As successful as the Pokemon series continues to be, it’s safe to say that its consistently impressive sales figures haven’t been reflective of the series’ quality in recent years. Over the last decade, it feels like each new generation of mainline Pokemon games has been progressively more bland, more stale, more monotonous, and the general feeling that the series is desperately lacking in ambition and exciting new ideas has been hard to shake off.
Recently, with the reveal of Pokemon Legends: Arceus, a lot of those notions have been thoroughly challenged. An open world action RPG unlike anything else this series has done in the past, Pokemon Legends looks ambitious and exciting in all the ways that a new Pokemon game ideally should (if not more), and if done right, could represent a future for the series worth looking forward to.
As excited as we are about the fact that Pokemon finally seems to be growing up though, we still have some trepidations, and here, we’re going to talk about a few of those, as we list off a few things that we’re hoping Pokemon Legends: Arceus will avoid.
LACK OF DIFFICULTY
Remember when Pokemon games were challenging? It wasn’t that long ago. Pokemon has never been gruelingly tough, but for the longest time, it was, at the very least, a series that would push back against the player every now and then. Starting with Pokemon X and Y though, the series has become increasingly easier, to the point where you can almost finish each new game on autopilot with little to no engagement with the actual underlying mechanics. To be fair, there have been some exceptions here and there – Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, for instance, had some truly challenging battles – but by and large, the series has lost most of its bite in recent years.
With Pokemon Legends: Arceus, it really does feel like Game Freak are targeting the series’ core audience. The game’s open world nature and the way it is looking to reinvent the core formula suggests that the developer wants to address the criticisms that have been levied against the series of late- which is why we’re hoping that a general lack of challenge will also be addressed. With type matchups, EVs and IVs, hundreds upon hundreds of different Pokemon to catch, breeding, and a plethora of other mechanics, Pokemon has ridiculous mechanical depth, and we’re desperately hoping that Legends will actually do justice to those mechanics by making players engage with them.
A BLAND OPEN WORLD
The idea of a Pokemon game set in a vast open world is an incredibly exciting one, and one that fans of the series have been dreaming of for years, and with Pokemon Legends, Game Freak have the unique opportunity to give the masses exactly what they want. This is the developer and the series’ first crack at a proper open world game though, which is why it’s imperative that they take their time to make it as good as they can.
Comparisons to Breath of the Wild are obvious and unavoidable after that reveal trailer, and that, too, was the series’ first real crack at open world game design. Breath of the Wild was able to compensate for how sparsely populated its world was with its emergent, systemic gameplay, and how players could express themselves using those systems, and hopefully, Pokemon Legends will do something similar. Its world is clearly going to be a relatively empty one, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Giving players exciting traversal options, smartly executed mechanics, and interesting activities to engage with in the open world should be Game Freak’s top priorities.
A SMALL NUMBER OF TOWNS
Pokemon Legends’ feudal era Sinnoh setting is an exciting one, but it’s obvious that Game Freak went with it for more than just narrative reasons. By setting the game in an era where Sinnoh was still wild and untamed and not yet properly settled, they are giving themselves the freedom to craft an open world that doesn’t have to be populated by towns and cities and bustling hubs of activities, and can instead be dominated by vast fields and natural landscapes.
Thanks to Breath of the Wild, we know that that sort of an open world can still be an excellent one- but even so, we’re hoping that the game will still have plenty of towns to explore. Pokemon Legends’ reveal trailer makes it sound like the game will only have one central city that will serve as your hub, but given the fact that it takes place during a time when Sinnoh is getting settled, how exciting would it be if we actually got to help set up some of the towns and cities we explore hundreds of years later in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl?
BORING SIDE ACTIVITIES
This ties in directly with some of the points we’ve talked about already. Given Pokemon Legends’ open world nature and the fact that it will no longer be focused on Gyms and the Elite 4 and what have you, it’s obvious that the game’s open world is going to rely heavily on more traditional quests and side quests. And especially where the latter are concerned, we’re hoping for something that’s more than just passable.
Pokemon games haven’t put a lot of emphasis on side quests in the past in the traditional sense – they haven’t really had to, to be honest – but with Pokemon Legends, Game Freak have the opportunity to do just that. Things like optional dungeons and secret bosses and what have you have been featured heavily in the series in the past, and seeing them implemented in a much larger and more ambitious open world setting could potentially make them that much more exciting.
One of Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ most interesting aspects is its central premise- players set out into the harsh wilds of Sinnoh before it had been settled and civilized as they attempt to create the region’s first ever Pokedex. That means there are no Gyms, no Pokemon League- just you trying to catch a bunch of Pokemon as you try to fill up the Pokedex’s pages. That, after all, is what Pokemon has always really been about, and though the game will likely have other stuff going on as well, that very much seems to be the focus.
