When I first saw the trailers for Pokémon Legends: Arceus in February, I became incredibly giddy and preordered my copy as soon as possible. Watching the trainers run around that open space and fight Pokémon in the overworld without diving into a separate battle screen satisfied some long-denied childhood desire from deep down inside of me.
This excitement dove further still when the newest videos showed trainers using Pokémon to fly through the air, swim through lakes, and even ride around the rolling hills. Finally, finally it looks like this game is going to take Pokémon in the direction it should have gone over a decade ago.
A life-long stagnant love
Pokémon has been a part of my life ever since the creatures first made their way to the U.S. in 1998. I was in elementary school at the time and quickly acquired a large deck of cards, the core Game Boy games, and a smattering of N64 Pokémon titles. Then, when the GameCube was announced, I got incredibly excited. Many 2D games had been making their way into the 3D space with the N64, like The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. I figured that the core Pokémon RPG would follow suit. Little did I know that wouldn't happen for another two decades (wow, I'm old).
It was actually only with the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield in 2019 that the main Pokémon games arrived on console rather than handheld for the first time. Even then, these RPGs retained many archaic elements that made it feel like the handheld games have simply been forced into a 3D space rather than created specifically for it.
The one exception to that is the Wild Area, a new feature where players see Pokémon walking around in the overworld and can run into them to initiate the turn-based battle sequence. As exciting as the Wild Area is, I can't help but shake my head and think we should have had this experience years before. This is especially true given that Pokémon is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time. The funds and interest were available to make it happen.
Hell, Monster Hunter Stories on 3DS had been able to implement this exact Wild Area idea back in 2017 and it was better than Sword and Shield's. It has even been improved with the recent sequel, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. In Capcom's games, players can ride every single one of the Monsties in their collection. Some even have special abilities like being able to climb vines, jump to higher platforms, swim, or fly, which allows players to reach new areas. Meanwhile, Pokémon has remained stagnant in this area for far too long.
Throughout the years, some Pokémon games have made improvements towards modern gaming but then doubled back with the next installment. For instance, when I first beat Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, I was incredibly excited to learn that the post-game let me fly on the back of Mega Latios or Mega Latias and actually see the world below me instead of simply using a version of fast travel. This section of the game even allowed me to battle flying Pokémon I encountered. This was unlike anything I'd seen in a core Pokémon game, and I was sure that this was where the series was headed.
So you can imagine my disappointment when Sun and Moon, Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee, and then Sword and Shield all released without this kind of world exploration. Flying around the map is once more just a fast travel mechanic, and in the case of Sword and Shield, a bike is used to traverse over water when you have perfectly good Water-types at your disposal. When I'm exploring a world where people use Pokémon for everything, not being able to do so myself breaks the illusion and just feels wrong. That's why I'm stoked to finally be able to do these things in Legends: Arceus.
Legend of hope
We've already seen more action-focused elements in Legends: Arceus than any other core Pokémon RPG — for instance, having to dodge red-eyed Pokémon attempting to attack you. And of course, the aforementioned ability to fly, swim, and ride over land using Pokémon. This is exactly the kind of gameplay I had imagined in the GameCube era and I'm stoked to finally experience it. Now, Legends: Arceus will finally make this 20-year-old dream of mine a reality.
The funny thing is, these really aren't complicated mechanics. There are plenty of games that feature these controls. But Pokémon games have stayed so formulaic over the years that these simple ideas feel incredibly novel within Pokémon. Still, I'm incredibly excited to experience them myself when Pokémon Legends: Arceus releases.
On the other hand, some people are complaining about the game's art direction and the relatively sparse-looking world. I agree, the world doesn't look very detailed and I'd much prefer a more Breath of the Wild range of landscapes as imagined in Reddit user gmendezm's post from 2019 entitled Pokémon Call of the Trainer. However, I'm willing to look past this since Legends: Arceus at least allows Game Freak to test the open-world waters and eventually could lead to something greater down the road.
Pokémon dreams come true
I don't know if Pokémon Legends: Arceus will be a huge hit or not. Some fans have been complaining about the simple art style and lack of foliage or overall detail shown in trailers. But the way I see it, if this game paves the way for more open-world style Pokémon games in the future I don't care what the artwork looks like for now. Let The Pokémon company experiment and hopefully, they'll see that this kind of Pokémon game is something many of us have wanted for a long time.
Run around collecting Pokémon and creating the first ever Pokédex as you explore ancient Sinnoh.
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