The Wild Area Saved Pokémon Sword & Shield From Mediocrity

Wild Area Post Cover

If regular readers are taking this in and thinking to themselves, “Hey, this isn’t Merry Days of Anime,” know that I’m currently watching through a two-cour anime, so the next post may take a while (unless I drop it). The topic for today is something I’ve been pondering for a little while, at least in the time since I beat Pokémon Shield, a game I at one point claimed I wouldn’t play.

To put it in short form, I initially wanted to play Sword & Shield, then the Dexit controversy occurred and made me swear off it. As it came closer to release, I found myself wanting to play it again, but compromised by watching two hours of a Shofu playthrough, then swore off it again. In the end, I did end up getting it, playing it… and enjoying it. Enjoying it! A modern Pokémon game and I enjoyed it! What is wrong with me?! This post will let you know.

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Tyranitar!!!

The number-one thing that excited me when I saw the reveal trailer for Sword & Shield was the subject of this post: the Wild Area. Fresh off the heels (kind of) of Breath of the Wild‘s revolutionary (for Nintendo) open-world setting, Pokémon is the logical next step for this type of gameplay. Imagine: roaming around a giant scope of land, full of secrets, varying environments, and tons of pokémon. Hours of time expunged through exploration, rare encounters, grinding (my preference), and so much more! I was ecstatic at the thought. With the Switch’s hardware, the scope of this game would be enormous! I couldn’t wait.

It didn’t end up working out quite like that. If we’re going to compare the overall of Sword & Shield compared to previous iterations, it’s a pretty bare-boned and super-accessible RPG with a nice color palette. The hand-holding is off the charts, the amount of dialogue is overbearing, which leads to a much slower pace; the movesets feel very same-y and don’t offer a lot of variety, and everything pales in comparison to the Wild Area. There are good qualities not found in other games, like more animation prowess (which sacrificed more than half the pokédex; cool Hyper Beam animation, though) and a far more exciting Gym Leader battles. Still, nothing compares to the fun I had within the Wild Area, mostly because of what the game didn’t do.

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Vespiquen!!!

Here’s the wonderful thing about the Wild Area, aside from other qualities I’ll get into later: it’s free. Free to do pretty much anything you want to do down to the very basics of finding and catching pokémon… of a certain level if you don’t have enough gym badges as to not break the game, but nevertheless! Free from the constant Hop barrages telling you about benign exposition you don’t care about! Free from a lot of lengthy, convoluted processes that hamper what the player actually wants to do. Dynamax battles incorporate this somewhat (if one chooses to dynamax, which trigger an unskippable 20-30-second cutscene), but strictly roaming the Wild Area, it’s like playing the games of old. Riding around on the bike, looking for pokémon, filling up the pokédex.

Between levels 40 and 50, when I had about six or seven gym badges, most of the Wild Area was open to peruse and catch pokémon in. Crowded fields, a dead area, pondside grounds, grass outside a large, fortress city; so many different areas to go around and explore. Out of the 50-ish hours I spent in the game, I’d hazard I spent about 40% of that time grinding, catching pokémon, and doing dynamax battles in the Wild Area. Taking solace in knowing that while out there, I’d just be doing Pokémon things with no garbage filler. I trained my main party to absurd levels, while using all the exp. candy evolving pokémon I caught to add to the pokédex. I had a blast, far more than I expected to.

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Butterfree!!! + others

And it made me look forward to the future. Game Freak should absolutely bring back the Wild Area, or better yet, Wild Areas. Expand the pokédex (lol), provide more environments, add more things to do, and just let players do Pokémon things. They won’t do this, but man, it would be great. To skip all the incessant E-P-I-C moments and squeezed-dry legendary scenarios that put the player in the role of almighty hero. Just let people catch pokémon and maybe throw in some neat moments of world development, without using ten pages of dialogue.

A rather straightforward post, but one I thought would be worth sharing. Without the Wild Area, I’m not sure I would’ve finished Shield. It has a nice visual aesthetic and I like the emphasis on making the Gym Challenge a bigger deal. Just… ugh. The hand-holding and endless dialogue was a constant chore. Playing through Platinum now, the scripted events that drag the player around are much farther apart and fewer. One can dream for this format to return, but after two generations with a much higher emphasis on… uh… things I don’t like, it seems to be the preferred formula. Oh well. Hopefully the next game will have more things I care about, or I’ll skip it like I did the seventh generation. Even if I did, they wouldn’t care! It’d sell a billion copies regardless. Life is grand.

For more opinion pieces on this topic, check out my full list of video game opinion pieces!

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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