Review: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Is this game's new approach to the traditional Pokémon formula effective, or does it flop like a Magikarp out of water?

Joseph Caddick
14th February 2022
Image: Nintendo
For the past few years now, mainline Pokémon games have been accused of playing it safe, actively avoiding any attempt to rock the boat beyond the basic formula. Sun and Moon may have tried some shake ups, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a breath of fresh air for a franchise that was growing stale.

While the franchise’s signature turn-based combat does return, it has been altered somewhat by the addition of Strong and Agile Styles, which allow you to forego turns for extra power or the opposite, respectively. These alone are a departure from the rigid turn structure we’ve grown accustomed to in mainline Pokémon games.

Image: Nintendo

The immediately obvious change is that the world is more open than anything previously seen in a Pokémon game. The first zone alone dwarfs Sword and Shield’s Wild Area, and is a joyous place to explore with rare Pokémon hidden in every nook and cranny. Different species have different levels of aggression towards the player, and some will not hesitate to attack you until they knock you out. NPCs routinely tell you that Pokémon can and will kill you. This added danger makes sense given that Pokémon are effectively just wild animals.

Pokémon in the distance tend to move at a lower frame rate

My favourite part of this game is how smooth the core gameplay loop is. You can throw Poké Balls at as many wild Pokémon as you want at any given time, no need to wait for each one individually. Battles have been streamlined too in order to reduce the excessive dialogue boxes, a very welcome change. However, Pokémon in the distance tend to move at a lower frame rate, which is jarring, but otherwise inconsequential.

Some quality of life changes have also been introduced, the biggest of which being that you can customise your Pokémon’s move-set more easily. The old system has been scrapped, with moves now being able to be swapped from the menu. Unfortunately, stronger moves aren’t learned automatically.

Evolutions also no longer occur automatically, which is something I don’t care for, but it makes it easier for players that want to beat the game with unevolved Pokémon. The best of these changes, however, is that trade evolutions are gone. Finally. Like some spin-off games, trade evolution is now done through an item, meaning you can complete the Pokédex by yourself.

Image: Nintendo

Another large change is that when all of your Pokémon faint, you no longer black out and can instead run back to camp to heal them up. However, if a wild Pokémon attacks you enough times, you’ll black out, regardless of the health of your Pokémon. If you do black out, there’s a Mystery Dungeon-esque mechanic where other players can pick up the items that you dropped to help you out. By helping other players, you earn Merit Points, which are used to purchase items to evolve certain Pokémon.

You may also find yourself needing help a lot, because this game's difficulty is a step up from the past few Pokémon games. My team was under levelled for most encounters towards the end of the game because I didn't grind out of habit - a welcome change! This game refuses to hold your hand, and I love it all the more for this reason. Additionally, there are actual puzzles and dungeons towards the end of the game, so the challenge isn't reserved for battles.

The circumstances the player ends up in are similar to the stories of the Mystery Dungeon games

The story is a refreshing break from the typical formula, which was somewhat inevitable given that Gyms don’t yet exist and Pokémon Trainers are a brand new phenomenon. In essence, it's a prequel to Diamond and Pearl. The circumstances the player ends up in are similar to the stories of the Mystery Dungeon games, with a little bit of Pokémon Ranger thrown in as well. This is only a good thing, as those spin-off series often have much better stories than the main games.

One thing that can’t be ignored about Pokémon Legends: Arceus is its graphics. As much as this game wants to evoke a real sense of grandeur, it lacks the visual polish to pull it off. Items and shadows popping in does happen quite frequently, and a few areas have noticeably shoddy textures. The trailers managed to make this game look much worse than it is though, to the point where people only started getting hyped once it had leaked online. For the most part, the game’s visuals are decent enough to avoid complaints to the extent of Sword and Shield’s pathetic Wild Area.

My only other complaint is the designs of the new Pokémon. A lot of the ones revealed before release are great, but the ones they'd kept secret... I can see why. A large number of them have easily made their way into my list of least favourite Pokémon, largely because they're either uninspired (taking a Pokémon and just making it bigger) or silly designs that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus may be a breath of fresh air, but it’s certainly no Breath of the Wild. However, it is a very large step in the right direction and provides a much more solid experience than the main series has for years. The hype around this game can hopefully serve as a learning curve for Game Freak and strengthen the franchise in the long run.

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