I love the main Pokemon version games. They just burned me out a long time ago. So, my return to the series via Pokemon Shield has been a long time coming.
While I have early memories playing some of Pokemon Yellow Version on the Game Boy Color, the first Pokemon game I completed was Pokemon Pearl version on the Nintendo DS Lite, which had a slot for GBA games. After completing this, I finished Pokemon LeafGreen version, then Platinum, HeartGold, Black and Black 2 versions. I tried to finish Pokemon X years ago, but despite the fact that the series had received a facelift, I couldn’t get into it; the issue with yearly Pokemon releases is that the main version Pokemon games are essentially the same core game with different stories and little quality of life updates, usually with a new gimmick each time. I wrote about Pokemon fatigue at the time for Goomba Stomp Magazine, and I was experiencing it hard. And so I skipped out on both versions of Sun and Moon, the rest of X, and the remakes of Sapphire and Ruby. I’d had enough.
But recently, for my birthday, my girlfriend bought me Pokemon Shield version, and much to my surprise, even though much of the gameplay was the same, it felt refreshingly new. Maybe it was the approximately eight years of updates to the series I missed — updates that are usually incremental, but are substantial after a long absence from the series. Maybe it was the fact that I stopped playing Pokemon version games in general about five years ago. But something about Shield version just feels new to me.
Convenience is not a bad thing
Probably the biggest thing I noticed about Pokemon Shield is how much more convenient it is from the last version game I completed, Black 2. For one, you don’t have to waste valuable Pokemon move slots on HMs like Fly that you would otherwise need to progress. There’s also no need for the Exp. Share item, as Exp. is automatically shared throughout your party, which I like a lot, as especially in the early game, it makes more of your party Pokemon useful — you don’t have a few rotting in the back of your party as your starter and whoever has the Exp. share hog all the Exp.
I also really like how you can send the Pokemon in your PC boxes to jobs, to gain Exp. and other stats, while earning you money and items. One big issue with past Pokemon games is that most of your Pokemon would sit in your PC, useless, collecting dust, unless they were one of the chosen 6 to be in your party. This also lets Pokemon outside your party gain Exp. without sending them to the day care for all of eternity.
Less of a grind
A lot of the improvements I’ve noticed since Black 2 have taken a lot of the grind out of Pokemon — and good riddance to it. Leveling up is easier given that Exp. is shared and because higher level Pokemon are more accessible, as even third-evolutions can be either caught or defeated in the wild. At first, I thought this was a bit cheap — why spend all the time grinding to evolve a Pokemon like Corphish when I can catch it in the wild? Then I remembered the fact that you have the chance to maximize the stats you want with raised Pokemon, which is very hard to do/can be impossible for those already at Stage 3.
As a whole, I think it’s a positive thing that the grind has been reduced. It was never fun, and was just a cheap way to extend gameplay, and it just allows more time to be dedicated to other aspects of the game, like workshopping your ideal team and focusing more on the stat side of the game, which I admit took a backseat during my playthroughs in past games just because it took so long to get a team that was decently leveled up.
At several points playing Shield, I’ve said to my girlfriend — who has never finished a main series version game before — how much harder certain aspects of these games used to be, and in a way, I do feel a little cheated, like past games had needlessly wasted my time on the grind, and had limited me needlessly through things like HMs and menu convolution (I love how you can now just click A at a spot to fish, and how Surf has been made obsolete; barely any time is wasted digging through menus or waiting for animations to play out).
But I’ve also found out that the experience from the six previous Pokemon games I completed did not go to waste, as a lot of the strategic tricks I learned out of necessity were put to good use in Shield, not only in battles, but also in discovering hidden secrets in the world.
So as a whole, I’d say that my return to main series Pokemon games has been a positive one. I think the story in Shield is not very good, but as a game — as someone who’s been absent since Black 2/the start of X — it’s a breath of fresh air, and most of its improvements have made the gameplay more fun, accessible, and interesting. It really feels like Nintendo made an effort to comb through the classic Pokemon game mechanics and decided to throw out anything that didn’t make the game enjoyable.
I had to suffer through the Exp. grind, blind random encounters with wild Pokemon, slot-eating HMs, inconvenient menus, and Surf. But there’s no reason for kids today to have to go through that as well, and truthfully, none of that stuff made Pokemon great, and none of it was challenging or hard, it was just tedious and time consuming.
While I don’t love everything about Shield — for one, I think Gigantamaxing Pokemon is dumb — the game is much more fun than the Pokemon games I grew up on. It’s great to see that, even though I was absent from the series for year, it’s pushed on and has been unafraid to innovate and make the core gameplay better — even if it’s storytelling hasn’t always been the best.
Hopefully it doesn’t take me another five years to pick up a new Pokemon game. But even if I do, I have no doubt it’ll be even more of a breath of fresh air than this game was.