Pokemon Legends: Arceus is in many ways the answer to the divisive time the Pokemon franchise has had over the last few years since joining the HD era of gaming with the Switch.
With many fans finding the traditional pokemon experience becoming increasingly stagnant, Legends recreates the series with a semi-open world, a streamlined battle system, and a surprising amount of challenge. If anyone’s been questioning if they’ve outgrown pokemon, or don’t feel into it anymore, this game may just get you to change your mind.
In the distant past with my Llama God smartphone
The first notable thing about Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the new setting, based on Meiji era Japan (the late 1800s) and Japan’s expansion into Hokkaido. It doesn’t start like this, however. You are a young teenage pokemon trainer transported from modern-day Sinnoh into the distant past when the region was known as Hisui through a rift in space and time. This is done by Arceus who also gives you a fancy new smartphone and texts you telling you to catch pokemon.
From here you’re picked up by the Galaxy Team Survey Corps consisting of your kind of rival/possible ancestor/possible love interest, a bumbling professor, and the ever-stern Captain Kamado. Your mission is to complete the first-ever Pokedex and figure out why the spacetime rift above Mount Coronet seems to be getting bigger and causing the ‘noble pokemon’ who protect the region to go mad.
The Journey Through Hisui
The story is a blend of interesting lore that adds to Sinnoh’s already impressive mythology and bland journeyman characters and plot points. While it’s cool to see the ancestors of a bunch of modern-day pokemon characters (who of course look exactly like them), they don’t have much personality beyond getting you to your next goal and expositing flavor text about their pokemon.
This isn’t that big of a deal considering Pokemon has never been known for their in-depth plots but with the interesting new premise it would’ve been nice to see a little more from the cast,
That being said, characters like Arezu, Ingo, and Volo stand out a little more than most, and I like how the game invests in one of the Generation 4 game’s greatest strengths, the fact that it involves legendary gods, the creators of the universe. Seeing how this plays into the region’s mythology and its people’s relation with pokemon, many of whom still see as violent monsters, is cool worldbuilding, particularly by the end of the game where these legendaries start playing a larger role.
Gotta Catch Em All (before they catch you)
The majority of your time in Pokemon Legends will be spent hunting down new pokemon, catching them, and adding them to the Pokedex. The big difference from the previous game is that you now explore larger semi-open areas where you throw pokeballs and other items at the fire-breathing critters in real time.
The pokemon can also attack you and pretty much kill you. The new system is a fast-paced mix of dodge rolling, stealth, and battles that makes the process of catching pokemon far more energetic and intense. Some of the pokemon really have it out for your blood and will chase you halfway across the map if you make eye contact with them for so much as a second.
Catching pokemon also doesn’t actually fill out their Pokedex entry. Instead, each Pokemon has a number of small achievements to complete their page, like catching a certain number of them or seeing them perform certain moves.
This can be a little tedious and you’ll have to grind pretty much every pokemon in the game for a bit to complete their dex however it’s a fun kind of grinding. It gives you a good incentive to use as many pokemon as possible and filling out each page feels incredibly satisfying. As someone who always loved the collection aspect of Pokemon, I spend out filling out the pages of every pokemon I came across.
Thankfully you won’t be taking on wild Golduck alone. Pokemon battles remain similar to previous titles however with some well-placed new mechanics.
One thing I noticed with Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is that the Pokemon battle system has really started to feel slow. After the 100th time of watching the screen strobe and changing to the battle screen, waiting for the trainer to throw out the Pokeball, you just wish it would hurry up a bit. In Legends, the pokemon appear on the overworld screen, you throw a pokemon out, and the battle starts right there where they stand, Chrono Trigger style.
This simple change is a godsend, allowing you to snap in and out of battles in a breeze. It really makes the finding and hunting for new pokemon feel fun and something you actively want to seek out as opposed to readying 50 repels before you enter a zubat-infested cave.
You’re also now able to change your pokemon’s moves and nicknames from the party menu. This is a small but much-needed lovely quality-of-life feature that I hope gets incorporated into main series games.
Choosing your Style
Changes have also been made to the battles themselves. Super-effective moves do way more damage, and when an opposing pokemon is knocked out, you aren’t told what the next pokemon will be or given the option to switch out. Also, if you’re Pokemon is fast enough, it may be able to get a second turn in before your opponent goes.
This is combined with the new ‘style’ mechanics. Pokemon can master a move and use it in either ‘strong style’ or ‘agile style’. The former allows the move to hit harder but means it will also take longer to get your next turn. Agile allows you to hit faster but does less damage.
These overhauled battle mechanics give Pokemon something it hasn’t had for a good while: challenge. You can’t bulldoze your way through enemies as you did in the past single-player games. Even an enemy ten levels lower than you can one or two-shot your pokemon if it gets a super-effective hit in. It really forces you to think about what moves you use, using the different styles, and whether should you use a strong style attack if it leaves you vulnerable to the next enemy.
The battle system keeps you on your toes and invigorates pokemon’s tried and true battle system with a sense of urgency that only makes it more exciting. The boss fights, in particular, were an incredible rush, quickly becoming some of the most memorable fights I’ve had in a Pokemon game.
The Region of Hisui
The one major downside of Pokemon Legends: Arceus is that for such as large world, the landscape looks rough. The textures are rather dull, with a lack of vibrancy you’d expect from a big-budget First-party Nintendo title. The water effects, in particular, look like they came straight off the N64.
There are also a lot of pop-in problems, with pokemon in the distance popping out of the aether and choppily hovering over the terrain. Even by the Switch’s standards, it could use some serious improvement.
Pokemon Legends has also thoroughly convinced me that Pokemon truly does need voice acting now. Watching characters flapping their mouths open and shut with no words coming out feels awkward and takes you out of the moment. Having voice acting would go a long way in making the game feel more alive, not to mention better-paced when going through the exposition dumps near the start of the game.
With that being said, I do think the models for the character and pokemon themselves look good. The developers clearly wanted to create a stylized cell-shaded look and for the models, it worked. The pokemon have a lot of expressions and I like that you can throw them out anywhere in the world and see them in scale.
A Legendary Pokemon Game
Pokemon Legends: Acreus is the first step towards a new kind of Pokemon game that many fans have dreamed of. While it has its flaws in presentation, what this game brings to the table only benefits the Pokemon experience.
Catching Pokemon and battling with the updated mechanics bring a new sense of challenge and collecting each Pokemon for the dex feels fun and rewarding. It made me far more invested in Pokemon than I have in years.
I look forward to seeing what Gamefreak does with the ‘Legends” series in the future. With a bit of graphical polish to iron out the kinks, this has the potential to take Pokemon to legendary new heights.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is available for Nintendo Switch.
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Pokemon Legends: Arceus
- Revamped Battle System is more engaging
- Catching Pokemon is intense and addicting
- Greater Level of challenge while still being accessible
- The graphics were bland and outdated
- Could have really used some voice actors
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