This game looks bad for 2021 standards. You would think that Game Freak and the Pokémon Company would spend more money and resources to make this one of their greatest games ever. This is a freaking open world Pokémon game! 90s kids have been dreaming of a game like this since the original Red, Green, and Blue came out. It took twenty-five years and five generations of gaming later, but we finally have an open world Pokémon game that we wanted for so long. And the reception? About what you would normally expect from the internet these days. Why does this game look like a late PS2/early PS3 game? Does no one at Game Freak know how to make a good game anymore? Why am I paying money to play a game that could look so much better that other smaller game developers could make? Hopefully all of those buzzwords caught your attention, because in my opinion, I believe that this game will be fun to play even though the visuals leave a different impression. What if I brought to the table the idea that this could be a changing point for the company and we are seeing their transparency unfold before us? I’m about to attempt to explain my point of view about this unreleased game (at the time of this writing) and the highs and lows of its current development.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus will be Game Freak’s fourth 3D console game. Out of their previous 3D games, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu & Eevee!, Pokémon Sword & Shield, & Little Town Hero, I would argue that the Let’s Go games have the better visuals and polish over the others. While the Let’s Go games visuals were meant to be bright and nostalgic, Legends seems to be going for more of a darker, dimmer time. There is no doubt that this game is taking inspiration from other open world games, but there is a big difference from this game and other studios that have produced wonderful (if not glitchy) open world games.
Game Freak has never developed a 3D open world game before. As far as I can tell (I looked everywhere), this is the first game in a genre like this that the company is developing solely by themselves. To put that into some perspectives, Nintendo had Monolith Soft help them with their visual environments for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo wanted to make sure that Breath of the Wild‘s world was inviting to explore and asked a company who does it really well to help them out with it. Legends has no one but Game Freak working on it. The company who mostly stuck to handheld games up until the Switch’s release has to suddenly break out of their mold to develop new games in a different style that they haven’t been using in almost twenty years. I know someone is quick to point out games like Pokémon Stadium, Coliseum, Pokémon Snap & New Snap, and Poképark on the Wii. Those are 3D games that were not developed by Game Freak (HAL Labs (Stadium), Genius Sorority Inc. (Coliseum), Bandai Namco (New Snap)). Heck, most of their remakes aren’t even developed by Game Freak themselves like in the case with Brilliant Diamond and Shiny Pearl.
So the obvious question. Why doesn’t Game Freak partner with, or let a different studio develop this game? That is a legit question. It feels very idiotic for a company who has never developed a game like this before to create one on their own with no one to help them. Unless Game Freak has talented developers who are confident in their programming skills, this game will feel like a fraction of what it could truly be if they hired some experts or a larger team to help them with it. I wish they would offer secondary help with the environment design, but I can also understand why they may not want to get outside help and develop this solely on their own.
Change is unavoidable. In the past, Game Freak knew how to make fun, charming 2D games that took advantage of the hardware they were working on. None of the Pokémon games on the handheld systems looked bad and only improved as time went on. Even when they moved to 3D models for Pokémon X & Y, they got better improving their work when Sun & Moon came out. Game Freak knows that their game development has to evolve as well. The Switch can handle so much more than the handheld systems did, so now they are forced to change the way they develop to meet the quality standards that their fans want. If I were a game designer in their shoes, I would want to attempt to push my team to our limits and try to create something out of our comfort zone that I know fans would enjoy. Game Freak could have easily paid the money to get all of the outside resources they could want to make this one of the best looking Pokémon games to date. But, they choose to do this themselves to grow as a studio. The best evidence for this can be seen in the recent trailer for the game.
The game looks so much better from the one that we saw back in February. I can’t jump on the bandwagon to say that Game Freak is being lazy with the graphics in this game. From this trailer alone, the game looks more polished than they did five months ago. Some would say of course that is how game design should be. If that is so, then what we see is what we may get; and I’m totally fine with giving the game a chance if they are committed to the risk they are taking. Do I personally think the game is going to look better than what was shown in the new trailer? Not really. I am a “keep expectations low” kinda guy, so if the finally game looks like this, then I will be totally satisfied. Do I think this game will be riddled with framerate issues at launch? Oh definitely so! It’s these types of low expectations that make me still interested in the game rather than nitpick about how I would solve all these issues on my own. Besides all of that, this makes me excited on how the next game may look and perform. People criticized Sword and Shield for the “tree of low quality,” but I can understand how things like this can take time when you are under contract to make a game that you may be unfamiliar with the technology. I am willing to give Game Freak a chance with a game like this, even though I believe the safer bet would have been to inquire help from another studio to help with their graphic designs.
But, opinions are just that.