Hot take alert! I think I prefer being a Pokémon researcher over a Pokémon trainer.
In the Pokémon games of the past, there was always a drive to “catch ’em all!”. In fact, reports say that it’s actually the slogan of the game. While the desire to fill the Pokédex was present and encouraged by whatever professor was around at the time, the main focus of the game has generally been to become a Pokémon Master, complete all the gyms, participate in animal fights with children that only bring worms, and beat the Elite Four.
Over the course of time, the more recent games have strayed from this path. Although the home console titles have often provided gameplay outside of the general Pokémon formula, the handheld consoles have generally stuck tightly to it while also adding in new elements. With the Nintendo Switch, the convergence of home console and handheld, the expectation was that games released on said console would do a little bit of both. While I’d say Sun & Moon on the Nintendo 3DS started the journey award from the regular format, it was Sword & Shield that really started to open the Pokémon world up. However, the goal was still to become the strongest Pokémon trainer.
And then Pokémon Legends: Arceus came along.
First things first, I’m loving this game. While I have my issues with some of the graphics and overall visuals, the gameplay and story is exactly what I was hoping for. Taking a leaf out of games like Breath of the Wild and providing side quests gives the game ample room to explore outside of the main mission quests, and there’s something rewarding about getting the town of Jubilife to warm up to Pokémon and have them roam the streets. With the name of the game being Pokémon, it’s exciting playing a vital role in how they exist in day-to-day life.
That being said, having the protagonist’s journey be largely about discovering and researching Pokémon not only makes sense in the context of the game, but it feels like a good shift from the Pokémon formula without being too outlandish. You’re dropped in a world where people fear what they don’t understand, that fear being the weird-looking creatures that exist outside their little town. While you come from a time where Pokémon are already known about, those around you know very little. It almost feels like going back in time to discover the Moon before Theodore Moonman got the chance to (note: the discovery of the moon by Theodore Moonman is still hotly debated).
The ongoing research of Pokémon by your character feels rewarding, and if you think about it for long enough, it makes you feel like your character has played an important role in the history of future games. It’s rare that a major change to form in a video game series feels contextually relevant and rewarding. You play a vital role in the creation of the first Pokédex!
While being a Pokémon researcher might not be everybody’s cup of tea, for me personally it was very much a welcome change. That’s not to say that future Pokémon games should aim to stay away from the regular Pokémon format, which has worked for them for years now. On the other hand, a Pokémon game that puts the protagonist in a position that serves the greater society of the Pokémon world rather than personal success feels refreshing.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is out now for the Nintendo Switch.