Pokémon Legends: Arceus (2022)
It’s pretty self-inflicted I know, but sometimes I’m sad about the fact that I don’t go outside anymore. Unfortunately, street corners, fields and roadside kerbs just aren’t places for men in their thirties to be hanging around. Who could have pinpointed the last time you and a group of your mates were sat around on the grass, talking nonsense, watching the sun set slowly? Irishers have a bit of an extended adolescence in this regard, given our national proclivity for knacker drinking.
Nowadays, if I’m out and about, it’s only ever for a boringly practical purpose. It’s usually the commute (dear God), the shopping (Christ almighty), or if I’m really feeling defiant against my rapidly declining metabolism, I’m going running (Lords above). It’s all done with purpose, see? I’m not just going out for a quick, impromptu game of ball with my mates anymore. Or better still, a game of IRA. Not a very politically correct set of formative years, eh?
If I go back a few more years though, to when I was a chubby little boy, that’s what I’m talking about. This is the time when your horizons are limited but your imagination is enormous. That’s how I liked it, you know – by the time I got to college, which is essentially when I met people and went places from outside my own small village for the first time, I had lost interest.
Give me a small world with the same old faces any day of the week. It all meshes with the naivete and innocence stuff as well. I probably shouldn’t look back at it so lovingly, I could well have been risking my life and limb playing in the local fields and building sites and rivers. Not to mention I probably came closer than I thought to falling foul of roving drunken teenagers looking for a little fat boy to bully.
See, a kid doesn’t know what danger is, whereas these days a half-grown man like me, I’m rattling walking past a bunch of teenagers when it’s even slightly dark out. God, is it just my imagination or have teenagers gotten bigger, become rowdier and have begun travelling in bigger bands than ever?
And it could easily be my imagination at fault here, because that’s another thing you leave behind you as you get older – my imagination definitely ain’t what it used to be. These days, I’m lucky if I can even picture what’s gonna happen next week, but as a child my imagination would always be constructing elaborate, interconnected stories and scenarios, with all kinds of characters and interactions going on. If I could have only turned ten of those wild compendiums of thoughts into novels as a kid, I coulda been a gazillionaire.
As it was, when I was a kid my imagination was getting its best workout when I’d be running through the grassy fields, usually with a pal, and after we’d gotten bored playing football we’d pretend to be Pokémon trainers. God, how we wished Pokémon were real, as we threw completely imaginary Pokéballs at completely imaginary Pokémon.
Well, what did you expect? That we’d throw rocks at stray cats? We were stupid but we weren’t cruel. Anyway, that kind of brain play can be fun for a half-hour, but nothing I was conjuring up out there was ever going to be any better than playing the games or watching the anime. No wonder kids all stay indoors staring at screens these days – and remember, I’m still firmly in that kids bracket.
Being an oldie, I was around for the first Generation of Pokémon. 8-bit Pokémon graphics lead the imagination well, and I never forgot the idea of having a vast expanse to run around in – just you and the Pokémon, nothing more. But as the Generations passed, Pokémon just became more rigid, less and less brainpower needed.
Things got really bad. By the time we got to the 3DS games and Pokémon Sword & Shield, I was half-ready to just kick back and let the game play itself out. I didn’t play on train-tracks as a kid, but I still knew what it felt like to be railroaded through life.
But finally, a new and experimental Pokémon game came along to set us free. Released a few months after the Diamond & Pearl remakes and completely taking the shine and attention off them, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a game for the imaginative kid that I hope still exists in all of us.
You can forget about gyms, incessant trainer battles against the most incompetent bug catchers and fishermen in history. And above all else you can wash your hands of sudden random encounters in the long grass. PL:A is a somewhat open world Pokémon game where the Pokédex barely even exists – in fact, Pokéballs are the best technology you’ll get.
I say “somewhat open world” as well, because it’s not strictly all one world you’re running around in, it’s more like five interconnected areas. The game isn’t quite Pokémon of the Wild, really – Generation 9 would scratch that particular itch moreso – but this game was an important first step in Game Freak getting up off their very rich arses and pulling their gluttonous fingers out.
At long last, you get to go out and accost Pokémon in their natural habitat, and a bit of wildlife stealth comes into it as well because optimal play sees you doinking Pokémon in the back of the head with your ball, from an unseen vantage point in the bushes. Steven Irwin would have loved this game, I reckon.
A lot of the time though, you might give your position away and become threatened by the Pokémon who’ll hurtle towards you and start trying to whack you with their moves. That’s right, Pokémon can actually attack you now, and truth by told probably too many of them get a bit bolshy – I don’t think it’s really on brand for Paras to menace you as soon as it sees you – but finally we’ve got a Pokémon title with some edge, a bit of balls.
This is a really good game. You can play it as a battler or a catcher, and you won’t have to spend a zillion hours creating a competitive team or anything, it’s all streamlined for you. You’ll unlock more abilities as you progress that’ll help you traverse the world. There’s a heap of side quests to complete here as well, and most aren’t too impressive, I’m not talking about the Witcher here, but it’s better than making your own fun in the mainline games, which regarded sidequests as a dirty word.
The story is decent, the small number of music cues are good, the graphics… they get a pasting, probably deservedly so, although they do at least look better in motion, while you’re playing. I’m aware that’s damning the game’s look with faint praise, but who cares? At least the Pokémon models seem to be improved, and there’s a good chunk of them to get, 242 in total – a lot less than the overall number, true, but there’s no trading or breeding faff to contend with.
All in all, I wouldn’t say Pokémon Legends: Arceus blows my mind or dazzles my brain, but I liked it a lot – and it did at least set my imagination wandering as to just how good Pokémon could get from there. Ah, to be a dumb kid again, eh?
10 March 2023