In-depth breakdown of Pokémon Direct and what it revealed about Sword & Shield DLC

Okay, let’s talk hype!  On January 9th, we were treated to the spectacle of a Pokémon Direct broadcast, which we should probably talk about because… well, because that is the sort of thing we do here at PokéJungle, I guess.

Of course, the biggest and most important news of the broadcast is the new Pokémon: Mystery Dungeon title coming this year, Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, the first title in the series since 2015.  To all appearances, Rescue Team DX is a straight remake of the first Dungeon games, Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team, using modern 3D Pokémon models against what look like hand-drawn 2D backgrounds.  It’s not yet clear whether the game will include features that were introduced by later instalments in the series (like Pokémon eggs) or any Pokémon from more recent generations, although there do seem to be at least a couple of new moves.

A free demo for Rescue Team DX is available now for the Nintendo Switch through the e-shop, which will let you meet your partner, explore the first couple of dungeons together, look around town and set up your base.  Most importantly, though, you can take the game’s classic personality quiz to determine which Pokémon you’ll be playing as (I’m Psyduck!).  Honestly it’s worth downloading the demo just for this; share your result in the comments or on our Discord!

Oh, and I guess there was also some stuff about Sword and Shield.

We should probably cover that, huh?

In a first for the core series of Pokémon games, Sword and Shield are getting downloadable expansions; according to the announcement by Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda and Shigeru Ohmori, these will take the place of the “third game” we received in most previous generations (Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, etc.).  Here’s what you need to know:

  • There will be two expansions, each focusing on a new part of the Galar Region: the Isle of Armorand the Crown Tundra.  The Isle of Armor is slated for release in June this year; the Crown Tundra will be coming some time in Autumn (northern hemisphere seasons).
The picturesque Isle of Armor.
The harsh and mysterious Crown Tundra.
  • The expansions will add some 200 Pokémon to the Galar Pokédex, including a few completely new Pokémon, bringing the total to 600.  Many of the old Pokémon being brought back have new Galarian forms, including Slowpoke and the legendary birds Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.
  • Several Pokémon also get new Gigantamax forms, including Rillaboom, Cinderace and Inteleon.
  • Just like later instalments of previous generations, these expansions will add new move tutors to the game, some of whom will teach completely new moves.
  • Apricorns are back, for some reason?  This makes Galar only the second region, after Johto, where Apricorns are native.  So that’s… good???
  • There’s a bajillion new character customisation options – clothes, hairstyles, etc. – including cosplay of Marnie and Chairman Rose, if for some reason you want that.
  • A US$30 expansion pass will get you access to both expansions (Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra) as they come out.  They are not available separately.
  • However, there are different versions of each expansion, one for Sword and one for Shield, with different characters, slightly different storylines and different Pokémon, so if you have both games and want to access the expansion content on both, you’ll need to pay twice.
  • Even if you don’t buy the expansions, you will still be able to obtain the Pokémon that they introduce to Galar; a free update to Sword and Shield will allow you to receive expansion Pokémon in trades, or transfer them up from older games via Pokémon Home.
    • This is important, so I’m going to repeat it: you do not need to buy the expansions to obtain the Pokémon they add to the Galar Pokédex.

A lot about this seems to me like a big improvement over previous generations’ policy.  Extra material added in games like Emerald, Platinum or Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon was not really worth the price of a full game, but you just had to bite the bullet if (for example) you wanted access to new move tutors to stay at the cutting edge of competitive play.  A $30 expansion strikes me as a much fairer price for the additional story, areas and goodies that have traditionally been packaged into a whole extra full-price title.

