Our Expectations of Pokémon in 2022 & The Legends of Arceus Preview
I know, I know, it seems like all I write about is Pokémon & Marvel but there is other stuff coming I promise! The reason you’re seeing a lot of Marvel and Pokémon recently is because the end of 2021 graced us with Hawkeye & Spider-Man; No Way Home while Pokémon gave us Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl and then the start of 2022 is gifting us the new Legends of Arceus game. I’ve covered a lot of Marvel (I had a lot of catching up to do) but now its time for me to dip into my other passion. Let’s also try not to make it as long as last time…
The upcoming Pokémon game and the current state of Pokémon is a point of contention within my friendship group and I often find that any allies I have in defending the franchise are slowly dwindling and the case of defending Pokémon is getting harder and harder. Back in 2020 I wrote two posts as part of my ‘Pokémon Journey‘ (Part 1 & Part 2) that looked at the state of the franchise considering the release of Sword and Shield and its DLC so I am hoping that this post will serve as the spiritual successor/Part 3 that I had always planned on writing. It’ll deal with the Pokémon community as well as the lapsed fans who desperately want change but also on the other side, I hope to address the massive weight of expectation the franchise is shouldering and how it looks like Gamefreak could be buckling under it.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl and the Low Expectations of Gamefreak
I’ll start with BDSP (Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl) as these came out last year (Nov 2021) and were the first ‘main series’ games to come out since SWSH (Sword and Shield). They are remasters/remakes of the Diamond and Pearl games that released in 2006 but there was a lot of backlash and nervousness around these games. Firstly, they didn’t seem to include any of the Platinum changes (the third game in the trio that released in 2008) which made the games harder and added more content and now that they have released I can confirm that these are near enough straight remakes from the 2006 games. This is a real shame as Platinum is one of my favourites and by not including any elements of this it felt like a real missed opportunity to push the games towards the best version it could be. Although there were some new features and post game elements, it still felt easier than the Platinum counterpart would have done. This is a key point because as the Pokémon community gets older, we expect to have a bit more of a challenge if we know how the standard formula works and if the games are made easier, it often means they are less appealing. That isn’t to say people, myself included, haven’t enjoyed them but there was an expectation here because ORAS (Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire) took the original Ruby and Sapphire and remade it but then added things like Mega Evolution, a whole new episode at the end and many other new features, all of which made ORAS one of the best games of Generation 6 whereas the comparative changes for BDSP were limited. You will see though that this comes down to expectation as people expected BDSP to do the same thing that ORAS did. And Pokémon, due to the franchises size and history, is bombarded with often contradictory expectations; the expectations from current fans, the expectations from the non-fans and lapsed players and the expectations from Gamefreak themselves, and to a certain extend it is these expectations that undermine the performance, perception and reception of the games. I’ll get into this more as we go on but I want to make it clear that I am not saying we shouldn’t expect a level of standard from a huge company like Gamefreak but I do think it is important we contextualise our own expectations and keep an open mind where we can.
One of the biggest criticisms of Pokémon games recently has been around the quality of the visuals. BDSP saw a change to the chibi style which many people were initially wary of and SWSH got a lot of heat due to the simplistic textures and designs used in their limited open world areas that were in the game. The reason for this is because it is very easy to then compare the graphical quality of these games versus open world games such as the Breath of the Wild. It’s hard to disagree – Gamefreak don’t create the best looking games. I still believe that SWSH was initially designed as a 3DS game not a Switch game meaning it wasn’t built to fully utilise the Switch but that argument doesn’t work for the current visual criticism of Legends of Arceus. The game is due to release on 28th January but there are many lucky trainers out there who have access to actual copies and are sharing their footage, as well as the Pokémon company sharing their marketing, and I have to admit that the quality of the world they have built is not one that will rival BotW or even older games currently available on the Switch. This is where we come back to that expectation though; if Nintendo can create an open world game like BotW to such a level of quality on the Switch, then why can’t Gamefreak take this and replicate it in a Pokémon game? It’s a fair challenge and one that is not easily combated.
