With the imminent launch of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a new 13-minute deep dive has been released for the title that seems to have answered most questions about the game. We finally have a reasonably comprehensive understanding of how exactly trainers will progress throughout the ancient Hisui region and complete their goal of compiling the original Pokédex, as well as a clearer explanation of the tweaks to combat. This new showing managed to convince me that this might be a title worth investing in — which is quite the feat considering I’d lost any interest in the major Pokémon releases following Sun and Moon — but I feel like there’s potential for something greater that doesn’t appear to be present.
To give the game its due credit, the pitch is undoubtedly compelling. Ever since watching the admittedly rather mediocre Pokémon 4Ever movie as a youngster, which featured a teenage Professor Oak trying to document Pokémon research prior to the invention of the Pokédex and the type of Poké Balls we’re all familiar with, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a title with the gameplay trappings of the mainline releases set far within the past. However, this setting also appears to have limited the focus of the game; the player is no longer catching wild creatures and facing progressively tougher trainers in order to eventually become the new League Champion. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, it appears that the trainer battles have been left out entirely.
What makes this potentially problematic is that, as far as I’m concerned, the trainer battles are by far the most enjoyable aspect of the Pokémon games. While it’s rewarding to finally encounter that rare wild ‘mon you’ve been looking to recruit to your team, the capturing of the Pokémon was just one aspect of a larger experience. Naturally, playing is different than watching, and perhaps the introduction of an open world alongside the ability to interact with the wild monsters in real time prior to the turn-based battling will be entertaining enough. But I can’t help but have some reservations when the series highlights are often the battles against other competent trainers.
Additionally, it seems that to increase Research Levels the player may have to capture multiple of each species. In the gameplay preview, we see the player handing in two Starly, two Shinx, and two Bidoof in their Survey Report, which indicates that there’s likely at least some incentive to capture a few of each. Hopefully this aspect is purely optional for the obsessive types gunning for 100% completion and not mandated to pad out the playtime of the main quest.
Meanwhile, the addition of Strong and Agile styles in battle looks to be the most intriguing addition to turn-based battling the series has seen since Mega Evolutions. It also further emphasizes the absence of traditional trainer battles. Whether an NPC or in multiplayer, a trainer potentially being able to utilize the two styles as well as you could be a more exhilarating change of pace to combat than the predictable applications of Z-Moves and Dynamax ever were. Maybe this style-switching mechanic could continue in the next generation of Pokémon, but we could be waiting another couple of years for that one.
Additionally, the idea of having only one main village within the Hisui Region that acts as a hub is a decision that I don’t understand as of the time of writing. Maybe it’ll make more sense once actually playing the game, but if Hisui is the precursor to the eventually fully populated Sinnoh, shouldn’t colonization also be a part of the narrative? Admittedly, that term has a bit of a negative connotation for obvious reasons, but there could be ways to implement this with tact. Instead of stripping land away from the indigenous Pokémon, the Hisui inhabitants could build new major settlements throughout the story that allow them to coexist with the Pokémon.
These synchronized lifestyles and mutual understandings are a recurring theme throughout the series, after all, with plenty of humans and Pokémon working together as partners. I can only imagine how enjoyable a Dark Cloud-style town building system could be in a game like this, which seems to be all about exploring and mastering foreign land. It could even factor into exploration, with the player needing to build up a settlement in a new area before being able to examine the topography on the map and take on new objectives.
While I’m not as enthusiastic for Pokemon Legends: Arceus as I could be, I do have hope that the game will deliver on a fun and a refreshing Pokémon experience. You won’t find me impatiently slamming the cartridge into my Switch on launch day, but the latest showing has at least piqued my curiosity following five years of passing on mainline releases without second thought. I just hope it ends up being more than a fleeting novelty.