For years the main-series Pokémon games followed a strict formulaz: earn eight gym badges, beat the evil team, build your team and defeat the Elite Four; it’s pretty simple. Even though major graphical and gameplay changes have been added, this linear format has remained. Pokémon Legends: Arceus provides drastic yet necessary changes to the mainline series. Change is often good, especially in an industry repeating ideas time and time again. The question to ask is: Does this change offer something exciting for Pokémon going forward?
From the offset, graphics are certainly controversial with players. Some declare this is the most beautiful a Pokémon game has ever looked; others critique and compare the visuals to Nintendo GameCube games. I believe the negative critique is overexaggerated.
Granted that Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not as graphically impressive as the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Doom, or Super Mario Odyssey, but the world is charming. From the sky to the mountains to many Pokémon models, the game is generally beautiful. Better graphics would have been appreciated, but the game looks lovely as it is. Unlike in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl – the Pokémon are great to look at in the world. They possess unique animations and are scaled much better than in any other mainline game.
Exploring the world these creatures live in is quite interesting. Players can explore five sections of the Hisui region, each of which presents different biomes and Pokémon alongside. While I wish the world was seamless rather than split into areas with strict boundaries, it is a minor issue. Nonetheless, it makes traveling from one area to another a bit of a pain.
Discussing the actual areas, they are intricately created and are enjoyable to explore. Thanks to the five companion Pokémon (which are unlocked throughout the game), different traversal opportunities are opened up to the player. Subsequently, you can climb mountains, soar across the skies and explore the oceans! Unlocking these five Pokémon throughout the game allows for the replayability of the areas because traversal is rewarded with unique Pokémon.
Across Hisui are also various items to use for crafting. Crafting in itself is a welcome mechanic that provides an alternative to shopping for your items. This is good because exploration is rewarded with more valuable crafting materials for making better items. It is also great for establishing a connection between the player and their Pokémon as you must use them to gain many of said materials. However, I dislike the item carrying limitations, especially early in the game.
While items and Pokémon help to flesh out Hisui, the world can suffer from emptiness. A lack of vegetation, for example, is odd considering the game has an emphasis on nature and the wild, so the grassy lands should not feel so flat. It is quite noticeable when you stop to look around, especially compared to other games – Horizon Zero Dawn, for example – which incorporate nature more in worlds not so densely populated by humans.
The biggest quarrel with emptiness comes when seeing the world from a vantage point. I would like to see families of flying-type Pokémon soaring across the sky or even Pokémon battling each other from afar. I’m sad to say that you see the landscapes and nothing more. It still looks nice but almost eerie, which is not a tone the game strives for. In a future installment, fleshing out the world must be prioritised.
I can look past the world’s occasional emptiness. After all, the game still has beauty. Conversely, I cannot say the same for battling in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It is – to put it bluntly – flawed. From my first few battles, I could see some changes in the formula. For a start, it feels so much easier to one-shot and be one-shot, with attacks doing more damage. It speeds up battles at least, but it eliminates some of the strategy, which for me is a key component to enjoying Pokémon battles.
When battling trainers with multiple Pokémon, the issues crop up. Opposing trainers get to attack before the turn cycle begins, meaning one of your Pokémon can faint with nothing you can do about it. This also happens against some of the stronger Pokémon in the wild, but this is at least preventable.
Sometimes trainers in battle get free turns, notably when they cause one of your Pokémon to faint. They can even get a free switch to another Pokémon. Unfair is the best word to use here. Furthermore, you will come across several battles where a trainer uses two or even three Pokémon at once. Yet, the player is ridiculously limited to using one Pokémon at a time. The system is cheap and unfair to the player.
Strong and Agile styles were the biggest advertised changes to battling in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. In battles with wild Pokémon, using Strong Style is nearly always the best bet. In trainer battles, the system is flawed as opposing Pokémon can use Strong Style and attack first, which means there is no risk in using a more powerful attack when attacks generally do absurd damage. Battling is easily the most frustrating element of the game.
At least the mechanics to catch Pokémon do not disappoint. Similar to Pokémon Go, you don’t need to battle a Pokémon to catch it. You can instead use stealth and take one by surprise! Berries, among other items, can distract Pokémon, giving you the prime chance to throw a Poké Ball. Different Pokémon enjoy different berries, and some are more susceptible to stealth than others. I do like how different species of Pokémon are more aggressive to the player, whereas others are more docile. It adds individuality to every species. If all else fails, you still have the chance to catch a Pokémon in battle (or earn experience points (XP) by defeating them).
Alpha Pokémon are the most difficult to catch. They are often highly leveled and require expert stealth or battling prowess to capture. These Pokémon are also larger in scale, adding an incentive to catching them. Seeing final evolutions and highly leveled Pokémon in the world is great because if you’re brave, you can skip the hassle of evolving Pokémon through battling and complete the Pokédex quicker.
The Pokédex itself in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is decent enough. With 242 Pokémon in total, I would have liked to see more species present in the Hisui region. However, it is adequate. Furthermore, many of the new Pokémon and Hisuian forms look amazing in this game! Sure, there are a few blunders (Sneasler is horrifying), but plenty of great forms make up for this. Braviary, Zorua, Arcanine, and Decidueye all receive terrific forms, for example. New Pokémon, such as Kleavor and Wyrdeer, also look fantastic! I want to obtain these Pokémon, which is only a positive, especially since the overarching goal is to complete the Pokédex.
Catching Pokémon to fill the Pokédex is the main objective throughout the story. From the moment you join the Survey Corps‘ – which is very early on – you work towards exploring Hisui and learning about every species in the region. Alongside this, the narrative – while not award-winning – is sufficient. Pokémon Legends: Arceus has the player warped to Hisui from what we can assume is the modern world. Your sudden arrival in Hisui is met with skepticism, and the player is also tasked with finding the truth behind events distorting space and time. Simple stuff overall, but it keeps the player busy and focused.
Alongside completing the main story, NPCs will give the player research tasks. This is often basic, with fetch quests being the most common research task. However, these tasks aid in the completion of the Pokédex and are often enjoyable, although they can get repetitive. Completing enough research tasks allows you to rank up and gain access to better items, so at least there is more than one purpose. Speaking of which, completing tasks for certain NPCs can unlock customisation options.
If there is one thing Pokémon games get consistently right, it is music. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is, fortunately, no different! Many of the tracks are remixes of music from Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. In addition, other tracks have nods to the music of the Generation Four games. Not only does the music act as a tribute, but it sounds great! My only complaint is that there is not enough variation of music when exploring the world.
While flawed, Pokémon Legends: Arceus provides a fun time. Exploring the sizable Hisui region alongside catching over 200 Pokémon is fulfilling. Great music, catching mechanics and a purposeful (albeit cheesy) story help to maintain interest in completing the Pokédex. However, a slightly lackluster world, repetitiveness, and poor battling mechanics weigh the title down. Hopefully, for a future installment, the formula present here is refined to make an even better game!
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 28th January 2022