As you begin to play Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the first thing that becomes apparent is that it's different from that of the traditional Pokémon games. The formula that fans are familiar with is the rigidly turn-based RPG where players must battle their way to becoming champion, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus flips this on its head to an extent. While the latest Pokémon instalment comes with plenty of new and exciting mechanics, it’s rather easy to say that these haven’t been executed as well as they could’ve been. However, the game shows a hell of a lot of potential for what Game Freak and The Pokémon Company may be capable of in the future.
Traditional Pokémon Transformed
At the core of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the aim of the game remains similar to that of its predecessors. Players must catch Pokémon, fill out their Pokédex, and take on some pretty tough battles in order to progress. Yet, there are no routes or cities, and instead players travel between the base of Jubilife Village and various wild, open-world areas where Pokémon roam freely in the overworld. It all begins with your character quite literally falling out of the sky and onto the shore of Hisui, a region of long ago that is later set to become Sinnoh, and things are a little different there.
There are no Poké Marts or Centres, and players must primarily rely on crafting and Base Camps in each area to survive. Pokémon can now be used to gather resources, and perhaps one of the best features in the entire game is that we can now catch Pokémon without necessarily needing to battle them. I had a pasture filled with Bidoofs almost immediately, and I have no regrets about that.
Additionally, while they aren't necessarily explained all that well in the game (which is surprising considering we have masses of dialogue around each and every corner), Space Time Distortions and Mass Outbreaks provide some extra Pokémon catching fun, too. Mass Outbreaks see multiple Pokémon of a single species spawn in one area for a short period of time. This increases the chances of catching shinies and aids with filling out the more tasking parts of the new Pokédex (for example, catch 12 of a species and so forth). Similarly, Space Time Distortions are also temporary events that see Pokémon and items spawn that cannot be found elsewhere in Hisui, such as Porygon, Gengar, various Eeveelutions, and all three starter Pokémon. This is excluding whomever you picked, though, so I won’t be finding any more Cyndaquils anytime soon.
Unfortunately, though, that’s about it. Riding atop a Wyrdeer or Basculegion feels like great fun until you realise how barren the landscape is. Scattered amongst these vast, open areas of Obsidian Fieldlands through to Alabaster Icelands are Pokémon, trees, and some ore outcrops. Occasionally, you may find ruins or a cave. That’s it. While this is a very new direction for Pokémon, and I wasn’t expecting to see The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild style world-building, I certainly didn’t expect so much emptiness from each region.
Sadly, not only does this make roaming around get boring quite quickly, it makes navigation rather difficult too. Until you've run around in circles and worked out which shaped ponds or which Pokémon are based where, it can be rather difficult to get from A to B without having to open your Arc Phone every few minutes.
Hit and Miss Storytelling and Battling
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for me during my experience of Pokémon Legends: Arceus was the delivery of the story. The storyline itself wasn’t necessarily bad, and there were certainly many touching moments. One of my favourites had to be rescuing Growlithe from Firespit Island for Warden Palina of the Pearl Clan, witnessing them evolve into Arcanine, and then having to quell their frenzy as they transformed into a Noble Pokémon upon evolution. Growlithe is one of the best boys in all of Pokémon, and this certainly tugged at my heart strings a little.
With that being mentioned, gyms are replaced with boss fights in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Instead of battling with the likes of Volkner, Fantina, or Cynthia as we did in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, we now must battle with strangely enraged and frenzied Pokémon in order to progress. Additionally, instead of a traditional battle, we can beat Noble bosses by exclusively using a new item: balms, made of ingredients that the Pokémon likes. Better yet, we don’t even have to craft these balms. However, boss fights might’ve felt a little less easy if we didn’t have an unlimited supply.
That was perhaps something Pokémon Legends: Arceus needed to have tweaked; boss fights felt too easy, and wild Pokémon battles felt more difficult. Being able to take on bosses without a traditional battle, or to be able to continue your progress if you fainted rather than being returned to a Base Camp to recover, felt a little off. On the other hand, wild Pokémon put up more of a fight for the most part, giving plenty of opportunity to see their moves and master our own.
