Pokémon has been my favourite video game franchise for as long as I can remember. I got into the games when Pokémon Platinum was released, and I’ve been in love ever since. Seriously. Growing up, I’d get the games pre-ordered for my birthday and I’d wake up early on the release date to get to the store at opening so I could get the newest game. I played ROM hacks and uploads of games that I didn’t have the consoles for. I used to have all the Pokémon memorized with their typings and their strengths and weaknesses. I lived and breathed Pokémon. So naturally, with the newest release, I have opinions.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the newest game in the Pokémon franchise and was released on January 28, 2022. It follows the releases of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl; remakes of fourth-generation games Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum; and acts as a prequel to the games and their predecessors. When the game was first announced, the reception was mixed: the graphics weren’t as strong compared to competitors, but the concept was something new for Pokémon. See, the Pokémon franchise has perfected a marketable formula for each new game. It starts with a professor (who studies Pokémon) giving the player their first Pokémon to start their journey with and to help them complete the Pokédex, a device that catalogues Pokémon. There’s the gym challenge that focuses on basic type matchups and battle mechanics; it takes place over the course of the general storyline as a way to progress the player through the game with appropriate leveling, making it easier to complete. Then there’s the evil organization that the player takes on which ultimately leads the player to a battle where they can catch the titular legendary Pokémon. And finally, there’s the Elite Four and the champion, though the Elite Four has recently been replaced by a tournament-style bracket in Pokémon Sword and Shield. There’s always some sort of post-game play which is generally where Game Freak, the developers, take most of their creative liberties. For the most part, a Pokémon game doesn’t stray outside of these parameters unless it isn’t a main storyline game. Those are games like the Pokémon Stadium series, Pokémon Ranger series, Pokémon Mystery Dungeons series and more.
The point is, since the release of Pokémon Go in 2016, Pokémon has stopped releasing games for Nintendo consoles that don’t follow their set formula. This all culminated in the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield which, despite having the second-highest sales rates, is one of the most controversial games for many Pokémon fans. The game, while extremely marketable to children, leans too far into the child-friendly aspects and introduces gimmicks that many feel doesn’t live up to previous games. For all its ability to draw in a larger crowd, the game feels sanitized and commercialized with none of the creativity and life that people used to love. Not to mention, the release prior to this one was Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee!, two games generally disliked for their bastardization of both the Kanto region and the first-generation games. Those games tried to ride on the coattails of Pokémon Go but largely failed to do so. Despite doing well in sales, the generally negative reviews of the game clearly meant something. Then the Sinnoh remakes were announced as well as Pokémon Legends: Arceus. People were excited; they’d been asking for the remakes for years as Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and specifically Platinum were beloved games. Of course, the remakes were going to be under heavy scrutiny as their source material is so well loved, but Legends: Arceus was a new concept entirely for the franchise.
Obviously, I’ve talked a lot about the other games released before Pokémon Legends: Arceus but I think it’s finally time to explain what makes this game so special and why it’s a positive sign for change in the franchise.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is still an RPG like most Pokémon games, but it’s more open-world than before. With a heavy focus on completing the Pokédex, the game starts off in perhaps the most absurd way I could think of but also the only way that makes sense. The player is essentially a time traveller sent by the Pokémon god, Arceus, to catalogue all Pokémon and save the Hisui region. The only reason I say this makes sense is because the player is made to have the same attitude towards Pokémon that we see in traditional games, which is vastly different from the terror and fear most of the in-game characters experience. It plays on the fact that as players, we likely already know a lot about Pokémon and have been conditioned to view the game as a collect-them-all game and not as a horror one. And let me tell you, this game has a premise that could easily be made into a horror game. So, the start’s a little odd, but ultimately the game is incredibly fun. It’s essentially if Pokémon was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And that means there’s combat.
Yes. That means that in this game, Pokémon can kill you; you also take fall damage.
It’s a complete breath of fresh air from what Game Freak usually develops. The concept still focuses on the collection aspect of Pokémon, but it adds new battle mechanics and a new way to catch Pokémon that hasn’t been done before. Frankly, it’s a brilliant way to play the game. It’s different from the traditional Pokémon game, but it has the charm that drew many of us to Pokémon. Plus, the new mechanics mean you have to relearn a few skills and controls. It adds a new element to a game that has followed the same controls for years.
For the most part, reception has been positive, but there are still a few complaints: mainly in relation to graphics. The graphics for the game leave much to be desired but Pokémon has never been known for amazing graphics. To some, Pokémon has fallen behind in graphics compared to other gaming franchises. This is fair: despite having a strong aesthetic, the game feels dull in appearance. It’s still an amazing game, but it’s not the prettiest.
Honestly though, I think one of the reasons this game is so enjoyable is because it’s not a classic, marketable, infantilized game that people are now expecting Game Freak and Nintendo to produce. It’s new and inventive, playing off the features of other similar games to create something more dynamic and geared towards older Pokémon fans instead of trying to rope in a younger audience. In a way, this game is a promise to original fans that they haven’t been forgotten and that the companies will still produce games targeted at them.
I think the reason this game is so well received is because it took risks, which is something new for the franchise. Within the past few years, we could see the games becoming more sanitized and childlike as the companies tried to cash-grab a younger audience. This game cash-grabs an older audience. In a way, it’s a love letter to older fans.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus doesn’t mean much to the franchise if it isn’t well-received, but if feedback keeps being as positive as it is and sales continue to climb, we could see a massive switch in how Game Freak approaches the development of the Pokémon games. This game could singlehandedly bring back creativity and life to the franchise and for someone who’s loved this franchise for more than half their lifetime, that’s incredibly exciting. Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t just a game; it’s a promise of good things to come.