Pokémon Legends is the true future of the franchise

It’s not often we get two Pokémon games in one year, but 2022 saw Pokémon evolve in different ways. For me, one of those games feels like the future we need

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: key art for Pokemon Legends Arceus shows two trainers and their pokemon looking over Hisui

Let’s get something out of the way. I absolutely love Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Despite their multiple technical shortcomings, I’ve completed the gen nine titles, I’m working towards finishing the Pokédex, and I’m also taking breaks to take part in raids or do some shiny hunting. Exploring Paldea is the most fun I’ve had with a mainline Pokémon game since Black 2 and White 2, and it’s the shot in the arm the franchise needed.

Cool, so feature over, right? Well, not quite. You see, another Pokémon game came out this year back in January called Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Set in the region of Hisui and centuries before the modern Pokémon era, you learn how people used early Poké balls, how people first explored the world, and even how Hisui would becomes the region of Sinnoh.

PLA marks a huge shift for the previously rigid franchise, ditching many of its traditional features in favour of an action-packed title that focuses on freedom and fluidity. There’s a wide-open world to explore, and you can use the power of Pokémon to climb, glide, and sail to each and every corner. Luckily, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet do bring over a lot of these features, most notably one large open world to explore. But I just can’t stop thinking about Pokémon Legends: Arceus…

The most notable missing feature is the ability to simply throw a Poké ball at any Pokémon, with both the type of ball you use and the level of the Pokémon helping to decide the capture rate. If you hit a Pokémon from behind before it spots you, that also helps to increase your chances of catching it. So, catching low-level Pokémon is a breeze, especially with the handy motion controls. Catching Pokémon has never, ever felt so good.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a pokemon trainer readies a ball to throw at a pokemon

The fluidity of this catching mechanic helps to make the world of PLA feel even more real and ripe for exploration. It also makes catching multiple Pokémon of the same type a joy, as a cheery little jingle sets off with each successful capture. Importantly, when you do have too many of one type of Pokémon, you can release some of the spares to be rewarded with an item called grit, which, when used, improves your Pokémon’s stats.

So, two important things there. Catching Pokémon feels absolutely fantastic, and the use of motion controls to lob balls out into the world in the hopes of grabbing more is incentivised. But there’s another facet to this, as the Pokédex in PLA has tasks for each Pokémon. Often these include catching ten or twenty of one breed, and completing these tasks increases your chances of finding a shiny Pokémon of that species.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a female pokemon trainer readies a pokeball to throw at a pokemon

Finally, there’s another mechanic called outbreaks. A quick look at your map occasionally shows a specific Pokémon icon, and if you skedaddle on over there, you can find a huge amount of that species waiting to be caught. PLA knows you want to catch loads of Pokémon so it throws crowds of the monsters at you, and while it’s fun in and of itself, there’s also the tantalising prospect of a shiny waiting to reward you.

If you’ve played Scarlet and Violet, you may know some of the differences here. You can no longer just throw a ball to catch a Pokémon. Every critter, no matter how big or small, demands an actual battle. While the battles make sense for bigger Pokémon, it would be nice to skip those for smaller creatures, right? Well, great news, PSV have a new feature called Let’s Go. Pressing R at any point sends out the first Pokémon in your party to battle, and they will lay waste to any Pokémon of a low enough level, rewarding you with experience and resources.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a pokemon trainer leans down next to a bidoof

There’s a reason one mechanic has stuck with me though. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s Let’s Go feature is a shortcut, it knows something about the game is tedious, so it sets out to eliminate that for you. Where Pokémon Legends: Arceus separates itself is that it takes a previously tedious mechanic, and instead of glossing over it, works hard to make it incredibly fun. I love catching Pokémon in PLA, it uses a monotonous mechanic and instead makes it thrilling, and it helps to make the world and the Pokémon feel more alive.

Legends Arceus is the first time that players interact with the world as part of catching Pokémon as well. Out in the many different areas of PLA are tough, aggressive Pokémon known as Alpha Pokémon. These brutes can wipe you out if you’re not strong enough, and for the first time, if you’re struck by a Pokémon, then your trainer can take damage and pass out. Not just the Pokémon are at risk. The player themselves must be careful when exploring the world.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a pokemon trainer leaps out of the way of Alpha Kleavor

Between sneaking up on Pokémon to land a critical capture from behind, and dodging and diving around to avoid the onslaught of Alpha Pokémon, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has you interact with the world. As you clamour over cliff edges, duck into the long grass, hide behind trees, and even throw smoke bombs to avoid being spotted by Pokémon. In Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, it’s the same old story, the Pokémon pop up in the world, and you battle them to catch them.

I don’t want to make it sound like PSV aren’t fun games, I’m so grateful we finally have one gigantic open world to wander, and there are reasons to explore, thanks to TMs and items dotted around. Plus, there are Pokémon absolutely everywhere, and PSV has a Pokédex a that’s a fair bit larger than PLA, so you spend a lot more time catching and grabbing them all. At any given point in Scarlet or Violet, you can spot a location on the map, and providing you’ve unlocked the necessary traversal method, you can reach that spot and likely find a Pokémon or item as a reward.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a female Pokemon trainer looks out onto the open world of Hisui

But for me, I find that in Pokémon Legends: Arceus I have as much fun getting from A to B, as finding out what is at B. It’s great to explore in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, but battling and catching just don’t feel as fluid or as satisfying as what Pokémon Legends: Arceus offers. Importantly there’s one final difference, and it’s a big one. Because while shiny Pokémon appear in both games, they have wildly different approaches.

