Pokémon Legends: Arceus Review – Pokémon Evolves
I’ve been playing Pokémon games for long enough to know what to expect when a new one comes along. We get the story of a young person who, despite all odds, works their way through 8 gyms or trials, fends off a rival, beats the best trainers in the region and becomes the champion. It’s a two-decade-long formula that still works to this day. While this formula sells, and Pokémon fans love it (or love to hate it), I can’t but help feel a little bit burnt out on it; it’s always been a comfort game, something that’s predictable, and I know what I’m getting. Pokémon Legends Arceus has completely changed that. Pokémon Arceus Legends still has battles and Pokémon to catch and a Pokédex to fill, but it does it differently and with purpose, and I’m all for it.
I apologise in advance, and I’ll try to limit myself to comparisons, but it can’t be overstated just how much Game Freak has been inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. From its visual style and interface to its audio cues and the concept of taking 20 years of tradition and turning it on its head, it’s got it all. Pokémon Legends Arceus opens the world of Pokémon up and adds a dash of Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, and every other open-world game in the last decade.
Pokémon Legends Arceus starts very much like any other Pokémon game, and you’ll just have to trust me when I say after about an hour it’s not like any other Pokemon game. Sure, you get a starter Pokémon and meet a professor, but Legends is this twisted version of Pokémon that left me lost and unsure how to do things. Not because of bad design, but because I was playing a Pokémon game that was finally different.
The Hisui region is split into large open areas that depart from Jubilife Village, the game hub. There are no routes, no long walks to get to where you need to be. You don’t have to return to the village all the time either. Littered around the region are camps with all you need including access to a store and your Pokémon. Once you’re out in the wild, that’s where the real game begins. As you explore the area, you’ll see Pokémon just walking around. Some won’t mind your presence, but others will attack you. They’re easy enough to get around, and you can also sneak around if you wish. If you’re sneaking, too, it’s easier to catch them — for the first time, you can just chuck a ball at them and see what happens. Catching them while they’re busy or facing away from you, even asleep, makes the need to battle them disappear. Some Pokémon aren’t pushovers, though, and you’ll need to get into an “old fashioned” battle with them. But even that is quicker than you’re used to from a Pokémon game. There are still battles with trainers, but not nearly as many as other games. Trainer battles are more story-driven about why you’re battling, and not just there to level up.
So why are you catching Pokemon now, if there are no gyms or leaders to battle? The game revolves around the Pokédex, it’s the game’s entire drive, and it moves everything along. The Pokédex actually is more than just a number now.
Collecting Pokémon does increase your Pokédex count, but as you do you’ll move up in rank. That rank allows you to visit more areas, and catch and control higher-level Pokémon. They’ve smushed Gym Badges into the Pokédex. But just collecting Pokemon isn’t enough — you’ve got to research them. Each Pokemon in the Pokédex has a research rank; the more you do with that Pokemon, the more times you catch one, defeat one in battle, or see it use its move, the more that Pokémon’s rank will go up. The more Pokémon you have with high research, the higher your rank goes, and the more cash you get to help you fuel your research (and you get goodies!).
If you’re stuck on a rank or want to do more research and have spent all your cash, you can also craft items you need to trap, surprise, and catch Pokemon. Pokéballs, Revives, and a whole slew of items can be crafted from items you collect on your travels. You put your Pokémon to work collecting these as you run around the world — they’re not just for fighting anymore!
Pokémon battles are still a big part of the game. If you don’t catch a Pokémon with the first shot, or get sprung by one, you’re going into a typical Pokemon battle — but with a few changes. If things get too heated, you can now move your trainer away, and even run away from battles. Often you’ll have been exploring, and you’re out of items and Pokemon, and just need to book it. Aside from that, moving around in battles doesn’t do too much aside from getting some snap-happy angles in.
The game’s battle mechanics are also slightly different with the Agile and Strong moves Pokémon can have. Once a move has been Mastered, moves can be performed in an Agile or Strong manner. Agile moves have reduced damage, but your Pokémon may go quicker, or possibly get a second shot in before the other Pokemon can strike back. The Strong moves are the inverse. These moves use more PP and can quickly change the tide in battles.
You might think whacking a Pokémon with a strong move and trying to take it out in one shot is bright, but if you fail to finish it off, you’ll get a round of battering from the opponent. There are several battles where you think you’ll have the upper hand, and then suddenly you’ll get smacked with three moves in a row. Speaking of threes, you can also now get into a situation where 3 (or more) Pokémon can attack you all simultaneously. This is where the strategy with Agile or Strong moves can come in handy.
