The Pokemon formula is one of the most proven successes in the video games industry. After all, it is the highest grossing media franchise in the world. With such established success, it isn’t surprising that the series has stagnated a bit. Even looking back at the titles that cemented Pokemon as a goliath in the games industry, Red and Blue, the recipe has not effectively changed. Players walk in tall grass, and engage in turn-based combat to fight other trainers or wild pokemon in an attempt to catch them. Over the past two decades, this is what players could come to expect when booting up the latest Pokemon game. Pokemon Legends Arceus changes that.
Pokemon Legends Arceus still revolves around the catching and battling of Pokemon. What has changed is how one engages in the world. Rather than waiting for random encounters to capture and battle wild critters, Pokemon now exist in the overworld as 3D sprites, similar to Pokemon Sword and Shield’s wild area. A simple change from previous established entries, but it goes a long way in establishing Legends Arceus as an interesting world. Better yet, players can catch pokemon simply by aiming with the control stick and pressing a button to throw. No need to stop everything to go through menus, Legends Arceus makes the act of catching Pokemon as intuitive as ever. Players do have the option to engage with Pokemon in battle before catching them, but I quickly realized that I vastly preferred the new options at my disposal. There’s still the tried and true method of weakening a Pokemon in battle and applying status effects to catch them, but here there are even more options, from using berries, different Pokeballs, stealth mechanics, and many other craftable items that add a ton of player choice in how they choose to engage each encounter. I hope what has been added here is a building block for the series going forward.
Legends Arceus is a change of course for the series, and not just mechanically. There are no gyms to defeat here, and no Pokemon League to overcome. There isn’t even a group of evildoers like Team Rocket to put in their place. The main objective here is to fill the Pokedex, and catalog every single Pokemon in the Ancient Sinnoh, called the Hisuian region. Unlike past games, just catching a Pokemon isn’t enough to complete its entry. To truly complete the Pokedex, there are various tasks needing to be accomplished, which can vary from seeing Pokemon use certain moves, catching or evolving many of each Pokemon, or feeding them certain berries in the wild. This does become a bit of a grind, but with the lower roster in Arceus (there are about 220 Pokemon in total to catch), it feels manageable. This mechanic also encouraged more experimentation with my team that I otherwise would’ve been inclined, as I swapped out Pokemon regularly to try to fill out as many tasks as I could.
To catch a Pokemon, just simply aim and throw
Pokemon Legends Arceus isn’t a perfect experience, and it doesn’t take long to understand why. Graphically, it lags behind other contemporary games, to a noticeable degree. There are scenes that are well directed artisitcally, but even then it is blatantly clear that this game looks multiple generations past its expiration date. The story is no standout either, which isn’t anything new for Pokemon games. My biggest gripe here is not so much the actual storytelling, but several of the story boss battles that fail to nail the landing. These fights involve running around as your trainer, dodging boss attacks, and pelting them with “balms”. The battles are an overall clunky experience that would have been better served as just regular Pokemon battles. Lastly, while Arceus makes great strides in embracing the quasi-open world trend that has taken the industry at storm, it does feel at times like a first effort rather than the work of a studio that has a handle on how to make such games. Specifically, there is a noticeable lack of interesting geography, discoverable secrets, or verticality that exist in better open world titles, such as Breath of the Wild. It puzzles me that abilities like climbing are withheld until 20+ hours into the game, where simply giving the player this ability from the start would have allowed the developers to be as creative as they like when designing the Hisuian region, rather than wait until the later zones really open things up.
Each new zone grants a new companion Pokemon that assists in navigating the terrain
Pokemon Legends Arceus is not a perfect game, not by a long shot. Its flaws are clearly noticeable, and a bit discouraging considering the potential here. Still, I did have a ton of fun playing Arceus, so much so that I still dabbled with the postgame even after 50 hours going through the main story. The new grind in completing all the Pokedex tasks is much more intriguing than the more simple loop established before. And for all its flaws, I do give Game Freak credit for experimenting with the franchise that had been stale for the better part of a decade. The new elements in Legends Arceus are ones that I hope stick with going forward, and seeing the series go back to a world where I can’t aim and throw a pokeball at a Pokemon would be seriously disappointing. While Arceus does feel like a bit of a proof of concept, the concept is rock solid, and at times seriously addicting. Pokemon Legends Arceus is a great jumping on point for long time fans, as well of those like myself who have grown tired of the established formula.