Pokémon Legends Arceus: Building the Modern PokéWorld

                 by Avery Kaplan    

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the newest entry in the long-running Pokémon franchise, spanning more than half a dozen Nintendo consoles and handhelds. In the two decades since the first games were released, the world of Pokémon has developed into a richly detailed realm with many standardized conventions. For example, you can depend on the fact that your party of pocket monsters will consist of six members, and there will be a Pokémon Center (where you can heal your six-member team) in each town and city you come upon.

After eight generations of Pokémon games, it’s hard not to take some of these “PokéWorld societal conventions” for granted. By hurling the player back in time to the period at which the foundations of these conventions were developed, Arceus illuminates how individuals built society. And in the process, the game makes it hard not to think about how the societal ways of our world are not as inevitable as they might seem.

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The Modern PokéWorld

Pokemon Legends: Arceus; PokeWorld

If you’ve ever played one of the main series Pokémon games, or even if you’re familiar with one of the animated adaptations of the games, you’ll recognize that while there have been many gameplay additions over the decades, the backbone of the PokéWorld has been present since Pokémon Red and Blue were released in the mid-to-late 90s (1996 in Japan and 1998 in the United States).

In addition to the aforementioned six-member Pokémon team and the presence of a Pokémon Center in every central town or city, there are many other “societal conventions” that players might have (understandably) taken for granted over the years. In addition to specific details, like the near-universal habit of housing individual Pokémon in Pokéballs or the use of “Potions” to heal injured Pokémon, there is also the general symbiotic relationship between humans and Pokémon.

Even in the first generation of the game, this symbiosis was emphasized, with some of the first NPCs you interact with in Pewter City telling you about how their Pokémon partners are an integral part of their day-to-day lives, from personal affairs to construction work to entertainment.

Over the years and generations of Pokémon, the fundamental nature of the symbiotic relationship shared between Pokémon and humans is more thoroughly explored, both in subsequent main-series games and in certain spinoff games. One stand-out example is Detective Pikachu, released for the Nintendo 3DS in the mid-2010s (2016 in Japan and 2018 in the United States).

While the basic concept for the handheld game will be familiar to anyone who saw the 2019 movie adaptation, the game itself leaned more heavily into detective genre conventions, allowing for a unique glimpse into the nature of this symbiotic relationship.

This glimpse was afforded because the eponymous electric mouse gumshoe can communicate with other Pokémon, conveying this information to the player because he can also speak human language.

Throughout case-related interviews with Yanma, who are tasked with carrying boom mics on the set of a show produced by the GNN television network, Timburr, who are tasked with moving heavy crates around Cappucci Island and Brionne, who perform in the pools aboard the S.S. Prime Treasure luxury liner, the inextricable role Pokémon play in the PokéWorld’s day-to-day function becomes increasingly apparent.

The World of Arceus

Pokemon Legends: Arceus; PokeWorld

Arceus takes place in the past of the PokéWorld, but it’s in a familiar location. While the region is called “Hisui” during the historical period in which Arceus is set, the modern incarnation of the area, which is the setting for Pokémon: Pearl and Diamond (and their various remakes), is known as “Sinnoh.”

In the original Pearl and Diamond games, players visited Jubilife City. This location was presented as an exceptionally modern metropolis, with giant skyscrapers that included locations like the Jubilife TV station, the Global Trade Station, and the Pokétch Company (responsible for designing and programming the Pokétch, the computerized wrist-watch that represented a “technological step forward” for the series when the games were first released 2006, especially since the device occupied the separate touch screen of the Nintendo DS system).

Entering Jubilife City was a breathtaking experience in Pearl and Diamond, especially since it came with the activation of your Pokétch. The experience of entering Jubilife Village in Arceus is equally dazzling, but perhaps for the opposite reason, with its scant handful of two-story structures underscoring how far back in the region’s history the player has traveled. Interacting with the local NPCs soon reveals that it isn’t just the people’s alacrity for architecture that’s yet to be developed: it’s also the seemingly intrinsic nature of their relationship with Pokémon.

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In fact, not only have these people not yet achieved a symbiotic relationship with Pokémon, the consensus is that Pokémon are actively terrifying, a powerful force of nature, leaving most individuals cowering within the Jubilife settlement rather than venturing out into the unexplored regions beyond the village walls.

This is a far cry from the Sinnoh players experienced in Pearl and Diamond, in which every Hiker, Fisherman, and Collector you run into has their pockets stuffed with Pokéballs, ready to throw down (according to strictly established rules) at naught but the barest of eye contact.

Bridging the Gap

Pokemon Legends: Arceus; PokeWorld

Throughout Arceus, and in partnership with the Galaxy Expedition Team (the historical organization comprised of individuals from the Hoenn, Alola and Galar regions dedicated to surveying Hisui – particularly the intriguing monsters within it), players help these NPCs overcome their trepidation towards Pokémon, often by bringing them captured Pokémon directly.

The fact that the progressive Galaxy Expedition Team has established Jubilife Village and that Jubilife City continues to enjoy a reputation for developing cutting-edge technology mirrors real-world examples like San Francisco, whose historical reputation for being a hub for progress continues to the present day (and, given that the city is the site of Starfleet Headquarters, it’s a reputation that even continues into certain futures).

In Arceus, as the reservations of the NPCs regarding interaction with Pokémon fall away, the positive effect of the symbiotic relationship becomes increasingly evident. In some instances, these effects occur personally, as with Beauregard, the guard at the front door of Galaxy Hall, who partners with a Weedle that you retrieve for him.

But the effect of partnering with Pokémon can be seen on a larger scale, as well, as with how the farm is swiftly developed once a ground-type Pokémon has been recruited to the cause.

In some instances, the benefit to the Pokémon themselves is underscored, like in the case of the “Bothersome Bidoof.” In that subquest, a trio of the beaver-like Pokémon must be tracked down before they can wreak any more havoc on the woodwork of Jubilife Village. Once you’ve corralled them, however, Tsumugi conscripts the trio, and she’s able to direct their energy towards more constructive ends.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus; PokeWorld

Soon, the Bidoof can be seen around Jubilife Village, with their efforts having a tangible effect on the architectural development of the settlement (and at night, you can glimpse them happily sleeping in a pile on an un-chewed upon roof).

Each of these examples has at least one thing in common: it demonstrates that the “societal conventions” that are taken for granted in the modern PokéWorld are neither as eternal nor as intrinsic as they appear to be. Rather than being some edict on high, Arceus illuminates how individuals like Professor Laventon and Captain Cyllene laid these foundations of the PokéWorld.

Furthermore, the game demonstrates how commonplace modern-day technological conveniences like Pokéballs and even Pokédexs were once viewed as oddities, met with skepticism, or outright rejected.

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From the PokéWorld to Our World

Pokemon Legends: Arceus; PokeWorld

While our world may not have Pokémon to form the foundation of our society, there are still many parallels between the depiction of this critical historical period of the Sinnoh region and the details it reveals about the development of the PokéWorld.

Like most towns and cities in the PokéWorld have a Pokémon Center, for example, most towns and cities in the United States have a post office. While it’s easy to view societal fixtures like this as having been present for all time, Arceus highlights that this perspective is illusory: societal conventions arise from the efforts of individuals, and often those who are scorned for their vision at the time.

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Avery Kaplan