Review – Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon has been on a warpath the past year or so. Between the insane continued success of the trading card game, and the continued success of Pokémon Sword and Shield, the full release of Pokémon Unite, and the remakes for Diamond and Pearl. You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought it was time for a small break from the Pokémon series, but oh no because this time it’s going balls to the wall with Pokémon Legends: Arceus. For anyone living under a rock since the announcement, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first “open world” (semi-open world) Pokémon game that isn’t entirely focused around battling Pokémon.
If there’s anything Pokémon Legends: Arceus does well, it’s take everything from previous games and spin it on its head. Not only does this feel like a new experience, but any Pokémon fan feels at home here. Besides the big semi-open world areas, the first big change you’ll come across is not needing Pokémon. This isn’t even that much of a hyperbole either, there are maybe ten trainer battles throughout the entire game, and three of them are post-game. Obviously, you might think “how do I catch these Pokémon, surely I need to battle them?” Well, that’s where you’re wrong. All Pokémon are visible on the map, just like the wild areas of Pokémon Sword and Shield, but imagine if in those areas you could just throw pokéballs at them. Catching Pokémon may be easier if you battle them, weaken them, or hide in some tall grass and hit them in the back of the head with a pokéball.
So, you can catch Pokémon without needing to battle them. Seems unfair doesn’t it? Pokémon can’t fight back? Apparently in the olden days of Sinnoh, or as it’s known in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the Hisui region, Pokémon didn’t care one bit about knocking some humans around. That’s right, in this game you can get beat up by Pokémon until the point of blacking out, at which point you’re saved by a mysterious figure and returned to camp.
Obviously, if you’re able to get knocked out by Pokémon abusing you, there are going to be two key questions. First off, what happens if your entire party faints? Nothing. That’s just it, you have no Pokémon left to battle with until you revive a Pokémon or return to a camp to heal. Second question being a common question asked in video games, is there fall damage? Yes, yes there is. Having only been knocked out twice throughout the game, I learned the hard way that there is indeed fall damage, and yes that is one of the two times I got knocked out.
So, there was a mention of camps. This shouldn’t be anything new to anyone who is familiar with the Monster Hunter series. On your expeditions to these areas, you’ll be able to set up camps throughout each area in order to start in different places. This makes it easier to start closer to objectives or anything else you may be looking for in each region. You’ll have plenty of reasons to explore each area as well, there are a huge variety of Pokémon in each, there are quests to complete, as well as both main and side quests that you’ll receive from characters.
Plus, when you, or anyone gets knocked out, you lose a portion of the items you were carrying. These satchels that are dropped can be picked up and returned to people for merit points, which are just a second currency used to buy some items. The main currency though is still pokédollars, just like in every other game in the series. Which is normally won from trainer battles, right? Well this time, it’s a reward for catching Pokémon. The more Pokémon you catch on an expedition, the more money you get. There are also some additional objectives to boost this up a bit.
Let’s talk about ending an expedition real quick. As mentioned, there are some objectives you can complete for additional money, such as catching a Pokémon by hitting it in the back with a pokéball. Plus, simply the number of Pokémon caught is another. A key one though is Alpha Pokémon caught, these are high level, super aggressive Pokémon found throughout the world, usually identified by being larger than the others and having glowing red eyes, which may I add looks really weird on Snorlax. At the end of an expedition you’ll also receive research points, which can also lead you to getting more money, but that also leads to another big change to this new game in the series.
The Pokédex this time around isn’t as simple as “I’ve seen this Pokémon” or “I’ve caught this Pokémon.” Sword and Shield started to show the changes that the series was making towards the Pokédex, tracking how many of each Pokémon you’ve defeated in battle. Pokémon Legends: Arceus goes even further, going full Bioshock and needing you to research each Pokémon individually. Pokémon have different challenges that aren’t generally too difficult, and getting to a research level of 10 essentially “completes” the Pokémon. Challenges are anything from being caught a number of times, defeated a number of times, evolved a number of times.
They can also be more specific, like Umbreon for instance, who includes “number of times seen use Dark Pulse.” Research points offer up stars which work as this game’s gym badges, allowing you to use higher level Pokémon, so you can’t simply grind out a level 100 off the hop. Plus you’ll unlock new pokéballs, like the great ball, or jet ball from getting a higher star rank. Obviously a concern may be that your Pokémon evolves before you’re ready, you still need some research objectives. Well be concerned no longer because Pokémon don’t just evolve anymore. They now sit in your party, ready to evolve, but you need to tell them to do so.
