OPINION: Pokémon Legends: Arceus Changed The Way We See Pokémon's Story

Pokémon stories are usually as effective as the player’s own involvement in them


The nature of a prequel, or at least of a story that’s set in a series’ past, dictates that it does at least a little bit of explaining. Everything from the “It’s Darth Vader as a little kid” of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace to “Oh, that’s where the Xenomorph came from” of Prometheus exists as foundational callbacks to the overall text — nostalgia turned into an instruction book. Pokémon Legends: Arceus, set in the Sinnoh region of the past (known as the Hisui region in those olden days) does this, too. Everything from outright explanation of distinct and obvious hints to familiar hairstyles helps build a bit of a picture of how the Pokémon world as we know it came to be.


It is, by far, the Pokémon game with the most interest in the outright exploration of its own lore. And I believe that, as with most prequels, playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus means that it’s impossible to look at the main series in the same way again. 


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This is because Pokémon is, as you might say, “built different.” 


There’s often a lot of blanket criticism lobbed at the games for having bad stories and underwhelming narratives, but I believe this can be judged on a game-by-game basis rather than as a whole. In my opinion, Pokémon stories are usually as effective as the player’s own involvement in them. Though the stakes have certainly gotten bigger and the sense of worldbuilding has become more in-your-face since the first generation, it has retained a distance between its gameplay and the details of its world. 


Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Image Source: The Pokémon Press Site


The former can be enjoyed without the latter if you wish. 


For example, back when you explored the abandoned mansion on Cinnabar Island in Pokémon Red and Blue, you uncovered journals that cryptically discussed the finding of Mew and the birth of Mewtwo. No part of the game tells you that you need to study these and reading them does absolutely nothing in your eventual finding of Mewtwo in Cerulean Cave. Instead, it’s a bit that’s only as important as you allow it to be. The same goes for all of the myths in places like Hoenn or Sinnoh, or all of the slice-of-life details in a setting like Alola that give you a wider glimpse of how the Pokémon community works on a minute basis. The objectives you finish aren’t outside of this and often attempt to tie themselves to them, but you can beat the game completely without appreciating any relevance they may have. 


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Pokémon Legends: Arceus, through sheer force of enthusiasm and constant attention to Pokémon’s own unique fables, turns any subtext into text. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of little things that you can ignore or obsess over. The game is littered with smaller touches like certain objects and bits of writing that leave you in detective mode. But because of its Poké-historical setting, you’re much less likely to.


Just the fact that Pokéballs are archaic little contraptions that you’re able to build changes your headspace for the experience. It makes the player consider the aspect of “How did this get to the Pokéballs in games set in modern times?” The same goes for the societal idea of Pokémon as many people are afraid of them rather than instantly obsessing over them. And while many games have tasked you with doing research, Pokémon Legends: Arceus brings this to an almost archaeological scale. The biology of the Pokémon world has always been fascinating, as is a culture that’s almost purely in service of the monsters, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus gives it a reason for being. 


Pokémon Legends: Arceus starters

Image Source: The Pokémon Press Site


The stripped-down approach with fewer trainer battles and fewer traditional checkpoints means finding a new rhythm for progress among all of the information being nudged our way. In this, we get a “stop and smell the roses” revelation. Does Pokémon Legends: Arceus have more lore than a typical Pokémon game? In a concentrated way, yes. But by using a hammer instead of a chisel in this regard, I hope it allows players that haven’t really taken Pokémon’s world-building into account to re-evaluate what it means to exist in it.


I think it’s most helpful with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, 2022’s other big Pokémon game and one that’s overshadowed Pokémon Legends: Arceus thanks to its newness and wider cultural conversation (both about its merits and the bugs and glitches it was saddled with upon release). Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s world is expansive and fun to examine, but much of it is bare outside of environmental factors. Having just played Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I found myself diving into every nook and cranny and hanging on much of the dialogue that I may have otherwise digested quickly and pounded A through. 


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How does this fit in the Pokémon world? What role is all of this playing and what can it tell me about how the universe operates? 


For instance, it’s pretty obvious that Captain Cyllene of the Galaxy Team looks a lot like Cyrus, the cultish leader of Pokémon Diamond, Pokémon Pearl and Pokémon Platinum’s Team Galactic who wants to create a new world. At one point in the game, Cyllene says, "I promise you… I will pass down the name of our team, and tales of its accomplishments, to all my descendants." Obviously, this can lead one to imagine where the name Team Galactic came from but is it also where Cyrus’ outsized visions of grandeur evolved from as well? Imagine trying to live up to a story of such lush, perfect discovery. There are quite a few things like that in Pokémon Legends: Arceus and they often exist right in front of your nose. 


Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Image Source: The Pokémon Press Site


I’ve long been fascinated with the Pokémon world in this way. Having become a fan in 1998, I spent much of my time trying to complete its puzzle. What details in the game created a broad history? How does it relate to the anime or to things we see in the cards or the manga? As Pokémon games have gotten bigger and the details (especially the visual ones) have gotten sharper, the canvas is given more concrete possibilities if we wish to look. And when you combine player agency with the sense of fantasy instilled by Pokémon Legends: Arceus, we find that the games’ stories aren’t lackluster at all. 


The best ones are only limited by our own interest in them.




Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter! His book, Monster Kids: How Pokemon Taught A Generation To Catch Them All, is available wherever books are sold. 

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