The unexpected announcement of Pokémon Legends: Arceus inspired quite a bit of excitement for many fans, but the game’s world looks concerningly empty so far. Fans have been asking for an open-world Pokémon game like Pokémon Legends: Arceus for a long time, but the question of whether or not that’s actually a viable idea has slid under the radar.
In a trailer that draws obvious comparisons to Breath of the Wild, Pokémon Legends: Arceus revealed a potential glimpse at the future. With ILCA, Inc. being brought in to work on Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, Game Freak turned its attention towards a major shift in the direction of the series. An open world (with a rumored active-time battle system) could be massive for Pokémon, but it’ll first need to be proved that it can work.
While the concept for Pokémon Legends: Arceus sounds great, the game’s first trailer does not inspire a whole lot of confidence. The game is set in a raw, unsettled version of the Sinnoh region with a single town at the center, and the shots used in the trailer show a barren and empty landscape. The few wild Pokémon aren’t moving around, and there aren’t any visible weather conditions, making the world look completely lifeless. The question of what exactly players are going to be doing in this world is a serious concern for a series that might not even work in an open-world setting.
Fans have always wanted an open-world Pokémon game, but it might not be practical. The biggest criticism of games set in the Johto region has always been the level curve; after defeating the fourth gym, the entire midgame opens up to the player, allowing them to roam anywhere from Cianwood City to the point of facing down the seventh gym in Mahogany Town. As a result, the levels of all Pokémon and trainers in that stretch are roughly the same, stagnating any sort of progression and destroying the pacing of the games. For Pokémon Legends: Arceus to be successful, it needs to feature more than just roaming around a massive world catching Pokémon with no meaningful progression.
Until more is known, Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels more like a proof of concept than a full Pokémon experience. Perhaps it’s not even part of the “main” Pokémon series, anyway. The Pokémon Company has an established history of releasing major Pokémon games during the holiday season, so Legends‘ early 2022 release could be an indication that this will be a smaller Pokémon experience, like the upcoming New Pokémon Snap. It’s too early to have a meltdown over the state of the game’s world, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus does need to prove that the series will work in a truly open world.