Pokemon Legends: Arceus Review

Pokemon re-invented

by Elliott Gatica
Official Pokemon Legends Arceus cover image.

For over 20 years, the formula for Pokemon games has remained mostly the same and has definitely become stale. You play as a preteen who can take on the impossible. You somehow manage to best every gym leader in Pokemon battles, fend off notorious crime syndicates better than the local police department, and become the most famous name in your region by defeating the Elite Four. That’s where Pokemon Legends: Arceus comes in. This game almost entirely ditches that stale formula and takes a bold new direction in narrative and gameplay. This shakes up the franchise for the better, but not without some drastically cut corners.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus tells a different story. You assume control of a person in their mid-teen years who has mysteriously fallen from this space-time rift from the sky. This is loosely explained in the opening cutscene where the legendary Pokemon, Arceus (or as the locals refer to it as “Almighty Sinnoh), modifies what looks to be your smartphone and beams you into the past. While the overdone trope of time travel is a bit of a cheap way to create a prequel for Diamond and Pearl, what lies ahead is perhaps the biggest breath of fresh air we have gotten for the franchise in decades.

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“Seek out all Pokemon, and thou shalt find me once more.”

Arceus’ final quote before sending you to a primitive era of the Sinnoh region sets the premise of what’s to come. This isn’t a game that requires you to have the strongest Pokemon to battle your way through countless trainers to achieve superstar status. The main goal of this game is to complete what is possibly Pokemon’s first Pokedex ever. You’ll explore the vast Hisui region to survey, interact, and catch over 200 different species of Pokemon in sectioned instances of large, explorable areas.

It may sound like a lot of boring work on paper to just catch a bunch of Pokemon and record your findings, but it’s more than that. When you’re out in the different biomes of the Hisui region, you’ll be able to run into Pokemon freely roaming these sectioned areas. Gone are the days of the annoying random encounters while walking through patches of grass. Gone are the days of stocking up on Repellants to get from one point to another. Zubat and Geodude spamming in caves are now a thing of the past and good riddance.

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We’ll now be able to go up and encounter Pokemon as we please, of course for surveying and survival purposes. Pokemon Legends: Arceus adds a new way to interact with wild Pokemon than just battling them with your own. You’re in a time where people don’t necessarily coexist with Pokemon yet. In fact, people are very much afraid of them, and only a select group of people are tasked to handle them.

In previous games when you’d encounter a Pokemon in the wild, you always drew out the first Pokemon on hand to battle. In the case of Legends: Arceus, encountering Pokemon can either lead to two outcomes: they’ll either attack you head-on or be startled and run away. This adds a layer of excitement that I had not felt in a Pokemon game for over a decade. These Pokemon won’t wait for you to throw one out to battle on your behalf. You can get eviscerated by a Snorlax’s body slam or get your internals fried by a Luxray’s electric attacks if you get too bold and careless.

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You as the Surveyor (not trainer) have to make the decision on whether or not you can approach a Pokemon to catch or battle. What’s even more fascinating is that you’re not someone who hides behind their Pokemon to prove their strength. In this game, you have more free control of your character, so you can do things like run, crouch, and even dodge roll (because you don’t want to take a Fire Blast to the face from a wild Growlithe).

As mentioned earlier, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is set in a much more primitive time, dating back to an era where things like digital screens and electronics are a foreign concept to the people of the town you find a permanent lodging in. Speaking of the townsfolk and other recurring characters in the game, there are many notable characters who, if you have played many of the mainline Pokemon games prior to this, are the ancestors of those faces from the earlier games.

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For example, Captain Cyllene of the Survey Corps is an obvious relative to her descendant, Cyrus, from Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Other notable characters include Captain Zisu, who serves as the game’s move tutor. She can be linked to Sinnoh’s Elite Four Flint. She has red hair and an unwavering fighting spirit, just like her descendant. There are many other people you’ll meet in the Hisui region who will be reminiscent of others who weren’t even in the fourth generation of Pokemon!

Since this game is set in a more primitive time, commodities like Pokecenters and Pokemarts between areas are nonexistent. You have the main campsite where you can rest, switch out your Pokemon from boxes, and manage your inventory via crafting. Legends: Arceus adapts more of a traditional RPG game where the player has to be a bit more careful with their inventory and the dangers that await away from these safe-havens.

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You can’t just walk into places waving cash around to stock up on items. Instead, you’ll have to scour the areas for raw materials to craft things like Poke Balls, potions, and bait. This is a mechanic that appeals to the Monster Hunter fan in me. To optimize your chances of making it back to camp safely and completing your research missions, you have to use survival tactics with your environment. This detaches from the linearity presented in past Pokemon games.

There’s a bigger payout for people who walk off the beaten path as it should be for the curious player in these types of games. You’re in an era where the style of living emulates that of indigenous people before colonialism. People are more in tune with nature and the environment around them. You don’t have all this sophisticated technology (other than your Arc Phone) that makes your way of life easier.

