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Sword and Shield's Narrative Issues - An Analysis

Elite Overlord LeSabre™

On that 'Non stop road'
Pokemon Sword and Shield are controversial to be sure, but the two areas I feel I need to discuss are (two of) the game's characters and the game's end-game "legendary disaster" plot. Both were poorly handled by the game, and the game's failings in these respects deserves some examination.

We'll start with the two worst characters in the game, a.k.a. the "Brothers From Hell" and why I found them to be such terribly written characters. The way these two were handled brings into question the sanity of whoever on Game Freak's staff came up with the concepts and dialogue for them.

"Our Champion Does Not Reflect Galar As a Whole"

Leon might be the worst "champion" the series has ever seen (a certain idiot who lives on a mountain with his stupid pet rat would be considered worse, except that I don't regard him as a "champion" of anything.) Every aspect of him, from appearance to personality, screams "tool." Unlike other champions who remain professional and low-key (Lance in Gen 2, Cynthia, Steven, Diantha, etc.) Leon is constantly showing off, bragging about his undefeated streak, striking stupid poses while wearing a particlarly garish and tacky outfit, and boasting about his fire dragon-not-dragon. I knew from the very beginning that I wasn't going to like this clown.

He might be the region's strongest trainer before you rise to power, but his obnoxious demeanor should be an embarassment to the entirety of Galar. Why so many people in the region are enamored with him is puzzling - but then again, strength and power can mask a person's underlying negative traits in the eyes of otherwise smart, sensible people. But other powerful people usually try to keep their negative traits out of the public eye. Leon shows them off for all the world to see how narcissistic and immature he is. At least I had some extra motivation to beat his Pokemon into a pulp, so there's that, I guess?

"Immaturity and Obnoxiousness Runs in the Family"

But then we get to his brother, and a true low point in the game. It's the "rival" that the game forces upon you. Hop. That ridiculous name alone speaks volumes, yet he's even worse. He's got ugly facial expressions and poses that are downright painful to look at (that "crouching with legs spread out and arched back" pose is going to cause him back problems before he turns 20. I've heard he shares these expressions and poses with the 7th gen rival, which further validates my decision to completely bypass that gen.) He compounds this with a terrible personality that is somehow worse than his brother's, combining a hyperactive "I'm gonna be the very best!" bragging with "But until then, my brother's the very best!" sort of creepy brother complex.

"I'd Like to File a Restraining Order"

What could be worse? How about being subjected to this extreme annoyance on practically every route, town, and both dungeons? How about numerous battles where he runs interference and forces you to "partner" with him? (For the record, I killed his Pokemon first during these fights purely out of spite. Why does Game Freak include these type of battles? Why would any self-respecting trainer ever team up with their rival? Does Game Freak not understand the meaning of the word?)

Considering how horrible a character he is, and how often he popped up, it took less than an hour for me to develop a deep hatred of this despicable and pathetic excuse for a "rival." I was literally shouting obscenities at my Switch screen whenever he showed up. I stopped watching the Pokemon anime because of its horrendous main character, but now nearly every negative aspect of him has been channeled into the games in the form of Hop. And that makes me even more angry. For a character to incite that much rage, without being an actual villain, is inexcusable.

Who thought this character type would possibly be a good idea? Who actually wants a hyperactive, immature turd to impede their progress constantly and bombard them with "I'm gonna be the best but my brother is also the best" while making stupid faces and poses? I'm surprised he isn't more universally hated.

"With 'Rivals' Like These, Who Needs Enemies?"

The truly sad part? As bad a character as he is, Hop has some serious competition in the "worst rival in Pokemon" contest. At least Leon being an unlikable champion is an anomaly. Hop is just another in a long line of miserable "rival" characters which includes degenerate lowlifes such as Tierno, Calem, Shauna, and whoever the hell the 7th gen rival is who allegedly shares his character model with Hoppy-boy (I couldn't be bothered to play the 7th gen dumpster fires, but I've heard things...)
I can't decide which one of them is the worst, nor do I really want to spend time thinking about it.

"'Character Development? What Character Development?"

Yeah, I've heard this argument. For me it doesn't hold water. At the start of the game, Hop:

  • was obnoxious, immature, and annoying
  • showed up to impede your progress in practically every city and route
  • interfered with double battles he had no business being involved in
  • worshipped the ground his brother walked on

By the time the Championship rolled around, Hop:

  • was obnoxious, immature, and annoying
  • showed up to impede your progress in practically every city and route
  • interfered with double battles he had no business being involved in
  • worshipped the ground his brother walked on

Wow, lots of development there {slow clap}

But let's give that narrative the benefit of the doubt, for argument's sake. Bede crushes Hop after your third badge, or roughly halfway through the game based on spacing of the Gyms. Completely ignoring the fact that he basically goes back to the way he was in the span of 2-3 gyms, any development of him is "too little, too late."

