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Media Essays: Pokémon Sword & Shield DLC vs. Pokémon Scarlet & Violet DLC

Title card

With last year's release of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet's DLC, it seems like the right time to be making a Vs. essay like so.

With the Switch era of Pokémon, we got DLC expansion packs in place of a third game or a sequel game like with previous eras of Pokémon. The DLCs have been a fun way to expand the game's lifespan and keep us coming back and playing more after the main game was concluded. I've enjoyed the DLCs for both Sword and Shield and Scarlet and Violet and I hope GameFreak keeps the trend going for all future releases.

But which games had the superior DLC? Did Sword and Shield perfect it on the first try or did Scarlet and Violet improve on what came before? Which DLC gives you the most value for your money?

That's what we're here to find out. I'm the Media Man and this is my Vs. essay on the Pokémon DLC Expansion packs from Sword and Shield and Scarlet and Violet...

Section 1: Best Story

I imagine everyone reading this essay is immediately thinking "Scarlet and Violet must take the win here! The Sword and Shield DLC barely even has a story!" Not so fast guys, let's go over them first and then come to a conclusion.

Sword and Shield's DLC sees the player visiting The Isle of Armour and the Crown Tundra where we have to clear the island's trials in one and hunt Legendries in the other while Scarlet and Violet's DLC sees us visiting the island of Kitakami and Blueberry Academy respectively and in one we meet the wrongly ostracized Ogerpon and in the other we take on the Blueberry League.

For the Sword and Shield DLC, I do agree that yes their stories aren't as strong as in the Scarlet and Violet DLC. In fact, I barely even called the DLC in Sword and Shield a "story" because they don't really have one. The best way to describe the plot of the SWSH DLC is that they're a series of fetch-quests with a thin narrative tying them together. in The Isle of Armour you just complete trials for Mustard and beat your rival while also bonding with Kubfu. That's LITERALLY the entire plot of that DLC. The Crown Tundra is hardly any different with the story essentially being a big Legendary Pokémon Easter Egg hunt although Calyrex at least has some kind of story behind it as this Legendary Pokémon that is a shell of its former self and is now thought to be merely a legend.

These stories are not the strongest examples of Pokémon's writing capabilities and this franchise HAS done stronger and more complex plots over the years. Yet the stories here are at least told well and as simple as they are, they work for the kind of franchise Pokémon is. Story-telling wasn't always the franchise's biggest priority and these simple stories were what it was known for so it's only staying true to the tone of Pokémon as a result. Also there are some good moments in these stories too like how our rival actually develops and is genuinely apologetic for trying to cheat and even gets punished for their actions so they don't get off scot-free and I like how Kubfu isn't just some Legendary to add to our collection. Bonding with it is part of the story-telling here and thus we really grow a connection to Kubfu and are given something more with its inclusion. Same for Calyrex as we learn its backstory and go out of our way to help it gets its power back. The stories maybe thinner than paper but they at least put some effort into characterizing the cast and making the new Legendries feel like characters and not just new collectibles we have to find. Though I'm still curious why Mustard says something about "being prepared for what's to come" and then nothing comes out of it. Was he alluding to The Crown Tundra's story or was it just random dialogue that means nothing in the end? It's so weird.

By comparison, the SV DLC definitely does have a stronger plot what with The Teal Mask giving us a story that has many twists and turns and has a big character arc for Kieran that carries over from one DLC to the other. The SWSH DLCs are largely self-contained and aren't really connected to each other but the SV DLCs are two halves of a whole story, meaning you definitely need to play them both in order to get the whole story. Part 1 even ends with "To Be Continued"! Oh and the DLC even has an epilogue which will be coming soon on January the 11th, which only further shows what a big story it is. And yet despite having more of a plot, somehow the SV DLC's plot feels worse by comparison.

Not only did it have some pretty obvious twists like Ogerpon actually being innocent and the Loyal Three being the real villains of the story, but it had some unnecessary forced drama in it to make the story work, namely that stupid moment where Kieran's grandfather tells us not to tell Kieran the truth about Ogerpon and we're forced to lie to him about it. The story didn't need that in order to work and was just so forced. Also the villagers of Kitakami just accept the truth about Ogerpon ridiculously easily and quickly, thus making the whole drama of keeping it secret pointless in the end. I know it's ludicrous to expect realism in Pokémon but still, the conflict shouldn't have been resolved that easily. And then you have The Indigo Disk in where the plot itself is barely even about the titular item and unlike SWSH where both DLCs made its Legendries into characters, SV only succeeded with Ogerpon while Terapagos is just a fetch-quest tethered to the end of the story with no character whatsoever. It's so disconnected from the main plot of The Indigo Disk that it feels like that should've been the actual epilogue of the DLC we're getting in a few days rather than the Mochi Mayhem story.

