Barring some Jurassic Park-esque miracle, we will never share our world with Pokémon. So is it too much to ask for a truly open-world Pokémon game? There was that weird GameCube effort, Pokémon Colosseum, released back in 2003. At the time, one reviewer wrote that it was “certainly a step in the right direction to a good 3D Pokémon game.” That was nineteen years ago.
Pokémon Go adopted the real world as its open-world; and this was, as this tweet notes, the only time the real world knew true peace. Yet it was also objectively not a good game, and there is surely no need to expand on that. In 2019, we thought that salvation might lie in the sunlit uplands of Britain, or Galar, as Nintendo renamed it in Pokémon Sword and Shield. It gave us an intriguing insight into Britain’s image abroad; alas, it did not give us a true open world.
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We know what we want. In the image above, taken from the original Game Boy Color games, a trainer stands before the blue right angles of a flat sea. His eye surveys the horizon. One observer juxtaposed this image to the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. It is only half a joke: Nintendo achieved this with Breath of the Wild.
We waited. We suffered. Then, in February 2021, a trailer. A vista mirroring that image. Perhaps, as the general badness of the world increased, our karmic debt had built up to such a level as to finally require the release of this game. So is this Pokémon open-world? Sort of. Is it the game we had dreamed of? Not really.
Metaphorically enough, Pokémon Legends: Arceus opens with a light at the end of a tunnel. “Welcome to my realm, beyond both time and space,” a voice intones. No, it’s not the Game Freak offices: it’s Arceus, the God Pokémon, who you know is a deity because they speak English in a Shakespearean argot, addressing the player as thou, and asking for “thine appearance.” After some consideration, it turns out my name is “Pokéboy,” one of Hisui’s generic blue-haired sons. As I plummet through nothingness towards my ignominious conception, Arceus has one last blessing to bestow: my smartphone case is cheap and plastic; I need a trendy gold “Arc phone,” which will let me track missions and survey the world map, and let Arceus issue his demands from the fourth dimension.
Pokéboy awakens surrounded by three Pokémon and the fetchingly dressed—purple bobble hat and striped ringmaster pants—Professor Laventon. Laventon quickly discerns that I have no memory of who I am or where I come from; all I possess is a deep understanding of Pokémon. (Naturally, for a person named Pokéboy.) I wave my new phone at the professor and tell him that God has sent me on a mission to catch every Pokémon on this green earth. “Then whoever and from wherever you may be, I welcome you with open arms,” he replies, gleefully.