A new Pokémon game came out last week, and it’s got some serious Breath of the Wild vibes. I’ve been playing it with my girlfriend since the day after it launched (download servers were slammed the day of), and much like every other Pokémon game we’ve ever played, we’re having a great time with it. Pokémon’s universal appeal just won’t die, even in a game that takes the series to such new and different places.
Of particular note in this installment is a greater focus on research and completing the Pokédex, and not so much on the fighting. Pokémon battles are still there, and they’re as enjoyable as ever, but you can avoid them to a much greater degree than ever before, and with much less detriment to your team and your progress through the game.
This game’s story sends you way back in time, before humans and Pokémon are used to coexisting, and so the name of the game — figuratively — is research. Humanity needs to figure out just what these things are before society can progress to the shining utopia based around dogfighting we all know and love. What this means in practice is that you need to get out there and catch some Pokémon — lots of them — and fill out the world’s first ever Pokédex (which is kept on paper in this game because the past, it’s very cute).
In previous games, you might wander through the tallgrass, catch one or two new friends, and fight the rest for experience. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, you need as much data as you can get your hands on to learn as much about as many Pokémon as possible. Arceus’ Pokédex entries don’t become complete — i.e. fill in all known info about a Pokémon — after catching just one, as has been the series’ standard. Instead, you’re given quotas to fill, the most important and also simplest of which is of course catching. Which means you’re basically catching Pokémon non-stop. And it’s honestly so chill?
In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, wild Pokémon can be seen all around you, as opposed to surprising you as random encounters in the grass. Think Pokémon Sword/Shield’s Wild Areas. But everywhere. And this time around, since this game is finally treating Pokémon like wild animals, you don’t need to enter a battle encounter in order to catch them. This flips the formula on its head in a really interesting way, with the player assuming the role of hunter, and the Pokémon becoming the hunted. You spend a lot of your time crouching in the grass, waiting for Geodude or Teddiursa to turn their backs so you can chuck a ball and catch them unawares. Which is a vibe!
Instead of spending so much time stressed or annoyed at the idea of an encounter, I’m just quietly hanging out in some fields, walking around until I see a Pokémon, observing it for a bit, throwing a ball, catch, repeat. Sometimes the Pokémon will see you, or a catch will fail, and it’ll either run away — which, fine — or it’ll get pissed and start attacking you — which, honestly, also fine. All you have to do is throw out one of your partner Pokémon, which is almost certainly going to be more than capable of handling things, since all of your Pokémon gain experience whenever you catch a Pokémon, and either give it a tap before trying to catch it again, or take it down.
It’s really interesting to see the series put Pokédex completion — something I never did in previous entries — front and center, and completely change its tried-and-true formula in the process. Putting less emphasis on battling, something a lot of people (myself included) would have said was integral to an enjoyable Pokémon experience, and shifting its weight to its other foot, so to speak, has opened up a completely new mode of play, and a completely new way of looking at a very familiar world and imagining yourself inside it.
It’s also relaxing as hell. And just as hard to stop playing as ever. My hat’s off to Game Freak on this one. They really stuck the landing.