How to fix the plot of Pokemon Sword and Shield
There are a lot of good things you can say about Pokemon Sword and Shield. It’s one of the most balanced Pokemon games ever produced. It lets you catch a large variety of Pokemon very early in the game. It’s new Max Raid Battles are some of the most fun you can have with three other Pokemon fanatics.
But one thing that can’t be praised is its plot. While the Pokemon games aren’t exactly known for their five star writing, Sword and Shield takes it to a new paper thin level. The only thing you do for the entirety of the main game is travel around and go to gyms. You deviate from this path once right before the end and that’s it. As far as Pokemon games go, it was pretty disappointing.
But it doesn’t have to be. Sword and Shield actually has the setting and characters that would make for a pretty amazing plot. They just need to be shuffled around a little.
So here is how you fix the plot of Pokemon Sword and Shield. Warning: Many spoilers ahead.
Introduce Galar’s energy crisis earlier and explore the consequences
For those of you who haven’t gotten to the end yes, Sword and Shield’s plot turns out to be about an upcoming energy crisis… for some definition of the word “upcoming.” In a thousand years or so Galar will run out of energy, which is making Pokemon chairman Rose a little twitchy. He launches a plan to gather wishing stars and wake Eternatus, the source of all Dynamax energy, to grant the Galar region near infinite energy. He is so dedicated to this plan that he causes massive power spikes that interrupt the Pokemon League Championships, and so you take a detour to beat him and capture Eternatus before your final showdown with Leon, the Champion.
The thing is, Leon hits the nail on the head when he has a dramatic confrontation with Rose before the end of the game. The energy crisis won’t affect the region for thousands of years. There’s no reason to go out and try and capture a Pokemon that might bring destruction upon the region, especially on the exact day of the championships. There’s no immediacy to the energy crisis, which makes Rose feel kind of dumb rather than evil or understandable.
So step one, the energy crisis can’t be something that hits in a thousand years. It has to be something that is going to hit soon, and that has to be solved soon. This gives Rose a more understandable motivation.
Luckily, there is a region of Galar that shows what happens when you run out of energy: Spikemuth. This city, the only city that isn’t built on a Dynamax power point, is falling into ruin. The streets are deserted. Buildings are in disrepair. The lights barely stay on. Gym battles are held in an old blacktop court. It’s clear that this town is nowhere near as prosperous as the other power rich cities of the region.
Eventually Piers, the Spikemuth gym leader, kind of joins your party. This would give his actions more weight. He ends up fighting against Rose because he has lived without the power of Dynamaxing, and he knows that it’s not worth risking a near world ending calamity just to cheat energy out of a legendary Pokemon.
Let the player character do something… ANYTHING
Over the course of the game we see small inklings of this greater plot through Bede gathering wishing stars and strange disasters hitting the Galar region. Unfortunately, these events don’t actually affect the player character in any significant way.
Let me give you some examples. At one point there is an explosion of strange red lights atop a tower. Naturally, my thought was “OK now we are going to climb the tower and have an epic battle right?” Nope. Leon tells us to just focus on our gym journey and like an idiot we walk away. WE WALK AWAY! What ever happened to the plucky anime protagonist attitude that makes us run toward trouble?
This is a pattern that repeats over and over again over the course of the game. Bede attempts to collect wishing stars to the point of vandalizing national monuments and while we do fight him, fighting him doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t stop him. It doesn’t interrupt his progress. It isn’t even seen as an impediment. He only fights us to try to prove he is better than us, fails, and then goes on his way.
There are also basically no dungeons in Sword and Shield either. There are some routes that take the form of a cave or a forest or something, but in general every path you take brings you to a city. There’s nothing like the Power Plant or Pokemon Tower or Giovanni’s Hideout. It’s just route after route after route. Even when you face off against Rose and Eternatus in a power plant, there’s no dungeon to go through. You just kind of warp to the final confrontation.
