The Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokedex Controversy Has a Name, and the Conversation Around It is Getting Worse
Pokemon fans are riled up about Pokemon Sword and Shield. Here's a breakdown of the reasons why.
This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.
Pokemon has been a very popular franchise for a very long time, so it's not surprising its inner politics can kick off a lot of heated buzz. Behind Pikachu's perpetually grinning face, there's a fandom that bubbles with passion, energy, and opinions. Lots of opinions. We are, for example, inching closer to Pokemon's first mainline entry on the Nintendo Switch—Pokemon Sword and Shield—and some fans are very unhappy about their favorite Pokemon potentially not making the cut.
At E3 2019, Pokemon producer Junichi Masuda confirmed that only a limited number of old Pokemon will be allowed into the new Galar region. At the time of this writing, there are no plans to bring the cut Pokemon into Pokemon Sword and Shield. Disgruntled fans have coined a term for this exclusion: "Dexit."
What is Dexit, exactly?
"Dexit" is the catch-all term for the controversy that's erupted around Game Freak's decision to limit the number of Pokemon allowed into Galar region. It splices the words "PokeDex" and "Brexit"—Britain's controversial movement to separate from the rest of Europe. Since the Galar region is based around the United Kingdom, the opportune term stuck fast.
Though Dexit is primarily referenced in discussions about Game Freak's restrictions on the Galar region's PokeDex, searching for the term on social media also yields general complaints about Sword and Shield. Since the news about Galar's restricted PokeDex hit during E3, angry fans have also come down hard on the Sword and Shield demo Pokemon developer Game Freak showed during the show. There are myriad complaints about said demo looking rough, though there is still considerable time to polish the game before its November 15 release.
What are Game Freak's reasons for restricting the Galar region PokeDex?
Masuda cited a few reasons when he talked to us at E3 2019, but it all comes down to one point: There are over 800 Pokemon now, and it's a lot of work to wrangle all those critters into the HD era.
"We already have well over 800 Pokemon species, and there's going to be more added in these games," says Masuda. "And now that they're on the Nintendo Switch, we're creating [the Pokemon] with much higher fidelity with higher quality animations."
Balance is also a problem. It's difficult to balance nearly a thousand Pokemon in a manner that keeps the experience challenging and fun. "We're making sure we can keep everything balanced and give all the Pokemon that appear in the games a chance to shine," Masuda says.
"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."
Losing a lot of Pokemon for Sword and Shield is a huge disappointment for a lot of people, me included. I hope the game lives up to the hype either way. I might not like the direction the series is taking, but I hope you do!#dexit #pokemon pic.twitter.com/vT6Xdem9E7— Festus Flare (Commissions Open) (@festus_flare) June 16, 2019
In other words, Game Freak knows it can't keep adding, animating, and balancing a roster of nearly 1,000 Pokemon. And for better or worse, it's decided to "rip off the bandage" with Pokemon's first mainline console game.
Why is Dexit controversial?
The Pokemon franchise is over 20 years old. With a few exceptions, Pokemon from older generations usually make the move from game to game with the aid of The Pokemon Bank (though importing Pokemon to the Bank from your original Red and Blue cartridges also requires some old-fashioned link cable wizardry). Many Pokemon fans like to import their childhood favorites into new games. The prospect of Game Freak slamming the door on their favorites is understandably upsetting. The Pokemon series' famous tagline , "Gotta Catch 'em All," rings hollow if the Galar region puts a permanent quarantine on some Pokemon.
Not all fans are upset. Some visit a new Region intent on filling up their PokeDex with native specimens. They don't use the Pokemon bank, and they rarely look back on their old rosters. But other fans, like our own Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey, feel very strongly about keeping old friends close.
"I've long treated the main story as a sideshow—an extended tutorial that must be endured to get to the good stuff. The random Pokemon I catch in that time are only a means to an end," Bailey says. "When Pokemon Sun and Moon came out a couple years ago, I stubbornly waited until Pokemon Bank was updated before I seriously engaged with the endgame content. That's because I don't see Pokemon as a typical RPG like Final Fantasy. I see it as a persistent world like World of Warcraft."