Speaking of Mochi Mayhem, as an epilogue to the DLC, it just feels so light on the delivery there. Sure we go back to Kitakami and meet Carmine and Kieran again but Pecharunt is as vaguely developed as Terapagos is its connection to the Loyal Three is only told through supplementary material. The game itself never confirms any of these connections or has it play a part in the story and character building. It doesn't feel like an epilogue to the DLC as a result, rather it feels more like a random side-quest they slapped on at the end because people were moaning about Nemona, Penny and Arven being left out of the DLC and so we have this just so they've got something to do. At least SWSH's DLC wrapped up nicely and kept the focus well on its own stories, as thin as the plots are. SV's DLC has a plot that is poorly told and has two side-quests that barely feel connected to the main plot of the story.

To improve the story of the DLC, I would've made it so there's no keeping the story a secret from Kieran as his fall from grace can happen without it, the resolution to Ogerpon's story wouldn't be so quick and easy and would have more effort put into revealing the truth by including Perrin in the story to take photographs that prove the Loyal Three are evil, Pecharunt would've been in the Blueberry Academy story instead of the epilogue and the story would be about stopping Pecharunt from taking over Blueberry Academy and the Terapagos plot would've instead been the epilogue of the DLC. THAT I feel would've salvaged this story and made it much, much stronger as a result.

So in the end, you have to ask yourself this in terms of a good story: do you take a thin plot that's at least told well and is properly focused or do you take a more complex plot that may put more effort into the story but is less well-told and has plotting issues? In my case, I think the former. Execution is key in story-telling after all and just because something has a thin plot, it doesn't mean its bad or inherently inferior to a story that's more deep and complex.

So contrary to some may believe with this one, I genuinely think that the DLC with the superior Sword and Shield's DLC.



Section 2: Best Characters

The DLCs do introduce some new characters in both halves of their respective titles and all of them leave some kind of memorable impression for one reason or another. But which one has the better cast?

The Isle of Armour introduces us to Mustard, Leon's mentor and the Dojo Master on the island, his wife Honey, their son Hyde, our rival Klara (Sword exclusive) or Avery (Shield exclusive) and the Legendary Kubfu. While these characters don't have a lot to them, Mustard and Honey are very charming and a lot of fun to be around in the DLC. Them being married despite Honey looking young enough to be his daughter was surprising though, I didn't expect that. XD Mustard has a fascinating backstory as Galar's former Champion who fell from grace after his original Pokémon partner died but sadly, that backstory is revealed to us on his League Card. It has no actual bearing on the plot and feels like it's just there to fill in Bulbapedia pages on the guy. I'm not sure if I could've made it a part of the story in anyway but I'm just saying, a character's backstory shouldn't be just a bio on a collectible card. Honey at least has some surprises to her what with her being a secret boss battle and getting to show more sides to her character once its revealed she's a tough trainer too and some of her backstory is at least told through dialogue.

The rivals are the same too. We're told how they've been lazy and unmotivated but our presence inspires them to put more effort into their training and get stronger as a result. This plays into the usual story-telling formula in Pokémon in where our presence leaves a big impact on the people we meet and so this arc feels very true to the usual Pokémon formula. Those who wanted more jerky rivals will be glad to know that Klara and Avery fit the bill nicely and I do like how they at least develop and become a little nicer over time and don't just remain jerks throughout the DLC. Klara seems to develop more than Avery though. I also like how they're genuinely sorry for cheating too and they get punished for their actions. This franchise tends to be way too lenient when it comes to giving jerks their just-dos so that was satisfying to see at least.

And as mentioned earlier, Kubfu is the new Legendary we get to meet in this DLC and while they could've just made it a new Legendary we have to catch, they actually put more effort into it and made befriending it a part of the story, as well as raising it up into becoming Urshifu. That allowed the player to be more connected to Kubfu as a result and it feels like we made a new friend as a result, which only fits the heavy themes of friendship that Pokémon is known for.