I think that Gamefreak were slow on the uptake of the Switch meaning they probably don’t have the experience or ability in making these games that Nintendo who, for years before the Switch’s release, would have been focusing on this hardware but they should still be creating worlds that look better than this by recruiting and collaborating with experts who can assist on raising the quality. Legends, visually, still looks like the best Pokémon game that has been released but there is no denying that it isn’t exactly industry leading. The problem is that, by holding them to this level of expectation that it needs to look incredible can also detract from the positives that the game has and makes people immediately critical of it. If it looks that bad, then surely it will play badly right? I am not actually too bothered by the overall look of the world, albeit it is disappointing it doesn’t meet my own personal expectations as it could have been a much more immersive, detailed world than an open, emptier one. That said, the Pokémon models have been reworked and they look clean as the models now have mouths and eyes whereas before they were simply textured on, the combat effects look to be much more connected in the fact that they physically connect with the opposing Pokémon and they have still created various biomes in which to explore. I am way more excited by what they have added than what it looks like because it shows that they are really pushing to innovate and push the world forward. The open world concept where you can sneak up to Pokémon and catch without a battle or then engage into a battle seamlessly in the overworld looks exciting and cool and the fact your trainer is also part of the battle adds that extra element of challenge. I actually feel that the content and enjoyability of the game is more important than how it looks as the visuals can be improved in future generations if the strong foundations are built today. Graphics aren’t always everything – I have spent a lot of time playing Stardew Valley, and yes the graphics of that game is its art style and Legend’s art style and graphical quality leave it wanting but it doesn’t make it a bad game because it isn’t pushing the graphical limits we would hope or expect. We expect a lot from Gamefreak, and for a company that has been around so long, rightly so, but we also can’t crucify them one this point alone. There is a clear effort to innovate and push the series forward, something fans and lapsed players have been crying out for and this, in my eyes, shows that response.
What’s Changed in Legends of Arceus? Is There a Reason to Believe?
To step away from the visuals and a bit more into the game itself, plenty of fans who have got hold of this game are saying its the most fun they have had with a Pokémon game in decades. Many are saying that they will struggle to go back to the games that have come before because of Arceus and that everything from the details in the Pokémon to the combat to the world and story feels much more enjoyable and immersive than anything prior. The fact that there are veteran Pokémon players saying this is massive as some of these have been openly critical of the direction of the franchise and to come out with this praise speaks more to me than the marketing itself. It appears harder as you, the trainer, can be knocked out by direct attacks, multiple Pokémon can attack you at once making for chaotic battles and even the boss battles apparently provide a great deal of challenge. You can use your Pokémon in your party to knock down crafting materials from trees or break open ore veins, you can seamlessly switch between traversing on the land, air and sea and you can even just get all six of your team members out to just chill around you. From what I have seen, read and heard it sounds like they are trying to step up this level of immersion and connection with your party so that it feels like you are on this journey together. What you discover when you are roaming the open areas is your discovery and part of your own story and that is something that is more important to me than the graphics. I have always loved the journey in Pokémon. The story doesn’t make much sense and in all honesty the fact your trainer is the only one who can go from beginner to master in the space of a few days is bizarre, but that isn’t what Pokémon is about for me. Its that sense of discovery and personal team building that goes back to the days of being a kid and watching the series where Ash was doing just the same thing. Recent generations have made it easier to play the games which takes away from this sense of discovery but other things for me have filled the gap like Shiny Hunting and Competitive play but Legends feels like a homage back to that epic journey aspect again.
I am going to caveat this and make it clear than I am bias in this discussion in the fact that I love the franchise and I give Gamefreak the benefit of the doubt a lot because I play their games so much and I can see the potential but this is also my own expectation. I don’t speak for or represent the gaming community as a whole and especially not players my age. My expectations are driven by what I enjoy in these games and I do my best to not compare them to other franchises as I have a very unique expectation and experience with Pokémon. What I try to do is contextualise my expectations against what has come before in Pokémon, not what is out there currently – I know that BotW exists and my expectation is that BotW2 should surpass that but Legends of Arceus, in my mind, isn’t expected to surpass or emulate BotW. Everyone I speak to has a different views on this though and when you throw in time and money constraints, its understandable why people will make these comparisons because often they have to commit their time and their money to one, not both. It is at this point where the expectations become important as if it fails to or looks to fall short of meeting your expectations then it simply isn’t worth the investment. I understand why people are dubious about picking Legends up and I appreciate why people are disappointed with the visuals as better visuals have been created out there on the same console but I hope that when the game comes out, it exceeds these expectations and proves that there is more to it than just average visuals – not just for this game but as the beginning of the redemption of the franchise and what could be.
I’m putting this tweet here on the left too because it goes to show how fragile the expectation towards Pokémon is at the moment. Its a very isolated amount but you can see that on a single Sunday after the leaks, pre-orders for the game increased in a single store by 103. It’s a small sample but it goes to show that once the game has some genuine hands on there is a lot more than meets the eye. This is the opposite of what happened with BDSP – when that leaked there were people cancelling pre-orders left and right because they realised there was nothing new and that it, to a certain extent, failed to meet their expectations. Even I moved away from the £90 double pack and bought a single copy, something I haven’t done with Pokémon for many generations. Clearly people are wary about the game but now that they are seeing the substance of the game and seeing past the visuals and, like me, they are beginning to get really excited for the game. You consider that if this behaviour is replicated across the world then we could see a massive boom in the uptake of the game over this release weekend.
