2001 saw the release of Shallow Hal, a generally unpleasant movie that took one fat joke and ballooned it to two solid hours. For anyone that never had the experience of watching the film (or missed the trailer, which is really all you need for this premise), the titular Shallow Hal is granted the hypnosis-induced ability to see people as physical representations of their personalities. So mean girls appear chubby and acne-ridden, while the overweigh-but-exceedingly nice Rosemary looks like Gwyneth Paltrow (because she’s Gwyneth Paltrow). This is, of course, an enormously problematic concept for a comedy, as everyone and their mother has already noted that there is no universe where such “unattractive” signifiers actually make anyone, ya know, unattractive. Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit is still Gwyneth Paltrow, dammit! Regardless, despite being mostly forgotten by the population at large, there is one bit in Shallow Hal that has always stuck in my mind. As part of the inevitable third act swerve, Shallow Hal is “cured” of his magical powers, and now sees Rosemary as the (supposedly) unattractive woman she has always been. The spell is broken in more ways than one, and now Shallow Hal laments the fact that he can no longer see his mate as the bombshell he always imagined her to be. Hal is forced to cope with how the woman he loves is no longer than woman he thought she was, even though she technically has not changed at all.
And that is a concept that has terrified me for a long time.
I am a weirdo. I like weird things. There is this one microwavable rice and chicken meal that was available in the frozen section around 2006 and I am convinced I was the only person that ever bought that (until they discontinued it for some odd reason). I have always had unusual tastes, and, while it is not impossible for me to like something popular, I seem to cherish the “weird stuff” a lot more than anything traditional. I am absolutely the person that would choose South of the Border over Disney World, and I am less interested in the Super Bowl than Netflix repurposing 1988 manga Bastard!! (of course I know it is going to be bad. It’s Bastard!!). And, to be perfectly clear, I am not noting all of this to paint myself as some cultural hipster that only likes the most esoteric of the eclectic; no, I am stating this simple fact to further reinforce that I do not know why I am weird. Where did this all come from? Why am I like this? No idea! And that means that whatever switch in my head that is labeled “likes weird stuff” could be clicked off at some point, right? I could wake up tomorrow, and realize I do not need a “Transformers collection” or “more comic books than could ever be read”. I could find myself in a situation wherein hobbies to which I have dedicated a lifetime no longer interest me. I could become someone who doesn’t like playing Pokémon games!
And, on a related note, after Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I never want to play a “normal” Pokémon game again.
I have always liked traditional Pokémon games. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon or Pokémon Ranger? Get that out of my face. But the good stuff? The games that started with the janky-ass Pokémon Red/Blue/Green, and, over decades, evolved into the Sword and Shield we know today? Perfection. Pokémon itself started when the Dragon Quest formula had been developed over multiple iterations, and now we had a perfect jumping off point for monster hunting. Eternally choosing between four moves! Evolution after certain conditions, but usually level ups! Trainers and pokémon alike itching for those turn based battles! And let’s not claim nothing has changed over the years. The types, breeding, and even simple battles have received multiple quality of life and speed improvements over the years, so it no longer takes hours to raise enough scratch to purchase better EVs. Pokémon, as a franchise, has always been “old school”, but it is the kind of old school that can be appreciated to this very day.
… Except when you play something that reinforces how “regular Pokémon” is a granny puttering along with Erdrick’s walker from 1984.
Right from its announcement, everyone wanted to peg Pokémon Legends: Arceus as Pokémon: Breath of the Wild. And, let’s not kid ourselves, there is a lot of “open world” design involved in this Pokémon title. But you know what also heavily contributed to the latest way to catch a bidoof? Pokémon Snap. Pokémon Let’s Go. Games outside the catching genre, like Metal Gear Solid. There even seems to be a not insignificant amount of Xenoblade Chronicles in the mix. The mainline Pokémon series always felt like it was produced by people that had exclusively played the previous mainline Pokémon series, but now we have a Pokémon game that was designed by people that took a break from Blissey breeding. As a result, so much of what is Pokémon has been streamlined to a previously unheard-of degree. There’s an outbreak of gible? Once that meant challenging every last lil’ gator-dragon, reducing it to as little HP as possible, and then chucking balls and hoping for the best. Now you can catch fifteen of the suckers inside of three minutes, and all it takes is some bait and a good hiding place. Sure, you can still fight them, but why would you? Why would you ever bother with that again?
