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The more I think about Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the more I'm overcome with the kind of giddy excitement I don't think I've felt for the Pokémon franchise since the first time I left Johto and touched down in Kanto.
We've seen precious little of this new adventure and still don't really know all that much about what to expect, but I'm picking up what's being put down so far. An open-world game set in the Pokémon universe is something I think we've all wanted for a long time, and could be the shot in the arm the series has been missing for years now.
"Pokémon Legends: Arceus represents a new approach for the Pokémon video game series," explained Takato Utsunomiya, chief operating officer of The Pokémon Company last week. "Development is in full swing at Game Freak, with the aim to deliver a gaming experience that delivers new ground for the Pokémon series."
It certainly doesn't look to be the inevitable ninth-generation RPG, although Arceus could quite easily be considered a core entry, given the involvement of Game Freak. If it is ultimately regarded as a spinoff, that's okay! It's arguably the most ambitious spinoff title the series has ever attempted, and my body is ready. The likes of Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Colosseum are ace, but an open-world game packing serious The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild vibes? Yeah, that kind of puts Arceus on another level.
Either way, I can imagine there are plenty of fans out there who desperately - understandably - want Arceus to be the future of the mainline Pokémon series. On the face of it, this is what so many of us have been asking for, after all. A proper open world to explore that already looks infinitely more fascinating than the bland and lifeless Wild Areas of Pokémon Sword & Shield, not to mention a story that promises to dig down deep into the series' lore and ask the big questions: Where did we come from? Is it right to capture Pokémon? Are Mr Mime and Ash's mum really doing the nasty?
Okay, maybe it won't address that last one, but Arceus is certainly looking like a Pokémon game for those of us who grew up with Pokémon, and that's brilliant - spinoff or not, you can bet your bottom Pokédollar that Game Freak will be taking the lessons it learns from Arceus and bringing them into the next pair of RPGs.
Of course if Arceus is more of a spinoff/side entry than Gen 9, that also allows Game Freak to take far more risks than it ever would with the mainline games. You only need to look at Sword & Shield for proof that it still doesn't want to move too far from the established formula with the standard RPG releases, and that's fine! It could well be that if Arceus proves to be the critical and commercial success we're all hoping for, then I'd imagine Game Freak will be much more willing to experiment with what a main entry in the Pokémon series can be.
A greater focus on exploration and a little more freedom to approach Gyms and towns in any order is something I've wanted to see from my Pokémon games for a while, for example. I also adore the idea of clambering to the top of a snowy mountain, or navigating through a deep dark to find a majestic legendary Pokémon waiting for me.
I'm sure for most of us, the best and most memorable parts of open-world games like Skyrim and Breath Of The Wild involve those quiet moments of exploration and discovery, that feeling that you're doing things your way, without being guided down a set path. Imagine fusing that feeling with the inherent joy that comes with a Pokémon game Doing away with the rigidity of past games to create an experience made up of organic moments - moments that you stumble across as an individual and not because they're baked into the story - could help to make Arceus something truly unlike any Pokémon game that came before it.
The freedom Arceus seems to offer, going from the brief trailer, could well be a harbinger of things to come - if it's well received. I suppose that's really the bottom line here: Game Freak, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company are taking a massive risk here. Yes, Arceus has all the makings of the dream leap forward we've been craving from the franchise for years, but it's hard not to feel like there's a lot that could go wrong.
Call me an anxious old sack of nerves (everybody else does), but can a studio go from a game like Pokémon Sword & Shield to a story-driven open-world adventure RPG so easily? I'm especially wary of that 2022 release window, if I'm being honest, given that the trailer did look a little rough around the edges. I love and fully believe in Game Freak, and if the studio is allowed to delay, polish and get things just right in a way that it so clearly wasn't able to with Sword & Shield, Arceus has a strong chance of being something truly special. But if the team is forced to rush it out to meet an arbitrary deadline? There's every chance it could be a complete disaster.
I desperately hope for the latter, because Arceus is the first Pokémon game in years that promises to try things we never saw coming and take risks we never expected. I'm well aware that it's all too easy to compare Arceus to Breath Of The Wild just because the two currently look and sound vaguely similar... but why shouldn't we compare this Game Freak's ambitious new effort to 2017's Zelda adventure?
Arceus has every chance of being the biggest and best thing to happen to the 25-year-old franchise since Pokémon Red & Blue, in the same way that BOTW completely changed the rules of what a Zelda game can be. I say take your time, Game Freak, and bring it on when it's ready. I'll be waiting.
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