In the Crown Tundra, we don't get a lot of new characters here, mainly just Peony, Peonia and Calyrex. Peony is an absolute bundle of joy with how he's the most cringeworthy dad ever and I love every second I spend with him. He's so funny with his hammy personality and his ultra-mega-catchphrases and I like how as embarrassing as he is, he still clearly cares for his daughter and he just wants to have a good time with her. He too has an interesting backstory as the brother of Rose and how he's a former Champion who quite the position because Rose became the Chairman of the League. Once again though, this is extra information we get in his League Card and not actually a part of the story, thus his backstory is just extra details to add to his Bulbapedia page and nothing to do with the main plot. While Peony is a fun time, Peonia feels like an afterthought. She really has no bearing on the plot and doesn't even get to be a secret boss fight so I wonder why she's even here. She should've been more involved in the story if you ask me.

Like Kubfu, Calyrex is a Legendary who also gets characterized, thus making him more memorable a character as a result and his story is the most interesting part of the Crown Tundra. We really feel connected to Calyrex after learning his backstory and helping him regain his former power in the end, and I appreciate GameFreak going the extra mile with this Pokémon as a result.

So with the SWSH DLC, they have some fun and memorable characters that sadly have interesting backstories that are relegated to supplementary material but they also have Legendary Pokémon that feel more like characters than collectibles and the rivals are at least nicely developed as well as a welcome return to form for those who miss jerky rivals.

For the SV DLC, they only really have two characters that are important to talk about, especially as they're part of the story in both DLC. We have Kieran and Carmine a sibling pair from Blueberry Academy whom we meet in The Teal Mask. What's interesting is how our presence has the opposite effect on each sibling. With Carmine, she becomes a little nicer and even apologizes for being jerks to us "outsiders" by the end while Kieran becomes more jealous, insecure and aggressive while craving power which carries over to The Indigo Disk. Kieran is a very sympathetic character due to being treated like crap by his sister for so long, being lied to his face by someone he thought he'd found a friend in, losing the object of his obsession to said person he thought he'd found a friend in and struggling with insecurities brought upon him by said bullying from his sister. His arc was very compelling and I genuinely felt sad to see him fall from grace like so. Seeing him get his redemption by the end was immensely satisfying, let me tell you.

Carmine on the other hand is an example of how not to develop a character. While I'm not going to say she's a terrible person and doesn't have redeeming traits, her treatment and flippant behaviour towards Kieran's downward spiral is just aggravating and the fact she never apologizes for being a jerk to him this whole time, nor does she ever acknowledge the part she played in his downward spiral makes it seem like she doesn't think she did anything wrong or even realize she's part of the problem. The fact she dismisses his behaviour as "teenage angst" or "going through a rebellious phase" doesn't do her any favours. And of course, do I need to bring up her infamous "I was being kind! It's not like I hit him or anything!" line? That just skirts way too close to the kind of rhetoric an abuser would rely on for my liking... X( So we have one character who's handled well and another who isn't. Why they did it so well with Kieran but dropped the ball with Carmine, I'll never understand.

Another character who's poorly handled in this DLC is Briar. As I said in my review of The Indigo Disk, Briar SHOULD have been the overall villain of this DLC. It's so annoying because she was set up to be one and then it just...doesn't happen. She's not the villain she was clearly being set up to be and I can't understand why. How did the writers think that not making her evil would make the story any better? It didn't. It just robbed the story of additional conflict that could've made it even stronger and made the situation feel more intense and personal and it would've added more layers to Briar's character instead of making her this blank slate who only exists as a means to get us into Area Zero again. Not making her the villain just shot this story in the head.

In both DLCs, we get new Legendries in the form of Ogerpon and Terapagos and the upcoming epilogue gives us Pecharunt. Ogerpon is precious beyond gold and silver and I will protect her with my life. She's that adorable and lovable. ^^ Her backstory makes her incredibly sympathetic too and I definitely know many people will relate to her too as this poor unfortunate soul ostracized by society for being different. Unfortunately, Ogerpon is the ONLY one of the three who actually gets any character. Terapagos is just a MacGuffin that we have to catch and Pecharunt is a vaguely developed antagonist for the epilogue that maybe has ties to the Loyal Three but they're not explored in the story and it feels like Pecharunt and Terapagos's stories should've been swapped around. Terapagos should've been in the epilogue and Pecharunt should've been part of the Blueberry Academy plot. Both would've felt better suited if they'd done it that way round.