And, while the Breath of Wild comparison now comes to the forefront, the unprecedented level of physical motion allowed in this Pokémon title is… unprecedented. Like when you attempt to make a dramatic point but hit the wall of a limited vocabulary, previous Pokémon titles were infamous for how limited every region would become during actual play. Pokémon could be hiding around every corner was always the promise, but the reality was continually that chimecho was limited to a 4×7 block of grass outside one specific cave, pichu was only ever going to appear as the result of pikachu getting their volt tackle on, and you could always tell when you were inside a cave, because you spent the entire time tripping over low flying zubats. In short, from Pokémon Red to Pokémon Sword, you always knew you were on the prescribed path, and documenting Pokémon for a Pokédex that somehow already knew exactly where in the world to send you to find a kricketot. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, though? Once you get some of the more mobile mounts, the idea of actually exploring for Pokémon opens up like a writer finally buying a thesaurus so they can use words like “unparalleled”. You can climb over rocks, sail across rivers, and even fly over a vast world where your literal bird’s eye view may also reveal a munchlax bathing in a nearby spring (you pervert). You might still be bound by invisible borders and “limited” regions, but within those limits, it genuinely feels like you can go anywhere. And that is more important than anything in a franchise that has always vowed to make you, gentle trainer, the number one scientific authority on teddiursa habitats. For the first time ever, it feels like filling in that Pokédex is the result of studying a recently discovered spheal habitat, and not just that you tossed a pokéball after hypnosis finally cleared its accuracy bar.
And speaking of filling that Pokédex, holy croagunk on a cracker did they find new and interesting ways to simultaneously add new features to the universe and satisfy a player’s insatiable need for numbers to go up. Completing every Pokédex entry involves poké-specific challenges that seem appropriate for their various evolutionary stages. A baby ‘mon needs to be fed to gain points, while a fully evolved rock wrecker must be witnessed using strong moves to super effectively slay opponents. And, while we’re on the subject of slaying, “hit it until it faints” is not the answer to properly logging so many different pocket monsters. This is amazing in a franchise that has always claimed Pokémon can be our friends… and then proceeded to present a universe where you had to obliterate enough geodudes to build your own Stonehenge. It feels good to feed a piplup cake by the ocean, have a challenging fight against its alpha dad, and then see little check marks appear when you visit your local Pokémon professor. It is the same game it has always been, but now taken to a new level that simultaneously feels completely modern and honors what has come before.
And I don’t want to ever go back.
Pokémon Violet & Scarlet was (were?) announced this past weekend. The next Pokémon generation is coming, and, for the first time in the franchise’s history, I am not excited about this new development. I am frightened. Do I think we will see another game in the style of Pokémon Legends: Arceus again? Absolutely, as today’s featured game has sold too well and been too critically praised to be a Pokémon Pinball-esque evolutionary dead end (RIP). But is Violet/Scarlet going to learn the lessons of Arceus by this Fall? Likely not, as the production time involved here seems to imply parallel teams, or at least a development department that would hesitate to throw the highly successful franchise into something that was already distinctly labeled as a spin-off (after all, this whole Legends game initially seemed to be marketed as a supplement to the more traditional Pokémon Brilliant/Shining Diamond/Pearl, a title(s) now resigned to the dustbin of history). In short, the gameplay of Pokémon Legends: Arceus seems unlikely to be repeated in a “main” game due to be released in a few months. And I’m not certain I can do without. I can’t go back to the old ways! Reducing a legendary to low HP and chucking Pokéballs like you’re desperately buying scratch off tickets is the worst part of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and it’s the only way to catch in the mainline games! I have seen a better way! Sprigatito deserves better!
