It’s Pokemon hype season, adventurers, and my hype is certainly high after seeing the trailer for Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. Yesterday morning at this very time (if you’re reading the article right as it goes live) we got our first glimpse into the region of Galar and met the three Pokemon who will serve as our starter choices on this new journey. I couldn’t contain my excitement and ended up watching the trailer in my car before walking in to work, but that didn’t give me a great opportunity to really dig in to what was revealed. So in this article, I want to look at the points in the trailer which have me the most excited to speculate and ask questions about where these games might lead us. This is not a trailer “analysis” in the sense of learning hidden secrets – my focus is on seeing which aspects of the trailer prompt interesting questions, and then sharing my theories based on the questions we might ask.
First I want to take a moment just to admire how pretty this game is. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I thought Let’s Go was a good looking game, but interviews with Game Freak seemed to indicate that they were going for a style that they described as “more realistic.” The thought made me nervous – I’m not a big fan of lifelike graphics as they tend to age much quicker than games which make a more abstract aesthetic choice. And I felt like too much photorealism wouldn’t suit the world of Pokemon. Fortunately, I didn’t have anything to worry about, as Sword and Shield simply look like Sun and Moon after a nice haircut wearing some fresh duds.
After we check out a couple of lovely vistas showing us a few of the game’s environments, we get our first look at the player character. Pictured above is the boy trainer, while the girl trainer looks like this:
As is typical for most games I’ve played where you have any kind of choice in the matter, I think the girl trainer has a more appealing design. There’s a fashion curse on dudes in video games, who must always look ordinary and not make any daring choices in wardrobe and must never be caught dead wearing accessories. I mean, I guess this trainer doesn’t have accessories either, but her coat-and-dress combo look way more unique than the guy’s polo-and-slacks combo. Unfortunately we don’t get to really see any alternative customization options in the trailer, but I imagine that customization will return.
A few hopes on customization options. Sun and Moon moved in the right direction as far as having four available skin tones ranging from pale to dark, but more in-betweens would be great options to have. It’d also be nice, I think, to have some more varied hair styles at the beginning of the game. If I remember correctly in Sun and Moon, you don’t actually get to pick your hair style until you finally hit a salon, so being able to define that aspect of your character right away would be a welcome change. Finally, having alternate outfits right at the beginning of the game would be nice. I remember in X and Y having a second set of clothes you could change in to once you found a mirror for the first time, but it’d be nice to have a variety of choices right from the get-go. It feels odd to start the game as the same generic character model as everyone else and slowly get to be more yourself as you go on, so improvements to customization would be much appreciated.
The next few moments of the trailer we get a series of shots showing different environments in the game. This one is a house by a lake, but there are a couple of interesting details. The purple coloration of the house along with the fact that it is overgrown with vines gives me a kind of Lavender Tower feel – could this place be haunted? It definitely seems like a location you’ll be able to explore at length due to the sheer number of windows on the building. If each of those is a single room, there are lots of places to go inside. Even if there are two windows to a room, it still might make a good mini-dungeon location for the early game. I’m also curious about the area outside which looks like a court or arena of some kind with a Pokeball symbol. This seems like a location designated for battles, so maybe that puts the building in a new context. What if the overgrown vines aren’t a sign of it being abandoned, but rather indicate that this might be a place for grass-type battles? I don’t think it’s a gym and I’ll get into why in a bit, but this definitely seems like a cool place.
Oh golly, please do not let the fog mechanic from gen four come back.
Oh hey, that’s a neat train! In the background of this shot we can see a clock tower reminiscent of London’s Big Ben. The rumors I heard before the trailer dropped seemed to point at the region being based on the United Kingdom, and by all indications those rumors were true. This London-like location reminds me of how the city is portrayed in films focused on the industrial era. Check out all that smoke pouring from the chimneys in the background: this city is in full production and the signs of heavy machinery working seem to be all over the place. I can’t help but wonder if this might be something that ties into the story of the game.
Pokemon has tackled environmental issues in the past. Teams Magma and Aqua each wanted to change the environment for the Pokemon that they cared about, expanding either the land or the sea (respectively). Lysandre of Team Flare wanted to preserve the beauty of the world by wiping out a good chunk of humanity so they would stop messing it up. I could easily see a version of this game where the villains are eco-terrorists using Pokemon to wreck the industrialized city and return the world to a more natural state. Of course, it could go the other way too and portray the owners of these massive complexes as cruel industrialists who must be stopped so that Pokemon can thrive in a healthy world. Personally, I’d love to have the option to choose – I want to have rival villains like in Ruby/Sapphire but with the extra layer of fully joining the team that stands against your enemies.
It is of course possible that the industrialization of this world will not relate to the story at all, but given how much focus it received in the trailer, I imagine it must be significant in some way.
