In the Pokemon franchise, your journey doesn't end after you flatten the Elite Four and bust open your rival: there's usually a post-game experience to work through as well. Sometimes there's more story to enjoy, sometimes there's a whole new region to explore, sometimes there's a battle tower to work through, and sometimes you're tasked with catching the game's Legendary Pokemon.
Pokemon Sword and Shield's endgame has a little bit of everything, but its real emphasis is on story. Once Galar region's champion is down, you're afforded the opportunity to wrap up some of the game's loose story ends and learn more about the Gym leaders and your rival, Hop. This made me happy, because Sword and Shield's is a bit on the weak side compared to the lore and character in Pokemon Sun and Moon.
Spoilers for Pokemon Sword and Shield's endgame follow!
One such loose end revolves around your rival in Sword and Shield, the irrepressible Hop. As per Pokemon tradition, Hop waylays you from time to time and challenges you. And, also per Pokemon tradition, he's not hard to mop the floor with. But whereas rivals in previous games get fired up or take the beatings in stride, Hop becomes depressed. His single goal in life is to become a great trainer like his brother, Leon, but he loses heart with each defeat.
Sword and Shield's main story initially suggests Hop gets his groove back, and all's well. But when you become Champion of the Galar Region and pick the story back up in your hometown, you learn all's not well after all. Hop is still frustrated and directionless. Thus, you help him on his mini quest to "find himself," a journey that's woven around Sword and Shield's post-game Legendary hunt.
Sword and Shield's post-game story isn't very long; you can probably finish it up in a few hours. But between Hop's little personal crisis, the introduction of two fops with the most incredible hair ever devised for RPG characters, and a chance to earn the Gym leaders' "rare" trading cards, I found myself enjoying it more than I've enjoyed any Pokemon post-game in years.
Part of that is because I think Hop's personal conflict might hit a little close for anyone who tries to live up to their older sibling's potential but falls again and again. Self-discovery is a painful road, especially when you spend much of your life convinced you're destined to follow a route your sibling's already tread.
Thankfully, Hop finds his truth; he starts training to become a Pokemon professor, since Sword and Shield's post-game events reveal he has a talent for helping Pokemon and communicating with them. It's a short story segment, but it's a sweet one. I'm glad Sword and Shield gives us a rival who's not simply a doink (Gary/Blue) or cheerful but also kind of vapid (Hau, Tapu Koko bless him).
If you tend to mash "A" to get through Pokemon's story because you live for the fights, don't worry, Sword and Shield doesn't leave you in the cold. There's a Battle Tower in the Galar region, and it comes with two great twists: an epic battle theme by Undertale's Toby Fox and the chance to "rent" Pokemon teams if you don't want to spend hours fine-tuning your own roster for the task. The latter lets you try out "Rain Teams" and "Balanced Teams," and so on. It's a great way to let you figure out what works for your strategy, and what doesn't.
Finally, there's a whole mess of stuff to do in the Wild Area now that the servers are on. Y-Comm makes it very easy to find people who want to fight, as well as people who need to fill out a party for Dynamax raids. It's really nice to have a serious PvE challenge in Pokemon; it's a great addition for anyone who's terrible at fighting other people (cough, me) but wants to do more than catch Pokemon once the main story wraps up.
On that note: Happy Pokemon Launch Day! Make sure to read our impressions of Sword and Shield, and look for the full review next week. You can also learn how to evolve the Galar region's new Pokemon; some of them are pretty tricky.