Pokémon meets Breath of the Wild, with a little Xenoblade Chronicles thrown in as well.
Let’s dive in.
I’ve already said in the little pre-image blurb but Pokémon Legends: Arceus is very reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And it’s not just that it’s an open-world game and every single open-world game that has come out since Breath of the Wild has been compared to it. I do have some actual arguments to make this comparison. Strikingly: the trailer the very same basic shot in it as in the Breath of the Wild trailer. You know the shot where the camera goes over Link’s shoulder to show off the large world of Hyrule? Yeah, that shot is in here too. Pretty on the nose if you ask me, but oh well. It gets the point across and that’s what matters. The graphical style of this game has similarities with Breath of the Wild. It’s the same cell-shading style along with very similar looking lighting and a Sinnoh that takes some clear inspiration from Hyrule. It’s not as good looking as Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule, but I’ll get to that a little later.
|Doesn't that remind you of Breath of the Wild and Death Mountain or what?|
For now, let’s dig into the open-world aspect of the game. While the Wild Area of Pokémon Sword & Shield did provide a mush free-er Pokémon experience it was a far cry from what people were hoping for. It was limiting, both in the fact that it was only a part of the game and that it didn’t have much going on in it. The two areas introduced in the game’s expansion, The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra where much improved in this regard. Those felt like the team over at GameFreak were testing the waters, so to speak. Making a much smaller open-world Pokémon game, for experience sake. People were expecting that Generation 9 games would be built further on what the expansion did and make a Pokémon game in that style. Towns, wild-trainer battles, Gyms and all. But Pokémon wouldn’t be Pokémon if it didn’t throw a curve-ball at us once in a while. They get that from Nintendo, no doubt.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is more akin to the Let’s Go games. And before you baulk at this statement (they obviously so different!) let me explain what I mean. Both the Let’s Go games and this Legends game are, what I like to call, off-shoot games. They are Pokémon games that GameFreak has placed in the Core series, but even so, don’t quite fit that label. They’re not Spin-Off as they include a decent amount of the traditional Pokémon formula and are developed by GameFreak. These games are, in essence, a twist on the formula.
The Let’s Go games are a simplified version of the main series. One that is meant for a much younger, much more casual, audience. It simplifies the Pokémon gameplay by introducing many of the Pokémon Go mechanics. There are no wild Pokémon Battles. You instead just catch them like in Go, throwing the ball in the Pokémon’s ring and all that. It did away with the wild encounters which most people these days consider an outdated mechanic. Instead, the Pokémon appear directly in the overworld with the tall grass as the point where the games spawn them. No longer can you give Pokémon held items in battle or do you need to keep a Pokémon’s ability in mind when battling. What it did keep were the Kanto region itself, the story that is associated with it and the Gym structure.
Legends: Arceus is a twist on the standard formula as well, but goes in the opposite direction. From what we’ve seen and been told, it’s a more elaborate Pokémon game that appeals more to long-time fans. People who are looking for the franchise to become ‘more mature’ and offer up a bigger challenge. Where Let’s Go had the exact same map and story as the game it was based on Yellow, here, the Sinnoh region has been redesigned and the story is all new. Where Let’s Go simplified the catching and the battling, Legends seems to have added more layers to these gameplay elements.
The official Pokémon website tells us that “To catch Pokémon in the Pokémon Legends: Arceus game, you can observe them learn their behaviour, then carefully sneak up, aim your Poké Ball™, and let fly!”. In the trailer, we can see the trainer approach a couple of wild Shinx. The trainer does a little roll, hides in the grass and then slowly approaches the Shinx before throwing a PokéBall at one of them. That’s quite different then, isn’t it? You don’t run into a Pokémon anymore, enter a battle on a different screen and then try to capture. Although, the website does state that you can still battle the Wild Pokémon. To do this, you simply throw your Pokéball with your Pokémon near the wild Pokémon, it pops out and the battle starts. That approach hasn’t been abandoned.
|The trainer about the catch a Shinx|
It’s at the moment not clear though how these battles will play out exactly though. The battles shown in the trailer shows what looks like that they play out in real-time. Think of the Xenoblade Chronicles series, where the characters auto-attack the enemies while you wait until you can use special moves for some extra damage or secondary effects. Could Pokémon go that way with the battle system? However, the still on the Pokémon website shows the traditional, turn-based battles system. So what is it? Traditional turn-based battles or a revamped, real-time system? It’s one of the questions about this game that I personally would like to know the answer to sooner than later.
How open-world is Pokémon Legends: Arceus? Well, judging from the footage, the game gives you quite a lot of freedom. If you didn’t get it already, there is no difference between the overworld in the battles. It all happens in the same space with, at most, the aspect ratio changing a little to make it clear that you’re currently in a battle (in case that wasn’t clear already). Second, it appears that just like Breath of the Wild you can go nearly anywhere immediately. I haven’t seen anything in the overworld that could hinder your progress. There isn’t really much to see in the overworld actually and that’s were my biggest, complaint we shall say, lies with what we’ve seen of this game.