With all this said, it is clear that many players expectations are being surpassed with this game; maybe because they had little faith in Gamefreak in the first place or maybe because they were just doubtful of the premise and direction, but I am hoping that this expectation breaking is shared by others following the release this week. I too hope my expectations are at least met, although ironically they have been raised since the leaks and footage has been circulating. But it goes back to what I have said before, there is an appetite at Gamefreak to innovate and push the series forward so we need to manage our expectations to a lesser extent while they play catch up. Hopefully, Legends represents a Beta test for things to come and when this format and formula is rolled out to later games, we will see just what potential Pokémon has. There are many out there though, who will be saying ‘they shouldn’t have to play catch up though‘, ‘we shouldn’t have to temper our expectations because others have done it better already’, and ‘they have had their chance‘ and that may be true, but I am, unfortunately, willing to let them try to invigorate the franchise. That said, I fully understand that there are plenty of lapsed fans out there who have given Pokémon a chance time and time again and no amount of nostalgia or tweaking will be enough to save the franchise in their eyes and that’s okay. Hopefully though, Legends provides the key to buying more time for those on the fence and give us a taste of things to come. Rumour has it we may be seeing Generation 9 as soon as this year with an announcement expected between February and April and a release in November. If Legends is as good as fans are claiming and they can translate the aspects of the game that people are excited for into the next main series instalment we could be in for a real treat. However, even I have limited patience and if it looks like the feedback and enjoyment from Legends isn’t put into the next instalment then I will be concerned. I was willing to give them a chance after SWSH and for me, the expectations I have have so far been met with Legends but if, because of their development cycles and almost unwillingness to back their own designs means they have to implement all these great aspects into the game following the next release (say 2024) then that isn’t good.
Pokétuber Review -aDrive
I’ve put this here because, firstly, I haven’t had a chance to play myself but next week I will post my own review but also it goes to show the reaction of an experienced Pokémon player and how their expectations have been surpassed. He addresses that the game doesn’t look great but even though it doesn’t look amazing, the stability of the game is really good. The review also addresses the fact that the story here is a marked improvement from previous games which, again, demonstrates that innovation that Gamefreak are pushing for. I think it’s really positive to see this level of reaction from someone like aDrive as he plays Pokemon for a similar reason to me (although it’s also his job) so the fact that he is blown away by what they have produced is a good sign for when I get my hands on it.
You may notice I am very excited for this game. The hype, the discussion and the footage so far as got me incredibly hyped for this and I cannot wait for the game. But one of the things I wanted to get across in this is that we are often limited by our own expectations. I was excited when they announced this and wary when they announced BDSP and I will be honest I was let down by BDSP. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t add anything new to my Pokémon experience, and like many I was expecting the ORAS treatment. Ultimately, it failed to meet my expectations. As a result I was quietly wary but hopeful that Legends was the game that would reignite that spark that Pokémon has and show that there is hope yet for real change within the franchise and so far, from what I have seen, this seems to be the case. The graphics in Legends has clearly been a huge discussion point and I understand why it has caused such an issue because it isn’t the level you expect from a AAA game but I hope that once people get their hands on this game it can redeem, not just itself, but the faith that Pokémon has a direction that is worth following. There will be people who still don’t like it or don’t agree, and that’s fine but I hope that it gets given a fair shot. As mentioned, this game for me also represents a final chance for Gamefreak because if this game turns out as good as people are saying and they don’t implement this into further games then it is apparent that they don’t really understand what their players want. There were lots of great things from the Let’s Go games but barely any have been seen again (riding any of your Pokémon, shinies in the overworld etc) so I hope Arceus marks a turning point in the franchise and not just a one off, spin off sort of deal. But, until we see more, this has given me more faith in Gamefreak that they have plans to head into a new direction and that we may see some truly incredible Pokémon games in the future.
Next week I will be reviewing Legends of Arceus as I will (hopefully) over the weekend receive my copy! I will also be streaming the game next week instead of my other content so move aside Stardew Valley and XCOM 2, its Legends week. If you are interested in chatting to me on stream and catching some footage on the game head over to my Twitch and say hi! The streams will be on Sunday (8pm GMT), Monday (8.30pm GMT) and Thursday (8.30pm) GMT so hopefully I will see you there!
Let me know what you think of the game and what your expectations are for Pokémon. Have you been disappointed by Pokémon lately and have no hope for Legends or are you super excited, like me, at getting your hands on the game? Hit me up on Twitter, leave a comment below or even visit my newly minted YouTube channel and drop a message on the video! Until next time!