As promised last month, this morning The Pokémon Company International streamed a brand new dedicated Pokémon Direct. The stream, which lasted around 15 minutes, revealed further details regarding this fall’s upcoming, and highly-anticipated, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield for the Nintendo Switch console. These details varied from a closer look at the Galar Region and the first look at a few key characters and new Pokémon species that reside there to showcasing new battle features and even a hard release date! No doubt this isn’t the last we’ll hear about these games before launch, but Nintendo and The Pokémon Company gave us just enough to whet our appetite with and still be thirsty for more!
Any time a brand new generation of Pokémon is on the way, the number one priority of trainers around the world is, “Let’s see more of the new region’s Pokémon!” Gamefreak and The Pokémon Company seldom fail us in this regard, and they continued their trend by showing off a few more Galar Region Pocket Monsters. While details surrounding these new Pokémon were kept to a bare minimum, we still got to get a close look at their designs (something that sure beats the heck out of a blurry leaked image from a Japanese magazine). The new Pokémon species include the Sheep Pokémon Wooloo, Flowering Pokémon Gossifleur (which evolves into the Blossom Pokemon Eldegoss), Bite Pokémon Drednaw, and the Raven Pokémon Corviknight. We didn’t learn what any of these new Pokémon’s typings were, or any other further information, but that’s pretty on-brand for The Pokémon Company with the future games still several months out from release. The end of the stream also teased a brief CGI video unveiling the cover Legendary Pokémon for Pokémon Sword and Shield, Zacian and Zamazenta, respectively.
Staying with the theme of the Pokémon themselves, the Pokémon Direct revealed new mechanics that appear to keep the last couple of generations of games’ trend of bringing in a unique new gimmick to battles. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y gave us Mega Evolution, which carried through Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, and Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon introduced Z-Moves that stayed in place with the follow-up titles Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield appear to be attempting to change up Pokémon battles in a big way with this 8th generation’s gimmick that Gamefreak has dubbed Dynamax. According to the information we were given, Pokémon native to the Galar Region can undergo a phenomenon called a Dynamax Transformation, in which they attain a monstrous size (definitely NOT a Pocket Monster at this point) and an equally massive boost in their power. Based on the video, this Dynamax form also appears to alter the transformed Pokémon’s moves into powered-up variants of them. Only one Pokémon can undergo this transformation during a given battle, much in the same vein as the aforementioned Mega Evolution and Z-Move mechanics, and it will only last three turns, so trainers must carefully time when they choose to use this new power.
Dynamax Pokémon Direct play another role in yet another unveiled game feature, Max Raid Battles. According to Junichi Masuda-san, up to four players will be able to team up and take on an obelisk-sized Dynamax Pokémon Direct in co-op raid-esque battles. We don’t have many details about these yet, but it’s safe to surmise that Gamefreak was inspired by Pokémon Direct GO’s own Raid Battles to add another cooperative feature to the franchise to complement its competitive heritage. In these raids, only one of the four co-op trainers may have one of their own Pokémon Direct undergo the metamorphosis, so players will have to communicate and plan who and when their team’s Dynamax monster will be used. I personally am excited about this feature and hope that it is more expansive than a single battle against a Dynamax monster, as I feel the perfect shake-up for the franchise would be to foster a new cooperative facet to it, whilst keeping us competitive players happy with bolstering the player versus player battles both online and local wireless.
Each region in the Pokémon franchise is defined by not only the collectible and trainable Pokémon inhabiting it, but also by the various characters that reside there. However you feel about a given generation, memorable characters exist in every one of the games. I’m hoping that, with the size of these games purportedly increasing with the power bestowed upon them via the Switch hardware, the development team puts a great deal of effort into the personalities of each supporting character, as well as an increased emphasis on the game’s story. As a trainer since day one of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, I have always been acutely aware that this franchise isn’t intended to be narrative-driven. That said, something with just a little more meat to sink my literary teeth into before I find myself lost in the meandering catacombs of competitively training and battling with my Pokémon wouldn’t be all too bad a thing either. We were introduced to the Galar Region’s resident Pokémon, Professor Magnolia (ever adhering to the tree theme), and her daughter – who also serves as her lab assistant – Sonia, Galar Region Pokémon League Champion Leon, and his younger brother – who also happens to be your in-game rival – Hop. We also got to see the first of the (assumed) eight Gym Leaders of the Galar Region in Milo, who appears to have a Grass-Type-centric team. Gym battles take place inside a gigantic outdoor stadium that accommodates Dynamax transformations, which also seem to play a part in each gym challenge. This would mirror the Totem Pokémon battles that took place within the Pokémon Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon entries.
A few final notes on things I wish were made a bit more clear for these upcoming games in the Pokémon Direct: the Wild Area was described as the space between towns and cities wherein trainers would explore and capture wild Pokémon. The species that appear were said to vary with the weather and time of day, and this is an exciting new prospect! However, the actual size of this area, at least that which we were shown, didn’t appear all that large to me. I realize I must taper my expectations, as this is Pokémon and not Witcher or Skyrim, but I think we are long past due for a truly expansive world to explore in a Pokémon game, especially given the fact that we’re able to control the camera now. Additionally, some of the footage showed wild Pokémon actually wandering around in the open fields and lakes; this is something that I sincerely hope to be carry-over from last fall’s Pokémon Let’s GO Pikachu and Eevee games, as it will reduce the monotony of attempting Pokedex completion, as well as increase the sense of immersion within the new large region. My final hope is something that I can surmise with near-certainty, and that’s the return of following Pokémon. Sun and Moon brought back this feature to a small extent with the field move, using Pokémon such as Charizard, Sharpedo, and Machamp; however, Let’s GO’s triumphant return of the ability to have any one of your Pokémon companions travel alongside you on your trek through the world was something that players have been zealously craving since Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver. Gamefreak can do this with the power of the Nintendo Switch, but whether or not they will is another matter – one that I hope will be given clarity at E3 Expo later this month or shortly thereafter. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield will release simultaneously worldwide November 15th of this year!