This was great for two reasons; the first being that these battles and the strength of wild Pokémon helped with filling out the new Pokédex further as we worked to not only catch and defeat a species, but to see how they perform in battle too. The second reason is the introduction of new Agile Style and Strong Style moves to make battles a little more interesting by letting players use two PP to land a stronger attack, or land a weaker attack and be able to possibly land two in a row. By not encouraging us to one-shot Pokémon any more, battles felt more engaging and fulfilling, given the way we could change our moves and how battling aided our filling of the Pokédex. However, given how challenging wild Pokémon are, especially enraged Alpha Pokémon who are stronger than any others, the Noble Pokémon boss battles feel very underwhelming.
Amongst all the new mechanics that there are to explore and battles to engage in, dialogue came thick and fast, and the game might’ve been better without so much of it. Travelling across an entire area to engage in lengthy dialogue, to travel 100m away and engage in more, to then be told I’ve to go all the way back to Jubilife Village, where I then have to eat more potato mochi and experience more dialogue…this exhausted me as a player. I’m used to Pokémon games consisting of plenty of dialogue, but for some reason, the nature of dialogue in Pokémon Legends: Arceus felt so dreary and uninteresting. The general story for the game was something I could get behind, but the execution itself was something I simply wanted to skip, and I’m not one for skipping dialogue in games. Seriously, though. How many times do I have to go and eat potato mochi with Rei and Professor Laventon? While this act was cute for the first two to three times, it quickly became a chore after the novelty wore off.
Crafting Needs to Stay, Inventory Upgrades Don't
The introduction of crafting is certainly an element I felt excited about. Being able to use my party of Pokémon to forage for items to craft everything I needed for my next battle or excursion felt incredibly rewarding over buying things regularly. However, this made the use of money in Pokémon Legends: Arceus become rather redundant. Even evolution items cannot be bought using Pokédollars, so what do you spend your cash on?
This is where I think Game Freak brought Bagin in, our NPC who sells Satchel upgrades just inside the Galaxy Hall. There needed to be something players wanted to rack up Poké Dollars for, and if not all the items at the Poké Mart, then what? Sure, the Clothier has some nice outfits in stock, but their cost is nothing compared to Bagin’s near five million Pokédollar fee to fully upgrade your Satchel. The fact that it is so easy to run out of storage makes excursions across large areas a little more tiresome, as I return to the Base Camp to sell or store items every twenty minutes. Bagin is swindling us all for our money, and having my pockets be full after I just left a Base Camp is a little frustrating.
It would be nice if Bagin could consider dropping his prices just a tad before we see another game, but having to prioritise which items you take with you and which you leave on the ground made for an interesting change in gameplay overall. The turn-based RPG now has survival elements, especially given that wild Pokémon can hurt your character rather than just your Pokémon, too. This is certainly something I’d love to see Game Freak feed more into.
The Verdict - 3.5/5
Overall, Pokémon Legends: Arceus introduces and transforms many elements of gameplay that we’re already used to, and creates a game that I believe everyone can find some form of enjoyment in. However, this enjoyment doesn’t last, given the barren landscapes and endless dialogue. Pokémon Legends: Arceus definitely steps outside of a comfort zone, and in many ways, this is great. Yet, it isn’t quite perfect.
This title is certainly a promising stepping-stone for the future of Pokémon, and I feel a lot of excitement for what comes next for the franchise. If Game Freak can work on its mistakes, create more interesting environments, and keep the changes to battling and catching Pokémon, I think the next Pokémon game we see could be one of the best yet. Finally, regardless of what Pokémon Legends: Arceus didn’t quite master, it was still a fun experience to play Pokémon in this new and evolved way, and experience a game that truly felt different for the first time in years.
Score - 3/5
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Code provided by publisher.