"Too little:" So he has a couple of "wOe Is mE" dialogue scenes and temporarily uses different Pokemon. Big deal. I've swapped out Pokemon myself when I needed to do things like evolve for Dex entries, or to capture wild ones that my main team would one-shot. And as I've pointed out above, the main aspects of what made me despise him so much didn't change at all.

"Too Late:" By the time it happens in-game, Hop had bothered me numerous times, including two "run interference in doubles" battles. I was beyond annoyed with him at this point. I was ANGRY with him. I couldn't care less if he did change to be slightly less annoying (spoiler: He doesn't.) Anything less than a 180 degree turn in his character and personality was not going to cut it for me.

"tHe BaD mAn SaId mEaN tHiNgS tO Me!!11!!"

By the time Bede beats him, you've already crushed him four times in battle. So apparently losing four battles to the same trainer doesn't affect him, but one loss to somebody else triggers emo mode? And all because of some smack talk involving his brother? That's a clear sign that Hop needs to grow a pair. Besides, if he knew the sort of insults and cursing I was throwing his (and Leon's) way through my Switch screen, Bede's "insults" would seem like compliments in comparison.

"1.2 on RateMyProfessor.Com"

In the post-game, this dimwit somehow thinks he can be a professor. After my uncontrollable laughter at the thought of this "dangerously unqualified" idiot teaching Calculus 101 at any decent university, I had to remind myself that Galar is home to Professor Magnolia and Sonia's Lab of Nepotism where qualifications don't matter. They'll find out soon enough what a miserable lowlife he is.

"Characters Can Make or Break a Story"

Okay, so the story of these games is pretty broken as it is. But the point still stands. Certain story events are written under the assumption that we "care" about Leon and Hop. For example, Hop's "emo" phase, the whole "Leon is late so we have to invade Rose Tower" thing (not that it makes sense anyway, but...) and the "Leave Rose Tower With Leon without hearing Rose out or agreeing with him" all depend on this factor. And if you're able to tolerate them, no problem. But if you didn't care or (like me) had an intense hatred of them, then this narrative falls apart. I didn't care that Hop got his poor little feelings hurt, and in fact held out some faint hope that he would just give up and go home. I didn't care that Leon was late and didn't really want to look for him. And I would have sided with Rose in an instant if that was an option. The game's already weak story is made even worse by having two key characters be so annoying and rage-inducing.

At the end of the game, I'm still scratching my head. What delusional hack of a scenario writer at Game Freak could have possibly thought either Leon or Hop were well written characters? With their obnoxious, immature, and annoying personalities (which make their ugly, awkward character designs seem like nothing in comparison), I'm at a total loss for words as to how these two were green-lit to be included in the first place.

With that despicable duo out of the way, let's look into Sword and Shield's absolute disaster of an end-game story scenario. Just about every aspect of it, from build-up to justification to moving it forward, to its reasoning and execution, was poorly done and reads more like a terrible fan-fiction than anything resembling a coherent story.

"11th Hour Addition?"

Unlike every other Pokemon game I played (once again, I didn't play 7th gen so that might have started changing things) where the antagonists (usually "Team Something") clearly drive their plot forward and cause trouble throughout, Sw/Sh only provide vague (at best) hints that something is going on behind the scenes. Instead, the game carelessly tosses it in at literally the last minute of the main storyline, coming in seemingly out of nowhere.

Clues to it are vague, like Bede's collecting the (stupidly-named) wishing stones and the random explosions and beserk giant Pokemon. However, until crap starts hitting the fan, there's no hint that these events are interconnected, and the hints the game tries to sneak in only make sense in retrospect. A surprise curveball to the player, yes, but it's one that feels tacked on, as if the scenario writers were approaching the final Leon battle and realized, "Oh crap, we somehow need to work in someone who comes across as evil as well as a legendary capture!" and had to haphazardly shoehorn it in at the last minute. That also shows in how short, rushed, and bare-bones the scenario itself is.

"Let the Adults Handle It"

There are several points where the game introduces some events (explosions, Pokemon going berserk) but basically handwaves them, sending Sonia and/or Leon to deal with them. I've read arguments online of "You're a kid, the adults should handle the serious stuff" and "Your focus is the gym challenge." Fair enough on its own, but that's the main reason the plot seems as artifically tacked on as it does.

