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Pokémon Legends: Arceus should have co-op next time
Turning a repetitive collectathon into a hangout darling
I reached the end of Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ main story after 30 hours in four days or something stupid like that. During that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about an idea I had early on in my playthrough: this game is missing co-op. It seems like such a blatant omission to me.
In fact, Pokémon Legends should become the co-op sister series to the mainline titles. Go on Game Freak, carry your already obvious Monster Hunter riff to its natural conclusion.
Warning: minor spoilers ahead regarding Pokémon Legends: Arceus, including end-of-game unlocks.
However, Arceus is also an increasingly repetitive collectathon that shares a lot of DNA with the mobile entry Pokémon GO. Compared to the series’ usual archaism, where every action feels so tedious and drawn out by today’s standards, Arceus sits much closer to PGO in how fast and efficient you can play it. If anything, Arceus exemplifies what PGO started. Where a mainline Pokémon entry typically keeps a very rigid tempo and players can only follow the defined pace set by the gameplay, Arceus lets them fly through the game as quickly or as slowly as they like with more gameplay variety than just stumbling into one-on-one turn-based combat.
By series standards, it’s incredibly refreshing. Mounts let you speed across the open-world, and as you unlock the ability to climb, swim and fly, you only grow faster. Pokémon can be caught traditionally or by surprise, which means you can catch practically any and every Pokémon you want without ever entering combat (though you’ll have to think and plan a bit depending on the situation). You pick up so much junk and catch so many Pokémon that you have to regularly sort through it all, especially the sheer number of ‘mon you’ll have to clear out from your stable like mothballs (which is exactly like PGO, actually). Even combat starts and ends sooner because of the new Agile Style and Strong Style move system: your next turn can arrive sooner or later by either weakening or buffing individual moves, but it mostly just makes combat a shorter experience because now it’s even easier to defeat opponents with a single Super Effective move.
Therefore, Arceus makes for an excellent podcast game. It’s not a mindless lootfest, but it’s not far off. Since it’s literally about completing a game-long checklist and scavenger hunt while the core gameplay pushes you towards speed and efficiency, Arceus is the perfect game to play with a podcast playing in the background. You can tick off entries in the Pokédex, complete side missions, or just casually mince about catching ‘mon and harvesting materials while focusing your ears elsewhere.
Putting on my armchair developer’s hat, though, all of this is also what makes Arceus a perfect co-op hangout game – in theory, anyway.
First of all, the entire gameplay loop already sets up a solid foundation for co-op.
Progression in Arceus is determined in two ways: wherever you are at during the story; and a separate overarching system that measures how much progress you’ve made with your Pokédex. In the latter, the player is rewarded for practically every individual thing that adds to your Pokédex. Every action you perform, every little accomplishment – whether it’s catching or defeating a Pokémon, evolving one, or seeing a Pokémon perform a certain move enough times – feeds into this system. Once you gain enough experience, you’ll earn a new star that lets you both use and craft better pokeballs, as well as command higher-level Pokémon. This system basically replaces traditional gym badges except it’s almost entirely separate from the main story.
As it is now, it does a perfectly good job of both doling out game features as well as providing you long-term goals. Once you’re done with the main story, new stars are the carrots dangling far in the distance to remind you that you’re not done, that you’ve still got an entire Pokédex to fill out. By the time I completed the story, I’d only reached rank seven with three left to go.
In theory, a system like this could work perfectly with another player. Whether you play Arceus in single-player or co-op would mean adding to your personal Pokédex either way.
It’s also easy to picture the refreshed combat system of Arceus with other players in the mix. In fact, more players could crack it open and let it really flourish beyond what’s possible in the game right now.
Turn-based combat in Arceus is essentially the same as the main games, now with a focus on individual turn speed at the cost of other long-time features (for example, there are no passive Abilities in Arceus, defining your team members more by their typing, level and speed). It’s a little reminiscent of Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle system, where the length of your “turns” is relative to your opponent’s, resulting in more varied and dynamic combat.
Basically, combat in Arceus was designed with uneven match-ups in mind, letting both players and opponents exploit turn orders to their benefit. Since you can face off against two or three opponents at once, or just a single extremely-strong opponent, you can speed up or buff up your moves to improve your odds – and so can enemies.
Adding another player to the mix, though… That could be something special.
With one or more players, battles could be uneven on either side instead of just always at the player’s disadvantage. If one player gets into combat, another could rush over to throw their own ‘mon into the fray and help out. Even if a second player isn’t needed but wants to help out anyway, they would start from the back of the turn order to balance the playing field slightly. If the second player has angered any Pokémon on their way to the battle, they could drag more opponents into the turn order for bonus chaos – or new Pokémon could just wander into the battle by themselves.
We’re deep in armchair dev territory here, but there’s so much potential here with the foundation that Arceus establishes.
Since Alphas are boss-type ‘mon that are much higher levelled and (in my experience) make smarter choices in battle, co-op could keep them scary and dangerous by either buffing them further or have them spawn more often during multiplayer – or both. Alphas stay scary and players are given extra incentive to stay paired up instead of straying too far from one another.
The same could apply to Mass Outbreaks and Space-Time Distortions, where stronger and/or uncommon Pokémon spawn in specific locations for a limited time. In co-op, these zones could be more common but disappear sooner than when you’re playing alone. This would encourage players to race to each zone before they disappear, giving them common objectives to track down together.
There’s the possibility for Raids with multiplayer as well. Whether it’s closer to PGO – where a ton of players join up to whale on a giant sponge for a few minutes – or Sword & Shield’s Max Raid Battles, limited to just a few players with a bigger focus on strategy and difficulty, Raids could add even more variety to the gameplay loop of Arceus.
Regardless, Arceus just gets repetitive very quickly. It did for me anyway. Every player has their own sweet spot where repetition really wears down their attention and enjoyment of a game (if it ever does), but co-op helps with this nearly inevitable issue either way. Adding more players to the mix wouldn’t just accelerate and diversify the final stages of Arceus, it would help numb the game’s mounting repetition.
For those like me, left with an entire Pokédex to fill out after completing the main story but supremely tired of the core gameplay loop, I’d love the option to boot the game up with a friend. Casually filling gaps in my Pokédex, scooping up shinies and big boi Apex as I do, would definitely add some life to my already exhausted run.
Like every other game in history, co-op is like fairy dust that magically upgrades whatever it’s added to – or at least makes a game more tolerable. Why wouldn’t this universal fact apply to Arceus as well?