Pokémon isn’t a series that needs an introduction, so I won’t bother. It’s also a series that’s been so overwhelmingly samey since its inception that we all got excited when it was announced that we could make Pikachu thicc again. It’s a good series, and I’m not taking away from that, but Sword and Shield were very much the final note in a long and drawn-out flat tune for many players.
This is especially true as the wild areas that had been promised in the game turned out to be monumentally underwhelming. They fault more like a beta test than anything. It was as though Game Freak were merely flirting with ideas in the games, and it turns out that that may well have been the case, because Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels as though it has its roots in them.
Mild story spoilers here, so keep that in mind. Pokémon Legends: Arceus kicks off with you being thrown backwards in time to a Sinnoh of long, long ago, which is called Hisui. You’ve landed in ye olde Sinnoh with nought but yourself, your clothes, and your Arc phone. That, for the record, should end the conversation about the pronunciation, because if you read that as a soft C, then you’re not allowed to say it on stream.
You’re found by a Professor who is helping the folks from the Galaxy Team, who have semi-invaded Sinnoh to make a tiny village and then apparently not expand anymore. Despite that, they’ve formed multiple divisions to scope out the area and look after themselves, and you, due to your fearless attitude towards Pokémon, get recruited to the Survey Corps.
Fearing Pokémon is something you’re told to do in nearly every single game, but it’s never been something that has ever really delivered. This time though, Pokémon roam the world openly, and have a few different personalities that dictate how they’ll react to you. Some will simply see you, ignore you, and go about their day. Some will say you and nope out of there ASAP. The last bunch will see you and take issue with you, and they will want to consume you.
I’m not sure how the aggressive monsters were chosen, but if you ever thought Paras was cute, you’re in for a world of poison, paralysis, and terror. No monster will strike more fear into your heart than this one… well, at least until you accidentally discover the Alpha Snorlax who is more than happy to bellyflop you into non-existence. You’ll have to fight through it all though, because you need to help make the first Pokédex.
Normally completing the Pokédex is a simple matter of catching all the monsters. This time around though, you need to do a bit more, and complete research tasks for each monster to fully understand them. Sometimes these will be things like catching ten of them, sometimes it’ll be seeing them use a move in combat, and sometimes it’ll be catching a big one, or something else. It’s a great system, and because you can now catch Pokémon without entering combat, it’s not as exhausting as it sounds either.
Combat is still turn-based, but there’s now a turn order to think about. This seems odd, but it’s because Pokémon can now master moves, which will allow them to use that move for 2 PP to use it in Strong Style or Agile Style. The former is slower, the latter is faster, and you can see how the turn order will be affected before choosing them. It’s a fun little wrinkle, but compared to many of the other changes, feels a little underwhelming.
You can, however, now end up in battle with a bunch of Pokémon if you’re not careful. The aggressive Pokémon will follow you, and if you get into a battle when more than one of them is within range of you, you can actually end up fighting a horde of wild monsters. It’s cool to have to consider where you’re fighting at any given time.
The story, outside of the whole isekai thing, will also have you dealing with the Diamond and Pearl clans. These are the native peoples of Hisui, and they have a troubled past. Things are peaceful now, but a lot of the Noble Pokémon, which are new evolutions of classic Pokémon who are revered as lords, are going on rampages. You have to calm them down in battles, although it’ll be a battle where it’s hard to do any damage to the Nobles, so you need to dodge their attacks and throw balms at them until they return to normal.
You can also fight them to temporarily make them more susceptible to the balms, but you’ll mostly be working on your throwing arm. These felt anticlimactic for the most part, though some epic battles later on in the game do help to offset that feeling. You can also end up with some of these Noble Pokémon helping you out as mounts, and they help with traversal in each of the game’s huge areas.
Now, the areas in Pokémon Legends: Arceus also look like they’ve been thrown back in time, and are, quite frankly, not good enough. Everything is sort of flat, the world is vast but boring, and if it wasn’t for some clever use of water in most of the areas, you’d struggle to differentiate between different sections of the map. Not only this, but there’s noticeable pop-in too. Pokémon, textures, and little details like grass will constantly appear in your peripheral vision.
I know that this is a new style for Game Freak, and the game is good, but does it have to look like this? I know people don’t play these games for the graphics, and as someone who mostly plays indie roguelikes, I don’t really care about them, but it doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t good enough for one of the biggest series in existence.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that while docked on my OLED, I saw notable frame drops in some areas, and the camera was so juddery that turning it was enough to induce the threat of a migraine. Again, I know this isn’t what Pokémon is about, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention these issues. Thankfully, if you’re a handheld Switch user, you won’t notice most of these issues, and it also runs better thanks to the lower resolution.
All-in-all, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is what a lot of fans have been waiting for. It’s a genuinely new take on the series, and it is quite possibly the best the series has ever been when it comes to gameplay. The joys of rapid-fire catching Yanma and having your team level up because of it are unparalleled.
However, the technical and graphical side of the game feels underloved. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is amazingly good fun, the new evolution song slaps, and it’s a joy to simply wander around and fill up your Pokédex. It’s at odds with the flat areas, disappointing visuals, and old-school pop-in. This game gives me hope that Pokémon is on the cusp of something truly game-changing, and it’s a strong first attempt, but it needed more polish to be a masterpiece.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is available to play now on the Nintendo Switch.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the game that many have wanted Pokémon to be for the last ten years. It also looks about that old and runs about that well too. It’s absolutely wonderful to finally have something genuinely new in this amazing series, but I’m also really hoping this is just the first step towards more experimentation with the formula, because now we’ve all been given a taste of what Pokémon could become.
- A genuinely new direction for Pokémon
- The new capture mechanics are great
- The new Pokédex tasks make everything feel more meaningful
- Getting beaten up by a Paras is weirdly satisfying
- Playing the game docked is headache-inducing
- Graphics are supremely underwhelming