I’ve played many mainline Pokémon games over the years but I’ve only ever finished one; Pokémon Red. That’s right, way back in 1998, when I was just 13 years old, I played through and beat the Elite 4 and managed to catch every single one of those pocket monsters. After that, I played most of the games in the series, but only for a while. That’s changed now with the release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
Pokémon may have changed a little and iterated over the years, but it’s been essentially the same game every time since Red and Blue launched all those years ago. I’m certain there are hordes of Pokémon fans who would gladly bring out their pitchforks in defence of the series, but come on, it’s the same thing every time.
That’s not to say it’s not good.
There’s a lot to like about Pokémon but in my case, I didn’t feel the need to play beyond a certain point since I was pretty sure I knew what was coming. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is such a radical departure for the series while retaining the core of what makes a Pokémon game that it’s mind-boggling a game like this hasn’t been released sooner.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus Review
Set many, many years ago in the Hisui region (before it was known as Sinnoh) players are transported back in time by a mysterious spacetime distortion. This distortion is one of many and the effects of the wormholes are playing havoc with many of the Pokémon in the region. Soon, you’re enlisted into the Galaxy Team as part of the Survey Corps. Your job is to learn about Pokémon, figure out what’s going on with the wormholes and…help every single person you talk to along the way.
It is an RPG after all.
The story has always been an element of Pokémon I found weakest. I’ve had friends tell me that Black and White had an amazing story, but I never found out because it felt like the same game I’d played since 1998. Pokémon Legends: Arceus has a fresh take on the series both in its gameplay and the way it tells the story. By virtue of being set in the past and being (semi) open-world, Pokémon Legends: Arceus can branch out in many directions. You are, of course, still tasked with filling your Pokédex and finding every Pokémon but it feels like a brand-new experience now. And, you’re not just trying to catch each critter this time. Every Dex entry has multiple sub-objectives to complete which makes catching or fighting, against or with, the same Pokémon multiple times a worthwhile endeavour. These objectives include things like catching multiples, seeing them use Agility or Power moves, catching big or small variants and so on.
It’s a small thing but it really does give a much more complete sense of satisfaction when filling in the Pokédex. Agility and Power boosts add a small change to combat too. After Pokémon have mastered a move you can choose to use Agility or Power to either boost the move’s speed or damage respectively. Doing so uses more PP but it can be useful in tricky battles or just to get through grind battles quickly and easily.
Another great change featured in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the ability to chop and change each Pokémon’s moves as you see fit. No more having to forget moves. Instead, you simply choose which four you’d like to have active and the rest remain dormant until you decide you need them. Frankly, this is potentially the biggest game-changer in Arceus and opens up a whole new world of strategy and team building.
Obviously, the move to proper, full 3D is a big deal too. Pokémonhas dabbled with 3D in the past with Sword and Shield coming closest, but Arceus is something else. Not quite open-world, the game is split into a number of sub-regions which are large open areas for you to explore. These areas are populated with tonnes of Pokémon and have a day/night cycle so you can catch nocturnal creatures as well as day walkers. Catching Pokémon has been overhauled too. You no longer have to battle in order to catch. Instead, you can sneak around, throw Pokéballs at Pokémon in the field and shove them in your pocket or backpack. If you do manage to sneak up on them without being seen and hit them in the back with your Pokéball, you’ll score a back strike with a better chance of catching them. The same goes for battle too.
If you want to battle a wild Pokémon and you hit it with a back strike, you’ll get a chance to surprise it and get a couple of moves in before it can react.
Each subregion you visit is inhabited by Guardian Pokémon; special, worshipped critters who protect the land and its people. By befriending these Guardians you earn a special move or new ability. For example, you get to live your Princess Mononoke fantasy by riding Wyrdeer. Ursaluna finds and digs up treasure, Sneasler allows you to climb walls and so on. It’s a riff on the old HM mechanic but it’s much more fun in Arceus. It’s a blast to ride on these various Pokémon and it makes you feel far more connected to the world and the animals within.
Your home base in Arceus, Jubilife Village is where you return to rest, speak to your Galaxy Team leaders and acquire new side-quests. As your journey proceeds, the village gradually changes as new buildings are constructed — with help from Pokémon — and new residents arrive. It’s a nice touch to see things changing as you complete your missions and to see the town gradually embrace Pokémon in a way that’s standard in the mainline games. Being set in the past, the people of Hisui are largely frightened of Pokémon and don’t understand them. The player helps change their minds and show them that Pokémon are cute, helpful creatures not to be feared, well some of them are.
While the gameplay and ‘evolution’ of the franchise are top-notch, the visuals really suffer. The aesthetic and art style are great and playing in handheld mode, Pokémon Legends: Arceus looks great but in TV mode it’s pretty ugly. The Switch is getting long in the tooth and playing in 1080p on a 4K TV looks…bad. It’s jaggy and the textures look flat and basic. I don’t think Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an ugly game but it certainly can’t stack up against anything we see on PS4 and Xbox One, let alone PS5 and Xbox Series. In fact, there are plenty of Switch games that surpass the visuals of Arceus. However, I found that over time, my eyes adjusted to the resolution and the initial shock of the game’s ugliness faded. It’s definitely not the prettiest game but it gets the job done.
There’s a tonne of other improvements and additions in Pokémon Legends: Arceus; crafting, evolution, space/time distortions (mini raids), boss fights and more. It’s a real treat to play the game and have something new and exciting come along every few hours. It’s a real testament to the devs that after 25 years, Pokémon can be changed so radically while still feeling like it’s part of the same series.
Arceus takes the best elements from every game across the franchise’s history, does away with everything that was weighing it down and delivers a must-play RPG for both fans of the series and fans of the genre in general.
It’s been a long time coming for Pokémon to evolve and thankfully, Nintendo has finally allowed the franchise to grow and Bellossom. I am Bulbasure you’ll have a great time with Arceus and it’s a relief to not have to Pikachoose one version or another this time. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the direction the series should have taken long ago and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by Nintendo Australia.