Sure—Pokémon Legends: Arceus looks like Breath of the Wild—this isn’t a controversial take, but what does that actually mean?
In the—checking my notes, Jesus—four years since its release, Breath of the Wild-like has become a bit of an industry buzzword that can mean just about anything. Open-world with a focus on exploration and impressive vistas? BotW-like. Improvisational, physics-driven combat? BotW-like. A feeling of deep solace as you reckon with the end of the world underpinned with a very real hope for human connection in spite of that collective trauma? BotW-like.
With all of this in mind, what does it mean to fulfill a BotW-esque role in your series history? To say that the Legend of Zelda franchise was in decline before BotW would not be entirely accurate, but there’s a case to be made. Listening to video game podcasts as a teenager, I heard critics and fans lament the dungeon-based structure of the Legend of Zelda series. These critics felt Legend of Zelda was holding itself back while attempting to recapture the feeling of its classics like A Link To The Past and Ocarina of Time. That strategy wasn’t failing per se, but it wasn’t flourishing either, especially with Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword.
And so, we get Breath of the Wild, a Legend of Zelda game that fully embraces the apocalyptic omens of its predecessors and an end to the dungeon system after the end of the world.
The cultural impact of Breath of the Wild cannot be overstated. For younger players, BotW has become a very real touchstone. It’s the kind of game that, like Skyrim, people who otherwise do not play many video games will admit to having played for thousands of hours. Tumblr teens didn’t lose their collective minds over Skyward Sword Link, but they absolutely did for Breath of the Wild Link.
So it’s no wonder that the Legends: Arceus team is chasing that high. As much as I think the comparison is overdone, it feels justified in this case. For those of you who are unconvinced, or just fed up with people making the comparison, watch the original gameplay trailer for both games. The most famous shot of Breath of the Wild that features Link standing alone at the edge of the Great Plateau, camera rushing up behind him and over the cliff to perfectly frame the now cursed Hyrule Castle—is exactly replicated in the Legends: Arceus trailer.
Does this mean Legends: Arceus will be the Pokémon series’ Breath of the Wild equivalent? The trailers have a similar grasp on the game’s sense of place. The colors work, the vistas are good, there’s the wonder of seeing a big-ass Pokémon in the distance and knowing you can just walk there or choose to leave it alone and just watch. It is definitely a visual departure from the rest of the series while still in conversation with its predecessors.
Like BotW does with dungeons, Legends: Arceus ditches the eight gym structure of the Pokémon League for new narrative—and gameplay—rhythms. The new battle system in Legends: Arceus, where the traditional turn-based structure of the series is abandoned for something more fluid and improvisational, resembles the shift from lock-on heavy combat of LoZ’s past to BotW’s physics-driven chaos factory. By these metrics, yes. Breath of the Wild and Legends: Arceus fulfill similar functions in their respective series.
But this is a different question than, “Is Pokémon Legends: Arceus like Breath of the Wild?” To which I would say no, it isn’t. Or, at least, it isn’t like the Breath of the Wild I fell in love with.
I am 17, and my grandmother has been dead for two months. I am walking across the Bridge of Hylia at night. It is dark, and I am tired of thinking about death. I haven’t really been paying attention to what’s around me. The broken stone of a monument in decay lost its effect halfway through my multi-minute walk across it—you can only spend so much time mourning. Then, I see another traveler across the way. He is also tired and traveling alone. I take a moment to say hello, and he tells me the errand he’s on. He wonders how many people it took to turn an ambitious dream into the dead stone beneath our feet. I pass on answering. And then we are bathed in green. I didn’t even notice it until it was everywhere: the dragon swimming through the air above us. The lightning dances. And we stand there, in silence, watching a sleepwalking god in bloom. And for a moment, this bridge becomes a temple, and I mourn it anew.
Legends: Arceus will never be this game for me. I know its Pokémon too well, and that fact will undercut any majesty it could garner. And there will be no ruins or not enough. And I do not think that people will be gentle and lonely and curious the way they are in Breath of the Wild.
I am beyond excited for Arceus! Don’t get me wrong. But the issue with Breath of the Wild-like as a term, and with any -like descriptor, is that it tries to distill the grace of a game into a set of traits you can easily translate from one text to another, and it just doesn’t work.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Legends: Arceus manages to touch my blood, but I cannot imagine a game so reverent of the legacy of Breath of the Wild managing to pull it off. I think the next time I am broken, it will be by something new.