The world of Pokémon has been begging to get the open-world treatment.
This week Nintendo and Game Freak announced some major news in the world of Pokémon gaming.
The anouncements came at the P25 event, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original Gameboy RPGs, Pokémon Red and Blue.While the fact that an animated Post Malone headlined with a cover of Hootie and the Blowfish's "Only Wanna Be With You" made bigger headlines, fans of the franchise had a lot more to be excited about.
In addition to Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl — HD updates of the Nintendo DS classics — we found out that we will soon be getting perhaps the biggest update to the franchise since 2016. Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the first open-world RPG in the Pokémon world is scheduled for release on the Nintendo Switch sometime in early 2022.
Pokémon Legends Arceus - Reveal Trailer (Open World Pokémon) www.youtube.com
2016 was, of course, the year that Nintendo teamed up with Niantic to create Pokémon GO. And within days of its introduction, the app took over the world, offering familiar elements of random Pokémon encounters and collection in an augmented reality package.
Suddenly the fun of Pokémon had expanded beyond the confines of the classic RPGs — where exploration was limited to a series of small towns with a few of buildings, and a sequence of paths with a handful of cool creatures to catch along each one. Now you could go anywhere you wanted, and find different Pokémon everywhere you went.
The hype for the game was mostly around the fact that people were out in the real world, walking around and getting some exercise while they played the game. But was that really what people liked about it?
Considering the fact that so many people were slow-driving from PokéStop to PokéStop and the number of accidents and injuries that resulted from people staring at their screens as they moved about the world, the augmented reality factor may not have been the game's best feature.
Rather, what people liked most about Pokémon GO was that it delivered on the idea that the games and TV shows had always teased without really delivering — the sense of adventure and exploration. Sure, there's always plenty to keep you busy in Pokémon games, but you pretty much have to follow the course that's laid out for you, with each region and gym leader building on the last.
In a franchise that's supposed to be all about trainers exploring the world and finding adventure, the options have generally been pretty limited. And while Pokémon GO was great for removing those guardrails and giving players a bit more freedom, the focus on simple encounter-and-capture mechanics didn't exactly deliver a fleshed out world to explore.
Even the tacked-on gym battles, introduced later, couldn't square that circle. If fans wanted to be immersed in a vast, fleshed out Pokémon world like the one we saw in Detective Pikachu, their best bet was...to rewatch Detective Pikachu.
Since then there have been some promising steps in the right direction. Pokemon: Sword and Shield introduced us to the Galar region's wild area, where we had more room to roam and explore than in any previous game and could safely avoid encounters with challenges we weren't ready to face.
But compared to the expansive world Nintendo delivered in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, even the wild area was still pretty limited — not much of an adventure at all. That's where Pokémon Legend: Arceus comes in.
The game is set in the feudal era of the Japan-inspired Sinnoh region and takes place before the events of Diamond and Pearl. And it promises potential to deliver that sense of adventure like no game before it.
The new gameplay trailer establishes the game's opening in a small village surrounded by "a vast wilderness" full of Pokémon. Sword and Shield players will recognize the look of that wilderness, but it will undoubtedly be huge compared to the wild area, and the gameplay — with stealth mechanics and in-world battles looks far more robust.
It may be too soon to get our hopes up, but given Nintendo's careful track record with their big properties, they probably wouldn't be introducing something with so much potential unless they were sure they could deliver. Are we finally going to get a Pokémon game that makes the trainer adventure feel real?