This, combined with the way the game steers you clear of the plot, makes it feel like the plot is happening around you, not to you. When Rose enacts his plan, for example, they say that Pokemon everywhere are growing giant and rampaging. However, you don’t actually see that. If you head out to any route or the Wild Area you will just encounter normal sized Pokemon.
Imagine if, for a small amount of time, there were giant Dynamax Pokemon wandering around the map, making encounters super dangerous but giving you greater rewards. Imagine if you had to make your way through a dungeon filled with Pokemon corrupted by Dynamax energy to eventually face off against Rose. Imagine if Rose’s team had nothing but Dynamax Pokemon in it, taken over by the power of Eternatus. How compelling would that be?
Essentially, if you are going to make the plot compelling you need to actually involve the player. You can’t just have the plot happen in the background and then have the player handily wrap it all up. In fact, I’d say the post-game plot where the player actively chases and tries to defeat a pair of foppish evil monarchs is much more compelling, despite its goofiness. At least you are actually doing something in that plot.
Explore Galar’s culture and society
Galar is actually a really interesting region. It has a lot in common with most other Pokemon regions, but with a few key differences. For example, take the way the Pokemon league is run. It’s always been a vague sporting event mixed up with a rite of passage. However, Galar takes it to another level.
Gym battles, even low level gym battles, are highly televised events. They take place in huge stadiums with massive media setups and audiences packing the stands. Together with gym missions, it’s kind of a combination of Ninja Warrior with a boxing match at the end.
Not only that, but trainers need to wear uniforms and those uniforms have advertisements on them, meaning the Pokemon League is far more corporatized in Galar. Leon wears a cape which is absolutely plastered with advertisements.
Both of these should contribute to a different culture surrounding the Pokemon League. The highly televised nature and heavy corporate involvement should give rise to greater corruption, scandals involving fixed matches and so on. The pressure that the arena environment puts people in should give rise to a lot of child prodigies that peak early and burn out.
Even the final confrontation could have been given a different spin. Rose tries to talk to Leon to help him with his plan to capture Eternatus. Leon refuses and that’s just kind of that. But what is Rose could put pressure on Leon. What if Rose threatened to end Leon’s career? What if Leon was benefitting from fixed matches and he didn’t even know it? When Leon stands up to Rose it would carry so much more weight.
It’s very clear that the Galar region is based around the “FIFA culture” you see in European soccer fandom. Well, I hate to break it to you, but FIFA is pretty well known for its corruption and scandals and I think including that as a centerpiece of the plot would have made it a lot more compelling.
You know what? Just get rid of routes
One of the big gameplay features of Pokemon Sword and Shield is the Wild Area. It’s basically an open world section of the game that allows you to interact with other players, participate in raid battles, and capture a variety of Pokemon.
It’s a great idea but it wasn’t utilized well. You only have to travel through the Wild Area twice for the plot. Everything else is handled through small routes that can be blown through in a matter of minutes. You have to specifically choose to go to the Wild Area to interact with its gameplay mechanics at all.
Why have routes at all? Just make everything open world like the Wild Area. That would make your journey through it so much more impactful. It would also do a better job at blocking your way. For now there is only one travel upgrade, a water upgrade for your bike. But what if you needed to catch certain Pokemon to make it through desert or snow or forested sections of the Wild Area? What if your progress was gated by interacting with Pokemon’s main gameplay mechanic?
That would give the setting a lot more personality as well. Think about how fulfilled you felt when you got to a new town in Breath of the Wild or Death Stranding. The journey itself felt fulfilling for its own sake. Now take that and apply it to the Pokemon formula. You spend a huge portion of the game catching Pokemon and braving the wild just to get to, say, the ice gym. You breathe a sigh of relief, go to the Pokemon center, and have a short rest before realizing the gym will be even harder than the trip. Luckily, other players visited your camp to help you out along the way and when you finally take home the badge it will just be that much sweeter.
Those are just some of our ideas for fixing the plot of Pokemon Sword and Shield.What do you think? How would you rewrite the plot? Do you even care? Was catching giant Pokemon enough for you? Let us know in the comments.