Quite what that dream looks like has evolved over the decades as gaming itself has changed. For the most part, though, this has generally meant a game that doesn’t follow the typical conventions of the handheld games and ditches the standard ‘beat the gym leaders’ routine in favour of something a bit more open-ended.
In recent years the main series has certainly removed some of its more restrictive shackles, with later entries removing the likes of the traditional four-way movement and rigid top-down camera that defined Pokémon, in order to produce something that feels like the player has a bit more freedom.
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Despite this, though, the game’s formulaic structure has continued to remain in place, and even when The Pokémon Company has tried to mix things up a bit with experiments like Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee’s more Pokémon Go-like catching system, the underlying aim – visit a new town, beat its gym leader, visit the next one, repeat until you reach the Elite Four – hasn’t budged.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus may well be the game that finally gives the fanbase the complete refresh that it’s been asking for, and while a lot about it still remains unknown with just a month to go before release, the signs at least point to something that, at the very least, won’t feel like your typical by-the-numbers Pokémon adventure.
Pokemon Legends Arceus trailer
For starters, it’s got one of the most unique settings in the history of the series. Legends takes place hundreds of years ago in the Hisui region, before it would eventually become the Sinnoh region (from Pokémon Diamond & Pearl).
Instead of the usual routine of aiming to become a Pokémon master by defeating the gym leaders and the Elite Four, Legends instead places all of its focus on discovery, with the main plot revolving around the first ever Pokédex.
As part of the Galaxy Expedition Team, it’s your job to study the wild Pokémon that inhabit Hisui, and try to complete the Pokédex by spotting and catching every species. Naturally, the ‘god’ Pokémon Arceus will also play some sort of major role in the game, but just what that is currently remains to be seen.
It’s impossible to look at the trailers that have been shown this year and not immediately make comparisons with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Just like Link’s latest adventure, the footage we’ve seen of Pokémon Legends so far shows vast landscapes, diverse regions and smatterings of pleasantly humble villages.
And just like in Nintendo’s epic, the large map has an enormous landmark that acts as the central focus – Hyrule Castle in Breath of the Wild, and Mount Coronet here.
“It’s impossible to look at the trailers that have been shown this year and not immediately make comparisons with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”
It even has a crafting system in there, which players can use to create items. Need more Pokéballs? Collect a bunch of Apricorns and Tumblestones and mix them together to make some. Granted, it’s not like this was a mechanic invented by Breath of the Wild – far from it – but it’s just another similarity to ensure a similar vibe.
That’s not to say it’ll be a complete imitation, however. Other aspects of the game suggest that a more apt comparison may be with Monster Hunter, with a gameplay loop that appears to involve frequently heading back to your hub at Jubilife Village and accepting ‘research quests’, then heading out to specific areas to find certain Pokémon.
Xenoblade Chronicles also appears to have something of an influence. Although players can attempt to catch wild Pokémon by simply throwing Pokéballs at them without having to engage in combat, sometimes a battle is required and you can call out one of your Pokémon for a traditional turn-based fight. The twist, however, is that these appear to take place there and then, as in Xenoblade, rather than cutting away to a separate battle screen.
One of the more interesting additions will also be the fact that your character can actually take damage this time. Whereas in previous games an attack from a wild Pokémon would instantly trigger a battle where your Pokémon of choice would jump in to fight on your behalf, this time your avatar isn’t immortal like they usually are.
Now some wild Pokémon can actually attack you and you can take damage, meaning they’ll have to be actively avoided at times if you want to get past them without incident. What’s more, you can now take damage from falls, so even the environment’s against you this time. This isn’t just a throwaway feature, either – if you run out of health you’ll black out and lose whatever items you’re carrying.
All this combines for what could be a delightfully fresh take on a decades-old formula, and while we’re sure there will be plenty of things for fans to complain about as always – it almost certainly won’t have anywhere near the roughly 900 species currently featured in the National Dex – we’re hopeful that this will be the revamp so many have been crying out for.
The release of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl just two months before Legends was an interesting one, because (whether deliberately or not) it should make the difference between the regular series and Legends even more stark.
“The release of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl just two months before Legends was an interesting one, because (whether deliberately or not) it should make the difference between the regular series and Legends even more stark.”
Not only were the remakes the perfect example of what a formulaic Pokémon game is, for both better and worse, but the fact those games are set in Sinnoh – the same world that’s being ‘devolved’ for Legends as players get to explore its wilderness before its towns and gyms were built over it – drives the point further home that this may be the same universe, but it isn’t the same routine.
Of course, just because it’s completely new doesn’t mean Legends has an Arceus-given right to be a fantastic game. The jury’s still out on whether this new gameplay style has actually been executed well, or whether some of the curious performance issues seen in Nintendo’s footage have been ironed out (though the latter won’t necessarily be game-breaking, as Breath of the Wild has shown).
What we do know, however, is that we’re definitely looking forward to finding out, and we’ve no doubt that everyone who’s been asking for a ‘proper’ console Pokémon experience will be too.