In the franchise’s biggest outing to date, developer Game Freak has jettisoned some of the series’ foundations. There are no gyms, no elite four, no competitive component. While it takes inspiration from more contemporary RPG series like Monster Hunter, it focuses more on organizing disparate Pokémon innovations from the 2010s in one place.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
“Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a step in the right direction for the aging series, even if its technical limits may not always support its ambitions.”
- Research is rewarding
- Optimized capture
- Enchanting side quests
- Excellent combat settings.
- Homework can be tedious
- weak images
- Biomes lack variety
Pokémon Legends: Arceus makes bold changes to the tried-and-true formula, successfully kickstarting the much-needed reinvention of Pokémon. But the technical limits of the series hang around his neck like an eternal stone, preventing him from fully evolving.
a teacher’s game
Bitten by the Breath of the Wild bug, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an open-world reimagining of the monster-collecting series. While there is catch and fight, the key verb is “investigate.” Players enter an old version of the Sinnoh region (called Hisui) and are tasked with creating the first Pokédex.
The emphasis on research leads to clever game tricks. Observing the behavior of Pokémon generates research points for players, which help create a full Pokédex entry for the creature. Players get points by, for example, catching a Pokémon, using effective type moves against it in battle, feeding it, etc. It applies the idea of mobile-like daily challenges for each creature, allowing players to progress by doing just about anything. It’s satisfying to tick boxes and there are literally thousands here.
Sometimes Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a dream come true. Creatures roam freely and can be caught by simply throwing a ball at them without even starting a battle, an improvement on Pokémon Let ‘s Catch Made Easy. Wild creatures can attack players, forcing them to dodge. Players can ride creatures like Wyrdeer, jump into the ocean, and seamlessly switch to sailing on a Basculegion. Whenever I found myself stuck in the game loop, it truly felt like the seemingly impossible dream game I always envisioned as a kid.
Other times, it can be a bit tedious. Creature study became routine whenever I needed to do it to raise my star rank (a kind of world progress indicator) and advance the story. It’s more reminiscent of Pokémon Go that unconvincingly gamifies repetition. arceus handles that idea much better, but can wear himself out once he’s caught his 8th Shinx.
At its best, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a cozy game about humans learning to coexist with the unpredictable creatures around them.
In terms of its scripted content, the game is hit or miss. The main story never feels like it takes full advantage of its feudal setting; it feels like your average Pokemon world, minus the wacky towns. However, the side quests are more entertaining. These micro-stories explore the behavior of Pokémon in light-hearted ways. One quest has players capturing a Zubat to help a woman figure out how they fly in the dark so easily. Another has players on the hunt for a stray Drifloon that keeps playing with the town’s children.
At its best, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a cozy game about humans learning to coexist with the unpredictable creatures around them. For those who never cared about the competitive side of the series, it’s a warm and fuzzy experience that rewards players who identify more with professors than coaches.
While fighting isn’t the main emphasis, it’s still a core part of the game. While it retains the turn-based battles from the series, they’ve been completely reworked here, and that’s for the best. The biggest difference is that Pokemon now have initiative in battle, so a Pokemon’s Speed stat is essential. Instead of both creatures trading moves back and forth, a turn order determines when each acts. That means a fast monster could take two attacks before its opponent gets one.
To accompany this idea, arceus introduces a new hook to the movements. When a Pokémon “masters” a move, it can choose to execute it with a strong or agile style, which uses more power points. The strong style hits harder, but usually means it will give the opponent an extra move. The agile style does the opposite, trading power for extra moves. Those changes make battles even more strategic and tense, as players must balance damage output and attack frequency.
A creature’s move set can be changed at any time. Every time a move is learned, either by leveling up or buying new ones, it is added to a list. Players don’t need to forget a move to set up a new one, which thankfully removes one of the most complicated features in the series.
Combat gets tough, which is great news for gamers who have been begging for the series to challenge them. But it’s also been streamlined in all the right ways. On-screen symbols communicate better when changing a Pokémon’s stats, there’s a tab in battle that explains each active buff or debuff, and players can switch Pokémon on the fly without opening a menu. Every quality of life upgrade is stellar and should make it to the main series.
