Okay, so a new Pokemon game being among the biggest games of any given year is… well, it’s a given. It’s a non sequitur. It’s an incredibly obvious statement. Now 25 years old, Pokemon continues to sell tens of millions of copies with each new entry, year after year, and is the largest media franchise in the world – not just the largest games franchise, the largest media franchise. Meaning across games, movies, cartoons, TV shows, books, music, everything. The sum total of Pokemon, across all media, is bigger than Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, it is bigger than Mario, Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto. It remains this enduringly successful for for a reason – it’s freakishly popular. There are few new games that can claim to have a chance at outselling Pokemon – a new Rockstar release is maybe one of the few that can – so by definition, simply, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is going to be one of the biggest selling, most notable games of its year.
There may be those who are tempted to say that the criticism the game’s graphics have gotten (rightfully, to be fair) will, for example, stay people’s hands – but at this point, how many times does it need to be proven that the criticism and discourse surrounding this series is barely representative of the massive, massive audience that it sells to? Remember the backlash against Pokemon Sword/Shield in the lead up to its release? Concerns about cut content, concerns about the lack of the National Dex, even more vociferous criticism of its visuals, and so on? And then that game ended up becoming the highest selling game in the series in 20 years. (which, when the series is as consistently as ridiculously high selling as Pokemon, means a whole lot).
The criticism around Legends (which to begin with is far more muted than the criticism Sword/Shield got) means nothing in the big picture – it’s a new flagship Pokemon game, and it is being marketed as such. It is going to sell. Especially given how much the marketing has evoked the whole “Pokemon but Breath of the Wild” sentiment that has been common among the broader Pokemon fan communities for years. Even though at this point we know the game itself is not like Breath of the Wild (in that it is a collection of multiple open maps, rather than a single contiguous one), it’s seemingly delivering on that promise enough to generate a lot of excitement among the literally tens of millions of people who buy Pokemon games.
Ultimately though, this discussion is not about Pokemon Legends‘ sales (which, it is a given will be massive), nor its graphics (which are definitely lacking even on the Switch, and should be better for a franchise of this scope and scale, no questions asked). It is, however, also a discussion about what the potential of an open world, systemic Pokemon game, one that is making many changes and course corrections that fans have been begging for for years to boot, could mean for the series’ appeal. Remember, Pokemon Legends is not only open world, but it changes up the battle system very dramatically, gets rid of the traditional gyms-based structure that has been a mainstay of the franchise for 25 years, reemphasizes exploration after the 3DS and Switch era games have done a lot to minimize and streamline that as much as possible, seemingly adds mechanics to include some player challenge (such as the player character themselves being attacked by wild Pokemon, and massive overleveled foes you can’t take out without pushback in the guise of Alpha Pokemon), and seems to integrate the world and traversal through it as a core gameplay mechanic. It’s also the first flagship launch in the series to not have two versions, and by all accounts seems to put some emphasis on its central story (at the very least the lore around it).
Which means that, even among the more vocal dissidents of the game in the Pokemon fandom, there is a very high chance of Legends finally winning them over when it comes out, should it actually deliver on those promises – especially since at that point, the only pending criticism against the game would be how it looks. And yes, as mentioned, it looks worse than it should, but Pokemon games have never really gotten by on how they look, but rather on delivering great and unforgettable adventures (with some barely acceptable graphics for their era) – if that’s what Legends is delivering on, even for many of its more ardent critics among the fanbase, that would be enough, and could end up contributing to a very positive narrative around the game, perpetuating strong and positive word of mouth. If the only complaint the game ends up having levelled against it is that it doesn’t look great – and if it actually delivers on the promise of being a systemic open world Pokemon game – then that’s not going to stop it from capturing the zeitgeist like major releases tend to do. While even among Switch games, Legends is definitely among the worse looking ones, criticism for its visuals is likely to recede into the background if it ends up actually meaningfully delivering on its promise (which is causing the anticipation around it to begin with). The potential of an open world systemic Pokemon game to go viral and live on for months and years, such as Breath of the Wild, is too great.
But all of that depends on Game Freak actually pulling it off, and pulling it off well – or at least well enough. Again, it’s going to sell well no matter what, but to capture the consciousness in gaming discourse over the course of the full year, it needs to have the quality that keeps enthusiasts engaging with it for months after it came out, even in a packed year like 2022 is looking to be. Can Game Freak deliver on something like that? It has been years since they were this ambitious – and many would argue that even within the increasingly safe lane they have stuck to for a while, they haven’t been able to deliver all that well for the better part of a decade. Skepticism surrounding a new game that is such a dramatic break from everything that came before in the series is always a given, and healthy – and when the developer is on as shaky ground as Game Freak, more of that skepticism makes total sense.
Ultimately, it comes down to the game itself. Can Game Freak deliver on the promise? Will they? If the answer is yes, then Pokemon Legends Arceus could end up catching the zeitgeist, and hold on to it through the year, lingering in general consciousness, propelling to higher highs than even its own series has known in a very long time – which, again, for a series like Pokemon, is saying something. The onus is now on them to deliver with Legends – if they do, whatever criticisms people have about its technical merits or graphics will look quaint and be long forgotten.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.