Pokemon Legends: Arceus was the “big” announcement at today’s Pokemon Presents showcase. Yeah, there were the long-awaited Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remakes. But those were expected (and maybe, a little disappointing considering they’re near identical in art style to the 2006 originals). Legends, meanwhile, feels like an earnest next step in a series that has largely been meandering for a bit. Sure, Sword & Shield’s open world elements were novel, but they felt like a separate thing that wasn’t as integrated as Legends appears to be.
But for me, that’s not what makes Legends exciting. This game takes place in the Sinnoh region long, long before Diamond & Pearl. Hell, even longer than most of the Pokemon games we know. This was when Sinnoh “was only a vast wilderness.” From a gameplay perspective, this facilitates the game’s open world and all the new mechanics that entails. But it also means this is an essential moment in Pokemon worldbuilding that has the potential to be really interesting in a way the series has had trouble reconciling with its Gotta Catch ‘Em All mantra.
More than the battles, the trading, the gym leaders, or the evil organizations, what I’ve always loved most about Pokemon was the world. Traveling with friends to unknown regions and discovering the secrets of this setting has been the core pillar that kept me invested in this universe. But it meant there was a constant friction between how it treated those same mysteries when they had to be integrated into systems that facilitated trading, a competitive meta, and having access to different Pokemon for each game.
Pokemon Sword & Shield’s “The Crown Tundra” DLC was a breaking point in this, for me. It funneled nearly every Legendary monster into one place. Characters with ties to the creation of the universe were all conveniently gathering in a cave system for trainers to find and capture. Their roles in this elaborate world were secondary to being ready and waiting to be added to your party.
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When I look at Pokemon Legends: Arceus, I see an opportunity to sell the gravity of its titular legend, which has been diluted over the years, alongside others. According to the series’ lore, Arceus is said to be the creator of the Sinnoh region, if not the entire Pokemon universe. This Pokemon gave shape to the open world we’ll be traveling across in Legends, and will likely play a major role in the story. Arceus has largely been just another Pokemon with stats and competitive advantages (or an admittedly solid punchline in the Detective Pikachu movie) for a long time. But we’re going back to a point in history where it’s not something that’s been lost to time and Pokemon becoming the subject of competitive sport culture.
That holds my attention more than building up a party of six Pokemon again. That there’s more to discover about a character who has been mostly an enigmatic force draws me in unlike anything another eight badges could ever dream of doing. It sends my mind racing as I theorize ways other Pokemon like the creation trio of Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina might play into the whole thing. In a way, we could be setting up to make some of the most significant discoveries about a universe we’ve made in a long time. Learning more about this universe in that way feels more remarkable than just documenting another 100 or so Pokemon, beating some evil organization, and beating the Elite Four.
When Game Freak wants to build a world, Pokemon is ripe for stories that go beyond becoming a region’s champion. As time has passed, those stories have been drowned out in stats and metas. But Legends is before any Pokemon League was established. So the idea that it could be this world at its purest form and greatest potential is more alluring to me than returning Sinnoh as I once knew it. We know almost nothing about Pokemon Legends: Arceus, but the prospect is already more exciting to me than mainline Pokemon games have been in several years. Not because it will have a larger world to explore, but because it might be able to make that world feel grander than we could ever know again.