I have spent more time playing Pokémon games in my life than I’ve spent playing the top 5 games in my Steam library sorted by “most time played” combined. I could be considered an expert on Pokémon. I’ve played them all. I know them all. I know the community.
There has been an overwhelming amount of back and forth discourse in the Nintendo Switch gaming community lately about the removal of the National Pokédex from Pokémon Sword and Shield. Some fans support the change, but a majority of fans are vehemently against it. I want to dig a little deeper into the reasons why fans are so upset, and why expressing this outrage does not make them “entitled crybabies”.
The Sword and Shield Situation
The National Pokédex and the ability to transfer collections is a feature players have had access to since Pokémon Diamond an Pearl released with the Pal Park thirteen years ago.
During E3 last month, Nintendo announced that Sword and Shield as well as future Pokémon games on the Switch will not include a National Pokédex. Only a fraction of all existing Pokémon will be in each upcoming release and there will be no way to transfer a player’s entire long term Pokémon collection to Sword and Shield from past games. Players will only be able to transfer Pokémon that exist in each game’s Regional Pokédex and will need to store the rest on the original game or in the Pokémon Home app.
To explain how the two-Dex system usually works for non-Pokémon players, the Regional Pokédex allows the player to catch all of the Pokémon that are obtainable in the main region featured in each set of Pokémon game releases, known as “generations”. (Sword and Shield will be Generation 8.) After beating the game’s main story, the player earns access to the National Pokédex, which contains data on every Pokémon in existence across all games, all Regions, all generations (over 800 Pokemon) and allows you to have them on your game file via a transfer method such as the Pokémon Bank app.
Pokémon’s slogan has always been “Gotta Catch em All!”, but in Sword and Shield we won’t be able to catch them all for the first timer ever. Why is losing the ability truly “Catch ’em All” a big deal to many Pokemon fans?
Losing Favorites, Memories, and Rare Collections
There are a wide variety of reasons as to why Pokémon fans are upset with the National Pokédex announcement, some of which the opposing side of the argument may not have considered. The removal of the National Pokédex will deeply harm the entire ecosystem of the Pokémon player community.
Every Pokémon is someone’s favorite, no matter how overlooked by the internet at large. There was recently a survey of over 52,000 pokemon fans on Reddit. The results revealed that only four pokemon out over over 800 had not received a single vote. With a higher voting pool, it is likely even those four would have received a vote.
Pokémon can be a incredibly sentimental for players. Many feel genuine attachment to their teams from the various games over time and some people still keep the first team they ever beat a Pokemon game with and have brought it with them across platforms for over a decade.
One topic I haven’t heard come up much to my surprise is the effort put into players’ special collections. There are multiple types of Pokémon collecting that ardent Pokémon fans engage in which will be completely ruined by the loss of the National Dex and transfer options: The “Living Dex”, competitive collections, shiny collections, and Event Pokémon collections.
1. The Living Dex refers to a “live” collection of every existing Pokémon. This type of collection will include one Bulbasaur, one Ivysaur, one Venusaur, etc. down the line, for each Pokémon in existence, all stored by Pokédex number order inside the player’s in-game PC or inside the PokéBank app. It’s by far the most exhaustive and time consuming type of collecting, as it takes much hunting, breeding, and trading with other players to accomplish.
2. Competitively bred collections are another big one on the list. Many players like to engage in online competitive battles and most who do breed their Pokémon specifically for this purpose. Pokémon breeding for optimal stats, natures, and abilities is no easy task. It takes extensive learning, a lot of time, and endless patience to get the perfect team for competitive battles. That’s just one team, let alone several or dozens!
3. “Shiny” Pokémon are an alternate color version of a Pokémon and each Pokémon has a unique shiny recolor. Your normal chances of encountering a shiny pokemon in the older games was 1 in around 4,100 encounters, and in the newer games the encounter chance can be improved with the Shiny Charm item to around 1 in 1,500. Either way, shiny Pokémon are very rare and coveted by collectors. Some players may never see a shiny Pokémon in their gaming careers. Personally, I have over three boxes of shiny Pokémon I’ve collected since Gen 3. Losing any of these individual Pokémon would be a huge heartbreaker.
4. Lastly there are Event Pokémon. Nintendo offers special Event Pokémon giveaways at specific times and locations via online or physical distribution methods. These are versions of Pokémon you cannot find in any games. For instance, you might need to go to GameStop to get a specific, rare, Legendary Pokémon in shiny form, but only for two weeks during the summer of 2018, and that’s it! No other chances. Other Event Pokémon might come with a ticket for seeing a Pokémon film in theaters. The older the Event, the rarer and more coveted the Pokémon.
Perceived Unjustified Reasoning
Pokémon is one of the highest grossing video game franchise of all time. With Nintendo’s money and resources, there is little that would not be available to GameFreak’s team to meet their goals, assuming they made a pitch for it.
The reason given for the omittance of the National Pokédex?
