As the first mainline Pokemon video game released on a Nintendo home console, Pokemon Sword
and Shield mark a new era for the franchise. But as it approached launch, the latest pair of Pokemon games became mired in controversies.For the better part of the year, the Pokemon community has been engaged in a heated debate over the perceived quality of Sword and Shield. Concerns arose initially with an announcement that Sword and Shield’s Pokedex would be limited, with no way to transfer many old Pokemon to Sword and Shield. Concerns about character model animations and graphics followed, and the controversy heated up when leaked versions of Sword and Shield were datamined just ahead of launch.
We’ll explain the various controversies and, now that we’ve played Pokemon Sword and Shield, attempt to answer some of the biggest questions raised ahead of Sword and Shield’s launch below.
A Brief History of Missing Pokemon and the National Dex
The Pokemon Sword and Shield controversy effectively began at E3 2019 — though some fans were even skeptical of Sword and Shield when it was first revealed in February — when Pokemon series producer Junichi Masuda confirmed that not every Pokemon across the entire franchise would be available in Sword and Shield.
The complete Pokemon collection is known as the National Pokedex, or “National Dex.” Technically speaking, the National Pokedex is a numbering system, which lists every Pokemon that has ever existed. This collection of Pokemon to train, battle, and trade, gives dedicated trainers a sense of continuity throughout the Pokemon video game series.
Every IGN Pokemon Review Ever
Each Pokemon game starts with a Regional Pokedex — usually between about 200 and 450 native Pokemon to collect. There are typically requirements that need to be met before you can trade between previous generations of games. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, for example, required players to see the entirety of the new Native Pokedex before unlocking the trading feature; and Black and White required players to nearly complete the story before they could transfer Pokemon from previous games. Ruby and Sapphire, meanwhile, didn’t have a National Dex at all until Fire Red and Leaf Green were released in 2004, but there were still a handful of unobtainable Pokemon that generation
Later, apps like the Pokemon Bank allowed trainers to carry over their previous Pokemon to newer versions. However, bank compatibility was often delayed until months after release, as was the case for both X and Y and Sun and Moon.
Missing Pokemon and the National Dex in Sword and Shield
While transferring Pokemon between generations has never been instant or easy, Pokemon Sword and Shield is the first time that it won’t be made available at all. In Pokemon Sword and Shield, the Pokemon Bank will only allow you to transfer Pokemon that exist within its native Regional Dex. You won’t be able to transfer a little over half of the Pokemon from previous generations into Sword and Shield. Masuda confirmed in an interview with Inside Gamer that Game Freak does not plan on adding the missing Pokemon in later updates.
According to Game Freak there simply weren’t the resources available to model and create over 1,000 Pokemon for Sword and Shield. One of the oft-quoted reasons for why developer Game Freak pared down the number of available Pokemon comes from a 2019 interview with USG where Masuda said:
“We already have well over 800 Pokemon species, and there’s going to be more added in these games. And now that they’re on the Nintendo Switch, we’re creating it with much higher fidelity with higher quality animations.” In another interview with Japanese game magazine Famitsu, Sword and Shield director Shigeru Ohmori reportedly told the publication that Game Freak had to redo all the character models for the latest Pokemon title.
The Famitsu interview surfaced on the Pokemon subreddit, and some interpreted these quotes to mean that the game would look substantially better than previous Pokemon games. IGN independently translated the interview which you can read below:
“This time Masuda and I had a lot of discussions. It had already been very difficult [to bring all of the Pokémon to] Pokemon Sun and Moon, but this time the hardware was Switch and we had to remake all of the models from scratch, so we had to make some choices. But if you play Pokemon Sword and Shield, I think you’ll find that [even if there is a restriction to the number of Pokémon we can bring over] things like the wild areas and the story will have a very large volume.”
Masuda’s comments could be interpreted to mean that simply working on higher fidelity machines like the Nintendo Switch is generally more taxing on resources. Regardless, these comments, in particular, became fuel for critics and opened Game Freak up to further criticism.
The National Dex issue and Game Freak’s subsequent comments regarding it opened Pokemon Sword and Shield up to wider criticism. The reduced National Pokedex — popularly known as “Dexit” after the British political phenomenon “Brexit,” connecting to Pokemon Sword and Shield’s UK-inspired fictional Galar region setting — is still the primary reason for fan outrage. But attention has since turned to comments made by Masuda during the Dexit aftermath.
Beyond ‘Dexit’: The Animation Controversy
Masuda’s comments about working with “higher quality animations” served as a launchpad for a broad range of criticisms levied against Sword and Shield. The most prominent center around graphics and animation.
