AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! That’s my mind on Pokémon: Legends Arceus. When the game was initially revealed back in February, I was immediately infatuated with the concept but was unable to truly get behind it. That first trailer showcased maybe the rough draft of an idea, but failed to demonstrate how it could be fleshed out into a full video game, not just a video presentation that seemed too good to be true. I looked at it, and thought about it, with my analysis hat on, as I do most games. I was hung up on its empty environments, vague mechanical details, and obviously lackluster technical performance. And, at the time, I was absolutely right to think that. The game clearly wasn’t ready for the public, and I had my doubts as to whether it ever really would be.
But today I’m singing a completely different Kricketune, because after Legends: Arceus was shown off in the recent Pokémon Presents I had to spend a good five minutes scouring my floor for my socks, because they got blown right off. Now, the game isn’t perfect, and I have a lot of thoughts that are both positive and negative about it from, again, that analytical perspective that I mentioned before. But, this isn’t really the juncture to do that. I already made a long YouTube video to that effect, and it’s available here if you want to check it out. Instead, I want to talk about how my interest in analysis of this game is actually secondary to my interest in what it represents for me.
I can’t think of many times recently that my imagination has really been captured the way that it has by Legends: Arceus. It’s easily my most anticipated upcoming release, now that we know more about it. Frankly, it’s the first time that I’ve been genuinely surprised and excited by a game trailer in quite some time. Now, there are many games that I’m excited for. I almost started crying when Metroid Dread got announced, I can’t wait for Halo Infinite, I shouted a lot when Splatoon 3 got revealed, and I sent a lot of all-caps messages to my girlfriend when I learned about Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania. I get hyped for games. But, often it’s a familiar sort of hype, one that has been tempered by years and years of writing about games and thinking about games every single day.
The texture of my excitement for Pokémon Legends: Arceus is different, though. It’s a lot more, for want of a better word, mystical. I almost feel like I’m connecting to this game in a way that transcends any rational, and again analytical, manner. Sure, I can articulate why I’m excited for this game. It’s Game Freak finally looking beyond its walls to innovate and evolve the Pokémon series (pun intended). Legends looks like some philosophical fusion of Monster Hunter, Breath of the Wild, and Final Fantasy. You can easily isolate the facets of each which inform this wholly new approach to the franchise. This isn’t your Genwunner grandpappy’s Pokémon, but it isn’t your baby brother’s Pokémon either. It’s a lean, grown-up Pokémon action-RPG experience.
However, just because I recognize all of that doesn’t lend credence to this sort of peculiar magnetism which takes my excitement to transcendent levels. No, these justifications for my hype are all too regular and bound to reality. The fact is, my interest in this game speaks to an amorphous love for the Pokémon series that has traveled in my back pocket since I was a really little kid. Pokémon has defined large portions of my life, my free time, my interests and my social connections. It’s really a fixture in my life alongside franchises like Star Wars and concepts like breathing. I guess you could say that Pokémon is really important to me.
But, my excitement isn’t really predicated on the strict gameplay conventions of the series. After all, I don’t really like any JRPGs outside of Pokémon. There are a few exceptions, but that’s generally the rule. No, I love Pokémon because of its world and the imagination that pumps it full of life. Let’s chat for a moment about that imagination and the core concept which birthed Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri’s love of bug collecting. At the heart of this series is nature and discovery and exploration and childlike fun. There’s also the sense that Pokémon are real and alive and were designed to mimic real-world, natural ecosystems.
I think it took the games a long time to really get there. A lot of the spin-offs arguably did it first and better, your Pokémon Snaps for example, while the core games just kind of emulated these ideals. We’ve gotten closer to this naturalized world over time, where you can feel like you’re really living in a universe where Pokémon are organic creatures not just sets of stats, but I think that Tajiri’s little anecdote about where the series began always just lived in our imaginations, as it clearly lived in his.
I know that it lived in mine. I had just an absolutely disgusting amount of Pokémon toys as a kid, and I’d frequently blanket my parents’ lawn or living room with them, reenacting stories and simply imagining that these critters actually existed. For a period in middle school, I even had an Instagram account where I posted pictures of Pokémon toys in trees or rivers or what have you, trying to bring them closer and closer to existing alongside us. We had Pokémon Go, which clearly got us the closest to Tajiri’s vision, and then we got the subsequent Switch Pokémon games which iterated on Go’s formula to borrow some of its more immersive elements.
Even though Pokémon Let’s Go and Sword/Shield are deeply flawed games, I really do enjoy both, as they get closer to that heart than ever before. Even though gen eight’s Wild Area has about as much environmental cohesion as I have a legitimate need for the thousands of Pokémon cards in my closet, I still loved it. Getting to stand in an open-world, playing as a trainer dressed as myself, and encountering a Rhydon puttering about in front of me was such a great feeling. It struck at those days in my childhood when I’d patrol around my yard with my toy Pokédex and dozens of plastic Pokémon spread out in front of me.
But the Wild Area of course looks like a stupid crayon drawing next to Legends: Arceus and its world. This is really the realization of Tajiri’s concept. It’s a game all about interacting with Pokémon as animals with actual behavior in the context of an actual open-world, not just the facsimile of one. I will genuinely and unironically be spending as much time just being in Arceus’ world as the amount of time as I spent in Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule – if not more. How could I not? Filling the pages of my Pokédex as I traverse natural environments isn’t just a wonderful gameplay concept, it’s a resonant idea that connects me to latent play pretend sessions that were formative in my childhood. It’s a realization of the ideas which inspired perhaps the most important pop culture franchise in my entire life.
So yeah, I’m kind of excited for this game. It has me totally confused about whether I’m five years old or twenty, as the game has me feeling like the former while I’m almost positive that I’m the latter. My mind and thought process has been upended today by the re-reveal of this game which just reminds me of why this medium is so magical. Sheeeeesh!
I recognize that this is probably the most disjointed thing that I’ll ever publish here at Nintendad. But, I think it’s an interesting study of how real, top-tier excitement is so jumbled and nonlinear. I just want to ramble and throw ideas onto the page, maybe striking at some truth but certainly offering a unique lens into where my head is at right now. Wednesday, August 18th is an exciting day. Not only did I get this trailer, but tomorrow (as of writing) I head across the country to see my girlfriend for the first time since May. It’s just a nice time to be Abram Buehner, and I wanted to reflect that, no edits required. I hope that you all are having a great day too.