Some of the changes in Pokemon Sword and Shield are keeping longtime fans from buying in to the Switch games, but for me, these same changes feel like a microcosm of something I’ve been trying to come to terms with since my college graduation in May.
I’m moving away from home soon. The specifics on where and when are hazy, but after eight years on and off at university I’ve finished my degree and finally have the freedom to move out of my hometown.
Going somewhere new is daunting for a lot of reasons, especially if you’re going to be on your own for the first time. You have to learn how to be self sufficient in ways you’ve never had to, find new favorite places to eat, memorize the drive home, and eventually create a completely new social circle.
Being vocal about wanting to move away while surrounded by friends and family you’ve spent years of your life with is always creating an unspoken friction. There’s an acknowledgement that your time together is limited and that at least one person in that relationship is actively working toward that separation. It’s not about the people you’re leaving behind, but they’re collateral damage for your own personal progress.
Accepting this hasn’t been easy. I spent so long talking about leaving my hometown that it felt like an abstract concept rather than an attainable reality. But eventually everything comes into place and you find yourself slowly but surely preparing goodbyes in your head and wondering how many more times you’ll see someone before they can only be reached by text or phone call. When permanence becomes a nebulous concept, it makes familiarity feel like an incredibly precious thing. You start to get sentimental about the little things, because you know there will come a day when the places and memories you associate with people won’t be so easy to come by. Rather than getting so caught up in the specifics of how many more times I’ll have dinner with a person or see a movie with them, I’m doing my best to just enjoy whatever time is left before that distance grows.
All of this melodrama is to give you a sense of the mindset I had coming in to Pokemon Sword and Shield, a pair of games that struck me at just the right time as I’m struggling to accept that change is necessary, and that often means leaving people you love behind.
For over fifteen years now, down to the files I transferred them over from, I’ve had the same six Pokemon that I’ve brought over generation after generation. These six Pokemon have been with me since the Game Boy Advance days when Game Freak began its long, exhaustive process of letting players transfer these monsters over from one generation to the next, spanning different systems, art styles, and regions. As soon as I reached the point in any game where I could trade them over, these six were in the poke balls that stayed on my character’s belt. They became so synonymous with the franchise to me that I’d written out their personalities and backstories in my head. They were, and still are the cast of the Pokemon franchise to me.
Raichu, Palkia, Latias, Beautifly, Torterra, and Houndoom.
I’d always had a Raichu in previous generations, but I met this specific Raichu in Sapphire Version, and he’s been my scrappy team leader ever since. Beautifly was next. She’s a gentle soul, who doesn’t like to engage in battles for sport, but will bring the Silver Wind out to protect her friends. Latias has always been an interesting one, because I always imagined her as a sassy older sister figure among the group, but given her legendary status she’s got the wisdom and power to guide all of them when necessary. Torterra was my starter in Pearl Version on the Nintendo DS. He carried me through the Sinnoh region and is the grump of my party. With his help we faced Palkia together, who became the stoic, all-knowing dad. Then Houndoom made his way into my party last, who I’d always imagined to be kind of spiritual and introspective.
These six friends of mine have seen me through the vast seas, snowy mountains, and dark caves of the Pokemon world. We’ve become Pokemon League champions, saved the world from a few disasters, and foiled the plans of a handful of villainous organizations.
But that’s about to change.
Pokemon Sword and Shield are out on the Nintendo Switch this week, and if you somehow haven’t heard, they’re the first mainline games in the series to do away with the National Pokedex. This means not every Pokemon from previous games is going to be able to travel to the Galar region. After leaks came out with a complete list of which Pokemon could be transferred over, it was as I feared: only Raichu is going to be able to come with me to Sword and Shield.
Latias won’t fly me over the Galar region, I won’t ride through its seas on Palkia’s back, Beautifly won’t explore its forests, Houndoom won’t light a fire to keep us warm in the snowy mountains, and I won’t find shade from the Galar sun under the trees on Torterra’s back.
But I still want to see it. Even if Raichu’s the only one who can come with me, I want to see this new part of the Pokemon world where new monsters, cities, and challenges await us. Just in the first few hours I was walking through the huge city of Motostoke and feeling that excitement that comes from arriving in a city you’ve never been to before. I saw dozens of other trainers walking through the vast open world of the Wild Area and felt a sense of wonder realizing how far I’d come since starting out in Pallet Town in the Red, Blue, and Yellow days. As these games have evolved I constantly feel like I’m seeing things in this universe I wouldn’t have believed possible 20, or even just 10 years ago. I don’t want to shut down and not see more of a world I love and yearn to be in just because some of the people I love can’t join me there. Ultimately, that’s what has helped me be at peace with Sword and Shield’s changes.
There are people on the internet who want to tear down every reason or explanation for why Game Freak made this decision. I get the inclination to want to fight against such a massive, foundational change to a long-running series many of us have held dear for decades, but poking holes in every argument for making this cut isn’t going to revert these decisions. All I can do now is decide whether I want to stay where things are comfortable and everyone I know and love will remain, for now, or, with Raichu by my side, keep moving forward, meeting new people and Pokemon, and finding my place in this world.
Meanwhile, in the real world outside of my Switch, I’m planning trips to cities I’ve never seen, to see friends who might be the beginning of my new social circle, and wondering about who and what else might be waiting for me at any of these possible one-way destinations.
Yeah. The symbolism is not lost on me.
I’m at a point in my life where a lot is changing. With change comes progress and with progress comes distance. For each of us there has to come a moment where you accept that not everyone we know and love can go where we’re going. And if that’s something I have to start accepting, I might as well start with something small like this.