As a part of the Pokémon Presents event on Friday, detailing how The Pokémon Company plans to celebrate the legendary series' 25th anniversary, three new games were announced. The first two were a pair of remakes for the fourth generation in the franchise entitled Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, something many fans were already banking on happening. But then something weird happened.
It was announced that the developers of the app Pokémon Home would be spearheading the creation of these remakes rather than the primary developer of the franchise, Game Freak. Game Freak is working on something much more interesting. Something that will both celebrate the series' 25 years of history and help shape its future — Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
Pokémon's Breath of the Wild
This magical merging of Nintendo's top franchises has been on players' minds ever since they got their hands on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild when it debuted on the Nintendo Switch. An open-world Pokémon that focused on exploration and "catching 'em all" just made too much damn sense.
Despite this, Game Freak hasn't seemed particularly eager to change up the formula. After all, Pokémon is still the most popular franchise on the planet. Why should a company fix something that isn't broken, at least from a financial standpoint? "Well that maybe is something that the fans want but, from my perspective, the Zelda type of game is more suited to having a sword and going out and fighting enemies," Pokémon's game director Junichi Masuda once said in an interview with Game Informer. "Not sure it would be best suited for going out and catching Pokémon."
While details are scarce on exactly what Legends: Arceus is and what the full scope of it will be, the initial showcase of it was undeniably set up to evoke the feelings of Breath of the Wild, from the specific shots chosen to the nearly identical music.
A long time ago in a region far, far away
Pokémon Legends: Arceus will be set in the same region as the fourth-gen remakes Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl — Sinnoh. However, it will be set in the distant past, before Pokémon training was even a thing and when Pokéballs were made of wood.
There is a Pokémon professor, and they have brought three starters from different regions and different generations of the games — the fire type Cyndaquil from Gold and Silver, the water type Oshawott from Black and White, and the grass type Rowlet from Sun and Moon.
The thrust of the game will be to explore the region, surveying and catching the Pokémon as you form Sinnoh's first Pokédex. Instead of initiating a catch by running into a pocket monster and creating an encounter, the trainer will simply be able to throw a Pokéball at them from the overworld. To someone that has a cursory knowledge of the franchise, that may seem like a mundane change, but to longtime fans, this is a breath of (the wild) fresh air.
As the game's title suggests, the legendary Arceus, understood as the god of all Pokémon, will somehow play into the story. With Legends set in the past and the knowledge that it revolves around Arceus, we'll likely learn more about the creation of Pokémon, something previous games have only dipped their toes into before.
The more things change...
Pokémon Legends: Arceus will still retain the turn-based combat of the series' main entries, the most familiar gameplay element that the game will borrow. In essence then, Legends: Arceus seems to be a massive expansion of an idea implemented in the latest Pokémon titles Sword and Shield, which featured open-world pockets between its extremely linear map known as "wild areas."
The thing about how revolutionary the grafting of Breath of the Wild to Pokémon is is that it's always clearly been the logical next step for the franchise. Fans have known this since early 2017, and I'm sure Game Freak knew it too, but the team was likely hesitant to jump in feet first and radically change the franchise overnight, and instead sprinkled elements of expanding the games in their subsequent releases.
This isn't even a full committal to the formula — Legends: Arceus is still a spin-off. This is Game Freak testing the waters, likely gauging fan reaction when the game releases to help guide development on the next and ninth generation of main entries. This has Bowser's Fury written all over it, which served as an add-on to the recent rerelease of Super Mario 3D World on Switch and has also been likened to "Breath of the Wild-izing" Mario. If sales of that bundle mirror the positive critical and fan reaction to it, then it's incredibly likely that Nintendo will pivot to a Bowser's Fury style for the next main 3D Mario title.
Considering how positive the reaction has been to the unveiling of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and the already committed purchasers that will pick up a new game in the franchise regardless, this spin-off is undoubtedly set up for success, and will likely push Game Freak over the edge to commit to the inevitable and redefine the franchise forevermore.