‘Pokémon Legends: Arceus’, breath of the mild

On Jan. 28, 2021, fans of the adored gaming franchise, “Pokémon”, were ecstatic when Nintendo announced a new spinoff game, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus”. Released on Jan. 28, 2022, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” broke the conventional gameplay of previous entries by creating a unique and vivid open world.

Spencer Woodbury (SW) is a newcomer to the “Pokémon” franchise whereas Luke Taylor (LT) is a seasoned “Pokémon” player.

Q: How good was “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” for a newcomer to the series?

SW: “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” was an impressive introduction to the series. Although the game is not perfect, it is still an enjoyable experience. The beginning of the story is pretty slow, but after you trudge through the tutorial, the intensity picks up. The unique crafting portion of the game really makes the game shine.


Q: How does the open world in “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” compare to other open world games? 

SW: The open world of “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is very solid. The scenery of the Sinnoh region is absolutely gorgeous. My issue with many other open worlds is that the fantasy elements of the world do not coherently mix with the realistic world. The realism of the Sinnoh region mixes beautifully with the whimsy of the “Pokémon” world. 


Q: What are some conventions that you were glad to see were broken by “Pokémon Legends: Arceus”?

LT: The basic formula of “Pokémon” consists of eight Pokémon gym leaders to defeat, an evil Pokemon-wielding team to disband, a Pokémon league of four strong trainers and a reigning champion to defeat, and one or more legendary Pokémon to catch to round out your journey. The progression of “Pokémon” has been largely linear since its inception, leaving the adventure that you go on in the game to become increasingly monotonous and predictable with each new installment. However, “Pokémon: Legends Arceus” manages to successfully break quite a few of these conventions. There are no gyms to be found, no Pokémon league, and game progression is much more mission based than it is linear. Additionally, the top-down, restricted movement and absence of camera movement has been changed in favor of an open world with complete freedom of camera movement. These decisions help to make it so that no two playthroughs of the game are the same and the sense of freedom given by the breaking of these conventions help to make the game seem more like an actual adventure. The way “Pokémon: Legends Arceus” separates itself from a 25 year old formula serves as a much needed breath of fresh air for long-time fans of the series.


Q: As a veteran “Pokémon” player, how does “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” measure up to previous games?

LT: In comparison to previous games in the “Pokémon” series, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” holds its own. The most recent installments in the mainline series of “Pokémon” games, “Pokémon Sword and Shield”, were met with poor reception due to their continuation of formulas that were decades old. Many found the story and its characters to be relatively bland, the new mechanics to be underwhelming, and the graphics to be subpar at best. Comparatively, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” was praised for its success on all of those fronts. The characters are intriguing and their designs are creative, the story is multi-faceted and less formulaic than many previous ones, the graphics, although bland at times, are a huge step up from previous games and new mechanics such as the complete open world, mission style game progression and crafting system helped to give the series new life that it needed for a while. For many long-time fans, including myself, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is far from measuring up to the very original and nostalgic older installments of the series that were released on the Nintendo DS family of systems, such as “Pokémon Black and Pokemon White”, “Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon”, or games that were released on the Gameboy Advance, such as “Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire”, and “Pokémon Emerald”. That being said, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is easily the most well-rounded “Pokémon” game to be released on the Nintendo Switch thus far, and is more likely to stand the test of time than most of the recent “Pokémon” games.


Q: Should more “Pokémon Legends” games be made? If so, what should be kept the same and what should be changed?

SW: Yes, there should be more “Pokémon Legends” games in the future. For future generations to truly be engaged in the Pokémon universe, this new formula is essential. The gaming industry as a whole changed several times in order to capture and recapture audiences. For example, “Final Fantasy” and “The Legend of Zelda” series changed their old formula in order to bring in new gamers to the fandom. 

LT: There is no question that there should be more “Pokémon Legends” games in the future. “Pokémon” is a massively popular franchise, and regardless of if the formula was broken, it would sell. That being said, in order to keep the attention of the media, as well as give back to the fanbase, more of the formula breaks should be implemented. The well-made, less traditional story should become a mainstay of the series, so as to keep the gameplay and narrative interesting enough to captivate players. An open world should be implemented into the next game, but it should definitely be further expanded. The world seems a little choppy and unrealistic, with a rather small number of NPCs as well as transitions into new environments that don’t look very clean. Ultimately, the open world should remain as the selling point of the series, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.


Q: Do you think the steps towards breaking the formula of “Pokémon” have been as monumental as other formula breakers in recent games?

SW: It is not as monumental as other formula breakers. When compared to other games, such as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, it is pretty disappointing as a formula breaker. “Breath of the Wild” changed all aspects of the Zelda series whereas “Legends Arceus” really only significantly changed the battle system.

LT: Although the break of the formula was unprecedented for long-time “Pokémon” fans, the recent formula breaks of other games have overshadowed it in a big way. In recent years, games such as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, “Super Mario Odyssey” and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” have completely shattered their respective formulas. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” provided players with a near perfect open world on its first attempt at that environment, “Super Mario Odyssey” broke platforming conventions and diversified its gameplay exponentially, and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” presented a level of customization and personality that had never been seen before in the series. “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” has undoubtedly been the largest step taken thus far towards breaking the formula of the series, but it wasn’t fully realized or perfected, making it underwhelming to people that have been made accustomed to unbelievably high standards for formula-breaking games as of late.


Q: Where do you think the series can/should go after taking steps to break the formula of the “Pokémon” franchise?

SW: The upcoming “Pokémon” games should further break the “Pokémon” formula. Although it did change aspects of the series it did not do enough. 

LT: “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” opens up many doors for where the “Pokémon” series could go in the future. Although “Pokémon Legends” is a spinoff series, the positive reception of it will most likely influence the franchise to implement aspects of the spinoff into the mainline games. If these changes were to be added to the mainline games, it would help to reinvent the “Pokémon” franchise and could set up further convention breakers in the future. “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” was an explosive first step towards breaking the formula, but there is still quite a lot of work to be done. As for me, I’m very excited to see how the franchise will build off of this game, and where it will go in the future.