I am absolutely thrilled that Pokemon is finally giving us a proper open world game next year with Pokemon Legends Arceus, and like so many Pokemon fans, my mind is awash with the possibilities. I’ve already explained that I think it could be Pokemon’s Rogue One - AKA the best Star Wars movie - and that it’ll be a little more Genshin Impact, a little less Breath of the Wild. With red hot takes like that, you know you can always trust me when it comes to Pokemon opinions. Despite my enthusiasm though, there is one thing I’m concerned, or at the very least, curious about: regional variants. How are they going to play out in Pokemon Legends Arceus?

Regional variants have already shown themselves to be something special, in that they’ve managed to do something new features in Pokemon games often struggle with: they’ve made the jump across generations. Typically, Pokemon games will introduce a new idea, then discard it as soon as the next generation comes along. Popularity or influence on the gameplay doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in whether something sticks around, it’s all just down to the whims of The Pokemon Company. If it’s fresher, it’s better seems to be the motto, but the players very often disagree. Z Moves were only in Sun & Moon, Sky Battles were only in X & Y, and Pokemon mounts were only in Let’s Go. It remains to be seen whether or not Dynamaxing will stick around after Sword & Shield, but my money is on “no,” considering it’s just a riff on the more popular Mega Evolutions, which have now been, rather predictably, thrown in the bin.

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Regional variants though were introduced in Sun & Moon, then came back in Sword & Shield. These are well known Pokemon, typically (although not exclusively) from Gen 1, who have changed types and appearance to better suit their surroundings. I’d say “evolved,” but that means something different in Pokemon. For example, in Sun & Moon, the typically Electric Raichu is an Electric-Psychic surfer, adapting to the lush waves of Alola. Meanwhile, Weezing gains a mystical Fairy type in Galar, taking inspiration from Britain’s top hats, industrial chimneys, acid rain, and enchanted forests. Vulpix and Sandshrew, originally Fire and Ground types, respectively, both become Ice due to the frosty peaks of Alola. Exeggutor becomes a really tall, dopey palm tree and is somehow now a Dragon type, but I’m not sure I can explain why.

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Kanto and Alolan Vulpix

I adore the regional variants; they’re a fantastic way of getting some new love for the forgotten or underrated Pokemon, and they’re such a creative twist on the idea of evolution. I’d like to see them branch out from Gen 1 more, but Sword & Shield was a step in this direction, at least. When the next gen is revealed, I can’t wait to speculate over its real world geographical inspiration, and what that might mean for regional evolutions. If we head to Africa for the first time, for example, you’d expect Pokemon to have adapted to the heat. Could we see something like a Victreebel adapting to become a sunshade, or a water storage plant like a cross between a camel’s hump and a cactus? Or might we head to the Wild West, and see a Southern Belle twist on Gardevoir picking up a Ground typing from the dusty desert? Anyway, I reckon we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, because the point is, Pokemon Legends Arceus is not set in a new region, nor is it the start of a new Gen. It’s a spin-off being released in Gen 8, and it’s set in the same region as Gen 4, Sinnoh.

Since the Sinnoh games predate regional variants, they obviously don’t feature them, so you’d think that would be the end of it, but I’m not so sure. The Sinnoh of Gen 4’s Diamond & Pearl - the same games due for a chibi-style remake later this year - is very different to the Sinnoh of Pokemon Legends Arceus. In our open world adventure, we’re heading deep into the past, back to the feudal era of Sinnoh, before any of the mainline Pokemon games happened, even before the Pokedex itself existed. With that being the case, and with no nifty new Gen 9 features to get in the way, I think we might see some regional variants after all.

Only, we will have already seen them. The Pokemon we currently think of as the default Sinnoh Pokemon may not be the default Sinnoh Pokemon at all, but may themselves be regional variants, with Pokemon Legends Arceus showing us what they looked like before they fully adapted to the region. I’d call it pre-evolution but again, talking about evolution and Pokemon is complicated. Rotom, for example, is an Electric-Ghost Pokemon who haunts household appliances. How exactly does that work in an era when the household appliances are scrubbing boards and butter churns? Hard to see how Electric features into it. It’s not just in technology either; the terrain of the region is demonstrably different in Legends Arceus, with open spaces and feudal settlements instead of sprawling cities. Which Pokemon have been forced to adapt as humans encroach upon their lands, and will we see a glimpse of how they looked before mankind’s cosmopolitan desires chopped down their forests and paved over their wetlands?

alolan raichu

In terms of pure creativity, regional variants are one of the best things to happen to Pokemon in a while, and they have literally endless possibilities. Every single Pokemon can have one, and as Meowth has proven, Pokemon can even have multiple ones for each region. I hope Pokemon Legends Arceus recognises this, and tries to put its own spin on regional variants, mostly because I’m afraid it’s the last chance we’ll get. Regional variants might have survived the chop once, but that makes them the exception, not the rule. When Gen 9 rolls around, they might find themselves in the dust. Still, at least they’ll be able to adapt to it easily enough.

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