It’s not every day that the #Pokemon franchise breaks from its own formula. On the contrary, Pokemon games cling to a lot of traditional approaches to combat, plot, and new game mechanics. That’s what makes Pokemon Legends: Arceus so exciting. In a franchise that’s so obsessed with its own conventions, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a breath of fresh air. It’s a vastly open world that lets players explore at their own pace, it uses a historical period largely unfamiliar to the Pokemon world, and its central plot sounds like it’s very different from Pokemon tradition. Pokemon Legends: Arceus plays totally different from its predecessors, which a lot of fans find exciting.
While it’s great that Pokemon Legends: Arceus is so unique, what may be more important is whether or not Game Freak makes this approach to Pokemon games the standard. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a more liberated Pokemon game than most, but it’s also more dangerous, putting the protagonist in the front line in a way that most Pokemon games have not. At a glance, putting the player character in danger seems like a drastic deviation from the franchise’s usual model, but it could actually be the best thing that Game Freak does for Pokemon‘s Generation 9. There’s a lot that the franchise would gain out of preserving Pokemon Legends: Arceus‘ approach to danger.
Pokemon’s Relationship with Danger
In most Pokemon games, the player character really never has to worry about being in danger themselves. Only the player’s team of Pokemon take or deal damage in combat, no matter how explosive or calamitous a particular fight gets. While that approach matches Pokemon‘s central themes of teamwork and sportsmanship, it doesn’t quite make sense in a world with so many powerful and dangerous creatures running amok. What’s more, the Pokemon world suffers from a wide range of villainous groups like Team Rocket with little regard for the rest of the world. It’s surprising that none of these teams seem selfish or callous enough to attack the protagonist with Pokemon, choosing to engage in standard, honorable Pokemon battles instead.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus totally turns that on its head. In this game, stealth is crucial, because many wild Pokemon will attack the human protagonist without a second thought. Akin to open-world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, players sometimes need to carefully slip past dangerous creatures rather than sprinting through their territory or facing them head-on. In other situations, players have to put themselves in danger to complete an objective. In the newly revealed Kleavor encounter, it seems that players have to dodge Kleavor’s attacks all alone and throw balm at the Noble Pokemon until it can be battled.
The contrast here is stark. In most Pokemon games, the protagonist blacks out and runs away when their Pokemon are all unconscious, but in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, players blackout when they’re the ones who’ve taken too much damage. The contrast shows the value of Pokemon Legends: Arceus‘ approach, though. Players might feel a little sad or guilty when their Pokemon get knocked out, but there’s a lot more tension and immersion involved when the player’s own character is at risk of getting hurt. If this stance on danger seems to work so well for Pokemon Legends: Arceus, then it could work wonders for the rest of the Pokemon franchise.
How Player Damage Could Improve the Pokemon Series
There’s a lot of ways that the next generation of Pokemon games could build on Pokemon Legends: Arceus‘ damage mechanic. For instance, it could expand on situations where the player has to choose to be in danger. Pokemon Legends: Arceus‘s Kleavor fight asks players to approach the enranged Pokemon all alone, rather than leaping into a Pokemon battle all alone. It’d be great to see a Generation 9 Pokemon game with some similar situation where players are trapped all alone in some sort of arena with an angry and powerful Pokemon. Players might have to activate some devices or collect some objects while dodging the Pokemon or even setting off other devices that buy the player time.
If future Pokemon games carry over these confrontations between humans and Pokemon, then there’s room for a new category of tactical items. Player characters might develop battle statistics like Defense and Speed that they can modify with special pieces of equipment, increasing their defenses and letting them tough it out through more attacks. Certain equipment could even have Pokemon-style type affinities, giving players resistances to certain types and some weaknesses to others, encouraging Pokemon fans to weigh the costs and benefits of their equipment.
The Pokemon narrative would benefit from putting protagonists in danger too. It’d be great to see a truly menacing Pokemon villain team who isn’t afraid to attack humans with their Pokemon. Players might need to dodge certain attacks in combat with villainous Pokemon trainers, or alternatively, certain villains might use their Pokemon to take cheap shots at players before a battle starts. In a time where Pokemon stories face mounting criticism for weak plots, it’d be great to see a villain team that behaves like this because they’d actually feel like a threat. The next Pokemon generation’s villains should be dangerous and intimidating. Even if the Pokemon world is generally lighthearted, there need to be some stakes, or players will hardly feel motivated to vanquish evil.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus Strikes Gold
Pokemon Legends: Arceus‘ ideas about danger and player damage might not make it to the mainline Pokemon games. As the name suggests, Game Freak, Nintendo, and The Pokemon Company could have plans in mind for a long-form Pokemon Legends series of games that uses Arceus‘ open world, damage mechanics, and so on. If that’s the case, the ideas will probably remain separate from the core Pokemon games to preserve Pokemon Legends‘ unique identity. While it’d be great to see more Pokemon Legends games following in the first title’s wake, it’d also be a shame for the main Pokemon series, which could really use a shakeup.
For now, though, hope remains. Game Freak has been busy enough with other Pokemon projects that the Generation 9 Pokemon games are probably still far away, so there’s still time to incorporate new ideas from Pokemon Legends: Arceus. A new sense of danger could really make the next games engaging. So many recent Pokemon games have experimented with new combat mechanics to feel unique, but many of those mechanics were met with mixed reception. Maybe it’s time for Pokemon to experiment with the player’s side of combat rather than the Pokemon’s side.