The other new battle type is against Noble Pokémon, and for the first time, it’s the trainer that takes on these oversized Pokémon. You’ll have to dodge and throw balms at them to calm them down enough to get a Pokémon in there to attack. These battles are something new and different, and there are only a few of them, but we’ve not seen a trainer take on a Pokémon before; it’s kind of cool.
Something in the game I just wanted to point out before I continue is that you can also take out your Pokémon from their Pokeballs at any time. They can sit around and chat — it’s a tiny thing, but I thought it was just ultra-cute and something a real Pokémon trainer would do while out exploring.
Pokémon Legends Arceus also has a long list of quality of life changes. Things that have been around since the start are changed or thrown away all together. You can now change your Pokémon’s nickname at any time. When a Pokémon levels up, you can make it learn a move later, and then you can see all the moves it knows at that time and set up a new moveset for it. At any time!
Similarly, when a Pokémon is ready to evolve, you don’t get an annoying screen which you have to stop (if you don’t want it evolving right away). There’s just a notification saying it can evolve. Annoying screens in many places are gone, and it’s made the entire experience feel modern. There are also several Pokémon to aid you in getting around the vast world. These ride-on Pokémon help you scale large hills, jump over gaps, and fly right over the world. They’re also fun to get the surprise on higher-level Pokemon and get that first hit advantage.
While I won’t spoil the rather lengthy story, it has to be said that it’s one of the best Pokémon stories for some time. It is a little philosophical, even asking some big(ish) questions about the Pokémon world. While the Pokédex drives the story, there are still many things to do in the region that aren’t related to catching Pokémon. While Pokémon has had side quests before, there’s not had them like this. Requests are a separate list of tasks you undertake for people in the village, those out in the field, and yourself.
You’ll need to do these Requests to increase the number of items you can buy, hairstyles to unlock, and get more services in your village. Helping out the villagers has its rewards too, and these people aren’t just usual Pokémon NPCs with one line. These people make Hisui feel like a real and living world. These people have worries, complaints, and fears, and getting to know them and helping them is a lot of fun. Not all of them are mandatory for those who don’t care about side quests, but you’ll want to do some. Some of them just happen naturally.
Game Freak have elevated Pokémon to be a grander experience all around. A bigger world, with an in-depth story and just trying something that they’ve not done before. The gameplay loop and world are amazing. Amazing to play — but not so much to look at.
While it’s not all this word, Pokémon Legends Arceus in many places is downright ugly. There are low-quality textures on the ground and hills, and everything looks muddy. If you take a look at a mountain or lake from a distance, you’ll see small repeated textures — it’s so apparent that it takes me away from the world. Many of the characters in the game look like they’re dressed in their Nintendo 3DS best. The game, especially when it rains, has these sparkly jaggies that look like the person is getting electrocuted — it’s all very distracting. Game Freak has created a beautiful world in many places, but when it’s ugly, it’s terrible. If you can’t look past this, it’ll impact your feeling about the game. It’s the weakest point of the game, for sure.
I can’t go anywhere without mentioning the game’s audio from the audio design and the music. The game’s audio takes a lot of cues from that Legend of Zelda game; its soundtrack is minimalistic and uses atmosphere and light music to portray a mood. But every so often, you’ll come across some music, and the game will slap. There’s a heavy bass guitar motif, there’s rock remixes, and just really banging music — It’s some of the best Pokémon music I’ve ever heard. There’s some boss battle music that’s epic. It sounds like an orchestra alongside you battling.
The old cliche is to never judge a book by its cover, and Pokémon Legends Arceus certainly has a dirty cover. It does itself no favours, and this big open world in spots can look ugly, and in others, it’s beautiful. Game Freak went for a deeper, grander Pokémon game in every way except for the graphics.
I’ve dragged myself through Pokémon games in recent years, but not with this one. Pokémon Arceus Legends is the future of Pokémon games. It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for for years, with a new and fun way to catch Pokemon, a story that adds to and pulls from Pokemon lore and a region you can genuinely get lost in. Pokemon Legend Arceus is Pokémon, evolved.
Review copy was a digital code provided by Nintendo Australia
+ A natural evolution in Pokémon gameplay with fun catching and battle mechanics
+ A real world to explore that's filled with life and real characters
+ A deep story filled with, and that draws on, Pokémon lore
+ Streamlining and quality of life improvements everywhere
- Low-resolution and repeating textures and other technical niggles
- Competitive players won't find much for them ongoing