Game Freak and Nintendo have taken some bold steps when it comes to their Pokemon franchise, but never anything as drastic as what they have done with Pokemon Legends Arceus. Removing the concept of Gyms in Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon was pretty big, sure. And changing how you dealt with wild Pokemon in Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee was also a pretty big departure from the series.
Even introducing wide open areas in Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield was big. But nothing was as big as this. The only question that remains is whether the development duo was able to pull it off!
Pokemon Legends Arceus Details
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer(s): Game Freak
Genre: Adventure, RPG
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
A bold new world?
When you find yourself on the ground in the Hisui region, veterans of the series will quickly notice two things. First, the map looks oddly familiar, and second, where have I heard the name, Mount Coronet? For those who have just recently enjoyed Pokemon Shining Pearl and Pokemon Brilliant Diamond, you are effectively playing in the exact same region, just from a different perspective and many hundreds of years in the past.
And that’s the setup for Pokemon Legends Arceus. Gone are most of your high tech gadgets, fancy items, and more. Each of these is replaced by something simpler and more primitive. While in modern games we can expect Pokeballs to be churned out in factories around the various regions, they are scarce in Hisui, with few people knowing how to craft them, and even fewer knowing how to use them. Do you love your fancy Pokedex from previous generations? Don’t expect it here, as you are going old school – pen and paper, all day long.
As you travel through the various biomes of the Hisui region and uncover the legendary mysteries that lurk in every corner, you might begin to wonder if anything will feel familiar, or if it is all brand new.
Familiar moments, new experiences
You still catch Pokemon. You still battle trainers. You still use items. There are things that will feel very familiar to past titles, but almost all of them have been given some sort of upgrade, whether quality of life that keeps the game pace moving, or a required change because of the time period being presented.
When seeing a Pokemon in past games in the franchise, it would create an entry in your Pokedex with a few minor details. Catch the Pokemon and that entry would be fleshed out, providing detailed information and effectively “completing” the entry. This system focused on two values – Pokemon seen and Pokemon caught. In Legends Arceus, you will instead focus on three values – Pokemon seen, Pokemon caught, and entries completed. It all does make sense – a complete database of Pokemon has NEVER been completed in this time frame, and seeing as we don’t have fancy technology to scan and upload information, we are doing everything with paper and a pencil.
So, to complete a Pokedex entry for a given Pokemon, the Professor provides a list of tasks specific to that Pokemon that you must complete, giving you points for doing it. These can vary, but generally revolve around how many you’ve caught, how many you’ve defeated, how many times you’ve seen the Pokemon use a specific move, how many you’ve leveled up, and so on. It is a new and interesting system that works really well, and fits the concept of the origins of the study of Pokemon.
New, satisfying gameplay
Pokemon games have always been heavily menu based. Legends Arceus’ new focus on an open world allows players to do things differently. Catching Pokemon now requires some skill, reducing luck drastically from past games.
Instead of menus, you will move around trying to find the best possible position to either attack an enemy Pokemon, or launch a ball at it in hopes of catching it. This makes all interactions more enjoyable than past titles, but makes catching – and at times losing – rare Pokemon that much more meaningful.
Swapping between items
Swapping between items and Pokemon is also really easy. Tap X to bring up one menu, and X again to swap to the other, Then simply use the R and L buttons on your controller to scroll through your available Pokemon and items.
Unlike past Pokemon titles, you are limited to the number of items you can carry in your satchel, so using the storage chest in your house and around the village will be a must. There is nothing worse than having a full satchel when you stumble across a sometimes rare item in the world. The standard limit of six Pokemon is also still here.
When it comes time to battle, you quickly realize how streamlined the process has become. Since battles just begin in the open world, you avoid menus, many battle cinematics, and more, making the entire process faster and more enjoyable. And seeing as you need to battle a lot of the same Pokemon for the Pokedex, this is a welcome addition.
There is one other major change to how you battle in Pokemon Legends Arceus, and that is the use of Agile and Strong moves. After using a specific move enough times, you will unlock the ability to use that move in new and exciting ways.
Using the Agile version of a move will allow you to do less damage, but have the opportunity to attack again sooner, while using the Strong version of a move will do more damage, but requires more down time between uses, leaving your Pokemon vulnerable to attacks.
A few hiccups
While Pokemon Legends Arceus is doing a lot to change the standard Pokemon formula, not everything is up to the best standards that Nintendo so often hits. While Pokemon look fantastic, the rest of the game looks very dated.
Character models are a bit washed out, and the environments – particularly the grass – looks like it is a few console generations behind. When you think back to games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can begin to wonder what might have been with more emphasis being put on the open world, which in my opinion is one of the games biggest selling features.
There are also a few gameplay hiccups and framerate drops, which occur a bit too frequently. While a patch might fix this at a later date, it’s worth noting you might have a rough time in Hisui in specific areas.
Finally, there are unfortunately no multiplayer battles in Legends Arceus. While you can still trade Pokemon with friends, actually going toe-to-toe with your favourite Pokemon will not be an option, which could kill a lot of the end game fun for many veterans of the series.
Pokemon Legends Arceus is a bold new step
Although Game Freak and Nintendo are labeling this as a spinoff series, Pokemon Legends Arceus is still a bold step for the franchise. And most of it pays off in spades, providing brand new, exciting gameplay elements that make this one of the most enjoyable Pokemon games in recent memory.
The changes have been mostly positive, creating one of the best experiences in recent memory. If you love the Pokemon franchise but have been feeling put off by the continual use of the standard formula, Pokemon Legends Arceus might be the game to bring you back.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF POKEMON LEGENDS ARCEUS
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
+ Expansive world to explore
+ Pokemon models are outstanding
+ New concepts used well
– Environments and characters look dated
– Some graphical and framerate issues