For decades, Pokémon games have followed a strict formula. You set out on a journey with your starter Pokémon in tow, battling trainers and catching new creatures. You fight eight gym leaders, defeat an evil team, challenge the Elite Four and become the champion of the region. And in my opinion, it’s getting pretty stale.
The sense of adventure isn’t really there any more, and the gameplay is becoming increasingly predictable with each entry. New features generally take the form of gimmicks like Dynamaxing from Pokémon Sword and Shield or Mega Evolutions, instead of sweeping changes to the core gameplay. Finding new Pokémon is exciting, but the formula has largely remained the same, regardless of any extra features the developers Game Freak add. Even when Sun and Moon tried to switch things up by removing gym leaders, their replacements were functionally the same and didn’t do much to change the overall feel of the journey.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a kid anymore, stealthily playing Diamond on my DS at night, but a bit of the magic from those earlier entries has definitely faded overtime.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is looking primed to change that. Compared to the mainline games we’ve seen every few years, this is a huge leap in a new direction. A focus on open-world design, clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild, has completely changed the look and feel of the game. Turn-based battles are still there, but now there’s free-roaming exploration, a vast world to explore, and a totally fresh tone.
This time, it looks like we have a proper adventure on our hands, rather than the same handed down blueprint. Being able to discover and find Pokémon wandering around in their habitats sounds far more exciting than romping through tall grass, waiting for the wild battle music to start playing.
In Legends you will physically aim Pokéballs at wild Pokémon – something which seems basic but has never been possible before. Pokémon actually strike each other in battles, rather than the stripped-back animations in recent entries. These additions may seem minor, but I can already tell they’ll make this game feel so much more alive and immersive compared to the main series. For the first time in a long while, I’m actually excited to see the gameplay rather than just the new Pokémon designs. Previously, I knew exactly how the game was going to play out before I’d even started it. Here, I have no idea what to expect, and that sense of mystery has been missing for a long time.
The visuals take a similar approach to Breath of the Wild with a stylised, watercolour art design, and in my opinion it looks a lot better than Sword and Shield. Of course, the trailer definitely shows some technical problems which can’t really be glossed over, like the choppy framerate. Hopefully these issues are ironed out overtime, because the art design is so promising it’d be a real shame to waste it.
Naturally, I still have a lot of questions about Pokémon Legends: Arceus. We’ve only seen a brief glimpse of it, and more footage could reveal more of that traditional formula I’m talking about. For now all signs point to this game being the first step towards breaking out of that predictable mould the Pokémon franchise has embraced for years. It’s got me thrilled at the possibility of a massive, open-world Pokémon adventure, and I can only hope the developers are able to pull through and make it the breath of fresh air the series needs.