So Pokémon Legends: Arceus broke the spell. I used to be happy with the Pokémon franchise, and now I cannot even be arsed to look forward to its next main entry. The zen of catching pocket monsters has evaporated, and now I am left with an experience that previously entertained me for hours being little more than meh. Am I going to catch ‘em all again? Signs generally point to yes, but now I am going to know it can and has been improved elsewhere. What I thought was my dream is actually Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, and now I’m going to have to live through an unparalleled enervation of my own making.
Thanks, Pokémon Legends: Arceus. You are a videogame so good, you ruined my life.
FGC #621 Pokémon Legends: Arceus
- System: Nintendo Switch. I would like to make the statement that this feels like the first Pokémon game ever that demanded a “console”… but I still played it in portable mode more often than not. Pokémon works really well while watching TV!
- Number of players: Hey, I completed the Pokédex without once having to deal with another human being. That is an extremely welcome first for the franchise, and a reason that obtaining Magmortar is viable again. There is definitely multiplayer involved here, but this is an intended-as-one-player game.
- Favorite Hisuian Pokémon: Oddly enough, I got a lot of mileage out of “snail” Goodra. I never liked ol’ goopy before, but her new typing and backpack really changes the game. Conversely, I’m going to call out Ursaluna and Sneasler, as they add absolutely nothing to their original designs. “What if Sneasel was taller and sad” is not a question that needed an answer.
- So, Pearl or Diamond? The Pearl Clan has a cute leader with adorable “overheating” animations, another time traveler from Pokémon Black/White, a dog breeder who wears goggles for absolutely no reason, and some shirtless dude who climbs glaciers for fun. The Diamond Clan has that one jerk with the blue hair who obsesses over a damn skunk. Team Pearl for the win, and it isn’t even a contest.
- Goggle Bob Headcanon: Those weird bracelet thingies are keeping Irida so warm all the time. This is my belief. At least for now.
- Action Hero: There is a lot to like in PL:A. However, the control scheme is bonkers, and I cannot fathom why things like “switch mounts” are on the horizontal cross pad, but then “activate mount” is a lettered button (while the vertical crosspad buttons trigger a game-freezing menu). This usually is merely more confusing than anything, but some of the more complicated bits of the game become incredibly frustrating with this setup. Catching the genie quartet springs immediately to mind, as hopping on an elk, jumping and dodging tornados, immediately dismounting the elk, auto targeting, and then tossing a Pokéball should not be as complicated as it feels.
- Picture it: Porygon’s existence is a mystery. If it appeared in Ancient Hisui due to time warps, was documented in that epoch, and then was the first artificially created Pokémon in modern times. So which came first? Did Porygon inspire its own creation? Or was it invented independent of reports from previous generations, and no one knows they were exactly the same? No matter! What’s important is that Professor Laventon’s entries in the ‘dex reveal his exasperation at the creature…
What is going on with this thing!?
- Did you catch ‘em all? Yes, with Spiritomb and his blasted 107 component fetch quest being the denouement. I wonder how many people “naturally” found all those baubles, and had a completed normal ‘dex before the legendaries emerge. I may be surprised by the answer, but my personal belief is that Spiritomb and finding a wisp off in the corner of some poison swamp is the finale for a lot of players (if they even bother).
- Did you know? The entire plot of this game is an excuse to create a painting that closes a stable time loop to inspire the bad guys of Diamond/Pearl. This is my kind of convoluted to a T.
- Would I play again: I still have to feed a few more cranidos to really complete my ‘dex, so I’m not putting it down quite yet. And after that? Well, if we don’t see another “Legends” game, I can certainly see returning. If this is somehow even further improved with later iterations though… wow, just thinking about it…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Infernax! Oh, that sounds nice and toasty for this time of year. Please look forward to it!