During the Nintendo Treehouse Live presentation for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, Junichi Masuda shared the news that only Pokémon from the Galar region Pokedex will be transferable from the older games. This means that not all 800+ of the previous Pokémon will be available in the games. Masuda explained that the reason for this decision was that as the roster of Pokémon increases, and the technical demands of the game increases, it is becoming more difficult to implement all of the Pokémon.
This news was met with a lot of disdain from fans that are upset that Sword and Shield won’t have access to all 809 of the past Pokémon. There have been claims that Game Freak is just being lazy and demands for them to add all of the previous Pokémon to the games. As the flurry continued Masuda tried to clarify the statements. In an interview with USgamer Masada stated:
Junichi Masuda, Producer: There are a couple of different parts to the thinking behind it, but really the biggest reason for it is just the sheer number of Pokemon. We already have well over 800 Pokemon species, and there’s going to be more added in these games. And now that they’re on the Nintendo Switch, 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.
We knew at some point we weren’t going to be able to indefinitely keep supporting all of the Pokemon, and we just found that Sword and Shield would probably be a good point to go back and reevaluate what would be the best selection of Pokemon that appeal to the widest audience while keeping into consideration the balance of the battle system. It isn’t just going to be all-new Pokemon in the Galar region Pokedex; there’s still going to be a lot of favorites that fans will be able to bring over that they’ve adventured with previously. But yeah, it was pretty much just balancing and getting this optimal selection of Pokemon for the adventure we wanted to provide.
The attempt has fallen on deaf ears as the groundswell of displeased fans continues. With hashtags and petitions starting to circulate. There is a bitter irony in the fact that many of these people are the same people that will tell you that they are squarely against crunch of any type. They would also tell you that they believe Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee were necessary games, and that they are pleased with the news that Game Freak is shifting their development priorities to creating new projects over Pokémon.
The fandom in general greatly underestimates how small of a company Game Freak is. As of 2018 they only had 143 employees. Every Pokémon is a project onto itself with 3D rendered models, stats, movesets (including new moves and abilities it might gain), lore, idle animations, attack animations, overworld animations, shiny coloration, alternate forms, evolutions, and more. On top of that the Switch is brand new hardware that the company has only just started developing games for. Gone are the days when all a Pokémon required was a bouncing 2D sprite.
Add to this the fact that the company traditionally works on multiple projects at the same time, so the bulk of their energy is never fully devoted to one project. During Sword and Shield’s development Game Freak worked on Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, Pokémon Quest, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Giga Wrecker, and the upcoming game Town. That’s a full roster, especially for a small developer. The only feasible way they were going to implement all 809 previous Pokémon would be if they dropped some of the other projects and put full force into Sword and Shield development, or delayed Sword and Shield. And, if we are honest, we all know that if a delay for Sword and Shield were announced the fandom would be incensed.
Another point that seems to be glossed over is the battle balance. For years on end people have complained about the power creep and battle balance. Every generation when the competitive scene starts to take form there are endless complaints about how everyone only uses the strongest Pokémon so there is very little diversity in Pokémon at high level play. Masuda noted that a factor in the decision was the battle balance and with the reduced number of accessible Pokémon would allow for a chance for all of the included Pokémon to shine. The Dynamaxing feature plays into this too, as most of the Pokémon will be able to Dynamax.
Something else that is going unnoticed is the fact that Sword and Shield are by no means the last Pokémon games. Within 2 years we will have whatever the next games of Gen 8 will be, be it Diamond and Pearl remakes, a third version to Sword and Shield, or sequels. There will be more games coming, and it is possible that Game Freak is planning to expand the number of accessible Pokémon as they go until all 809 previous Pokémon have been implemented.
Is it disappointing? Sure. Could Game Freak be taking on more projects than they can comfortably handle as the hardware they are working on demands greater fidelity and more work to implement the close to 1000 unique Pokémon? Maybe. Is Game Freak being lazy and careless by not implementing all the previous Pokémon in Sword and Shield? Consider these facts before rushing to angry tweets.