I have no doubt that many of the mechanics here will make their way into the next main Pokemon game based on how fans receive them here.
But sometimes I felt like I was playing on a design testing ground. That’s especially evident in noble Pokémon battles, which are repeated in Sun and Moon ‘s totem pole battles. Here, players take on a powerful monster by repeatedly throwing balms at it, sending out Pokémon to weaken it, and dodging attacks.
While they are an excellent change of pace, there are only a handful of them throughout the adventure, with only the last one or two fights really finding the balance of the concept. In the first Noble fight against Kleavor, I didn’t even send out a single Pokémon to defend myself. I just hit a button over and over to throw balms, not exactly a Monster Hunter-quality fight.
Few of the ideas here, both in and out of combat, feel like the final draft. Instead of, arceus is a safe space for Game Freak to try out new ideas without scaring away veteran gamers. I have no doubt that many of the mechanics here will make their way into the next main Pokemon game based on how fans receive them here. It just leaves this game feeling like a solid opening act.
When it comes to the tech side, I won’t beat around the bush: Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an ugly game. I say this as someone who openly mocked people who complained about Sword and Shield visuals. While I felt the unambitious art style suited that game well enough, it’s less suited to an open world game that’s all about inspiring awe.
Landscape textures shift and load jarringly as players move through the world. Sometimes distant Pokémon will move in a two-frame animation. The characters’ clothing is muddy when shown up close, with more jagged lines than a GameCube game. Sword and Shield ‘s “pop-in” issue is also back and it’s much more frustrating considering the fun of an open world game is seeing something in the distance and traveling towards it.
I won’t beat around the bush: Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an ugly game.
The open world design itself is also uninspired. Instead of throwing players into one giant world, it breaks it up into five distinct biomes. Each one has a specific motif, which means you don’t get much visual diversity. When you’re in the grassy area, it’s just fields and trees for miles with little variety. Some other areas look frankly the same, but with slightly different textures or lighting. It’s a shame to leave Sword and Shield is surprisingly well designed Isle of Armor DLC, featuring an intricate and varied island.
There aren’t many environmental secrets to discover, which made Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule so satisfying. Instead, it’s a large empty space built to hold Pokemon, one that sometimes feels like a test prototype.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, it’s also a bit frustrating. It highlights how icy the franchise is in implementing change. For the past seven years, every Pokémon game (both main and spin-offs) has experimented with genuinely great ideas, but fell short of coming up with the best version. I’m always left anticipating a follow-up that will really tie it together.
With Pokémon Legends: Arceus , I am in the exact same place. I’m already envisioning how the next Pokémon game can integrate all these new mechanics and make my dream game come true. But that’s a few years away, and the franchise already feels like it’s constantly five years behind. arceus is a step in the right direction, but it still has a long way to go.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus requires a lot of experimental changes, and many of them are successful. The turn to research-based gameplay does a better job of rewarding players for every little thing they do. The quality of life changes it brings to the table are excellent across the board and look set to become standard in the series going forward. It is only held back by some preliminary design ideas and weak visual elements that cannot support the ambitions of the project. Even with its issues, I’m still hopeful that the series is finally ready to evolve.
Is there a better alternative?
For more traditional fans, grab Pokemon Sword and Shield and their sneakily good DLCs. Those games contain some of the same open world experiments along with the hooks from the regular series.
How long will it last?
I can’t divulge the length of the story based on the embargo guidelines, but it’s an open world game with a lot to do. Between investigating, completing side quests, and finding collectibles, I imagine it will keep dedicated fans busy for dozens of hours.
Should you buy it?
Yes. As long as it has its warts, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an intriguing and much-needed reboot for the aging series. It’s a cozy experience that pairs perfectly with the Nintendo Switch.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus was tested on a Nintendo Switch OLED in handheld mode and on a TCL 6-Series R635 when docked.