Of course, we kinda do have to talk about the Copperajah in the room – whether this puts the whole National Pokédex debacle to rest.  And, well, obviously the answer is… probably not?  If you’re someone who just objects on principle to any Pokémon being flat-out unobtainable, even by trade or transfer, then this won’t satisfy you because there’s still about 300 who won’t be joining us.  It also somewhat undermines the notion that using a reduced Pokémon roster makes tighter game balance possible, but that was kind of a weak argument anyway (don’t get me wrong; I actually think that’s a very good idea in principle, but then again, they put Delibird in Sword and Shield and didn’t buff it, so… you win some, you lose some).  On the other hand, 200 more Pokémon is still quite a lot, and I think it bears repeating one more time: you’ll be able get those Pokémon in Sword and Shield even if you don’t buy the expansions.  If nothing else, this has to help reassure people whose favourite Pokémon are missing that they aren’t gone for good.

Okay, I’m bored with that; let’s talk about something else that isn’t a complete buzzkill.

Both of the new areas are going to be predominantly open world-style like the Wild Area, building on one of the most well-received features of Sword and Shield

The Isle of Armor story involves training at a dojo as a student of the new character Mustard, Leon’s mentor and a former Champion of Galar.  Training alongside us will be one of two new rivals – the Poison-type specialist Klara on Sword and the Psychic-type specialist Avery on Shield – who are both working towards becoming gym leaders.  We’ll also receive a new Pokémon, which the Direct announcement describes as a legendary Pokémon: the bear-like Fighting-type Kubfu, whose likeness appears on a sign on the roof of the dojo.  The trailer implies that training Kubfu to achieve its true potential will be a core part of the story of the Isle of Armor expansion.  Kubfu can eventually evolve into Urshifu, whose gimmick is that it has two forms focusing on two different martial arts styles – a Fighting/Dark “single strike” style and a Fighting/Water “rapid strike” style, each with its own signature move and Gigantamax form.  How this storyline might build on the existing themes of Sword and Shield isn’t immediately obvious, but Mustard’s dojo could give us a look at traditional Pokémon training and battling practices that existed in Galar before Dynamaxing became standard in high-profile battles.  The new rival characters’ ambitions to become gym leaders will also give us a new perspective on the structure of the Galar League (something that Sword and Shield have been more interested in than any previous games, showing us elements like letters of endorsement or relegation of weak gyms to the “minor” league).

The premise of the Crown Tundra story is that the player is joining an expedition to explore this cold, desolate and dangerous  part of the Galar region, at the behest of “a certain person” (I’m 50/50 on whether this means “someone you already know, but we don’t want to give away the surprise” or “we haven’t finalised the character design yet; for pity’s sake, let us breathe”).   The aim of this expedition probably has something to do with the other new legendary Pokémon we’ve been shown: Calyrex, a Grass/Psychic-type humanoid-fairy-stag-thing who supposedly ruled the Crown Tundra long ago.  Concept art shown in the Direct broadcast also includes what appear to be ancient temples to Regice, Regirock and Registeel, as well to as two new legendary Pokémon I can only describe as “Regi-lectric” and “Regi-dragon.”  What’s clear here is that we’re going to be delving into the ancient past of Galar.  Calyrex has what I would very loosely describe as a “Celtic” aesthetic, drawing inspiration from the pre-Roman civilisations of Britain, and fans have always interpreted the trio of Regice, Regirock and Registeel as references to the “Ice Age,” “Stone Age” and “Iron Age.”  My guess would be that we’re going to be exploring the remains of a culture that predates the Darkest Day, and may have been destroyed by it, ultimately being replaced by the Galarian monarchy whose origins we learned about in  the story of Sword and Shield.  In addition, the Crown Tundra promises the opportunity to explore the inside of Pokémon Dens, the special locations from the wild area where raid battles take place.  On a purely mechanical level, exploring dens is supposed to provide us with a way to encounter a wide range of legendary Pokémon who can’t easily be worked into the story.  However, Sword and Shield left a lot of questions unanswered about why these places are special and how they’re connected to Eternatus, whose power fuels the Dynamax phenomenon – could we learn more about those mysteries too?

That just about covers it – so what are your thoughts?  Are you excited for the new adventure?  Are you happy about the promised return of more old Pokémon?  And most importantly – WHICH MYSTERY DUNGEON STARTER ARE YOU?  Tell us in the comments, or on our Discord?