result.
  • Speaking of big…I’m not sure what to make of Dynamax battles just yet. It seems fine as a standalone mechanic and seems to be worked into the game fairly early (I’m assuming Milo is one of the early leaders, although he has three Pokémon instead of two), but this will be the third consecutive generation that introduces a crazy new battle option (following Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves), and it makes me wonder just how far we’re going to go with these things (and how much battles are going to change from year to year, as Mega Evolutions were drastically minimized in G7). It does even in odds in 1v4 battles with friends, but didn’t we already have the Totem mechanic from Sun and Moon to do something similar? It’s not a bad thing and it probably works well in the game, but I’m getting a strong “feature creep” vibe from it that concerns me.
  • The new Pokémon designs fall into the “solid but not spectacular” category (although admittedly it’s hard to blow peoples’ minds after 800+ creations). I see a lot of influence from previous generations in the monster design (Wooloo is cool and all, but where’s the Mareep love been all this time?), but there’s nothing here that makes me recoil in horror, so that’s a decent place to start. My biggest complaint here is the “dog with a sword” design that is Zacian, as forcing a four-legged Pokémon to use a weapon clearly designed for hands just looks incredibly awkward (it always seemed weird in My Little Pony episodes, and it’s still seems weird here). Zamazenta’s “shield” is at least incorporated into the Pokémon’s body à la Bastiodon, so it looks a bit more natural and believable.
  • I’ll withhold full judgement on Max Raid Battles until I know you can connect directly with friends in this game (the lack of such a feature in Mario Maker 2 really annoys me), but I like the idea of tag-teaming with other people against a massively-powerful monster to bring them down (this is likely as close to a “horde mode” as Pokémon will ever get).
  • The new characters seem pretty interesting, especially if their personalities match some of their flashy designs. I love Leon’s crazy look, and I’m curious to see whether the Hop/Leon dynamic resembles that of Hau and Hala, or whether some true sibling rivalry will bleed into it. There isn’t much to say about Professor Magnolia or her granddaughter/assistant Sonia yet, but giving them the same habit of twirling their earring or hair around there finger was a nice touch. That being said…

This is why we can’t have nice things…

Overall, I like what I see from Pokémon Sword and Shield, and I think it will be a solid addition to the franchise. With both the Switch and Pokémon GO going strong and Detective Pikachu breaking the “video game movie” curse, G8 is set up to become perhaps the most-popular of all the mainline games, and right now, it’s looking well-suited to the task.