Criticism of Sword and Shield’s Pokemon animations followed Game Freak’s reveal of a new Corgi-like Pokemon called Yamper. Yamper’s reveal showcased some attacks, including Tail Whip, which critics in the community said was not only lacking in animation quality but alleged proof that Game Freak’s decision to forgo a National Dex in favor of amplifying the visual quality of the game was a lie.
Gigantamax Pokemon in Sword and Shield
Many fans pointed to an old animation of a Flareon in Pokemon Stadium as evidence that the Yamper animation in Sword and Shield was objectively worse than the Nintendo 64 game. (For the record, this is an incongruous comparison: The Nintendo 64-era animation in question was a unique movement made for Flareon’s entrance when released from a Poke Ball, not an animation for an attack, like Yamper’s.)
There have since been exhaustive graphical analyses of the pre-release footage and eventually leaked copies of Sword and Shield Pokemon that in turn led to calls for boycotts, and debates over Dexit — all before Pokemon Sword and Shield was released on November 15.
Pokemon Sword and Shield’s Game Length
Another prominent critique from the community was around Pokemon Sword and Shield’s perceived length and difficulty, with some comments estimating less than 15 hours for expected completion time. Three staffers at IGN who completed Pokemon Sword and Shield say it’s about 39 to 45 hours long, during which they focused on completing the story while doing the usual Pokemon side tasks, like catching Pokemon. They also spent time exploring the Wild Area, cooking curry, or shopping. You can read their exact experiences on how long it took them to beat Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Our review and guides writer believes it is possible to beat Sword and Shield in less than 20 hours, but at the expense of catching Pokemon, battling trainers, finding hidden items, and talking to NPCs.
Pokemon Controversy Hashtags Explained: #GameFreakLied and More
The discussion about Pokemon Sword and Shield’s perceived deficiencies spilled into the wider social media websites thanks to Twitter hashtags like #ThankYouGameFreak, #IStandWithSerebii, and most recently #GameFreakLied. These hashtags highlighted an active social media campaign where fans either expressed their outrage — and unfortunately harassed developers and the prominent Pokemon fansite Serebii. Not every criticism tweeted under these hashtags was toxic, but the most extreme Tweets offered the public its first real look into the raging Sword and Shield debate that grew out of fan communities.
The social media conversation took another step before the review embargo for Pokemon Sword and Shield was set to drop with the hashtag #GameFreakLied. This latest social media campaign aims to highlight all the corner-cutting GameFreak allegedly took with Pokemon Sword and Shield, citing many of the unverified leaks and pre-release screenshots of the game.
The explicit purpose of the #GameFreakLied hashtag was to provide concrete evidence that Game Freak and Masuda lied about why the National Dex was removed. The most popular images shared under this hashtag are of wireframe comparisons that allegedly proved the character models in Sword and Shield were copied from older games.
— Laura Millar (@Lillar_) November 13, 2019
As with the Pokedex leaks and datamines, these wireframe comparisons are unverifiable. Laura Millar, a 3D artist with seven years of video game development experience, also took to Twitter to show how easy wireframe comparisons are to fake.
“I could fake these screenshots in under an hour by selecting one of two identical models in a 3D viewport, which would create white and black outlines,” Millar writes. While Millar couldn’t confirm whether these specific wireframe models were real, the illustration highlights how unsubstantiated these images that have been used to confirm or deny the Pokemon community’s theories regarding the quality, or lack thereof, of Sword and Shield, are.
Even if the wireframes were reused or not, Millar cautioned that the animation process is far more complex than building wireframe models.
GameFreak’s decision to iterate on the Pokemon franchise with Sword and Shield rather than introduce a complete overhaul of its visuals and gameplay concept (like Breath of the Wild did for Zelda) seems to have set Sword and Shield up for this massive backlash.
Although plenty of the criticism against Pokemon Sword and Shield online covers a broad range of topics — from the animation to the sound design — they all mostly stem from the legitimate concern over the National Dex’s exclusion. However, the unverified assumption that GameFreak knowingly lied and took shortcuts to create an “unfinished” game led to an extended, larger, social media-driven uproar.
This year-long debate threatened to overshadow the launch of the first Pokemon game on home consoles and marks Sword and Shield as one of the most controversial entries in the popular video game franchise. So how was Pokemon Sword and Shield received in the end? You can use our Pokemon Sword and Shield review here as a starting point, and of course share your own views and play experiences in our comments.
Matt Kim is a reporter for IGN. Casey DeFreitas is an editor at IGN and Nintendo Voice Chat’s new host! Catch her on Twitter @ShinyCaseyD.