A big interview between Game Informer and Game Freak has revealed some major new information about Pokemon Sword and Shield. Numerous changes have been made to the traditional Pokemon formula: for the first time, a mainline series Pokemon title will have autosaving, letting you play without fear of losing progress. For those that dislike the idea of an auto save, this feature will be able to be turned off in the settings. In addition, following upon the changes made in Sun and Moon, Hidden Machines, or HM's, will not make an appearance in this entry. According to director Kazumasa Iwao, this is to allow the player more freedom in their journey, without being bogged down by HM requirements. Your Zigzagoon need not be an HM slave this time around.
"I think they played a role in the series traditionally to be like the relationship between a door and a key; the HM will unlock something and you’re able to progress and feel the ability to go to a new place," he says. "We didn’t have them in Sun and Moon, and this time around, we didn’t feel it really matched the concept, especially with the Wild Area and wanting to have this higher degree of freedom. The player can kind of choose how they want to engage with the gameplay.
Elaborating further on the debacle over certain Pokemon not making the cut for Sword and Shield's National Pokedex, Junichi Masuda explained that even if some Pokemon don't appear in this game, they still will in future titles, with Pokemon Home being a way for players to "gather them all there and then embark on future adventures". Masuda declined to comment, regarding just how many Pokemon won't be included in Sword and Shield, though he did reiterate that Game Freak chose to focus on new gameplay ideas and features, and to find new ways to enjoy the game, rather than using the development time to cram in every single creature.
"Up until now, we’ve been proud we’ve been able to include so many Pokémon in the games, but as a result of that, there’s actually been quite a few features or gameplay ideas that we’ve had to abandon in the past," he says. "Going forward, thinking about the future of Pokémon, we want to prioritize all those new gameplay ideas, new ways to enjoy the game, and want to challenge ourselves at Game Freak to create new ways to enjoy the game. That’s really what drove the decision for this new direction."
During the interview, Shigeru Ohmori discussed the presence of the EXP Share, a series-staple, which allows players to split experience between their Pokemon. Rather than require the EXP Share, the item has been removed from Sword and Shield, and has now become part of the regular gameplay. After you defeat a Pokemon, every member of your party will receive equal experience, automatically.
Perhaps the biggest new bit of information was that the Galar region will have a whopping 18 gyms to take on, with each of them split into major and minor leagues. As to which Pokemon type each major and minor Gym specialize in, well it varies depending on if you're either playing Sword, or Shield.
“There are 18 different types of gyms in the story, and depending on the version, which gyms are in the minor league and which gyms are in the major league are different. For example, in Sword, the fighting-type gym will be in the major league, but in Shield, the ghost-type. The idea is that every year, the Galar region is playing and which gyms make it into the minor league versus the major league changes.
Lastly, Iwao took a moment to explain that there will be a new gameplay mechanic that lets players use their favorite Pokemon in a competitive way, even if they're not considered normally viable for competitive play, noting that in previous games, players would need to breed Pokemon a certain way (IVs, Natures) in order to make them the strongest they could be. The details were vague, but there's a new mechanic in Sword and Shield, which will lower the barrier of entry for those who wish to take part in competitive Pokemon battles.
When I ask Iwao for more details, he says he can't explain the system further, but he does go on to tease it a bit more. "I’ve got to be very vague about it, but one example – it will be visible to the player and they’ll know when they see it, I think – say you have a Pokémon where it’s got all the right stats and everything, but there’s a personality parameter as well that comes into play in battles, and it might not be the right personality, so you’ll breed until you get the right one, is what people do currently. But you’ll see that there’s a system in the game that will fix that for people."
While it's no longer necessary to do so, Iwao says players can still put effort into breeding to come up with the perfect specimen for competitive play. "We do think there’s value in that effort that players put into it," he says. "But at the same time, I think with Sword and Shield we wanted to also have a system that makes it a little bit more accessible. For example, if you’re bringing a Pokémon over from a previous game into these games, being able to use that specific Pokémon that has sentimental value to you in the battle system competitively is something we wanted to try this time."