I’m honestly amazed that Nintendo and Game Freak actually took my advice, the thing I’d been banging on about them doing for the longest time now and actually do something totally different with the Pokemon franchise. I talked about it here, then here and then maybe somewhere here as well. The big question was whether they’d be able to really pull it off or not.
I love Pokemon, I’ve grown up with the franchise, and as we’ve both become longer in the tooth I’ve started to grow restless with the painfully formulaic approach to each ongoing generation of the franchise. Over the years, Game Freak have made smaller changes, but it’s never been enough. What they really needed was a whole new, from the ground up approach to the franchise using the traditional, turn based combat and type mechanics as a base.
Pokemon is such a flexible franchise that you can make pretty much kind of game you want and shove them in it. In fact, Nintendo have already done that very thing. The thing is though, as much as I say I am a fan of the franchise of Pokemon, I’m mostly here for the mainline games, the turn based JRPGs, the type matchups and the building of a team.
Which is why, despite all the MOBAs, card games and phone games that have been taking the community by storm, I just want them to do their mainline series better. Is that what Legends: Arceus is? Not necessarily, this game falls more into the spinoff category than being a true entry in the mainline generation of Pokemon games. Much in the same way Pokemon Colosseum was back on the Gamecube.
That being said, there is definitely something more to this game than a mere spinoff title. I mean, It’s Game Freak themselves making it, while relegating the development of the Gen 4 remake to an outside studio, there’s no doubt there is some ambition behind this game, the desire from within to create a shift in what we expect from the mainline franchise.
And personally, I feel like it succeeds gloriously. Arceus is the most I’ve enjoyed my time with a (Official) Pokemon game in years. Like I’d been banging on about for the months leading up to this game’s release, the base Pokemon experience is there, but used as the base for an entirely new, divergent experience build from it.
I want to liken it to what Nintendo did when they put our A Link Between Worlds, it felt like a testing of the waters from Nintendo, proving that their fans would accept a game that diverges from a very cemented formula. Which, in hindsight is a very Japanese approach to doing anything outside of the norm. Fans welcomed Link Between Worlds with open arms and what followed was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
With that parallel in mind, I can’t help but be enthusiastic about the future of Pokemon based on what I feel was a massive success from Game Freak in Arceus. Because, it’s not just that they did something different, it’s the choices they did make that streamline the turn based battle system and intergrate them with action elements from games like Zelda, Monster Hunter and the more recent Final Fantasy releases.
As a person who has increasingly turned off by the competitive multiplayer aspects of the Pokemon franchise as the sole source of an “endgame” in recent years, I love how this game really does feel like a purely single player experience. One of my big complaints about recent Pokemon games is how easy they’ve felt, that your Pokemon level incredibly fast and without even participating in battle. It made the games feel maddeningly easy for veteran players.
Legends doesn’t do anything different when it comes to this excess of experience, rather it takes that into account and actually encourages you to change up your Pokemon rather than finding a single team of six to take you through the story. Because, for the first time in the franchise, the focus of the game has actually become the Pokedex.
Taking on the role of a researcher rather than a trainer aiming to be the champion is a ridiculously refreshing change in the formula to me. A change aided by the fact that each pokedex entry needs to be worked to be filled, rather than simply catching one pokemon to add their page, now each and every single Pokemon has a series of tasks associated with it.
Meaning your approach to catching them is so much more than simply battling them. In fact, you can creep your way through the game without hardly battling at all. The game gives you food items, items to stun, items to create cover and items to scare pokemon to allow you to catch even the largest pokemon without having to battle them at all.
Many of which end up being requirements in order to fill pages in the Pokedex on them, it’s a change I love that actually adds a much needed action element to the game that it never had before. One that culminates in a type of boss battle I never knew I needed so badly in a pokemon game. Noble pokemon encounters are the pokemon formula turned into a boss battle, going through a series of phases in which you need to avoid attacks from the pokemon while chipping away at its health.
Part of these phases allow you to send your pokemon out to battle them in the traditional sense, although that’s only one small part of the encounter rather than the be all and end all of the legendary pokemon bosses of old. It’s such a refreshing change in my eyes.
Okay, I think I’ve gushed long enough.
So here’s the thing. Despite my thinking this is one of the best games Game Freak have made in years and years, it’s not a perfect game, despite all the changes they’ve made, the game is still ridiculously easy. Additionally, while the setup and story begin in a really cool way; with a world in which people are still terrified of Pokemon and they attack people on the regular, the story ends up going in pretty predictable directions by the time it’s over.
The thing is though, the moment to moment gameplay and rewarding feel of filling up those pokedex pages from the pokemon you encounter out in the world are super satisfying. While there are still people online ragging about this game and the graphics, that stuff doesn’t matter to me whatsoever. This game feels like an experiment, a half step in the direction of the mainline Pokemon franchise reinventing itself.
At least, that’s what I hope it ends up being. Legends: Arceus feels like something both very familiar while simultaneously being something totally new. I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with the game and still feel like I’m going to put many more hours into it despite having seen the credits already.
In all honesty, I don’t know what I can see Game Freak doing next when it comes to Pokemon. Whether they’ll go and make a Gen 9 game in the much more familiar style that we’re used to, whether they’ll make something totally new again or if they’ll combine elements of this game into the new gen 9 and give us a more perfected version of this game.
I have no idea, all I do know is that I’m glad Game Freak were given free reign to make this game, while it does feel a little rough around the edges, in a way a lot of games on the Switch feel of late, it has grabbed me in a way I haven’t felt grabbed with a Pokemon game since they implemented Mega Evolution. Honestly, this blog started off as a piece about me talking about the nature of the changes and how profoundly they could impact the future of the Pokemon franhise.
In the end it just turned into me gushing about it. That’s what I get for writing this while drinking I suppose.