The Best and Worst of Every Pokemon Generation: Episode 3
I decided to leave out Scarlet/Violet in this episode for a full review of those games once I've completed it, so these are my reviews on Generation 7 and 8. Yep, it's time for the lovely Dexit controversy!
The Best and Worst of Every Pokemon Generation: Episode 3
We’re back with more rambles and rants on Pokemon!
It’s been a while since the second part of this little miniseries. Playing Pokemon X for the first time since the release was some experience. That game is…weird, you know? While I appreciate the visual design and how diverse the Pokedex was in those games, Game Freak dropped the ball on this generation hard. The characters and story are perhaps the weakest in the whole franchise, and the way X and Y felt unfinished was disappointing. It’s a shame, because I rather enjoyed my recent playthrough of Pokemon X, despite the weak writing.
In this episode, I’ll be discussing generations seven and eight. We’ve got big controversies this time around. You know. Sun and Moon and the ‘reboots’ less than a year after their release, Sword and Shield’s constant bullshit surrounding ‘Dexit’, and all the technical problems surrounding Scarlet and Violet. Oh, boy. We haven’t even started yet!
Despite all of the problems surrounding these generations, I have a deep fondness for all three. I’ll be going into them in detail, but this is about the best and worst, after all. Contrary to some people’s views, even Sword and Shield had many things going for them.
A little disclaimer before I begin: I’ve yet to complete the main story of Pokemon Scarlet. I’m about 35 hours into the game, and I’m a little sidetracked by all the Tera raids! I’m slightly addicted to Scarlet right now, I’m not gonna lie. For all the latest generation’s problems, I can’t deny how much I’m enjoying it. I’ve decided to wait until I’ve completed Scarlet’s story before reviewing it. That’ll be a separate article.
Anyway, it’s time we begin the final part of this series!
Generation 7: Pokemon Sun and Moon/Ultra Sun and Moon
What an odd generation this was! After Pokemon X and Y, I wasn’t in the most confident of spirits for the 3DS generation of Pokemon. I didn’t even finish Omega Ruby the first time around; I was just underwhelmed. Sun and Moon were released in 2016, with Ultra Sun and Moon launched less than a year later. As you can imagine, that probably annoyed some people!
Sun and Moon made sweeping changes to the franchise. Bringing players to the gorgeous, Hawaiian world of Alola, it did away with the old Gym Leader design entirely. Instead, they provided players with difficult Totem Battles against supersized Pokemon. It was a pretty risky change, but I rather enjoyed this change. While gyms weren’t a thing, there were several captain-boss battles to fight in order to complete each island. That was the closest thing we got to a Gym Leader fight. Removing the need for HMs entirely was a wonderful thing for convenience. Having roadblocks that depend upon a certain move is one thing, but when the move is terrible and difficult to remove? That was always a pain in the ass. Generation Four was the worst for this. Why do we need so many hidden machines to get through the game? As much as I loved Platinum, going through Victory Road’s massive HM requirements always pissed me off.
Alola is a beautiful region, and I have to admit that this generation might just have the most impressive visual design of any gen. Every village, town, and region felt different, and while the routes weren’t the most exciting, I always felt immersed in playing these games. In my most recent playthrough of Ultra Sun, I was impressed by the amount of solid worldbuilding and lore that’s woven into this region. In these Ultra sequels, the player can do many little side quests. Most of them just offer minor rewards like an item or some money, but most provide backdrops to Alola’s world and story. They add those tiny details that make Sun and Moon’s world feel alive, more so than any Pokemon game before. It’s an underrated strength, and it’s something I wish Pokemon did more of.
After the rough narrative of X and Y, Generation Seven returned to form, bringing many, many cutscenes, a sprawling narrative, and a more linear experience. While this came at the cost of painful handholding by the game, it’s probably the second-best story in the franchise behind the Black and White games. The characters are all solid with their own dreams and backstories, with some of the best rivals in the franchise. Following the story is always a delight, and Team Skull made for an excellent ‘evil’ team. The Ultra versions made some changes to the storyline, including some controversial changes to characters late on that I disagreed with, but overall they are solid games.
Unlike many in this series, Team Skull was largely a bunch of thugs and buffoons, but they oozed characters with an awesome theme soundtrack to go with them. Guzma might also be my second favourite villain after the brutal Ghetsis. He wasn’t a guy with big, bad schemes, trying to destroy the world. Guzma was a guy who brought a collection of misfits under one roof, supporting them the best he could. He had his quirks and a temper, but he was a great character with his team of bug types. Just like his Skull friends, the Bug type is misunderstood, and the theme suits him.