Without gyms, that means something else needs to take the place of the main objective. Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes a huge note from Pokémon Sun and Moon here, and really emphasized everything that those games wanted to do with their trials. The end task of each area is to quell the lord Pokémon of the area, a Pokémon frenzied by the big time-space rip in the sky. These are essentially boss battles, you can’t just throw one of your Pokémon at it and battle it into submission. You need to learn these Pokémon’s patterns, dodge their attacks, and fight back.
Now this is a kids game still, you don’t just walk up and slap the Pokémon silly, you need to throw essence at it to calm it. This isn’t quite as simple as it sounds thanks to the fact that you can miss, and the Pokémon obviously doesn’t just sit there and let you have your way. You can be knocked out, and in one of the later battles the pattern is a bit more aggressive. Plus if you just try to mash the button to throw, it won’t go anywhere near as far, so unless you’re standing right in front of the Pokémon, which I don’t suggest, you’ll likely miss.
One thing that you may wonder is, if I get money from catching Pokémon, what happens if I run out of money and pokéballs? The answer is simple, I have never once bought pokéballs. That’s because Pokémon Legends: Arceus dives right into its new mechanics and adds a crafting system as well. You’ll be able to craft balls, revives, potions, and more, with items found in the world. Higher level balls use more items of course, but as a whole you can make pretty much everything you need on your journey. What’s money used for then? Increasing bag size, buying recipes, buying clothing, or even just buying materials for crafting. You can also just buy balls, but that’s not as fun.
The experience share system is back, and can’t be turned off again, but unlike Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl specifically, it makes a lot of sense in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Experience is earned for pretty much everything as expected, catching Pokémon, battles, etc., but there is one thing that doesn’t share the experience. Pokémon are used as tools for more than just HMs, which don’t exist in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, you simply have a Pokémon to help you just like the previous couple series of games. Pokémon are used to break stones, which usually have items needed to craft balls. They’re used to hit trees, which have berries, or items to craft balls (you need apricorns, cast your mind back to crafting balls in Gold and Silver). They can also be used to pick up items if you’re too lazy to walk the six steps over to it, or it’s up on a cliff you can’t climb in the early game.
Pokémon has always had its key music. Most songs pop up in every game remixed in some way, shape, or form. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is on a whole different level though. Each area’s music is fresh, brand new, and most importantly, fitting to the area. Not having to hear the same route music every single time I turn on the game is a blessing from Arceus itself. One thing that isn’t so much of a blessing though is a few of the design details. First off, in dark caves, characters should not feel like they were poorly cut and edited in a Wish-brand Photoshop. White pixels popping up around characters in dark areas is such a small and really disappointing detail to have so easily been overlooked, because it’s so glaring once you see it in game.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus may not be breaking new grounds in terms of what it’s doing in video games as a whole, it quite clearly takes a lot of hints from other games of the same style. That being said, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a huge step forward for what is achievable in the Pokémon series as a whole. This is a defining step in the franchise that shows just how much gas is still in the tank. The staleness of the mainline series and the need to remake the older generations is being shown it’s not needed any longer. New gameplay mechanics show just how far this series can be pushed, and still feel like a Pokémon game. Plus, if nothing else, Pokémon Legends: Arceus shows you can comfortably and successfully make a Pokémon game without Charizard.
Sure, the graphics in Pokémon Legends: Arceus aren’t anything insane, but they suit the game and the Pokémon series. Poor cropping aside, the game looks quite nice and nothing really feels like it takes away from that fact.
A massive breath of fresh air for the Pokémon series. A whole new gameplay loop that allows for massive amounts of replayability, without getting rid of the core mechanics of a beloved series.
It’s finally been done, a Pokémon game that doesn’t use the same songs that have been rehashed since generations one and two. The soundtrack for Pokémon Legends: Arceus is outstanding, just unfortunate it’s not available to listen to anywhere outside of the game.
Way too much time was sunk into this game without wanting to touch anything else. The biggest sigh of relief playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the fact it is so easy to pick up, play an expedition for as long as you wish, and then stop playing. One of the few games I have sunk forty hours into without batting an eye or feeling like I have no desire to play anymore.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.