What we could have gotten if Game Freak cared about making a good Pokemon game:#BringBackNationalPokedex #PokemonDirect #PokemonSwordShield #PTRP #PokemonRP #PKMNRP #Pokemon #BringBackTheNationalPokedex #nationaldex #dexit pic.twitter.com/1aXHrSw8Qh— Uraraka (@uravity_love) June 17, 2019
It's also worth pointing out that The Pokemon Company introduced the Pokemon Home service earlier this year. This digital hub lets you store your Pokemon in the cloud (Swablu should feel right at home) and transfer them easily between several of the Wi-Fi enabled games in the series. Though the compatible games include Pokemon Let's Go Eevee, Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu, Pokemon Go, and the 3DS titles, some fans feel it's bold of The Pokemon Company to expect us to engage with Pokemon Home if Pokemon Sword and Shield can't even take full advantage of the service.
Finally, literally every Pokemon fan has their favorite monster. "My favorite Pokemon might not make the cut for Sword and Shield!" is a worrisome thought.
What can Game Freak do about Dexit?
So far, Game Freak and The Pokemon Company have mostly been silent on the Dexit controversy. The companies might let the to-do blow over, but Twitter's "Dexit" tag is still quite hot, which indicates fans aren't about to let this issue go. That means option one—"Keep quiet"—isn't working out.
Game Freak can theoretically delay the game to give its staff enough time to animate and balance Sword and Shield's Pokemon, but that's very unlikely to happen. Pokemon Sword and Shield is lined up to be Nintendo's big Holiday 2019 game. It simply must be ready for Christmas, especially since Animal Crossing New Horizons has been pushed into 2020.
Joe, the webmaster behind the long-lived and respected Pokemon fan site Serebii, also points out Pokemon isn't exclusively games: It's a media empire. Delaying Pokemon Sword and Shield would send ripples through the entire franchise.
"To delay a game you'd need to delay the anime and rush a new filler arc, you'd need to delay the [the card game], and also fill the gaps, you'd need to delay merchandise, and again fill the gaps. The last time they did this was in 2005 [with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl] but they had such a lead-in on the delay they could work around it."
The #Dexit movement has been the main focus of discussion in the Pokémon fanbase, but I haven't heard much talking about potential solutions. So I decided to think up of some reasonable solutions myself.#BringBackNationalDex #???? pic.twitter.com/AyAMbuznoH— Searchie Poisonshot (@SearchieP) June 17, 2019
Like it or not, when the release date for Pokemon Sword and Shield comes around, some Pokemon will be omitted. Given the heat surrounding Dexit, however, it's possible Game Freak will gradually let all the cut Pokemon into the Galar region. It's quite common for a new Pokemon game to limit its Pokemon population for a time before throwing the gates open. Pokemon's third generation of games, Ruby and Sapphire, culled quite a few favorites from the roster. They were gradually restored across subsequent Game Boy Advance Pokemon installments, including Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen.
It's also common for the Pokemon fanbase to flip a little bit when it's presented with news it can't easily digest. Since Joe's been a Pokemon fan from day once, we asked him if he remembers another time when fans reached Dexit-levels of rowdiness.
"The only other time I can think of is when Pokemon Bank launched in December 2013. Due to how it connected to the servers, it caused the Nintendo eShop to collapse so they had to remove it and delay it until they had resolved the issue," he says. "The community was angered with many thinking Japan had the game (because it had been set for launch 2 days before the west and so was accessible very briefly to players in Japan).
"[Fans] started harassing every social media outlet with statements like 'PokeBank when?' and drove Junichi Masuda off Twitter briefly due to the attacks and harassment he was receiving. This whole situation is quite reminiscent of that: An unpopular but possibly necessary decision that many people don't get. Misinformation spreads, and harassment begins."
Here's hoping we all have ample time to cool off and collect ourselves before Pokemon Sword and Shield arrive in November. We'll keep you up-to-date with whatever actions Game Freak takes in response to Dexit, if any. Don't forget to keep an eye on our Pokemon Sword and Shield guide.