Pokemon Legends: Arceus – Is It Legendary?
Finally, a Pokemon video game that I’ve been excited for. Ever since the game’s announcement last year, I’ve been wondering what exactly this game would bring to the table; it ostensibly offered so much. An open world Pokemon game that would put you in a land with free-roaming wild Pokemon that you can actually see. A revamped battle system that didn’t look like the static turn-based battles we’ve come to love that is so intrinsic to the game’s series. Possibly an actual story!
From the get-go I could tell this game was going to be different. After booting up the game and choosing your preferred language, you’re met with a pulsating light that starts speaking to you, dodging the age-old question ‘Are you a girl a boy?’ with a more inclusive and modern ‘select your appearance’. No arguments there. I chose the blond-haired blue-eyed boy for the sake of diversity. I wondered why such a character would be available in a game that is so obviously set in some alternate old Japan, but my question was soon answered.
As you awake, you are floating in a void with the most important thing to any modern day teenager slowly spinning around in front of you: your smartphone. You reach for it, but it mysteriously pulled away from you while streaks of light rush past you to create a great flash. And lo’, Arceus appears from the light and swipes your smartphone from you. No, he doesn’t frape you, but gives you a free upgrade without the need for an annual contract. Jealous. As you succumb to the bright light and slowly fall into Arceus’ embrace while cradling your new iPhone 13, (that’s the newest one, right?) you are warped either back in time, to another dimension, or both.
As you awaken, you are met with three Pokemon: Cyndaquil, Rowlet and Oshawott from Gold & Silver, Sun & Moon and Black & White respectively with an odd man in the background. This turns out to be this game’s professor Laventon, who wears a silly hat and uses words like ‘jolly’ and ‘splendiferous’, so I can’t not like him. Straight away I can imagine people in the YouTube comments raging about how bad the game looks. I am not a particular stickler for graphics; I don’t expect all games to look mind-blowing, but even I had scrunch my nose a little when I saw the game world. We’re now entering the fourth year of the Nintendo Switch and one would be forgiven in thinking that the most successful franchise of all time (across games, film, books, etc.) would be able to put together a stunning piece of video game artistry.
Let’s get this over and done with. Ever since Sword and Shield was released, the Pokemon Company have received a pretty bad rep for being lazy: ‘the graphics are terrible!’, ‘Bring back the National Dex!’ were repeated moans that I saw a lot of on Twitter and it seems that they’ve not been able to redeem themselves with this game. Now, this could just be because I deleted my Twitter account and no longer follow much on social media, but I haven’t seen much of that this time round. Sure, there have been many comments on the graphics of this game, but I thankfully I haven’t seen many complaints. I haven’t seen any snide comments on the quality of the trees in the game, but suffice to say, they are pretty bad. But who cares?
I don’t all too much, but I do feel that I cannot defend the quality. I would expect more, but my expectations of what the Pokémon Company will produce is so low, that I would say my expectation was met. The style certainly has a charm to it and I feel solidifies the style that they’ve gone for since Sun and Moon (which I thought looked really good for a 3DS game, but for a Switch game? Not so much). Yes, the scenery is quite bland, the Pokémon models aren’t great either, the land seems to build itself around you as venture throughout it, character models awkwardly jerk around in the distance until you reach closer, the water looks awful, the world turns into this odd pink mist as it disappears around you when you reach the world’s invisible wall. I even came across the odd dead pixel! Ugh, what has happened to me? I don’t think I’ve ever commented on graphics in this way before… Suffice to say (and to get this over with as soon as possible) the graphics are pretty atrocious and I’ll leave it at that.
Phew. Well, thankfully I think that’s the only thing really negative I have to say about the game, and it should be the least important, so let’s move onto the meat of the game.
The Battle System
Pokémon and battling go hand-in-hand. Since the very creation of Pokémon, battling has been an integral part to the series and Legends Arceus is no exception. However, it does spice things up a little bit – just enough for me to be familiar with the basics, but adding something new that I did not expect. Instead of a simple turn-based system like previous games, the order of moves varies depending on the type of attack you use. You have access to your basic move, and as you level up and use attacks more, you can opt to use the ‘Agile’ or ‘Strong’ version of the move to add a bit more strategy to fights. It’s not that deep, but it’s a welcome change to the formula which I really enjoy. The strong style attack is a good way to get some of those bothersome battles out of the way more quickly, so you can carry on with your adventure. The only downside is that not many of the battles seem to go on for long enough for this mechanic to truly shine, but it’s a nice change nonetheless. One other really nice addition is the ability to swap your Pokémon’s four moves around much more easily, without having to go through some laborious process to so like in other games.
The system up until now has been the same from game to game. With the exception of some of the newer games that have experimented with Pokémon roaming the overworld, random battles in the tall grass has been the go-to for encountering wild Pokémon. In Pokémon Legends, this has been scrapped in its entirety. Now all the Pokémon are running around. Some may run away, some may happily approach you to get a better look, and some will become aggressive and start attacking you directly. That’s right, for the first time ever, Pokémon can actually hurt you. In most cases, you’ll probably be OK to pit one of your Pokémon against them, but if you encounter an ‘alpha’ Pokémon, you may want to just leg it.
Alpha Pokémon offer a welcome challenge to Pokémon. Don’t be surprised if your whole team is decimated by one of these, that could be easily double the level or more of any Pokémon in your team, taking them out in a single hit.
There are a number of ways to interact with the Pokémon. You don’t necessarily have to fight a Pokémon in order to catch it, which has always been the case, but more standardised in this title. It’s expected of you to throw a ball before you try to battle, closer to Pokémon Go than other main titles. Similar to Pokémon Go, you can throw berries and the like to distract, weaken, or scatter Pokémon to help you along your way. I felt this could have been used a bit more and as of yet, I haven’t felt any great benefit in using these items.