Alola might be the most challenging Pokemon game in the main franchise. I remember playing Moon for the first time after the breeze I had to play Pokemon Y. These are genuinely difficult games, with the boss battles having fully trained teams and competitive movesets on their Pokemon. The Totem battles are also tough, forcing the player into a 2 v 1 scenario. For a franchise built for casuals, this was such a satisfying change. The Ultra versions brought in the notorious Ultra Necrozma boss battle, one of the most difficult fights in all of Pokemon if you aren’t prepared.
While I’m a massive fan of this generation, they have some shortcomings. The biggest flaw I have is the most common: these games are slow. They take forever to get moving, babying the player throughout most of the game. As much as I enjoy the story and characters, the tedious cutscenes make replays challenging to stomach. In the first Sun and Moon games, it took over half an hour just to get your Starter Pokemon! Thankfully the ‘sequels’ drastically reduce this to a few minutes, but there’s no excuse to be wrapped up in cotton wool throughout the game. My biggest pet peeve was the ending. When finishing Moon for the first time and becoming Champion, I was treated to a forty-minute long unskippable cutscene. It doesn’t save until the end, so if you turn it off anytime before then, you’re brought back to before the Champion fight.
There are some technical issues too. These launched near the end of the 3DS development cycle and their gorgeous visuals come at the price of performance. I found frame drops, especially during Double Battles and Totem Battles.
These games also introduced a new mechanic: Z moves. These are superpowered attacks that can only be done once per battle, often with awesome animations. It’s not Mega Evolution, but it’s okay for a battle mechanic. What frustrated me was they left out a lot from X/Y. Game Freak has a habit of moving one step forward, and two steps back. Mega Evolution had enormous potential going into this generation. Alola introduced regional forms for the first time to great success, so bringing more Mega Evolutions from old generations just makes sense, you know?
The biggest omission was sacrificing Gen 6’s incredible online support. Sun and Moon replaced all that with the Festival Plaza, which might be the worst experience I’ve ever had in any Pokemon game. I’m being hyperbolic here, but it’s a decision that baffles me to this day. Game Freak, you had an incredible online system for Generation Six. Why would you get rid of it for Festival Plaza? It’s a shame.
In conclusion, these games weren’t perfect, and they’re some of the most polarizing games in the entire franchise. Some love them for what they bring to the table and the world design, while others loathe their slow, tedious runway.
I understand both sides. I was a major fan of worldbuilding, the quality of life changes regarding Ride Pokemon, the overall difficulty, the diverse Pokedex, and the strong cast. I haven’t discussed the new Pokemon designs much, but they were decent overall. The starters brought some unique typings to the table, and there were some great new Pokemon. Many evolve late, however, and are painfully slow.
The overabundance of handholding, unskippable cutscenes, and endless fluff makes repeated playthroughs of Sun and Moon a tough prospect, but I’m fond of these games despite their flaws.
Great visual and world design, with some of the best lore in the franchise
Incredibly slow, with many cutscenes
Decent selection of native Pokemon, and a diverse Pokedex
These games handhold the player more than any other in the franchise
Some ambitious changes to the ordinary Pokemon formula that largely succeed
Some questionable story changes in Ultra Sun and Moon
A strong story backed up by competent characters
Several steps back from X/Y, especially online support
As always, the soundtrack is excellent
Why release the Ultra versions so soon after the originals?
Challenging for a Pokemon game: a refreshing change!
Too many of the new Pokemon are slow as snails
Generation 8: Pokemon Sword and Shield
Damn, people really had their gears to grind with these games, huh?
After the announcement of the Nintendo Switch, there was a huge interest in how Game Freak would adapt its franchise to a new console generation. As much as I love the 3DS, I was excited to see what they would come up with. The Let’s Go remakes were solid games and underrated in the present day, although I wish they got rid of Pokemon Go! Catching mechanics. I wasn’t very fond of that change, but they were enjoyable remakes all the same.
It’s safe to say that Sword and Shield were controversial. They might’ve been some of the best-selling games on the Switch, but they had a lot of problems. Are they as bad as everyone said they were? Let’s see.
