Pokemon Sword and Shield’s New Expansion Packs Leave Fanbase Polarized But Has History Always Been Kind?
First thing’s first. Happy New Year everyone! It’s been a crazy and eventful year for Lost Summer Dayz and 2020 is about to get even more insane. I know I’m currently doing the equivalent of walking on hot Lego bricks while barefoot, but I felt like I needed at least a week to really gather my thoughts.
But no! No I do not think that the Expansion Pass is Game Freak’s way of robbing us fans! I also think that it is necessary for this to happen so we can fully appreciate a developer who has learned so much from their mistakes in the past!
To catch those unaware up to speed, Nintendo released a Pokemon Direct on the 9th of January. Those who woke up to catch the news were met with a bevy of information, highlighting the game plan for Game Freak’s famed IP for the course of 2020. If you missed out on the broadcast, the Direct can be viewed here for all the information you would need.
One of the first thing to notice is that the like to dislike ratio is sitting pretty right now.
Another elephant I’ll shoo out of the room real fast is the surprise and highly welcome announcement of an HD remaster for the first two Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX!
The game releases in March but the demo is currently available at the time of writing. Considering I’ve always wanted to try to Mystery Dungeon games, this was news I both was not expecting and news I will embrace with open arms. Definitely look for coverage in the future as I give my own thoughts from a PMD greenhorn!
Now that the Phanpy has left the room, it’s time to take on the Gigantimax Copperajah that has made his home in the building lobby.
The focus of the Pokemon Direct was to showcase the two new additions to the Galar region. There’s the Isle of Armor which looks like it would take place right at home in Alola and Hoenn with its coastal environments. There’s also the second area, The Crown Tundra, which looks more akin to the harsh hailstorm and mountainous peaks of Northern Galar. Both of these new locations house their own unique Pokemon, both new and old, rounding out to over 200 Pokemon.
The catch? Each expansion area costs $15. This makes for a total of $30 for both areas and their respective Pokemon.
Although obtaining access to these Pokemon are free, via trading with other trainers or transporting them from other Pokemon games via Pokemon Home, reactions to this news have been mixed. A common complaint I’ve seen on social media is the cost of the game plus the expansion pass and how it correlates to previous Pokemon games. Their argument is that in the past, the base game for Pokemon were $30 USD and the third version which was more “complete” was also $30, which made it $60 altogether.
With the new expansion, the base game for Sword and Shield is $60 and the expansion, being $30, makes the game $90. Some even go so far as to compare Game Freak to EA with this business decision.
I’m sure we’ve seen this lovely image floating around…
I’m here to counter these points with my own opinion as to why I feel this is a perfect decision for Game Freak to embrace the DLC/Expansion model rather than rely on an archaic method of Pokemon distribution.
Our story starts as early as Generation 1 with versions Red and Blue. Since the very beginning, each game had version exclusives depending on what version you owned. As would be tradition moving forward, Red and Blue was followed with a third game, Yellow.
While the “third game” in the series would serve as a way to acquire some of the version exclusives, the selling point of Yellow was meant to capitalize on the success of the Pokemon anime. This can be attributed by the Pikachu who follows behind you and the name of the anime protagonist as a possible selection when you name your character. There’s also the inclusion of Jessie and James as the rivals for this version.
Generation 2 was when the “Third version following the two main versions” formula was cemented. With Gold and Silver having their version exclusives once again, Crystal provided quality of life adjustments yet again.
It made it easier to catch both of the cover legendaries, Ho-Oh and Lugia, by making them available in Crystal albeit as optional legendaries. The cover legendary, which was previously an optional legendary in Gold and Silver, could also be seen as quality of life as you could catch Suicune in a traditional Pokemon battle rather than chase it, alongside Entei and Raikou, all over Johto. The largest addition which would go on to be a staple for future Pokemon games, including remakes, was the option to play as a girl.
Pokemon Yellow and Crystal were both meant to provide quality of life changes that cartridge based games needed. Before there was an option to simply update an existing game with patches, these third versions were vital to add features into already existing generations. The third generation posed the first problem that Game Freak faced when it came to transferring Pokemon from different generations.
Up until this point, the transfer of Pokemon between all six games were made possible with link cables. Pokemon can be traded to and from Generation 1 and Generation 2 so long as the Pokemon existed in Generation 1 and didn’t learn any moves that existed in Generation 2 easily enough.
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire introduced Generation 3 and it was called the Advanced Generation for a reason. It was on entirely new hardware, so the data used to transfer Pokemon from the Game Boy and Game Boy Color era was incompatible with the Game Boy Advance Pokemon games.
This is where we hit our first instance of “All Pokemon from existing games are not available in a Pokemon game.” Outside of special Pokemon events that distributed Pokemon, there was no legal way to attain all of the beloved Pokemon from Generation 1 and 2.
Savvy Pokemon Trainers at the time who had access to cheating devices like a Gameshark, quickly realized, however, that hidden in the game were all of the Pokemon from previous games. Data for all 386 Pokemon up to that point were included yet at the time only 200 Pokemon could be attained between both Ruby and Sapphire. That meant almost half of the Pokedex was lost in the void and this complete dex would be dubbed the National Dex.
Where are the 186 Pokemon that was missing from this game!? Why did Game Freak lie and not include all the Pokemon in Ruby and Sapphire??? Where’s my <insert favorite> HERE!?!?
