Pokémon Sword and Shield’s take on Britain is as charmingly accurate as you might expect. From a geographical perspective, it's all over the place, but there's clearly been a decent attempt to capture the identity of this new region. Whether it be through London landmarks or an attempt to capture local vernacular, Game Freak has tried its best throughout Pokémon's new green and pleasant land – but nowhere do I feel more at home than in the town of Chirchester.
Of course, that feeling is helped by the fact that Chirchester is my home. Tucked away in the north-east corner of Galar, the town might be located in almost exactly the wrong place, but it is undoubtedly based on Bath, a city I have called home for the past two and half years. Phonetically, Chirchester might not sound as close to Bath as, say, Wyndon does to London, but it is at least a rough portmanteau of Cheltenham and Gloucester, two nearby towns of similar quaintness but somewhat reduced fame.
Some of Bath’s relative fame comes from the fact that author Jane Austen called the city home between 1800 and 1805, eventually setting a chunk of Northanger Abbey in and around the city. That literary fly-by might have raised Bath’s profile somewhat, but it's probably difficult to capture within the creative bounds of a Pokémon game. It does mean, however, that each year, the city attracts a dizzying number of tourists to its somewhat more concrete attractions. Those attractions give life to Chirchester, but they also help back up my claims about the town’s real-life inspiration.
The most obvious offering is the Hero’s Bath. Located right in the centre of Chirchester, it features an ancient hot spring in which Sword and Shield’s mythical heroes bathed after saving Galar from the Darkest Day. Bath happens to be home to one of the UK’s few natural hot springs - the Roman Baths that lend the city its name are located bang in the centre of town, and feature faux-classic architecture that's about as tacky as Galar's own offering. Moving a little further south, we come across the Hotel Ionia. Split into an eastern and western wing, these swanky buildings bear a resemblance to two of Bath’s most famous housing estates. The Royal Crescent and The Circus, built in the late 18th century, are preeminent examples of the Georgian-style architecture that dominates both the real-life city and its Galarian counterpart.
Elsewhere, there are a few other, more subtle, nods to Bath. The central weir reminds me of Pulteney Bridge, while the gym, built from local stone and perched atop a hill, looks a lot like Prior Park, the mansion which overlooks the entire city. The railings and basements of the rows of townhouses even remind me of the flat I lived in when I first moved here. But while Chirchester certainly looks like Bath, it doesn’t really capture any of the city’s personality.
When it comes to internationally-renowned portrayals of British-ness, Galar is in an interesting minority. Much of Sword and Shield focuses in on depictions of Britain more traditionally associated with working classes than the high society that would have called Bath home in the city's heyday in the 1700 and 1800s. By contrast, the idea of Britain that seems to have been most keenly adopted by the rest of the world is one steeped in Regency and Victorian values. From Downton Abbey to Sherlock to Pride and Prejudice, some of the country's biggest cultural exports are inextricably tied to those time periods. Bath itself might not be an export in the traditional sense, but it too is linked directly to those eras, part of a string of spa towns in which mineral springs were discovered (or rediscovered) alongside the 18th century trend for ‘taking the waters’. These new towns were filled by communities that would go on to shape British culture for much of the next century, and which gave rise to authors and artists whose work continues to be adapted all over the world.
But when it comes to Chirchester, that culture is almost entirely absent. Beyond a few nods to the town’s somewhat swanky heritage - one of which predates modern Bath by more than a millennium - there’s nothing there that captures any of its importance to international ideas of Britain. Motostoke is steeped in British industrialism, while Hammerlocke captures a sense of monarchy and the importance that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland hold in the national identity. By contrast, Chirchester feels almost soulless, an exposition-filled shell made of little more than Georgian architecture and a few local landmarks.