And in terms of other characters in the DLC, Perrin is just part of two unrelated side-quests that have nothing to do with the main plot and the BB Elite Four are just opponents we have to defeat rather than actual characters. I know that's kinda the point of an Elite Four and some like Drayton and Lacey are at least well characterized but still, that's all they are. Perrin is especially a waste because she so easily could've been involved in the story by helping us prove Ogerpon's innocence and that the Loyal Three are evil. Imagine how cool it would've been if we came to her and asked her to take photographs of the Loyal Three stealing from people and that's what convinced the village that Ogerpon's innocent after all instead of Kieran just saying words to them offscreen and that's what does it? That would've been better than just doing nothing with her.

So overall, SWSH's DLC has characters that while their backstories are just additional details, they're at least well used for the most part and are better handled in their stories while also doing a great job on developing the rivals and the Legendries while SV's DLC only has one well-handled character, a poorly developed rival, two Legendries that have no character to them and are used in the wrong order and characters that don't fulfil the roles they should've been able to play.

It's no contest. Overall, it's clear to me and I hope to you that the DLC with the FAR superior cast of characters is the SWSH DLC.



Section 3: Best Gameplay

Now this'll be interesting to cover. Both DLCs have a lot of content to cover so bare with me here.

Starting with the Isle of Armour, the gameplay sees us visiting the titular island and Mustard gives us three trials to win and if we clear them, our prize is Kubfu. After that, we have to clear one of two towers (Tower of Darkness and Tower of Water) to evolve Kubfu into a Single Strike or Rapid Strike Urshifu while also bonding with the legendary kung-fu bear and then we have to beat Mustard in a final battle to clear the game. Additional gameplay includes a secret boss fight with Honey, rematches with your rival, Mustard and Klara, being able to find Max Mushrooms to eat Max Soup with and give your Pokémon the ability to Gigantamax (if it's able to do so like the Galarian Starters, Pikachu, Eevee, Duraludon etc.), and also Restricted Sparring in which you can only use a team that all share a type and see how far you can go. You also have the Cram-O-Matic machine in where feeding it items can produce something for you. The trials are pathetically easily and the only real challenge in this DLC is beating Mustard or trying to get as far as you can with the Restricted Sparring. It's not a challenging DLC but it does have a lot to offer and some good replay value to keep training your Pokémon with so there's no complaints there.

The Crown Tundra on the other hand has a bit more to offer. You have Dynamax Adventures in where you team up with four NPCs to fight your way through a cave and catch a random Legendary you could encounter at the end of said cave, Peony gives you a series of fetch-quests in where you catch Legendries like the Regi series and the Galarian Bird trio, there's Calyrex's plot to play through and then after you beat the game, you unlock the Galarian Star Tournament in where you get to play against various Galar Gym Leaders and rivals while also teaming up with them. Like The Isle of Armour, there's plenty of replay value with the Dynamax Adventures, a Peony boss-fight you can replay and the Galarian Star Tournament is replayable too. The only thing that feels like a missed opportunity is that there's no Peonia boss fight. Seriously, why didn't they do that? Ah well, this DLC will be a little more challenging considering Legendries aren't always easy to catch and the Dynamax Adventures isn't as straight forward as you may think it is. If you don't play you cards right in that cave, you could lose easily. One thing about the gameplay that doesn't make sense to me though is the Galarian Star Tournament. Like why do your opponents and team mate only use three Pokémon but you get to use a full team of six? Isn't that essentially cheating? I'd have made it so all the players get to use a full team, not just you.

Now let's cover The Teal Mask. As mentioned in my review last year, The Teal Mask is unfortunate for it DOES have plenty to offer, but it dries up quickly and you're left with nothing to do once you're finished. For what's on offer, we play through the story of course, we collect the Loyal Three, we have a boss fight with Ogerpon and then...that's pretty much it. Even post game barely has anything to offer with just a few collectibles here and there, Perrin's side-quest with the Bloodmoon Beast and the Ogre Clan in where they're pretty much there to please the "Pokémon is too easy" naysayers. Perrin's side-quest is a fun way to get a new Pokémon and even get a Hisuian Growlithe and the Ogre Clan can catch you off-guard with how surprisingly challenging they are but none of them are re-playable. There's no re-playable boss fight in this DLC with Kieran, Carmine and the Ogre Clan being a one-in-done deal. Once you've beaten them, that's it. The only replay value this DLC has is Ogre Oustin' and I don't really fancy playing that minigame over and over thank you very much.