Remember how I said that I don’t think the overgrown building was a gym? That’s because I am pretty confident that this is what a gym looks like in Sword and Shield. You can see the fancy sign on the left side that’s pretty similar to the gym signs in Let’s Go. The huge symbol that is both above the door and on the ground in front of the gym seems to indicate something about it, perhaps the type or types of Pokemon that are trained there. The green coloring and leaf-like shape seems to suggest that this could be a grass-type gym, but the icon also has a resemblance to the Earth Badge granted by Giovanni in gen one. While I doubt they would reuse a badge design in a different region, perhaps this symbol could be said to indicate ground rather than grass.
This screen shows us what I believe to be the inside of the gym. It resembles both a Pokemon battle stadium and also a soccer field, with giant screen displays at each end of the arena along with stands packed with cheering fight fans. Let’s Go introduced us for the first time (in the games) to the idea of folks regularly watching the battles that take place in gyms. Pokemon battles are a spectacle to be enjoyed, so naturally fans gather to see the ones that take place between the most skilled trainers. In the Galar region, it seems that they have embraced that idea wholeheartedly and fashioned their gyms into full-blown arenas.
This shot of Lucario’s attack hurtling towards Tyranitar gives you a better idea of the sheer scale of the arena here. We can also see the base of some kind of symbol back behind the screen here. It appears to be a circle set between a pair of rings, the rings shifting in color from blue to red and green to yellow. It’s hard to say what this symbol could represent; it doesn’t appear to suit any existing Pokemon type. Perhaps this arena is affiliated with a later game battle such as the Elite Four? That could explain the four colors of the rings, and the circle in the center would represent the Pokemon League champion. If that is the case, then this arena may not be the gym we saw earlier at all, but instead this game’s equivalent of the Indigo Plateau. That idea is supported by the level of the Pokemon here – Pupitar evolves into Tyranitar at level 55, after all, so that suggests that this battle is taking place later in the game.
This image is the final piece of the trailer before we see the starter Pokemon, and it’s here that I want to shift into some of my theories about how gyms and the Pokemon League might work in this game. Historically in Pokemon, you travel between eight gyms spread throughout the region and earn badges from the gym leaders. When you have eight badges, you can face the Elite Four and then the champion after them. There’s a competitive vibe to it and some degree of organization, but what we see in Sword and Shield appears to go well beyond that. So I ask this question: what if the Pokemon League is a full blown sports organization?
Imagine this. When you first become a Pokemon trainer you register as a member of the Pokemon League. This allows you to compete in official league matches. You are given a match schedule for a “season” of battles against other members of the league. You travel to various locations throughout the season and compete in large arenas in front of an audience. When you win all of your matches during the season, you qualify for the Regional Cup (or some better-named equivalent) and compete in a tournament against the best trainers from around Galar. The winner of this final competition becomes the champion of the Pokemon League for that year, and the next year everyone does it all over again.
Having gyms and the Pokemon League function in this way could open up some interesting new options as far as how the competitions work. Maybe each gym is themed around a type based on the home team of that city, with the gym leader’s Ace being the mascot of that team. Or maybe since gyms just serve as arenas for trainers from around the region to travel to for scheduled matches, they are no longer themed around Pokemon typing and instead the matches challenge you in other ways. Enemy trainers might focus on particular strategies rather than a single type. Maybe one trainer in the League is well known for rain teams, while another prefers to play defensively and stall matches to earn victory. Perhaps in order to win a competition, you have to display your ability to compete using that strategy.
This idea of an ongoing tournament season could even be carried into the multiplayer aspects of the game. Perhaps players could join different teams and help to push their team to victory by winning matches online. Game Freak could even tie in the sporting event aesthetic to their VGC tournaments, having competitors rep their teams from Sword and Shield at the competition or maintaining a regular competitive season that ends in a championship tournament like the one in the game.
Another option would be for your character to be a part of a team within the Pokemon League. Perhaps the way that trainers get their starter Pokemon in Galar is when they join a team in the League for the first time. Based on the starter you choose, you join a team and become responsible for helping them to win matches and make it to the championship. Instead of an evil team that is a criminal organization, the antagonists would be the sports teams you didn’t choose at the beginning of the game. Your rival could come from one of these teams, or might be a fellow athlete on your own team who is often at odds with you due to your similar skill levels.
Now if gyms work in this way where they are actually facilities that host competitions between trainers or teams of trainers, how would gym puzzles work? I think there are two possibilities here. It is possible that instead of traditional gym puzzles, we would get minigames that are similar to the tasks done for the island trials in Sun and Moon. The other possibility is that gym puzzles might be recontextualized as athletic challenges. An ice sliding puzzle might be an ice skating competition, for example. These puzzles or challenges could serve as qualifiers where multiple members of a trainer team would compete to see who will end up in the actual Pokemon battle portion of the tournament. It allows the gyms to be more than just battle arenas while also still fitting the context of a sports match.
Overall, I am quite excited about Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. From what the trailer has told us there is a lot to be excited about, but the potential that lies in the things we don’t know yet is what truly excites me. What sorts of villains will we face in this world that blends open countryside with industrial complexes? How will the conversion of gyms into full-blown stadiums change the way the Pokemon League functions? The possible answers to these questions are exciting to ponder, and I’ll likely be pondering them happily until the time when we learn more about these games.