Outside my kitchen window is a birdbath. A moderately large green and yellow parrot stands on the side of the bath, takes a few sips, then steps in and claps furiously with its wings. After a few minutes, the drenched bird around him looks as if confused that the water is gone.
In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a Zubat stares at me without eyes. I just threw and missed a Poké Ball. I’m freezing, hidden in the grass, but it’s too late. It knows I’m there, and it’s angry. It screams at me, and I start to sprint away. It swoops towards me, spinning in an attack I have no interest in confirming would hurt a lot. I dodge out of the way and keep running until I’m safe.
These interactions with bird watchers and Pokémon Legends: Arceus may seem different, but to me they are different facets of the same joy: the joy of looking at nature.
In real life, it’s best to leave animals alone, but in a video game you can feed them, fight, sleep, bone them on the head with a mud ball, or just catch them in a Poké Ball, and it’s all full. me with joy. I’ve never tried to throw a Poké Ball at a bird, but I’m sure I would be arrested.
There’s an early side quest Pokémon Legends: Arceus where a woman asks to see the completed Pokédex for Starly, a bird Pokémon, simply because she thinks it’s so adorable. In a way, I think this captures the essence of the game.
In previous entries, interactions with Pokémon were limited to combat. You could see them, they fight, and maybe with their interaction in a minigame, but that was it. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the game wants you to be like the Starly lover. They want you to observe the Pokémon, interact with them, and think that they are absolutely adorable if you catch dozens of them to record your Pokédex.
Pokémon are not real. Their programmed behavior is fairly simple, mostly ranging from getting angry to running away, along with some standard walking animations. They will never become as meat as real animals. But I absolutely love to see a little Shinx back and forth, to see a Pichu take a nap, or to observe a Ponyta running past before throwing a Poké Ball at them all ruthlessly. It feels so fresh and alive compared to previous entries in the series, and it reminds me of why I fell in love with Pokémon in the first place.
This is the first time a Pokémon The game wanted to be your core interaction with the game with Pokémon behavior. Pokémon Snap came close, but the interaction was one-sided. You could interact with the Pokémon, but they could not interact with you. Now I can live out my dream of being zapped by an angry Pikachu or trampled by a rampant Snorlax.
Moreover, the environment itself is more important than in any other Pokémon play for. If you enter an area full of aggressive Pokémon, you may know better where you can run, or be ready to fight. When entering a cave, there is no grass to hide your approach to a close-up Poké Ball.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus finally trying to fulfill a promise of the Pokémon starting point: a world full of Pokémon you can actually interact with. You can no longer treat them only as RPG battles waiting to happen. Now they are creatures that move in unique patterns, become aggressive or scared depending on their species, and begin to feel that they are real.
Sure, it might not be exactly the same as seeing a parrot enjoying my birdbath a little too enthusiastically. But it gives me a bit of that feeling, and that’s a great first step.