From day one, the Pokémon franchise has centered around one mission: “Gotta catch ’em all!” The “’em” in that command meaning the adorable or frightening monsters that populate the world alongside humans. For trainers interested in adding to their collections, catching all the Pokémon takes drive and patience. There are now hundreds of Pokémon that can only be obtained by grinding through turn-based battles, trading, or finding special items for evolution. The latest entry in the game series, the Nintendo Switch’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus, changes the monster-catching formula dramatically, in ways that make catching Pokémon easier than ever in a mainline game. There’s just one drawback: I feel terrible doing it as I invade a once-peaceful landscape.
In previous mainline games, like Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, players have to run through the grass (or other special environments) to initiate turn-based battles against wild Pokémon. In Legends: Arceus, you can walk up to a Pokémon in the overworld and chuck a Poké Ball at them directly, as if playing a third-person shooter. If you want, you can still battle that Pokémon in a traditional turn-based battle, but it’s also possible to bypass the entire fight by surprising and catching a Pokémon on the spot.
Arceus makes the act of catching Pokémon incredibly quick and easy. You can just zip along, catching them all. It’s a frictionless experience — if you’re focused, and the Pokémon are weak enough, you can catch dozens of them in an hour. Each time I throw one of the Poké Balls, my ears are rewarded with the satisfying crackle that signals a successful catch.
But as fun as it is to catch so many Pokémon so fast, it also feels bad to engage with the world in this way. Generally, my favorite parts of playing Pokémon involve bonding and nurturing my relationship with my Pokémon. Early on in my Arceus playthrough, I loved being able to take out my Pokémon and talk to them, but because I caught newer, stronger ones so quickly, I wound up cycling out my team at a rapid rate and not really developing a consistent party that I felt connected to as a player.
I’m the kind of player who gets attached to specific Pokémon easily and doesn’t ever bench my starter, because I get too sentimental. Now suddenly I’m creating the world’s first Pokédex, and I need to catch 25 Bidoof, which feels excessive. What’s more, each time I turn in my results to Professor Laventon, he pays me based on how many Pokémon I caught. All of this taken together makes the monsters feel like natural resources now more than ever, like something no different from the stones and leaves I pick up to craft the balls that catch them.
In other games, wild battles are excused with the logic that wild Pokémon in the grass will jump up and attack you. There’s this idea that players are just defending ourselves as we walk from one town to the next — not that it fully justifies capturing these Pokémon and making them fight. But in Arceus, humans are definitely just terrors in the natural environment. At one point, I sneaked up to an adorable bunny Pokémon, a Buneary sitting on a grassy hill overlooking a river. I instinctually threw a ball and caught it, not even thinking about the fact that I’d caught three of them already, and maybe could afford to let this one enjoy its evening. The effort required to catch some Pokémon in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is so low, you can do it without even really thinking.
I think this game is helping me better see the extractive elements that were in Pokémon all along. The good news is, with this game, you’re at least encouraged to release your Pokémon, since releasing them yields special rewards. So even if you farm Pokémon en masse, you can check the boxes you need to check with them, then release them back into the world. Still, it feels wrong to take them away from their homes at all.