Pokémon Sword and Shield

I started playing Pokémon Sword on December 4, and I beat the game last night. It took a little more than 42 hours, which is the result of me playing about half an hour a day for the past two and a half months.

I feel like I spent most of my time with Pokémon Sword goofing off in the Wild Area, dressing my character in ridiculous outfits, and figuring out to make truly bizarre unique league cards. I really enjoyed myself.

What I appreciate about this generation of Pokémon games is that, partially thanks to the open-world style Wild Area, the player can create a diverse and balanced team from the start, which means that you can set up your team within two or three hours and then not have to worry about level grinding or otherwise catching up under-leveled pokémon. All the creatures on my team were at level 70 at the end of the game, and they’d all been with me since the first gym battle. I caught 225 species of pokémon without really trying, but it was just for fun.

Compared to previous generations, Pokémon Sword and Shield don’t have much of an overarching story, but I love the location and the characters. I played about half of the game in handheld mode and the other half on my television. I’ve always wanted to play a Pokémon game in widescreen high definition, and this was everything I ever dreamed of. Each of the towns and cities is gorgeous, and the big stadium battles are phenomenal. The major characters have all sorts of interesting microexpressions and small animation flourishes that help you get a sense of their personalities, and their designs are attractive and eye-catching.

It will probably not surprise anyone that I have a crush on Chairman Rose, who tries very hard to be evil but comes off as goofy and adorable. Early on in the game, Rose shows up “incognito” to have lunch with your character at a fancy restaurant in one of the most fantastically Eurotrash outfits I have ever had the pleasure to behold. I was so inspired by his ridiculous combination of sportswear and beachwear that I spent the entire game hyper-focused on earning money so that I could buy clothes and achieve the same glorious antithesis of style.

By the time the player has their final showdown against Rose in the creepy ambient glow of shattered test tubes with a “One-Winged Angel” style choral piece as the BGM, my character was a complete and utter eyesore. I hope Rose was proud of me.

I had a lot of fun with Pokémon Sword. I recently saw – on Twitter, I think? – someone say that there are three main genres of video games: Men With Guns, It’s About Depression, and Nintendo. I totally get that, and I appreciate that Pokémon Sword and Shield are strong “Nintendo” games in the sense that they don’t take themselves too seriously and allow you to play them in whatever way you like. I’m not super-invested in the DLC, but I think it might be nice to return to the Galar region when new content is available this summer.

The Gaming Memoir Genre

Thrill of the Hunt
https://medium.com/mammon-machine-zeal/thrill-of-the-hunt-68ebaaf1e339

We go to the sushi restaurant where I ate my welcome dinner on my first night, so I feel well-versed when it comes to using wasabi and ordering sushi, which glides down the conveyor belt on small race cars. They ask me questions about myself, but I otherwise defer to them, observe the space they create before deciding how I should contribute.

And then we drive around town. We stop at the culture center to play this game that I’ve had to download again. It’s just been released in Japan, and what were quiet nights now bustle. People are on bikes or on foot or in cars with their hazards flashing. This is the nightlife. We walk through neighborhoods in search, looking for virtual creatures that are new or rare. We venture to a park. We park in front of a Buddha statue and walk down an unlit dirt path.

This is a great piece of writing, and I could honestly read an entire anthology of essays about various people’s experiences with Pokémon Go.

I love how the “gaming memoir” has emerged as a genre of creative writing. I’m not particularly interested in video game novelizations (outside of fanfic, of course), but I think it would be lovely to have more nonfiction books and essays about single video game titles from a personal perspective. There are a number of games that I’ll probably never be able to play that I would love to read about. I think one of my favorite games, The Wind Waker, is one of these games for a lot of people. Ditto for Ocarina of Time, and I’m sure that the same will be said of Breath of the Wild in ten years. There are a handful of landmark games that were extremely influential and celebrated when they were released, but the medium is evolving so quickly that it can be difficult to get your hands on actual copies of these games (even pirated copies, in some instances). It can also be difficult and frustrating to play these games because of shifting expectations regarding game design. This is one of the reasons why I sincerely appreciate people who write about the experience of what playing a game was like in the context in which it was released. Another reason I enjoy this genre is because it’s a whole lot of fun, honestly.

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!

I don’t think Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! cured my depression; but, if any game could, it would be this one. It’s so positive and utopian, and the pokémon interaction mechanics healed my soul.

It took me 37 hours to finish the game, which brought me to a grand total of having caught 107 pokémon. I’m pretty sure I could get all 152 if I spent another 10 hours working at it, but I feel satisfied with what I have now.

What I appreciate about this game is how simple it is. Pokémon Sun and Moon featured a lot of needlessly complex gameplay systems geared toward professional “trainers” seeking to maximize their competitive potential. Even though it wasn’t necessary to engage with all of these systems, I found their presence overwhelming in the sense that there is A LOT of information that the player constantly has to keep in mind or actively filter out while playing. I’m therefore grateful that Let’s Go, Eevee! did most of the filtering for me, bringing it down to roughly Animal Crossing levels of manageable.

I also like the new pokémon capture system, which is an adaptation and improvement on that of Pokémon Go. On one hand, the simple motion controls mean that it’s difficult to play Let’s Go, Eevee! on public transportation. On the other hand, you no longer have to go through a twelve-step process to catch a damn Pidgey. The new experience-gaining and leveling system works well too.

The main problem with the game is that you can really only gain experience by catching wild pokémon, a process that requires pokéballs, which require in-game currency. Since you can only get a significant amount of currency by battling other trainers, and since each trainer will only battle you once, there’s a limited amount of money in the game, meaning that you can only do so much level grinding. Since your resources are limited, you’re kind of stuck with the first five pokémon you choose to develop (plus Eevee or Pikachu). This never becomes a serious problem while you’re making your way through the story, but it also means that there isn’t much room for experimentation or exploration of the game systems.

It’s worth saying that the graphics are gorgeous and the music is delightful. I’m more or less using my Switch as a handheld console these days, and it’s everything I ever wanted a handheld console to be. I’m looking forward to Pokémon Sword and Shield, and while I wait I am very much enjoying the memes.