Compared to my fellow gamers Stacey Henley and Ben Sledge, I’m not nearly as enamoured with the world of Pokemon. Of course I grew up with the games and watched loads of the anime and several films, but it seldom gripped me in the way it managed to enrapture others. I bought each new game, enjoyed my time with them and moved onto something more. I don’t care for catching ‘em all and delving into the competitive realm, I just want a fun, comfy RPG to lose myself in. That was enough, but perhaps not anymore.
I suffered from FOMO upon the release of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl so I picked up a copy. That was a foolish mistake. I mean it’s fine, but it’s a basic remake with simplistic graphics and fails to adapt the best features of its progenitors, let alone work in the improvements of Pokemon Platinum. To many it felt lacklustre, failing to make a meaningful connection to the upcoming Legends Arceus despite them both taking place in the same region and that so many comparisons were begging to be made. Whatever, it has already sold millions of copies so we’re the jokers for letting our nostalgia drive the conversation.
Legends Arceus could change the conversation, and the climate surrounding each new trailer and announcement seems to suggest that Game Freak is finally listening to us. After more than two decades of recycling the same formula with subtle improvements across each new generation we’re finally set to see a proper evolution, a massive expansion of everything that came before it that doesn’t rely on tired turn-based tropes to pull eager players in. At least, that’s the pitch we’ve been given, but my cynical mind is yet to accept whether or not this game will live up to the hype, or languish in its own ambition.
It isn't an open world like many of us expected, instead opting for Monster Hunter-esque zones with their own distinct environmental elements and creatures to battle and catch. It sounds like an evolution of Sword & Shield’s Wild Area, improving upon them with more nuanced battle mechanics, a new, more involved way to catch Pokemon and a scale that seeks to ape similar open world epics. I prefer this curated approach instead of dumping us into a giant world devoid of things to do. It risks feeling empty, and ‘Pokemon meets Breath of the Wild’ is a reductive descriptor that fails to acknowledge everything that Pokemon does so well that Zelda could only dream of doing.
They are fundamentally different games, and I’d rather Legends Arceus pursue its own vision instead of seeking to replicate the success of others. It doesn’t matter if I’m ready to be underwhelmed, I’d much rather a Pokemon game shoot for the moon and fall short instead of playing it safe, because at least that progress means something, carving out a path to walk on in the future. I have high hopes, but let’s be honest, Game Freak isn’t going to risk leaving behind its demographic of younger gamers to create a hardcore RPG that places challenge and discovery at the forefront. Pokemon won’t improve by becoming more difficult, it will improve by trying new things and understanding its own shortcomings – and Legends Arceus feels like it’s coming so, so close to having that realisation.
Every Pokemon game is somebody’s first, whether it’s an adult picking one up out of curiosity or a child receiving it for Christmas. The series is that all-encompassing that Game Freak can’t leave its established wheelhouse too often, or it risks alienating an audience of millions with changes to the formula that forget everything that came before. As Stacey said before, if you’re after something different just go and play the spin-offs, there’s dozens of them and they will continue to grow as a landscape for Pokemon to broaden its horizons away from a main series I imagine will stick to its guns. If you want a challenging JRPG there are plenty of options out there, so maybe pick up Persona 5 or Shin Megami Tensei 5 instead of ragging on a game that is literally made for children.
Regardless of how Legends Arceus shapes out – and I hope I love it – the hype won’t be delivered upon. The visuals look rough, the new mechanics don’t seem substantial enough to be transformative, and I fear the story mode will once again delve into the usual process of jumping between towns and zones before inevitably facing off against a big, bad champion. Now I’m far from one of those giga-virgins who spend their time moaning about the Pokedex on Twitter, I’m just a normal gamer girl who maintains a distant love for Pokemon that couldn’t be further from obsession. I thoroughly enjoyed Sword and Shield, but it was far from the jump into 3D I was hoping for, and Legends Arceus feels like another hesitant step towards a whole that Pokemon is still a long way from reaching.
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