Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn’t “Open-World,” But Does it Matter?

Feels like we're getting caught up in semantics.

What does it mean for a game to be “open-world,” anyway? Does it mean to be one, continuous environment that the player can seamlessly travel through? Or is it still open-world if you’re traveling through several large environments but there’s a loading screen between them. Well, the semantics are in question now, as Game Freak has clarified just how the upcoming Pokemon Legends: Arceus is going to be structured when it comes to Switch next year.

When Legends: Arceus was revealed earlier this year, it did appear to some a true open-world game set in the Pokemon universe, and after games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the prospect was exciting to a lot of fans. Even as a person who doesn’t usually jive with open-world games, the thought of traveling around an entire Pokemon region was pretty exciting. In a statement issued to Kotaku, a Game Freak representative said that the upcoming prequel will be made up of several distinct, sectioned-off areas that the player will depart to from a home base of Jubilife Village. This is drawing comparisons to games like Monster Hunter.

In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Jubilife Village will serve as the base for surveying missions. After receiving an assignment or a request and preparing for their next excursion, players will set out from the village to study one of the various open areas of the Hisui region. After they finish the survey work, players will need to return once more to prepare for their next task. We look forward to sharing more information about exploring the Hisui region soon.

I’m of a few minds here, because in terms of my excitement for the game this does less than nothing. I’m looking forward to a fresh take on the Pokemon universe, and if there’s a loading screen and a base that I have to depart from, that’s meaningless, to me. But it also gets me thinking about just what the distinction means to, well, anything? Is the open-world structure people so often crave so rigid in its understanding of what makes open-world games “good” that its not being one continuous world is somehow a dealbreaker? How often do we spend time in games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla or Skyrim where we walk everywhere rather than using fast travel, anyway?

We often talk about games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition as being “open-world,” but they follow a similar format to what Pokemon Legends: Arceus does, with several large, open areas not connected but traveled to from a central area. These bigger spaces have a lot of the same things people look for in open-world games, from hidden quests, secrets, and areas to discover. Is the distinction between their sequestered structure and something like Grand Theft Auto V’s continuous world that significant?

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I’d love to hear thoughts from people on how these two approaches change things for you, if they do. Because it’s really just kind of bringing home to me that a lot of the ways we define genre staples feel arbitrary, and often feel like they get wrapped up in some dismissive short-hand that doesn’t get to the heart of what some of these games do well within the confines of their own design.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus is coming to Switch on January 28. But it won’t be the next Pokemon RPG fans will get their hands on, as Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are also coming to the Switch next month on November 19.

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Kenneth Shepard

Kenneth is a Staff Writer at Fanbyte. He still periodically cries about the Mass Effect trilogy years after it concluded.