Released in 1996, Pokémon immediately shot to the top of pop culture with a cast of adorable creatures, exciting world to explore, and a fun story. Of course, there were cards to collect, an anime to watch, and toys galore. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Pokémon. Not too many franchises can withstand 20 years in the spotlight and still be as relevant as Pokémon is. One of the most constant things fans can expect is the release of two games with each new generation. Red and Blue, Gold and Silver, X and Y, and now Pokémon Sword and Shield, no mainline game comes alone. But these games seem to be doing something that is actually justifying the two releases, giving players two different gym experiences in addition to the different Pokémon that you can capture, and I’ve got to say, I’m excited to see a split like this for the first time in years.
Let me explain what is happening. In every mainline Pokémon game, Nintendo and Game Freak launch two different games for fans to purchase. The original idea was to give players a choice and lock different Pokémon behind each game to encourage trading between friends. Let’s face it; two games also helps boost up the sales numbers. For the most part though, these differences have been surface deep. You choose a different box, a different legendary Pokémon, and a few different Pokémon to capture, but the overall story and experience have been the same.
Generation Five, Pokémon Black and White, offered some of the most significant differences between the versions ever in a mainline Pokémon title. Depending on which version you choose, the eighth gym leader was different, either Drayden or Iris. There are exclusive Pokémon such as Houndoom and Reshiram in Black and Butterfree and Zekrom in White. An entire town was different depending on the version. Game Freak took some steps back for subsequent releases. X and Y featured different Mega Stones. Sun and Moon’s story beats happen 12 hours apart (during the day or night). Unfortunately, no game went as far as Black and White.
That brings us to earlier to the Sword and Shield news. Game Freak released a few more details about the upcoming games, including a look at four new Pokémon. Additionally, for Pokémon Sword and Shield, Game Freak also confirmed some of the version exclusive Pokémon, such as Deino and Jangmo-o appearing in Pokémon Sword, and Larvitar and Groomy appearing in Pokémon Shield. In addition to Dynamaxing, the company showed off Gigantamaxing. They also confirmed two new gym leaders: Bea, a Fighting-type leader; and Allister, a Ghost-type leader. The twist? Bea can only be battled in Sword and Allister is only in Shield. For the first time since Black and White do we get to two different experiences that go further than a few Pokémon and items.
I love this, and I’m hoping we see more branching differences. Maybe we’ll finally see some significant story differences between the two versions.
Look, every time there’s a Pokémon that’s announced, people love to complain about changes. There’s something familiar about Pokémon games, and it’s hard to want change. We get to choose from the same three types of starters (fire, water, grass), there are eight gym battles (for the most part), and you play as a young child/teenager ready to tackle the world of Pokémon. After 20 years though, don’t you want something new? I know I do. This is a small difference, yet can lead to so many possibilities.
If Nintendo, or Game Freak, is going to continue to be adamant about releasing two different versions (which, let’s face it, is a little outdated in 2019), why not give fans an actual excuse to buy two separate versions? There has to be a story reason (or at least hints) as to why there are two different gym leaders.
Even if there isn’t, challenging different types, such as Fighting and Ghost, offer two differing experiences for players. The two Poke-types are filled with opposing Pokémon and require two different strategies. For example, Flying moves are strong against Fighting Pokémon, while Ground moves are strong against Ghost. Just imagine, future Pokémon games could have different gyms for all eight leaders depending on which version you choose. That would make players have to change their strategy about which Pokémon is their starter or who they capture during their adventure.
Not everyone feels the same way. As I scroll through my Twitter timeline, I’ve seen a few people express frustration with the two differing gym leaders. Of course, this maybe because of the dogpiling fans seem to be doing on Sword and Shield. Fans already had problems with the fact that the game doesn’t feature every Pokémon from past games, the graphics and animations look subpar, and the fact that this isn’t ‘Breath of the Wild but with Pokémon,’ so why not be mad at something else?
In years past, I’ve never been enticed to buy both versions. I’d typically get together with a friend, we’d argue, and eventually, we’d come to an agreement about who was picking a version. We’d capture the version exclusive Pokémon to trade, but nothing enticed me enough to buy X AND Y, for example. Especially now that online trading is embedded so deep in the DNA of the games. Version exclusive Pokémon have become nothing more than a nuisance than anything else.
Nintendo and Game Freak don’t have much reason to make either version vastly different from the other. Fans are going to buy both games just to have the ability to capture different Pokémon, that’s plenty of reason. I’m not asking for two completely different games, that wouldn’t be fair to ask. I just want Game Freak to give players a reason to buy both games, and I’m starting to think this is an excellent place to start. Version exclusive Pokémon are great, of course, but I now want something deeper, especially in 2019. Two different gym leaders is a step back in the right direction I want to see from these games, let’s hope we see more of this in the future.
What do you think about Pokémon Sword and Shield having two different gym leaders? Are you as excited about it as we are? Let us know in the comments below!
Brandon is a Journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno. He loves all games, but don’t get him started on Kingdom Hearts. He wishes every console had a handle like the GameCube.