Ever since skipping out on Sword/Shield I’ve been wondering if I even like playing Pokemon games anymore. Sure I enjoy playing the older ones out of a feeling of nostalgia for the good old days but I wondered if my time with Pokemon had passed. I suppose then that Pokemon Legends: Arceus came along at a good time then as it promised to shake up the formula and provide a change of pace so that those of us who were sick about doing the same things over and over may learn to love the little critters again. So was Game Freak on the mark this time or is it truly the end of the Mons as we know them? Time to find out!
Story wise this game is actually a bit deeper and more mature when compared to others in the series. You play as a random teen who suddenly finds themselves falling out of the sky into the region of Hisui (now known as Sinnoh) in a time seemingly set in the distant past of the Pokemon world. Pokeballs have just been invented, the style of the world is based on historical Japan and humans haven’t even fully integrated themselves into a world that is ruled by Pokemon. It’s very much a more hostile world than you are used to with the threat of death actually looming over characters and several creatures outright attacking you on sight. It’s up to your character to figure out how they got to this world, what reason they are there and ultimately help the inhabitants face whatever threats may come their way. The story is structured similarly to how the Mystery Dungeon series played with main and side quests being a thing, no gyms and a cycle of doing tasks and quests in a series of daily events. I love this change in pace and it’s a perfect blend of the two styles that helps to keep the story going on a good pace while also providing that distinct familiarity that Pokemon fans are used to. I always really enjoyed the new characters that were introduced as many of them were ancestors of people from the Diamond/Pearl games and it was rather funny seeing how they were handled in this entry. There’s also a far deeper connection to the characters and world this time around as rather than this just being a single hero’s journey to become a champion you are helping these people make a new home for themselves which makes the emotional moments far more impactful. This may very well be one of the best stories in a Pokemon game and while that’s not saying much as it isn’t breaking new ground or anything it’s still nice to see some effort being put in.
The presentation of this game is sadly one of it’s biggest letdowns as I didn’t find the game all that visually impressive. While some of the designs of new Pokemon are cool and I love a lot of the new character designs I ultimately found the landscapes, the biggest draw to this game’s art style, to be the biggest failure. The textures are rather low quality and repeated a lot, the colour scheme of the world seems very washed out and rather bland and the world itself, while populated with plenty of Pokemon, doesn’t have that many interesting vistas to explore and see. The biggest culprit however is the absolutely awful draw distance as not only does it make things look ugly and very un-immersive as Pokemon just randomly spawn into existence shortly in front of you but it can at times actually affect gameplay. Many times I wanted to take a stealthy approach to capturing and so wanted to take a long distance shot at creatures I previously saw however the terrible draw distance meant that they just disappeared as soon as I got far enough away to try and take a shot at them. Not to mention to various times I wandered around into an area only for a high level alpha Pokemon to just spawn in front of me and damage me without warning. When visuals affect gameplay this badly you know something has messed up and it isn’t a limitation of the Switch either as Breath of the Wild didn’t have issues like this and that game has a much larger open world than the one presented in Legends: Arceus. The soundtrack fairs a bit better as it is a mix of quiet, ambient songs that help to give a relaxing feel to the many environments and remixes of battle themes and songs from Diamond/Pearl which were nice to hear and provided a good amount of energy to help make battles more exciting. There wasn’t anything that truly stood out to me at all but it wasn’t bad by any means, just not that memorable.
The gameplay is where this title absolutely shines however. As mentioned this game sought to change up the regular Pokemon formula so instead of being stuck to strictly turn-based battles you now have a mix of third person action sequences focused upon throwing Pokeballs like ammunition, dodge rolling and stealth gameplay whilst also having the turn-based Pokemon battles mixed in too for when it’s time to get tactical. Moving around the new various open-world areas was an absolute blast and everything felt so much smoother and quicker than usual. You could throw one of your Pokemon at a tree to get some berries while at the same time try to catch a random new wild Pokemon that showed up and then immediately hop onto one of the many ride Pokemon to quickly whisk you away to a new location all with just a few button presses. It all feels much faster paced and I am very much looking forward to seeing the speedruns of this game in the hands of much more talented people than myself. Alongside this the battles between creatures have been simplified and in their place they have created an ‘Agile and Strong’ system which lets you make tactical decisions on whether to make your next move weaker but with the chance to allow you to attack twice or make it stronger but at the cost of letting your opponent hit you twice. It helps spice up the gameplay by making you think on your feet more and combined with the simplified way that you can customise and improve the stats of your Pokemon compared to previous titles makes this one feel like an absolute blast. I also adored the boss battles in this game as they barely felt like a Pokemon game at all instead feeling more like a Dark Souls encounter more than anything with the amount of dodge-rolling and focus on I-frames that I had to deal with. It shows the trend actually of this game feeling a lot more challenging than previous Pokemon entries which is a welcome thing as I missed being actually losing battles and fainting to tough opponents. I think ultimately that this is absolutely the foundation that Game Freak should build future Pokemon titles on as this new gameplay style with a few tweaks and additions could be almost perfect, I’d even say controversially that the turn-based battle system could even be changed into a more real-time battling system in order to match this new style. That may however be a bit too much change but I still really enjoyed all these new angles on Pokemon battling and capturing regardless.
There were a few other issues I had with this game however. One of the biggest let downs I feel was the lack of proper multiplayer features. This game absolutely screamed for some kind of co-op system or at least the ability to hang out with your friends in a 3D space as exploring these worlds with a buddy or two would be refreshing and you could even help each other out in capturing certain creatures or battling a big Alpha or two if you are struggling. I also am shocked there is absolutely no multiplayer battling at all. There is online trading of course but you can’t battle anyone online and the most you can interact with them is finding lost item bags in the world that you send back to people. I have no idea why such a vital feature to a Pokemon title is missing but perhaps it will be something that is added in a future patch if they wish to continue supporting this game post-launch. I also could entirely see why people may not enjoy this game for straying too far from the normal formula, especially those in the competitive scene. Personally I enjoy the changes and think it’s a breath of fresh air but the dumbing down of certain systems and the removal of various things such as held items or abilities could make certain people upset at the simplification of the battling system. Regardless it’s not something I personally miss but it’s at least worth noting.
All in all I actually really enjoyed my time with Pokemon Legends: Arceus. This truly feels like Pokemon’s own version of Breath of the Wild and is a refreshing change of pace for a series that has for a long time stuck to traditional formulas. Whether they will continue down this route or will just consider this a quirky spin-off remains to be seen however I hope they continue to support these type of games and work on the technical issues to make it a truly fantastic experience. If you are on the fence about trying it out or aren’t sure if you still love Pokemon then I highly encourage you to check it out, it might just be the breath of fresh Pokemon-filled air that you needed.