It has to be stated that the footage shown in the reveal trailer and used for the stills are not final. It’s footage of a game that’s still in development but what we’ve got to see at the moment is still cause of worry for me. In short, there are three flaws with the graphics and how the game runs that makes me worry about the final product. Two of those I’m certain GameFreak will fix and very likely just there because the game is still early in development. The quality of the graphics aren’t really up to snuff and the framerate is also noticeably not optimized. Lots of rough edges and stutter. The game is slated to come out in 2020, so they’ve got well over a year to polish up the visuals and optimize the performance.
|Still from the website showing the traditional, turn-based, battle system.|
What really worries me is how empty the world is. There is not a lot going on in the Feudal Sinnoh and I’m not just talking about the lack of towns and NPC’s. That ties into the story of the games which see you, as the player, be part of the very first settlers of Sinnoh go explore the region and try to complete the Pokédex. Like in Breath of the Wild, the lack of these things makes sense as they’re tied to the story. No, what I mean is the lack of interesting landmarks and the large open world giving the impression that Feudal Sinnoh is empty and thus boring. It worries me because that makes me feel that these games lack things for the player to do. Your goal is, as stated, to explore Feudal Sinnoh and complete the Pokédex. If we assume that the game makes use of the extended Pokémon Platinum Pokédex (Gallade has a prominent spot in the trailer after all) that would mean there are 207 Pokémon for you to catch, including Legendary and Mythical Pokémon.
Attentive readers will note that I said that there were 210 Pokémon in the Platinum Pokédex just last Saturday in my Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl. That’s true, but the Porygon family can’t be in this game due to lore reasons. Porygon, Porygon2 and Porygon-Z are man-made Pokémon. These Pokémon won’t exist in the Pokémon world for another 700 years or so. GameFreak could put them into the game, but this would break the entire backstory of these Pokémon.
My question: is 207, assuming no additions and including Legendary and Mythical Pokémon, enough to keep people engaged? Is exploring Feudal Sinnoh satisfying enough? I hope that these games have a captivating story, Arceus will play a role in it we know that much or something like a robust side-quest system to give players multiple things to do. I don’t think that this will be enough to keep players engaged and justify the 60,- price tag. That with this approach, most players will have seen everything rather quickly and drop the game after only a few hours. Let’s hope GameFreak got something up their sleeve to prevent this.
We’re almost at the end here. There are just a few more things I’d like to, quickly, discuss. First is it’s Feudal Sinnoh setting. What is so intriguing about this is the lore. We’ve never had a Pokémon game that was set in the past, so it’s going to be really interesting to see how they tackle it. Sinnoh is a region with a lot of lore and myths, which serves this game well. It gives it a sense of awe and gives it a lot of story potential. I mean, just imagine some of these stories play out in front of your own eyes. At the very least, I like the style that they’re using. The ancient PokéBall design looks stunning and I can’t wait to see how other aspects of Pokémon translate to the Feudal setting. Pretty sure that the Pokédex I’ve mentioned so many times know is a physical encyclopaedia, hand-drawn Pokémon and handwritten entries and all. It’s all very exciting if you ask me.
Lastly, there are the starters. Instead of the normal Sinnoh trio of Turtwig, Chimchar and Piplup, you get starters from different regions. Makes sense. You are colonizing Sinnoh after all. They still have to be discovered. What I’m more vexed by is the choice of starters. The Alolan starter Rowlett as your Grass-Type, the Johto starter Cyndaquil as your Fire-Type and the Unova starter Oshawott as your Water-Type. I have to admit, this weird pool of different generations of starters is bothering me a bit. I think I’ve gotten so used to see these Pokémon as part of their original trio’s that it's jarring seeing them be part of a different starter trio. Something I’ll get over, I’m sure. Also: does anybody know why these three were chosen specifically? I doubt that GameFreak picked the starters just randomly. I feel there’s a reason behind but I can’t see it and it’s bothering me. If you’ve got any ideas, please let me know.
|The Pokémon Legends: Arceus Starters.|
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is, without a doubt, the most intriguing game that has come out of the Pokémon franchise in quite a while. It’s very different from what has come before in both gameplay, story and style. It’s the open-world experience that many Pokémon fans have wanted, but not in the setup many had expected. It has a completely different story set in a time-period the franchise has never tackled. It has a different way of going about catching Pokémon and perhaps Pokémon battles as well.
I am a bit worried by some of the things we’ve seen though. The graphics aren’t great. The world seems rather empty to me. I fear that there won’t be enough to do to keep players busy. We don’t know if the battle style has been changed or not. But remember: this game is still in development. We’ve only seen it in its early stage and know very little about it. Lots could be improved, changed, removed or added. I’m very interested to see where this game goes and will definitely be buying it once it releases sometime in 2022.