Now, this is going to sound pedantic, but hear me out. In PLA, when a shiny Pokémon appears in the overworld, it lets off a glistening sparkle, and a lovely sound effect also lets you know that one is in the wild. Great, nobody wants to miss a shiny as they’re incredibly rare, and when flying over the huge map it can be easy to miss one. They’re rare enough anyway, so having the sparkle and the sound effect is a nice reassurance that you won’t miss anything.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a pokemon trainer glides over an area, and a shiny pokemon sparkles in the distance

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feature an even bigger world than PLA, and with the same flying/gliding mechanics that mean you’re often soaring above multiple Pokémon at once. Sadly though, PSV decided to not include either a visual or audio cue for shiny Pokémon. You have to spot them yourselves, which would be fine if it wasn’t for the game’s awful draw distance and the sheer number of Pokémon with shiny equivalents that look very similar to the regular form.

This is to speak nothing of the accessibility those visual and audio cues also offer, helping colourblind, deaf, or otherwise visually impaired players to notice a shiny Pokémon they might have missed. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, not only is the world fun to explore and catching an absolute delight, but finding shiny Pokémon has never been more fun. Yes, it’s a bit easier than previous generations, but truly what do people lose from making a Pokémon with a 1/4000 chance of appearing slightly easier to find?

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a pokemon trainer dstands next to a shiny Ponyta

Once again, in PLA, getting from A to B is a joy. Just lobbing balls at Pokémon along the way feels great, and the game encourages you to do so. Plus, if a shiny Pokémon appears, you’re very unlikely to miss it. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet might have a bigger world to explore, but it strips out the joy of getting from A to B, instead focusing on what’s at B.

It’s not that I’m missing out on shiny Pokémon, because the new sandwich mechanic means I can grab as many as I want of a specific Pokémon. PSV reduces the chance of that random encounter, the fun thrill of stumbling across something along the way. Instead, shiny hunting now feels much more driven by my intention, with the chance of random encounters massively pulled back. It’s a small change, but it means a lot to me, and it made PLA a more fun world to just exist in.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a female pokemon trainer battles a Garchomp with a Gallade

There are a couple of other things that separate the games, as battles in PSV feel slower than PLA, and Pokémon receiving experience or wanting to learn moves also slows down battles. Everything in Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels stripped back and streamlined, designed to give you much more time enjoying the action. If I’m being really pedantic, I would also mention that things like weather effects are missing in Scarlet and Violet, another feature that makes the game feel alive.

Finally, while both games feature battles with legendary Pokémon, PLA has so many more legendary creatures tucked away in the corners of the world, an actual reward for exploring even the most remote locations. Plus I think one of my favourite elements is the action-packed battles with Alpha and legendary Pokémon like Giratina. These tense battles not only affect your Pokémon but also your trainer, mixing up battling skills and evasive action as you dodge around the ‘mon while also battling. Pokémon themselves never feel like more of a threat, and that’s such a thrill.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a female pokemon trainer battles the legendary pokemon Heatran

In terms of mainline and generational steps, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the best entries we’ve had in years. If it wasn’t for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I’d have nothing else to say (well, I probably would, but you know what I mean). However, PLA had the freedom to be very different because it wasn’t the next flagship title. The hopes of the next generation of merchandise weren’t weighing down PLA, so Game Freak could strip back Pokémon to its bare essentials and make drastic changes to every aspect of the game.

Instead, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feel like baby steps again. While some nice changes are implemented, it’s nowhere near the drastic changes to PLA that, for once, actually feel like a generational shift. I can hope for some of these changes to make their way into future mainline Pokémon games, strict adherence to the official rules of the professional battling community bog down the flagship games, as well as the expectations of a Pokémon game by the masses.

Pokemon Legends Arceus future of the franchise: a pokemon trainer rides a fish Pokemon across the ocean, wiith the roaming Pokemon Thundurs in the background

I only hope that Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the start of its own series. I dream of a game so open, so free, and so fun to just explore again. Plus, the historic setting gives long-time Pokémon fans some fun lore revelations and nods to previous generations. I can dream of Pokémon Legends: Lugia or Celebi, a reason to explore ancient Johto, and perhaps even explore the mystery of the legendary beasts and the burning tower tied into their story.

Scarlet and Violet aren’t bad games, I’m having a great time, and they’re certainly the best mainline Pokémon game in years. But while by no means a perfect game, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is one of the best Pokémon titles in the history of the franchise. It’s a different beast altogether, and a true indictment of what Game Freak can do with enough time and resources. It made every aspect of the game fun instead of stripping away elements, and for the first time, it truly felt like the Pokémon world I’d imagined as a kid had come to life.