But then you have The Indigo Disk and BOY HOWDY does that more than make up for The Teal Mask's shortcomings! You have the Blueberry League to battle, you have the Champion to beat, you have a side-quest with Terapagos, you can do Blueberry Quests and earn points for a variety of different things, you can hunt Legendries, you can get items with the Item Printer which is essentially the Cram-O-Matic but better, you can have rematches with all the Paldea characters out there, there's a secret boss fight with Director Cyrano, you can trade with the Paldea cast, the main DLC cast and even with Director Cyrano (in which he gives you a Shiny Blitzle!) and most importantly, this DLC has replay value! The BBQs and the rematches with the characters can all be replayed and thus this DLC doesn't run out of steam and has more to offer and keep us coming back. And that's not even getting into the surprise difficulty of this DLC where trainers and the BB League alike are surprisingly challenging with tough double battles that reach competitive levels of strong, especially with the League and the Champion, and even having an over-levelled team doesn't mean you've instantly got it won. Yes, this DLC is so challenging that it's possible to lose even if your team is over-levelled. And thus anytime I come back to the DLCS on either game, I'll always anticipate coming back to this one the most because of the challenge it provides and how I have to think outside the box in order to beat it. A game that forces me to rethink my strategy is one worth coming back to I say.

Also SV's DLC has a free epilogue that wasn't originally stated to be part of the package deal and while we still have to wait until January the 11th to actually play it, it's still a nice surprise that just when we think we've done the DLC, GameFreak comes out and says "But wait, there's more!" and thus we get a DLC which is just an extra side-quest and a way to obtain a new Mythical via an in-game event for once. That is mad to think that paying for the SV DLC gave us more than we paid for since we didn't know anything about an epilogue at the time so that alone makes it even more worth the price as a result. Also the epilogue unlocks Nemona, Penny, Arven, Kieran and Carmine to be rematched at Blueberry Academy and trade Pokémon with so it ties in nicely with what came before.

So overall, SWSH's DLC has lots of content and plenty of replay value but isn't overly challenging, can be beaten fairly quickly and the Galarian Star Tournament just doesn't make sense with how unfair an advantage you have. SV's DLC by comparison has lots of content but only one half of it has replay value but that second half makes it worth the price with what it has to offer compared to the first and its difficulty makes for a more challenging and interesting experience as a result. Plus SV's DLC has content that really stands out from the crowd and with the fact it ALSO has an epilogue we'll be able to play on the 11th, it offers a little bit extra that SWSH's DLC doesn't have to you get more than you paid for in this case.

So even if The Teal Mask lacks replay value, SV's DLC still gives us more than we expected, has the most interesting batch of content to play through, has the extra challenge that makes it more fun to play as a result and overall feels much bigger and more epic when compared to SWSH's DLC, which may have a lot to offer but is mostly the same repetitive fetch-quest gameplay while SV's DLC is more varied in its gameplay. So it's a close one, but the DLC with the superior SV's DLC.




I'm sure many will disagree on the result and some of you may even be surprised that this is the result, but that's just how I feel about it. Sword and Shield has the superior DLC. It just handled its story and characters better but Scarlet and Violet does have the superior gameplay so really, it depends what you want in a video-game. If you play games for a good story and characters, then SWSH's DLC is the best one. If you play games for the gameplay and nothing else, then SV's DLC is the best one. While I will definitely have more fun playing SV's DLC because of what it has to offer, I still think SWSH's DLC had better writing behind it and both its DLCs have lots of content and replay value on offer while only one half of SV's DLC has all the good stuff so as a result, SWSH's DLC feels more worth the price tag.

As is, I do enjoy the DLCs for both games and I don't regret playing for them at all. I say if you love your Pokémon games, try both DLCs out. You'll have a good time whichever one you pick...

And that's it for this Vs. essay. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your thoughts down below. Which DLC do you think is superior? Do tell me. ^^

On Friday, my friend The Wandering Fox is also back with a Vs. essay of his own. What is it? Tune in on Friday to find out...

See you then media fans!

1 Comment

It has been a while since the last vs so it was a delight.

Didn't expect the SwSh DLC to win out, but you made good points in these. Especially in hindsight with the story and characters. But yeah, SV's DLC gameplay wins out with the Academy.

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