Speaking of items, Pokémon Legends introduces crafting to the world of Pokémon. Instead of racking up millions of Poké dollars and going on a shopping spree in your local Pokémon Center, you’ll rely more on the world around you to gather supplies and make items like potions and even Poké Balls. In theory I like the idea of being able to craft Poké Balls, but they’ve removed any technological aspect from what once was meant to be a highly advanced device that would take a Pokémon, shrink it down and store it. In this game, you have an acorn and a stone that magically makes a Poké Ball. The game gets around this by stating on more than one occasion that it is the Pokémon that hold the ability to change their size and fit inside the tiny prisons. I may buy this if in the end Hisui turns out to be an alternate universe and things are different there, but man, does Pokémon like to screw around with its own canon. I think I gave up quite some time ago.
I love the music in this game. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but many of the tracks in the game sound like a creative mish-mash of 80’s and 90’s synth pop or something and then suddenly a cello or piano will be thrown into the mix. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s awesome. I think the Pokémon games have always had great music and thankfully this game keeps that tradition at least! Sword and Shield has probably my favourite music overall in a Pokémon game, but Legends has some good atmospheric music for the world you find yourself in.
As this is big selling point of the game, I felt like it deserved its own section for discussion. When the game was first announced, people instantly jumped on the Breath of the Wild bandwagon, assuming that this game was going to be basically that but with Pokémon. While that would have been great, that’s not quite what was delivered. Think more Monster Hunter than Zelda, which is not at all a bad thing. However, it does suffer from some of the same shortfalls that the overworld in Breath of the Wild had. Mainly, its barrenness. I’ve already mentioned how bad it looks, so I won’t repeat myself here, but the world itself does feel very empty a lot of the time, which is a real shame.
There are some landmarks dotted about, but they’re completely dead. I understand that this is supposed to be a newly-discovered region or something and that would explain the lack of villages, but the old ruins that can be found in the world just don’t excite me. Functionally it’s not that great either. A slightly steep hill will make your character crawl to a near stop and it’s never really clear if you successfully got up a hill because you should or just out of luck and lack of real design.
It’s great fun, sure. Running around either on foot or on one of the Pokémon mounts you get that helps you traverse land and sea, collecting items and catching Pokémon is great. And this is one of the things that the game does really well. Catching Pokémon, getting items and battling is the smoothest I’ve experienced in any game. You can jump in and out battles easily and fluidly throw Poké Balls to catch some unsuspecting Pokémon and while you’re waiting, you can release a Pokémon to crack some rocks for materials as you go. The mechanics feel great – it’s just such a shame that they couldn’t be experienced in a more interesting world.
Having only played this game for about 20 hours or so so far, and a lot of that time just going around completing side quests, I don’t feel I’ve really got into the story much. I don’t expect a big epic journey, but so far the story has been steady and simple enough. This is a kids game, remember? No matter how you look at it, that’s precisely what it is. After you fall into the Hisui region, you’re enlisted into the Team Galaxy Survey Corps and are tasked with assisting with the completion of the Pokédex. This part may not sound particularly alien to any Pokémon player. Completing the Pokédex is all part of the package, but this time they’ve added a bit more spice! This isn’t just any old Pokédex, it’s the first Pokédex! Instead of completing the Pokédex by just catching ’em all, you have to catch them multiple times to achieve certain goals, gain more information by seeing a Pokémon use a certain move, for example, and steadily go up the ranks to then progress in the game.
Along the way you meet members of the Diamond and Pearl clan. I guess it wasn’t just a total coincidence that the remakes of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl were released just a few months prior to this. Hisui is supposed to be an old Sinnoh, right? So it’s unsurprising to see the return of these two clans, albeit on slightly better terms than what we may be familiar with in the old games. I don’t know the exact connection between these games, but I’m certainly intrigued to find out, which does add a satisfying level of mystery to the game.
As you progress, you discover that these clan members are guardians to some very special Pokémon indeed. You may be familiar with the Kleavor, a new evolution of Scyther. This is one of the many Lord and Lady Pokémon, whose function I have not totally understood yet. All I know is that they become ‘frenzied’ by a mysterious energy from the space-time rift that is ever present above the great mountain that dominates the landscape.
You’ll also meet a lot of characters that give you various quests, which I think may be a first in Pokémon. Finally, a Pokémon game with side quests! They’re very simple, but help things moving and mostly consist of find a certain type of Pokémon to bring back and show or give to said NPC. Nothing too crazy but the game is all the better for it. More of this, please.
Pokémon Legends Arceus does so much right, but it falls short in enough areas that could spoil the experience for many. The changes to the battle and catching mechanics are a much-needed and welcome change that are different enough for experienced players but not overly complicated enough for those who have never played a Pokémon game before. The level of difficulty is the highest in any Pokémon game I’ve played in a while, but more challenges overall would have made it better.
Legends Arceus looks like the game we’ve all been waiting for but unfortunately for what was delivered, it feels like it should have been released 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love playing it and it’s great fun but doesn’t quite hit the mark. What I feel should have been a really story driven game turned out not to be quite that, but it’s a start. Pokémon has (too) many legendary and mythical Pokémon to create so many interesting narratives in a game, but for some reason they obviously don’t share my opinion there.
I always thought that if Game Freak went so heavy on the open world genre that they would never be able to release a classic style Pokémon game ever again. I don’t think Legends does a great job at tipping them over the edge enough for that, so for now, their standard formula is safe for another day, but here’s hoping for a bit more spice. Was it worth the purchase? Absolutely.
As a little bonus, here are some images I took on the day I received the game. I ordered it from the Pokémon Center, which came with an Arceus promo TCG card and an artbook as well. Pretty cool!