As more game franchises increasingly stick their characters into vast, sprawling open worlds, it should have been a no brainer that Pokémon would do the same, sooner or later. Following 2019’s Pokémon Sword and Shield, which took a test drive by placing players on an adventure in the Galar region, shifted from the classic top-down view to a 3rd person perspective that allowed for a more intimate experience with the world and its creatures, which also prompted more visual work to be done with the environment as well. In comparison, technically two Switch entries later, Pokémon Legends: Arceus fully takes hold of every aspect the series tried to envision on the small screen and blows it up.
For those unfamiliar with Pokémon, a brief synopsis for each main-line title would sound like this; the player, leaving their home for the first time, takes with them one creature partner and a mission given to them by a local professor. Setting off out into the region of that game generation, players seek to amass a collection of 100+ Pokémon, log their statistics, and battle with them out across 6 to 8 different gym leaders (bosses) in order to have a shot at being the very best, aka a Pokémon Master.
If that is what you’re expecting from this new game, then you’d only be half right. Pokémon: Arceus is a completely different build of its own. Instead of setting off into a journey of discovery in the modern world, players are dropped (Read: Isekai-ed), into the far-off past by the title character and series god, Arceus. When found and picked up by a nearby village, players are given the task of building the first-ever Pokédex and discover why they were transported through time and space by investigating disturbances plaguing the Hisui Region.
Rather than prove who is the best trainer, the role given by the game is far greater. Humans in this era still see the creatures around them as violent and dangerous, so as an assistant to the local professor, players are asked to open the world of Pokémon to mankind and create the bonds that we see generations later.
Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to be the professor in each game instead of the trainer? That’s the feeling I get and continue to feel as I play through the different areas. Through very vivid environments, the goal goes beyond catching the creatures we’ve all come to know and love. There are logs to see how each reacts when left alone, how they express themselves when eating meals, and what it looks like when various moves are used. For anyone that thought Pokémon Snap was awesome because of the emphasis on capturing each creature in their native habitat, this game takes that concept several steps further and purposely puts players where the wild things are.
Out in nature, players can expect that along with grinding out the logs, there’s a great deal of danger to contend with too. Dodging is fundamental to survival, and the Y Button is everyone’s best friend. There’s also no wrong way to capture Pokémon; throw berries and have them come to you, stun them by tossing Mud Balls and get them while they’re dazed, or sit in the high grass till the subject turns its back, and toss away! I’ve made much use of the latter, as well as standing on cliffs in order to not be spotted. Eventually, players will get so good that they could throw a ball at one and pursue another.
The other two outstanding elements in the game are the environment itself and the item system. Breath of the Wild is an obvious influence into how Legends was made, and it shows. Though not as thoroughly polished in a few spots, the sights from the beach to the valleys are breathtaking, and any path is free reign to traverse. Much like taking on random Moblin villages became a pastime, I could pick an area and track creatures for days. On more than a few sessions, I find myself trying to find the best view or hoping for one of the special Rifts to drop in the area I’d picked, where high level (and rare) Pokemon will appear for me to take chances at battling.
For items, no longer can players wait for the next shop in the next town to have a better selection. Much like with BOTW, players will end up making by hand the very tools they need to do their work and survive in the wild. There is a ranking system in-game that functions much like the old gym badges, but in this case, “leveling up” depends on how much time and energy is spent covering each entry in the Pokédex, earning both the ability to use higher level subjects and recipes for Pokéballs, which parts exist out in the wilderness for players to find.
In the time I’ve played through the franchise, no game has come closer to what I could imagine actually being in that world to be like. The heightened difficulty is welcome, and honestly should be expected when it comes to not only introducing humans to Pokémon for the first time, but vis versa. The world of Pokémon is just getting used to humans being in their territories, so if a lightning bolt comes from a nearby Luxio habitat or a nearby Magmar suddenly gets angry and starts blowing infernos in every direction, players should understand one thing about this era; it is their world, and we’re just living in it. At the rate the game is going, I could stand to be there for a good while longer. ~
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