“[…] we’re creating it with much higher fidelity with higher quality animations. But even more than that, it’s coming down to the battle system. We’re making sure we can keep everything balanced and give all the Pokemon that appear in the games a chance to shine.” – UsGamer interview
Players are not satisfied with the given reasons of animation quality and game balance because they seem like anti-consumer cop outs that can be remedied, but are not due to corporate greed. Fans feel straight up lied to.
In the shown footage from E3, we do not see any of this alleged “higher quality animation” or attention to detail. The #BringBackNationalDex tag quickly took over Twitter after the announcement. Fan forums are full of community members comparing animations side by side with older ones from past games that are more detailed, and even Chinese bootleg Pokemon games with better animations.
In this thread, a professional animator lifts the veil on how easily the Pokémon models are taken from the 3DS games and upgraded for the Switch. In the below video, a student animator shows how quickly they not only recreate a model from Galar’s overworld, but also add in movement animation that is missing from Nintendo’s footage.
A comment from a Japanese Pokémon fan on the associated E3 announcement video was upvoted to the top of the comments section, giving some fascinating insight into the opinions of Japanese players about the National Dex controversy:
“People here in Japan are very angry about this also. This is a huge deal for two reasons, the first reason is that in Japan we are rarely vocal about our opinions because we don’t like to start conflict. If we are very passionate about something and tell people our opinion publicly, it must be very important. Pokemon is a very popular video game series in Japan and a lot of people care about it. We want Gamefreak and Nintendo to put as much effort into these games as they can to make it the best quality game it can be.
They could have definitely added all of the Pokemon and had no real reason to cut them. The Switch can definitely handle 1000+ Pokemon models, it is much more powerful than the 3ds and that could handle 800+ Pokemon plus their walking/running animations. They already had every old Pokemon model from Sun and Moon to use and just had to update it graphic wise. Plus they already had the 151 Kanto models finished in Let’s Go.
They could have put Sword & Shield as a priority and had the best team working on the game but they didn’t, instead they side lined Pokemon in favor of a new game and had their secondary team developing Pokemon. They didn’t hire enough people to work on the game and treated it like it wasn’t important.
The second reason this is a problem, is that when they realized they weren’t going to have enough time to update every Pokemon model and put it into the game, they chose not to hire more people and do it. Instead they came up with an unconvincing excuse all so that they wouldn’t have to spend any extra time, money, or effort into developing the game. They figured they could get away with cutting content because they figured people would buy the game no matter what terrible decisions they make. They think saving money is more important than making a great game…”
You can find the full comment here.
Set Precedent Broken With No Warning
With thirteen years of consistent inclusion, the National Pokémon and collection transfer options are widely considered by Pokémon fans to be a fundamental, core feature of Pokémon games. In fact, some players are young enough that they have never played a Pokemon game that did not have these features.
Collecting decisions have traditionally been made by players based on transfer availability. These are decisions they might not have made if they knew that eventually they would lose the ability to maintain cross-generation collections. I am not alone when I say that if I had known this was coming, I would not have spent nearly so many hours on Pokémon over the years.
Let’s try an analogy: Imagine that every car in the world was made by the same manufacturer. Now, imagine that manufacturer announced that cars henceforth will no longer be made with a trunk or storage space. If consumers were upset by this announcement, would they still be accused of acting entitled?
After all, we live our lives (first world, commuter culture lives) with the expectation of being able to transport not only our self but our property with us in our vehicles. We buy products expecting to be able to transport them home, transport them when we move houses, take luggage with us on trips, and so on. Of course car owners would have alternate options such as carrying items by hand, by bike or motorcycle, sending them by mail, or renting a U-Haul.
Unlike the analogous vehicle owners, Pokémon players have no other options. They are being forced to give up something they already had access to as a core feature in Pokémon games for over a decade. Removing long term, much loved features from products typically results in consumer backlash in any industry. Is this really not understandable or not a valid reason to voice negative feedback?
Are Pokémon fans acting unreasonably “entitled”?
No, they are not. Consumers are rightfully entitled to their anger over Nintendo’s whiplash National Dex change from left field. This situation has lead to players feeling like they are being lied to and cheated out of a broad mix of experiences they felt were core to the overarching Pokémon experience because of corporate greed. Every Pokémon, no matter how overlooked, is someone’s favorite somewhere. Players want to keep their entire collections. With the National Pokédex’s removal, Pokémon’s literal catchphrase, “Gotta Catch ’em All”, will become a lie.
“Just speak with your wallet”, some internet voices on social media say in response, “Don’t buy the games!”
Boycotting is useless in this case because Pokémon is so wildly popular that a relatively small portion of outspoken fans organizing on the internet won’t make a dent in Nintendo’s sales. All boycotting the product will do is punish the players doing so by preventing them from enjoying the new game with the Pokéfan community during the most exciting time for Pokémon games, the immediate post release weeks full of discovery.
There is no legitimate reason the National Pokédex could not be included at launch with a delayed release or at a later date in the form of downloadable content. Long term franchise loyalty should be worth something to publishers and fans feel like Nintendo is slapping them in the face after a decade of returning for new adventures every year with all of their favorite Pokémon. Nintendo’s PR team would be fools to ignore the fans over the National Pokédex issue.
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