Since 1996, the obsession with collecting and battling pocket monsters consumed the gaming industry. With over 30 mainline video games, Pokémon’s dominance in the virtual world has elevated the series into the upper echelon of gaming royalty, and it’s viewed as one of the greatest franchises in video game history. Despite experiencing tremendous success over the years, Pokémon games have developed slight stagnation issues regarding the core gameplay. Developer Game Freak attempted to inject a spark in the franchise with Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
A much different experience than the other mainline Pokémon games, Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes a page out of Nintendo’s other major franchise, Zelda’s Breath of the Wild (we made the reference), and presents an expansive open world. Before the Sinnoh region was founded in Diamond and Pearl, there was the Hisui region. The Hisui region is extremely vast with differing environments and wild Pokémon grazing and simply enjoying life. So, how does this new Pokémon adventure stack up? Does it reinvent the PokeBall or keep the status quo?
A Brave New World
From the get-go, it’s clear Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not like other Pokémon games. Instead of embarking on a wild adventure from your quaint hometown, you enter a mysterious world by falling from a portal in the sky. Still dazed from falling hundreds of feet from the sky, you’re discovered on a beach by Professor Laventon. After helping the professor scoop up his runaway Pokémon, he takes you to Jubilife Village, the main hub location of the game.
In the village, the professor vouches for your Pokémon catching abilities to the stone-faced Captain Cyllene. The captain instructs you to complete a series of tasks to become a full-fledged member of the Galaxy Team. Before you start the exam, Professor Laventon will gift you one of the three runaway Pokémon you helped him capture on the beach: Cyndaquil, Rowlett, and Oshawott. After you pass the exam with flying colors, a single mysterious bolt of lightning crackles through the night and you discover the true mission of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Commander Kamado, the leader of the Galaxy Team, informs you that a noble Pokémon has suddenly become frenzied and it’s our duty — a complete stranger who’s fallen from the sky — to subdue this massive beast. Once you’ve stocked up on necessary items, you’re set to hit the brave new world of Pokémon.
For better or worse, Pokémon Legends: Arceus will forever be compared to Breath of the Wild. Hell, I even made an earlier connection between the two, so, I’m part of the problem. But Arceus’ open-world is very similar to what Breath of the Wild offered…the good and the bad. The Hisui region is massive with varying environments that make it feel more like a connected complete world. Veteran players will notice everyone praising the all-powerful Sinnoh, which is the name of the region in Diamond and Pearl. Pokemon Legends: Arceus does an incredible job in showing these Pokémon in such a natural way and it almost makes me feel bad to capture them.
Battling Takes a Back Seat
Unlike previous mainline Pokémon games, Arceus does not place a high emphasis on battling pocket monsters. There are, of course, Pokemon battles, but they aren’t required in capturing wild Pokémon. When approaching wild Pokémon, you can hide in nearby tall grass and throw PokeBalls, which will increase your chances of capturing them, as well as throwing berries to distract them. If a Pokémon sees you, they’ll either try to run away or attack you and you’ll have to battle them.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus still has traditional Pokémon battles between trainers, but they’re severely cut down compared to previous entries of the series. Your character has a rival that you’ll battle a handful of times, though the game makes it very clear that you’re superior to them in every way. There’s a group of bandits known as the Miss Fortune sisters, who act as the game’s version of Team Rocket. The three girls were once part of the various clans in Hisui but decided to march to the beat of their own drum.
One of the biggest changes Pokémon Legends: Arceus made to the battling system is mastering moves. Pokémon can master a move by leveling up and repeated use of the technique, which will unlock two new styles of the technique: Strong and Agile. The Strong style will increase the damage of the move, but slow down your speed and cost you a turn in battle; the Agile style reduces the damage slightly but increases your speed to possibly allow you to attack again immediately. In some cases, the Strong style might increase an attack’s accuracy as well. If you encounter multiple Pokémon in the wild, there’s a chance that you’ll battle more than one Pokémon at a time.
While Pokémon Legends: Arceus continues the recent trend of dispersing experience points throughout your party, you won’t receive those points until after the battle has ended. So, if one of your Pokémon faint before the full completion of the battle and aren’t revived, they won’t receive any experience points, even if they defeated any number of Pokémon before falling. Because battling in general isn’t as much of a focal point, it’s not the end of the world if you miss out on experience points; plus, there is a merchant in the village that sells experience candies to help level up your squad. There are also Grit items that are used to increase the specific attributes of Pokémon, like attack power or defense, instead of their overall level.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
Ever since Pokémon burst onto the scene, the main objective has always been to catch them all. Whether it was Professor Oak in the anime, or Professor Laventon in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the goal remains the same: catch every Pokémon and complete the Pokedex. However, completing Laventon’s Pokedex does not mean simply capturing every type of pocket monster. In addition to capturing them, there are other research tasks the professor wants you to complete to help develop a full analysis of Pokemon. These tasks may include capturing the Pokemon multiple times, capturing it in different times of the day, whether you fed it any berries, or how you might have defeated it in battle. As you continue to complete the Pokedex, you’ll receive research experience points that sort of act like the gym badge progression system in previous games. As you increase your research level, Pokemon of higher levels will listen to you and rewards for completing tasks will be greater.
Unfortunately, Pokémon Legends: Arceus does not have any sort of multiplayer component. Typically, it’s common for Pokémon games to support online play for trainers to test their custom lineups against others and see who’s superior. Instead of preparing for online battles after completing the main story, there is a post game where you receive more tasks from Commander Kamado, as well as continuing to finish the Pokedex. The other major focus of online play is trading Pokémon, especially the ones who couldn’t evolve unless they were traded. Because this feature was not included, there are special items that can be given to such Pokémon to evolve them, like offering Kadabra a Linking Cord to evolve it into an Alakazam. Some of these high quality items, as well as high quality Pokémon, can be found in space-time domes that erupt randomly throughout Hisui.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a big step in the right direction for the series. It’s not that the tried and true formula of collecting eight badges and fighting against an elite league wasn’t working anymore, but Game Freak needed to inject a spark somehow, especially after the lukewarm reception of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Fans stated that the remakes were too safe and didn’t try to introduce new mechanics or expand the gameplay. Pokémon Legends: Arceus offers a Pokémon adventure that’s never before been experienced, something that can truly grow into something more. Even if we continue to see Pokémon games that are still styled off older titles of the series, there’s absolutely no way that we should do away with an open-world aspect. Seeing Pokémon interacting with the game world and not just appearing in random battles makes the experience feel more real and connected. Whether you’re a die hard Pokémon fan who’s never missed a game or someone who hasn’t played for a few generations (sorry, I didn’t have a DS), Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an adventure that shouldn’t be passed up.
Final Score: 8/10
- Emphasis on catching Pokémon
- No random encounters
- Different environments in open world
- Strong and Agile style techniques enhance gameplay
- Can’t swap out Pokémon after defeating one in battle
- No multiplayer component
- Finding crafting materials can be challenging
- Requests are good time killers but can be skipped entirely
Pokemon Legends: Arceus was purchased by the reviewer. Main version tested was on Nintendo Switch. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.