I remember when Sword and Shield launched. It was before the big pandemic and lockdowns. Those feel like a lifetime ago! The reviews weren’t great, and I decided to wait to pick them up. At the time I was working through Outer Wilds and Pathologic 2, so I didn’t feel like buying another Pokemon game back then. I was disappointed with the missed potential, although I tried to keep myself free from any major spoilers. Still, these are Pokemon games, and I was willing to give them a shot.
Roll onto March 2020, when COVID-19 was starting to ramp up. Shortly before those lovely worldwide lockdowns, I decided to trade in a couple of games I wasn’t playing in my local CEX store, grabbing a copy of Pokemon Sword. Between that, Animal Crossing and Red Dead Redemption 2, got me through those months without too much stress. I spent April and May happily chewing my way through Pokemon Sword.
The ‘Dexit’ controversy wasn’t fun. Not having every Pokemon immediately available, put aside for the future DLC was a frustrating reality. It’s even more annoying with Game Freak’s feeble excuse: wanting to use the extra space to improve Pokemon animations. That’s all fine if it were true, but most of the animations were lifted from the 3DS era, so I doubt many bought their bullshit on that one.
Despite my frustrations, I was impressed by the Sword and Shield Pokedex. Sure, not being able to get everything might not be great, but what was included was still good. There’s a great variety of Pokemon from previous generations, as well as the new crop of Galar native Pokemon with their great designs. The starters might not be my favourite, but they grew on me the longer I played. Cinderace ended up being my favourite of the three overall, but I wish they had some unique dual typings. Overall, I loved the Galarian newcomers. Dragunpault was probably my favourite, a super fast Ghost/Dragon type!
The second major problem with Sword and Shield has to be the visuals and performance. This is something later generations have always struggled with. Scarlet and Violet are the most notorious for their visual glitches and performance drops, but Sword and Shield suffered too. The draw distance and pop-in were atrocious, with texture quality in a poor state. As much as I liked the Wild Area mechanics, nothing broke my immersion more than seeing Pokemon, people and badly textured trees pop up out of nowhere. Sword and Shield attempted a pseudo-open-world for the first time, especially regarding these areas, but they largely fell flat for me.
Just like X/Y, I wasn’t impressed with Galar’s route designs. They were linear with few secrets to explore, and there are hardly any dungeons or caves. For the big Switch generation of Pokemon? This was a disappointment, as was the story. While I found the characters more enjoyable than I expected them to be, the story was a congealed mess. Is it the worst story in the franchise? I don’t think so. X/Y still wins that record. At least Sword and Shield have some decent characters who make up for the unsatisfying plot.
I’ve been pretty negative about Sword and Shield so far, but there were several things I enjoyed about them. First off is the Gym leader challenge. The world treating them as gigantic sporting events was a fantastic way to go about them. It’s Pokemon: big battles should be huge, and it’s treated as a fanatical sport throughout the game. Galar is based in Britain, after all, and most people here are lunatics about football. Me, not so much, but the Gym leader challenge in Sword and Shield might be the best in the whole franchise. The great battle music as you fight in the stadium gets me hyped, and the gym leaders themselves have personalities. Pokemon champion Leon oozes charm throughout your meetings with him in the story, and it makes the final battle against him feel special.
The games are still too easy especially since you can’t turn the EXP Share off anymore, but with the diverse selection of Pokemon available, I had fun switching team members out. With the Dynamax raids offering a ton of free items and ways to grind Pokemon up quickly, I never felt like I had to catch up. Finally, while I’m unsure how the Expansion pass was preferable to a third version, I enjoyed my time with both Crown Tundra and the Isle of Armor. They finally got the Wild Areas right.
So in conclusion, Sword and Shield might’ve been a mixed bag, but I enjoyed these games a lot more than I expected. They have enormous flaws, and they were a disappointing introduction for the Nintendo Switch. Despite these issues, I understand why they sold so well. There’s a solid game in here, amongst all the crap and controversy. It’s not my favourite Pokemon Generation, but it’s not my least favourite either.
Decent characters overall
Poor visuals, animations and performance
An incredibly diverse pool of Pokemon
Linear world design
Wild Area was enjoyable to explore
Dynamax is a broken, dumb gimmick
The Gym Leader challenge is perhaps best in the series
A terrible story
Uninspired route and town designs
Great overall Gen 8 Pokemon lineup
This ended up being considerably longer than I intended it to be! Turns out I had plenty to say about the later generations. It’s just as well I’m saving Scarlet and Violet for a separate article once I’m finished with them.
Chances are my article output will be significantly slower in the next few weeks, but I’ll be back with new reviews and interviews when I can. Stay safe!