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The survival and staple mechanics of RPGs add new life to the Pokemon formula, but there are aspects of it that still remain, specifically its combat. Those that remain have actually been modified to create a much more exciting and streamlined way of playing.

The battle system has received a major overhaul that adds a whole new layer of strategy that I hope becomes a staple for the next mainline entries to come. Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ battle system retains the same turn-based mechanics as every Pokemon game, but with a modified attack twist.

Every move that a Pokemon performs in this game can be used in three ways. The first is just a typical move being used, like Flamethrower. A Pokemon that uses Flamethrower can also perform it in the Agile style, which will make the move slightly weaker, but give priority to attacking in future turns. Then the Strong style increases the base power of the move but will hinder attack priority in later turns. Using a move in either style will use up 2 PP instead of just one from a normal attack.

Hisuian-Decidueye

Outside of battle, the whole grindy nature of the game has been vastly decreased. EVs and IVs (Effort Values and Individual Values) no longer are things to spend countless hours grinding for. Once you catch a Pokemon, the only deciding factors to determine their strengths and weaknesses are their natures and Effort Levels. These can be modified easily, eliminating the luck factor in finding the ideal Pokemon.

The only real random factors you’ll have to worry about now are shiny Pokemon and the new Alpha Pokemon. The latter Alpha Pokemon are new forms of Pokemon that only exist in this region. They’re basically giant versions of normal Pokemon, oftentimes with greater stats. These are so fun to encounter out in the wild because they feel like field bosses in traditional RPGs. Alpha Pokemon are drastically higher in level compared to nearby Pokemon. They’re also much more menacing because their eyes glow red and they have a tendency to attack the player when alerted.

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One final thing about the gameplay of Pokemon Legends: Arceus is its interesting boss battle mechanics against the Noble Pokemon. To not jump into too many spoilers, you’ll face Noble Pokemon who will throw a variety of attacks at you in which you’ll have to dodge them. While doing so, you’ll throw balms of specially crafted items to lower their health bars. When you deal enough damage to them, you’ll have to send one of your Pokemon out in a traditionally styled battle. Once that concludes, you’ll shift into the next phases where the difficulty increases.

People will compare these instances to other games like Dark Souls. You’ll be using that dodge button a lot and waiting for an opportunity to attack what feels like an incredibly tough opponent. That part may be true, but these boss battles are simple enough so that players can understand the movement and attack patterns of these bosses. They’re also not punishing if they find themselves being defeated by the said Noble Pokemon.

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In terms of the reinvented imagining of a Pokemon game, Pokemon Legends: Arceus mostly nails it. It’s compelling and actually exciting to explore the vast lands in Hisui to essentially “catch ‘em all.” But this is where some of the game’s faults start to lie. The foundation is laid for a brand new way to explore Pokemon moving forward, but oftentimes, the lands can be uninspiring, limiting, and sometimes feeling barren.

I just wish there was a bit more to really encapsulate what these biomes have to offer in terms of Pokemon species roaming about. The lack of a more full world feels like it has to do with the poor optimization and graphical limitations. This game is not the most graphically advanced, to put it lightly.

There are games with larger open worlds and even instanced free-roam areas like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Monster Hunter Rise that have more going on in their respective playable areas. Those games look better than this and they’re older exclusive Switch titles.

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This is where you start to see these cut corners. The whole joke that this game “has worse graphics than a Gamecube game” does, unfortunately, ring a bit true here. That isn’t to say this game looks bad all the time, in fact, there are moments where it looks really pretty. This is only the case when it comes to certain cutscenes and the animations in traditional Pokemon battles, however.

These cut corners are also present when it comes to human interactions of the slightest bit. When you’re at dinner with Rei/Akari and Professor Laventon, you don’t actually get to see everyone enjoy their potato mochi. The screen cuts to black. This is the case for almost everything else too. Game Freak really cheaped out on animations of human interactions. The most you’ll see are the facial expressions on people. Everything else just fades to black, even things like people running during a cutscene.

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The Verdict

Pokemon Legends: Arceus proves that graphics are not the only factor in what makes a game great. Although it can look very rough around the edges, the package here is an extremely fun one that hopefully outsources the overdone formula from previous titles. Moving forward, this should act as a stepping stone of what a Pokemon game should be. The freedom to roam around the region and interact with Pokemon without annoying random encounters is what makes the game more exciting.

Top that off with the streamlined mechanics of battling and eliminating so many random factors to determine a specific Pokemon’s efficacy. That right there has the potential to make future titles more competitively viable. Hopefully, Gamefreak takes many elements of this game to break away from the monotonous formula we’ve been too accustomed to in the past few decades.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

"loved"
loved

Pokemon Legends: Arceus

  • Score: 4 / 5
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch
  • Published By: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
  • Developed By: Game Freak
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • US Release Date: January 28, 2022
  • Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
  • Quote: "Pokemon Legends: Arceus proves that graphics are not the only factor in what makes a game great. Although it can look very rough around the edges, the package here is an extremely fun one that hopefully outsources the overdone formula from previous titles."
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