If you’re so bad at action games that even you non-gamer spouse clowns on you, will you still have fun with the newest Pokémon game?

“Do you want to play the new Pokémon game before it goes on sale?” should be a rhetorical question. Honestly, the answer to even “Do you want to play the new Pokémon game?” is an obvious “Yes” to most fans, so getting to try out Pokémon Legends: Arceus ahead of its official release date is just the cherry on top of the Poké-parfait, right?

And yet, when presented with an opportunity to do just that, our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun said “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.” We were all baffled by this. The guy is an unabashed Pokémon fan, and one of the most dedicated Pokémon GO players in Japan. He’s also played plenty of video games in his life, starting with the Famicom/NES and continuing on through the 16 and 32-bit eras, with one of his greatest gamer boasts being his ability to beat rhythm game Bust a Groove without missing a single beat.

▼ And yes, that’s a PaRappa the Rapper toaster in the Soranews24 office.

But while P.K. doesn’t have anything against video games in general, he absolutely hates analog sticks. He finds them so awkward that after watching him clumsily spinning around and firing his gun into the ceiling during an hour-long Star Wars Battlefront II session, P.K.’s wife declared him “So terrible at analog-stick games that it makes me want to throw up.”

Since Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an action RPG, and the first game in the franchise fully set in a real-time, 3-D environment, you have to use the analog sticks to play it, and that’s what had P.K. worried. But his initial “No thanks” was overruled by the rest of us, since the Pokémon Company had invited P.K. specifically and he was now our only source of a sneak preview, so off he went.

Once P.K. arrived at the play test venue, he was directed to his seat at a monitor with a Nintendo Switch. He started the game up, and he was instantly enthralled by the beauty of the Hisui region (as the Pokémon world’s Sinnoh region is called in the time period when Arceus takes place). As he gingerly fiddled with the analog sticks to move his character and the camera, he noticed there were grassy fields, rocky mountains, and an inviting alpine stream in the immediate area.

And there were Pokémon, too! Right away, P.K. recognized some Buizels hanging out by the river, as you’d expect Water-types to do.

P.K. decided to mosey on over and see how he could interact with the cute creat- Wait, Buizel, what are you doing?!?

▼ “Sho [P.K.(s character’s name] blacked out.”

P.K. was equal parts heartbroken and terrified. The very first Pokémon he’d approached, basically the games’ equivalent of a sea otter or weasel, had killed him, showing absolutely no mercy despite his inexperience and goodwill.

For purposes of the playtest, the Pokémon Company had assigned an attendant to watch over P.K., and he was quick to offer some gentle advice about how P.K. could dodge his enemies attacks. On each of the many, many subsequent times the local Poké-life beat him to a pulp, the attendant dolled out a few more pointers, such as how the best tactic is to lob your Poké Balls at the Pokémon you’re trying to capture from the side or behind, or how you can use attacks from Pokémon you’ve already captured to weaken tough foes.

Little by little, P.K. started to get the hang of things, and could survive long enough to further appreciate the flora and fauna of Hisui. He was excited to find both Drifloon and Shinx in their natural habitat. Bidoof has suddenly become one of his favorite species because it’s a peaceful Pokémon that won’t attack you unless you provoke it, and P.K. needs all the friends, or at least non-enemies, he could get in this unprecedentedly harsh, by Pokémon game standards, environment.

The goal of the playtest session was to defeat a powerful King Kleavor, and at the risk of bragging, by the time P.K. felt confident to challenge the Bug/Rock-type he was able to beat it on his very first try. Pokémon is, after all, a franchise that’s meant to be enjoyable for even elementary school-age kids, so once you get used to having to stay on your toes in real-time combat in a Pokémon game, Arceus feels like a relatively easy action RPG, at least judging from the section P.K. played.

P.K.’s favorite part of the game, though, is its ridable Pokémon!

The 3-D environment gives a dramatic sense of scale and freedom as you travel by Pokémon steed, and P.K. got rides from a Wyrdeer, Basculegion, and Braviary. Out of the three, the eagle-like Braviary was the one P.K. had the most fun with, because who wouldn’t want to fly through the skies of this fantasy realm?

Of course, P.K. couldn’t spend all day in the sky. Most of the Pokémon, special locations, and other things to discover are down on the ground, so after he’d had his fill of soaring and swooping, he figured it was time to get off, so he pressed the button to let go of the hand glider-style grip…

▼ “Sho blacked out.”

,,,and plummeted to his death.

For the first time following one of P.K.’s deaths, the Pokémon Company was as amazed at P.K.’s lack of survival skills as he himself was. After a few moments of silence the rep recovered from his shock enough to say “Umm, you…you want to make sure you’re not up too high when you let go.”

▼ Trailer for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, showing all sorts of things you can do when you’re not getting yourself constantly killed like P.K. did.

So in summary, yeah, as an action RPG Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a pretty big departure from previous games in the franchise, but it still feels like a Pokémon game, and even if you’re not normally a fan of the genre and all thumbs when using analog sticks, you’ll get used to it quickly enough that you’ll have plenty of fun with it. The really big change to keep in mind, though, is that Pokémon now has fall damage.

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[ Read in Japanese ]