Pokemon Sword and Shield Initial Thoughts: Random Encounters Should Have Stayed Dead


Galar calling to the Distortion World. Grab your best Starters, you boys and girls. Today’s Pokemon Direct packed a lot of new information about Generation 8 into its brief eight minutes. First off, we no longer have to refer to the upcoming Switch adventures exclusively as « Generation 8. » They have names: Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. And they’re coming in late 2019.

Galar is a parallel of the United Kingdom. The debut trailer for Pokemon Sword and Shield showed off rolling hills indigenous to the British countryside, as well as a London-inspired city, snowy mountains (a possible shout-out to Scotland), and foggy, gloomy forests that look like they’d be right at home in old Irish folk tales about faeries. At a glance, Galar seems to be geographically diverse, and I’m excited about it. I’m also a big fan of the uneven terrain, which will undoubtedly give Pokemon Sword and Shield the air of a real, living world—a trend that started with Pokemon Sun and Moon’s lively Alola region. An open-world Pokemon game isn’t forthcoming, but taking a long foot-tour of the Pokemon games’ answer to the UK might be the next best thing.

Which brings us to the worst thing about the trailer, and possibly the worst thing about Pokemon Sword and Shield: Random encounters appear to be back. There’s a moment in the trailer where we see the trainer creep through the grass and she’s predictably pulled into a fight with a Pikachu. This really boils my tea. Last year’s Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee let you see Pokemon on the overworld, leaving the decision of « fight or flight » in your hands. This choice let you tailor the experience of Pokemon-catching to your liking, plus seeing all those animals run around Kanto really jazzed up the over-visited region. I was hoping Pokemon Sword and Shield might go a step further and really integrate wild Pokemon into the Galar region, like how Dragon Quest XI’s enemies interact with each other on that game’s overworld. No such luck, even though it’d be wonderful to see untamed Pokemon scuttering up and around the downs of Galar.

Long story short, the return of random Pokemon encounters makes me sadder than a Rapidash with three broken legs. Essential disclaimer: Game Freak showed us an unfinished version of the game today, and for all we know the single random encounter we saw in the trailer is a placeholder. It seems unlikely, though. Pokemon Sword and Shield is already looking quite polished, and I imagine its mechanics are mostly in place. I hope I’m wrong about the random encounters, but I probably won’t be.

No dark sarcasm in the classroom, but PokeBattles are OK. | Nintendo

Disappointed as I am, I’m not really surprised. The Pokemon games are infamous for taking two steps forward and one step back with every new idea, something Kat and I have discussed at length on Axe of the Blood God. A key example Kat’s brought up more than once is how Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 (both released on the Nintendo DS in 2012) have an extremely robust postgame that’s perfect for players who want a serious challenge without having to wade into the neck-deep muck of the Pokemon competitive scene. We haven’t seen anything quite as involved as Black 2 and White 2’s Battle Frontier since. Every subsequent edition of Pokemon just kind of does its own thing for its postgame, which is fine, but why remove something as logical as a tough solo challenge for veterans?

The simple (if unsatisfactory) answer is that Game Freak just does what it does. Each region has its own « traits, » and that’s it. Why doesn’t Alola have its own Battle Frontier? Well, because the Battle Frontier is in Unova! Duh! Why does Pokemon Sword and Shield bring back random encounters? Because we’re in Galar, you silly goose, not Kanto 2.0.

« We can’t end visible encounters here. This is Zubat country. » | Nintendo

Game Freak is admittedly in the unenviable position of having to please everyone. Pokemon has a hardcore fighting scene that wouldn’t react well if the series made major changes to how battling works, but the success of Pokemon Go and Pokemon Let’s Go means newcomers are arriving all the time—and for some of them, Pokemon Sword and Shield will be their first mainline Pokemon game. Game Freak’s return to random encounters might be a compromise for hardcore players who are worried Pokemon’s drifting away from its classic RPG roots, but it’s hard to imagine there are many fans, hardcore or not, who want random encounters again.

It’s also worth considering Game Freak killed on-screen encounters because of hardware limitations. It’s not too likely; Pokemon Sword and Shield looks lovely, but it doesn’t appear to push the Switch’s specs to their limits.

Oh hey, snow! There isn’t already tons of this junk everywhere in the real world, no sir! | Nintendo

Ultimately, I don’t know why Pokemon Sword and Shield has random encounters. Someone from the studio is probably looking at this article, jabbing the screen with their finger, and calling me a moron who doesn’t understand anything about game development. I probably deserve it. And hey, if you’re out there, Game Freak, I’m willing to compromise. Random encounters in long grass is OK, but if you force me to inhale a mouthful of Zubats every time I enter a cave, I’m going to be upset.

We’re on top of all the cool new Pokemon news, and you should be, too. Remember to check our Pokemon Sword and Shield guides every day for new updates. How about those Starters? If you’re not planning to pick Scorbunny, don’t worry. You still have plenty of time to think over your mistake and do the right thing.



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