And we couldn’t be more excited about that. More than anything else, we’re hoping that the structure of the game really is going to be unlike anything else we’ve seen in the past. Game Freak suggested that that would be the case in Pokemon Sun and Moon, but that turned out to be an aesthetic change at best, with the Island Challenges just being Gyms in a different skin. Hopefully, Pokemon Legends’ structural change will be much more fundamental and much more radical. It certainly looks like that’s going to be the case, and given the game’s setting, it’s hard to see how it could fall back into the same pattern, so we’re definitely optimistic.
LACK OF GOOD STORYTELLING
Storytelling hasn’t ever really been Pokemon’s strong suit. The series has put more and more emphasis on story with each new generation of games, and it’s fair to say that with Black and White, it did successfully manage to tell a pretty good story. But story is not what Pokemon is about- it never has been. With Pokemon Legends: Arceus though, that could change. Hell, it should change.
Everything that we’ve talked about up until now, from the game’s setting to its structural reinvention, suggests that the game will not only attempt to spin a more narrative-driven adventure, it will pretty much have to. Game Freak no longer have the Gyms and the Elite 4 to use as the game’s backbone, which means they need a solid story to help lend the game a strong frame and foundation. We’re not expecting Pokemon Legends to tell the most captivating story of all time by any means, but it’ll still need to do more than just a passable job.
NOT FOCUSING ON LORE
Story might not be Pokemon’s strong suit, but that doesn’t mean the series doesn’t have any merits in the storytelling department. Lore is something Pokemon excels in on a consistent basis, with each new generation of games crafting rich tales of the past of the Pokemon world, talking about everything from widespread wars and environmental disasters to creation itself. Which is why a Pokemon game putting a greater emphasis on narrative, and one that’s set in feudal Sinnoh no less, is such an exciting prospect.
And Game Freak needs to ensure that that potential doesn’t go to waste. With Arceus being heavily involved in the story and the creation of Sinnoh’s first ever Pokedex being a central plot point, it’s clear that Legends is going to lean heavily on the series’ lore. What we want is, well, more of that. Seeing those ancient dinky Pokeballs and the Team Galactic badges on the protagonists’ sleeves only serves to make us even more excited. It looks like Pokemon Legends will be leveraging its setting properly, and we couldn’t be more excited about that.
SMALL ROSTER OF POKEMON
After eight generations of mainline games released across more than two decades, there are now roughly 900 known species of Pokemon in existence. Do we expect all of them to be featured in Pokemon Legends? It seems incredibly unlikely, not only because of the lack of a National Dex in Pokemon Sword and Shield, but also because having so many different kinds of creatures in a single open world game where random battles aren’t a thing just seems unrealistic.
But we do hope that there are still a large number of Pokemon to run into and discover. Given the game’s Sinnoh setting, we’re hoping to see most (if not all) of the Gen 4 Pokemon, and it seems likely that there will be plenty of Legendary and Mythical Pokemon in the game as well, if not for story reasons then at least as optional and hidden bosses. EIther way, Game Freak needs to ensure that it’s hitting the mark in terms of both quantity and variety. Having just, say, a hundred or less Pokemon in the entire game would be a massive disappointment.
This one going without saying, right? Of course it does. But it’s worth remembering that this is Pokemon we’re talking about. The series has never been on the cutting edge of technology, and Pokemon Sword and Shield in particular left a lot to be desired in this area. Even Pokemon Legends’ own trailer was rife with these issues, from frame rate problems to rough textures to pop-in, and more. The game is still at least a year away from launch though, so hopefully, Game Freak will sort out the bulk of these issues before then.
A RUSHED GAME
For years now, the mainline Pokemon series has had to abide by a very strict schedule of new releases. People often tend to forget, but the games are only a cog in the machine as far as The Pokemon Company is concerned. Things such as merchandise, trading cards, the anime, and movies are massive revenue generators for The Pokemon Company, which is why releasing a new generation of Pokemon games set in a new region with a new set of monsters every few years is crucial for Game Freak.
That timeline is very inflexible. By itself it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but Game Freak also works on remakes and third versions (or expansions, in Sword and Shield’s case). Add to that the fact that Game Freak isn’t a particularly large studio in terms of workforce (though they have recently been expanding), and that strict timeline becomes even more problematic.
Pokemon Legends, however, isn’t the ninth generation of Pokemon. It’s not a new region, it doesn’t have new Pokemon, while the upcoming Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have also been outsourced to ILCA. On paper, Game Freak have created the perfect set of circumstances for themselves for Pokemon Legends’ development. Early 2022, however, still seems a bit too early for the game. If they need to delay the game, even by a whole year, so they can ensure a certain level of quality, they should definitely do that- and this time, they can definitely do that, since they don’t have to stick to a schedule. Pokemon’s radical reinvention has been a long time coming, and it’s something people have been clamouring for for years. It deserves to be done right.