Some, not all, of these questions were answered in a game that not many people expected back then.
A year after the release of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Pokemon Colosseum was released for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2004. While praised for it being a full-fledged Pokemon adventure in 3D, some of the selling points for this game was the ability to catch Johto Pokemon. From the very beginning you have access to an Espeon and Umbreon. Shortly afterward you have the chance to catch the Gen 2 starters albeit its secondary evolution with Quilava, Bayleef, and Croconaw. Throughout the game you also have chances to catch a rogues’ gallery of various exclusive Pokemon, which leads to the chance to acquire Ho-Oh at the tail end of the journey.
After completing Colosseum, only then were you able to transfer your Pokemon from the game to Ruby and Sapphire. This was only possible with the usage of a special link cable that was meant to connect your Game Boy Advance to your Gamecube. Not only did you need to own a full priced Pokemon game and play it to completion, but to reap your rewards you needed an extra peripheral device. Even at this point, you were missing a sizable chunk of the Pokemon needed to complete the National Dex at the time.
However, later on that year, a blessing would be granted to patient Pokemon Trainers. The release of the first ever Pokemon remakes, Fire Red and Leaf Green, were released in September. Finally, all 150 Generation 1 Pokemon were able to be captured and transferred to and from Generation 3.
The Johto or Generation 2 Pokemon were a different type of beast however.
Combined with the obtainable Pokemon in Colosseum and FRLG, there were still a sizable amount of Pokemon missing from Gen 2. While you could catch the three legendary dogs from Generation 2, it was still far easier to do so in Colosseum. The only way to acquire Lugia and Ho-Oh in Fire Red and Leaf Green, outside of hacking the event in-game, was through a special event. This meant Colosseum was still an important piece to the puzzle as Ho-Oh was a guaranteed encounter in that game.
Okay, so Ho-Oh was at least accessible in one other game, thus just about rounding out the obtainable legendaries. But what of Lugia and the others?
Enter Pokemon Emerald, a full two years after the release of Ruby and Sapphire!
The coveted “third version” of Gen 3 provided some changes to the story. Rather than Team Magma or Team Aqua being the hero and villain depending on the version, both teams were the major villains and Rayquaza, who was an optional legendary prior, is now a central legendary in Emerald. Sounds familiar to Crystal?
On top of both Kyogre and Groudon being accessible in this game, it was also possible to catch a sizable missing chunk of the Gen 2 Pokemon as well as making it easier to catch the Lati twins (As Latios and Latias were only available, in the wild, depending on which version you had)
That’s great! But can you catch Lugia?
Nope, because the final piece to this puzzle, the final corner of the Generation 3 Labyrinth, was just around the corner. Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness was released at the end of 2005 as the sequel to Pokemon Colosseum.
Now, at this point in Generation 3, there have been two main versions, two remade versions, and a console game. This is not even mentioning the Pokemon Box which was the only way you could store Pokemon outside of the handheld games, which would serve as the catalyst for Bank and Home many years later. With the release of XD, this rounded the list of games up to six and this isn’t counting buying both versions of RS and FRLG.
Hey, at least you were finally able to claim Lugia alongside any remaining Hoenn exclusives and Johto Pokemon!
Needless to say, Game Freak needed to think of something for Generation 4 onward so that nothing this convoluted could exist again. Utilizing the new hardware of the Nintendo DS and its ability to access the GBA cartridge slot, transferring Pokemon from Gen 3 to 4 was made possible with very little headache. Pokemon transferred this way couldn’t make their way back to Gen 3. After various games and spinoffs throughout Generation 3, however, this was an acceptable drawback.
Throughout the years, the line between generations and game systems was blurred to the point where upon the release of Pokemon Bank, transferring Pokemon between generations as early as 4 to as late as 6 was clockwork. It was even easy to trade with others due to the usage of GTS, then Wonder Trade, and finally Surprise Trade.
If you really want to see how intricate this transfer system works, look no further than this IGN article detailing this process from as far back as Gen 3.
So why am I saying all of this? Well, let’s look back at Generation 3 one last time so we can see how we got to this point of easy transferring.
Consider the price of GBA games ranged around the price of $30. That’s Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire, Fire Red/Leaf Green, and Emerald, so, three games equating to roughly $90. The price of Gamecube games were around the $50 range at that time so there’s Pokemon Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness. That’s about $100. With the games alone, it checked out to around $200 over the span of two video game systems! Spending $90 in 2020 seems like a bargain steal in comparison.
It was a time of a lot of firsts for Game Freak. It was their first time developing a system that allowed all Pokemon from older generations to become accessible in modern times. It was their first time trying out various Nintendo peripherals to explore various means of transferring. It was also their first time in perfecting a way to transfer Pokemon without the need to buy an entirely new game.
This is the major point of the new Pokemon Sword and Shield update. Much like the generations past, you do not need the expansion to obtain the Pokemon from previous games. As not all of the Pokemon are still made available even if over 200 Pokemon are being added, I have a hunch that we are not done with Pokemon news as of yet. Perhaps we shall look forward to a Sinnoh remake to obtain the unobtainable Pokemon?
In conclusion, before one goes to protest Game Freak or harass the game developer on his birthday about existing Pokemon, think about how far we have come to get to where we are at now. Be grateful that we no longer have to go through such dark ages of Pokemon transferring ever again.