The announcement of Pokémon Legends: Arceus during the February 2021 Pokémon Presents livestream may open the door for something special for the Pokémon franchise. An open-world RPG, Pokémon Legends: Arceus sets players on a journey to complete the Sinnoh region’s first Pokédex at some point in the in-game universe’s past. Players are given a choice between Rowlet, Cyndaquil, and Oshawott as their starting companion, joining them to discover what awaits in a world both familiar and new. Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ new gameplay mechanics and setting may signal a brand new spin-off series.
Previous Pokémon spin-off games have taken similar routes, fusing the familiar and timeless gameplay of the franchise’s main series with new elements to create a distinct separation. Pokémon Colosseum and its sequel, XD: Gale of Darkness, introduced the Shadow Pokémon system and eschewed random encounters for Pokémon that can be captured from other trainers. The Mystery Dungeon series had players complete different jobs and dungeons as the Pokémon themselves, with changes made to the core gameplay while maintaining some key components to the franchise.
The choice of setting for Pokémon Legends: Arceus separates the game from any other in the series, placing players in a key point of the history of the Sinnoh region. By putting players in such a remote time period compared to the rest of the franchise, Arceus could potentially be the first of a Pokémon Legends series, showing fans more of the lore of the franchise’s world. The biggest signal of this game’s impact, though, is its developer.
While developer ILCA Inc. is working on the Generation 4 remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, the usual Pokémon development studio at Game Freak is tackling Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Game Freak working on the new title is a departure from the norm, as Pokémon spin-offs have usually been outimgd to other companies, with Game Freak sticking to the latest core titles or remakes.
Arceus is a Mythical Pokémon known as the Alpha Pokémon. Its Pokédex entries discuss how it may have existed before all other Pokémon, having hatched from an egg before shaping the world itself. Legendary Pokémon tend to be the focus of the core games and act as their mascots, but a focus on the truth behind the myths of the Pokémon world seems to be the direction for this potential new line of Pokémon Legends games.
In a 2019 interview with VGC, Programmer Masayuki Onoue indicated Game Freak, as a studio, has been expanding to other games and using knowledge gained there to improve Pokémon, enabling developers to return to the series with a “refreshed” mindset. The departure from normal Pokémon conventions in Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ open-world RPG format proves this, as fans of the series will be getting a new take from its veteran developers. While Pokémon‘s Gen 4 remakes will provide a more traditional experience at the end of the 2021, Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ launch in early 2022 could be the start of something new.