If this is the route that the narrative wanted to take, why chamge it up and suddenly have our character get involved at the last minute? Just keep it totally related to the Gym challenge and leave Eternatus/Rose up to Leon. As much as that storyline would lack any sense of conflict, it would at least be consistent with the "let the adults deal with it and focus on the gyms" stance that's present throughout, but gets thrown out at the very end. Instead, the end-game comes at you out of left field with practically no build-up to it.

"Why Are we Doing This Again?"

The motivation to advance the plot? "Leon is late!" My thoughts on Leon aside, is that really a good motivation to storm the headquarters of one of the most influential companies in the region? Is there any indication that Leon is being threatened or held against his will? And isn't he supposed to be the "invincible champion" who can surely battle his way through some grunts if he wasn't there willingly? Nope, Hop/the game essentially forces you into doing something that would normally have severe legal consequences, and because of game narrative, your character doesn't bat an eye. Well, is Leon facing mortal danger? Nope, just a business meeting with Rose that went into overtime. I just stormed a tower and put up with Hop's meddling and interference for this?!

"Macro Cosmos Has Crappy Security That's Lacking in Manpower"

Setting that nonsensical sequence of events aside, Rose Tower is a 100-story facility. Surely there must be hundreds upon hundreds of grunts waiting for you. Right? Nope. One grunt attacks in the lobby, then there's three waves of grunts on the elevator (sadly more of those absurd and nonsensical "rival" team up fights that shouldn't happen in the first place), then the sub-boss. That's it. The Celadon Rocket hideout (a FOUR STORY facility in a GAME BOY game released in the LATE 1990's) had more enemy grunts than this 100 STORY tower in a SWITCH game released in 2019. Think about that.

The final boss is guarded by a grand total of ZERO grunts. Talk about laziness.

"Don't you know, things can change, things'll go your way if you hold on for one more day?" - Wilson Phillips, "Hold On (1990)"

If only the characters took advice from this admittedly catchy pop song from 1990.

The entire end-game scenario could have been prevented by one simple thing: Patience. If either Leon or Rose could have agreed to put their plans on hold for one, maybe two days at most, the whole crisis could have been averted. But nope, again story narrative forces all common sense to be thrown out the window in order to try to paint someone - anybody - as a "villain," when in reality this game has no actual villain in terms of nefarious or evil intent.

"Rose's stance doesn't matter because LEON. Also, because no branching story paths."

And the game forcing decisions upon the player, instead of giving them a choice rears its ugly head here as well. Rose's perspective and motives seemed more reasonable and more sensible to me (bias against Leon's character notwithstanding.) I personally felt that if briefly postponing the final fight could solve a problem, then that would be the obvious, sensible decision to make. I mean, you're not going anywhere, and I'm pretty sure that after Rose has Leon take care of the Eternatus problem, things would have proceeded as normal with a slight delay, maybe a day or two?

But of course, because LEON we're forced to side with him and his stance, (which struck me as being the more irresponsible of the two. I mean, is having one battle RIGHT now worth making an enemy of the most powerful businessman in the region?) and thus Rose goes off the deep end. And yeah, it was tough battling Rose when I would have sided with him if this game actually gave the player choices. Then again, if the game really gave the player choices, I would have been off capturing stuff in the Wild Area while leaving Hoppy-boy to try to get into the tower by himself.

And yeah, I would have loved to see Leon play the role as "villain" (and by extension, Hop as well because of his creepy brother fetish.) SInce most people were (correctly) speculating that Rose was the villain, that would be a plot twist I could support.

"I gotta tag along, it's been 5.37 seconds since I last showed up!"

And guess who shows up during both this end-game scenario and the post-game one (which I'm not covering here)? I think you know the answer. Hop has a tendency to ruin any scene where he shows up, and he's involved here for the entire thing, further dragging down the story. I felt rage-type things very similar to when Calem and Shauna butted in during the X/Y Team Flare situation. And the fact you had to "partner" with this pest? No. I killed his Pokemon first in every single one of those battles. At that point, it was out of spite more than anything else.

All in all, Pokemon has never had really great stories to tell (Colosseum and XD being the best of the bunch) but this storyline is a tragic new low for the franchise. It's almost as bad as the anime at this point.

I'll be posting a full review of the game soon. But this post explains some issues that I felt was too long to include in a general review of the game as a whole. But they needed to be discussed in some capacity.