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Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn’t really like Breath of the Wild – except in one key way

Comparisons between the latest Zelda game and the latest Pokemon game are fairly unfounded – apart from one notable link.

From the moment it was announced, Pokemon Legends: Arceus faced one constant comparison – to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even as reviews dropped yesterday, I saw quite a few reviews - which arguably should’ve known better - refer to it as ‘Pokemon of the Wild’ or something similar.

But just how much like Breath of the Wild is it? Well… it isn’t. At all. Except for perhaps in one way.

When I think about Breath of the Wild, I first think about two key aspects of that game’s design. Let’s check them off and compare them to Legends.

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First of all, there’s the wide open world of Hyrule, which sets you loose with a level of player freedom that feels the antithesis of your typical Nintendo handholding. Pokemon Legends: Arceus doesn’t so much have an open world as open-ended zones. Structurally, it’s closer to a Monster Hunter game than any Zelda. Also, it’s always super clear, and always gently trying to push you towards the next story development. There’s nothing anywhere near as obtuse and open a goal as “Defeat Ganon.”

Second, I think of the interactive, layered nature of Breath of the Wild’s systems. The world is reactive, meaning you can chain together powers, or do things like make fire spread to your advantage. Nature can be as much a tool as your sword. Pokemon Legends: Arceus has a static world, and is focused on more defined play within that. Even though there are now systems where multiple wild Pokemon can engage against you at once if you start a battle when more than one creature is nearby, there’s none of that emergent system focus – everything is more static.

None of this is to say that Pokemon Legends: Arceus is bad. In fact, as I explained in VG247’s four-star review, it’s actually excellent, and is the best Pokemon game for a very long time. But my point is that the constant comparisons to Breath of the Wild does a disservice to both games at best, and at worst it cues up expectations that Legends: Arceus isn’t designed to meet. It’s a different sort of game – and as I said, Monster Hunter is likely more key to the development philosophy of this game as any Zelda-based inspiration.

As I teased earlier, though, it does have one key thing directly in common with Breath of the Wild – and it’s the best possible thing the two games could share.

Breath of the Wild shook up the Zelda formula, turning some aspects upside down, removing some, respecting others, but reconsidering absolutely all. It was a high watermark because of the resulting quality, but it was notable even before considering that – because of how brave it was. The Zelda series had essentially been dining out on the formula set out in Ocarina of Time (itself a subtle 3D evolution of Link to the Past) for around twenty years, and it’d been doing so with relative success. After a mildly experimental game in Skyward Sword, the Zelda team went for it, and in the process created a game that’s now regarded as defining for the series as the game whose formula they’d been following for the last two decades.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the same. Pokemon turned 25 years old last year, but the big-budget main-line entries in the series have all been following and iterating on the template built back in Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow. The fact that’s been possible is a testament to the quality and potency of that original template – but in places it was evidently beginning to wear a bit thin. While it might not be quite as much of a slam dunk as Link’s open-world adventure was, it’s nevertheless hugely impressive – and a major milestone for the series. I can’t wait to see what it might inspire going forward.

If you're after more Pokemon Legends: Arceus guides, such as how to learn moves, how to change moves, how to unlock more Base Camps, how to evolve your Pokemon, how to upgrade your Satchel space, which is the best starter, or which types are super-effective against which other types, click on the links to learn everything you need to know.

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