You'll love it if:
- You are a fan of open world games
- You like Pokémon
- There’s a completionist hidden inside you
Not for you if:
- You dislike open world games
- Obvious pop-ins are a dealbreaker for you
- You hate repetitive tasks
Pokémon Legends: Arceus was released for the Nintendo Switch on January 28th. Game Freak has answered our prayers and brought to us a new type of Pokémon game. One that fits really well in the current gaming era, taking into account the technical possibilities of the console. Yes, it’s actually an open world game. I had low expectations and although the game isn’t perfect, it’s pretty darn good. And it’s a promising step in the right direction for the Pokémon franchise. Let’s go explore ye olde Sinnoh, or as they called it back then, Hisui.
I absolutely love it, but it’s just too rough around the edges to give it a higher rating right now.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus – Setting
Pokémon games have always been classic JRPGs. Usually, your character wakes up one day to go get their first Pokémon and leave home to become a Pokémon trainer. Soon something seems to be amiss, and your new mission becomes to fight the bad guys and save both people and Pokémon. You’re then supposed to follow a path from gym to gym, battle trainers and catch Pokémon. A formula that has worked, but definitely receives increasingly more criticism. The people want some innovation, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus tries to bring just that.
First, let’s look at the region we’re dropped into. If you’ve played Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, or the recent remake Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, you’ll recognize the Sinnoh region we’ve all come to love. But Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes place what seems like centuries ago. It’s a time when people are still afraid of Pokémon because they don’t understand them. Back then, the region was referred to as “Hisui”. Mount Coronet and the three lakes (Lake Acuity, Lake Verity and Lake Valor) again play an important part and are defining features in the region. Different types of landscape make the region very interesting to explore, because different Pokémon live in different habitats. Expect to stroll around plain fields, beaches, mountains, lakes and even a volcano.
Jubilife Village becomes your new hometown, and is actually the only village you get to visit. Because of the presence of Pokémon, people are too scared to settle in this region. That means however, you get to explore untouched nature and really focus on Pokémon rather than on their trainers. Jubilife Village offers everything you could need: shops, pastures, a training ground, a photo studio… And villagers who will come up with the weirdest requests. If you’re familiar with Sinnoh, you’ll know the village will grow out to become Jubilife City, the most advanced and largest city in the region.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus – Story
Pokémon Legends: Arceus kicks off with a cut-scene of your character falling through a space-time rift. You wind up at the beach near Jubilife Village, where professor Laventon finds you and asks you to catch some Pokémon for him. Because that’s how you treat a stranger that literally just fell from the sky, right? Anyway, you’ve got a natural talent for dealing with Pokémon, and the professor promptly escorts you to the Galaxy Team. The Galaxy Team’s members have come from different regions to Hisui to study the region and its Pokémon. Since nobody really knows what to do with you, they decide to make you a member of the Survey Corps and let you work to earn your keep. Fair enough!
Diamond and Pearl Clan
Although the Galaxy Team operates independently, they will respond to requests of the Diamond and Pearl Clan. The clans hold different beliefs and “worship” different legendary Pokémon, because of which they often clash. Because you’re clearly the most competent member of the Survey Corps, the commander relies on you when the Clan’s leaders come asking for help.
Arceus and the space-time rift
Although your task as a Survey Corps member is to complete the first Pokédex, a weird phenomenon above Mount Coronet is wreaking havoc and your expertise is needed. The same space-time rift you seem to have fallen through, seems to have struck Noble Pokémon with lightning, which led them into a frenzy. Each of these Pokémon have a warden taking care of them, and they each of course belong to one of the two clans. As you help these Noble Pokémon recover from their frenzies, you receive mysterious plates. The locals believe everything has to do with the legendary Pokémon Arceus, considered to be the original Pokémon who created the Hisui region, and possibly the entire Pokémon universe. It’s up to you to uncover the mysteries the rift and the plates hold.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an open-world game. As such, it’s easy to compare it to Zelda BOTW as a reference to the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch as a console in this aspect. And it’s kinda disappointing in this regard. The details on the characters, their clothes e.g., are not good, although the buildings and Pokémon do look great. The open-world at times looks stunning, but then some rocks or grass patches simply look bad. The pop-in is simply atrocious. I understand that there are limitations and the entire world can’t be rendered at once, but there are better ways to handle this. I shouldn’t suddenly walk headfirst into a boulder because it didn’t load in time for me to maneuver around it.
The open-world aspect itself could also stand to improve, while you can walk around freely in each region, these regions are still separate instances. You need to travel back to Jubilife village (loading screen), then choose a region to go to (loading screen). For a truly “free” experience, I should just be able to walk across the entire world. The very sudden sky blocking in said regions also takes away the feeling of freedom. Nevertheless, I consider this game a “step in the right direction”, and I hope to see more and better open-world experiences from Game Freak in the near future.
The BGM in Pokémon Legends: Arceus perfectly fits the vibe of different regions and events. And that’s the only good thing I have to say about the sound in this game. The game is oddly quiet. Especially during dialogue, this quickly turns awkward. People don’t make a single sound. Pokémon games are not voiced, that’s fine, but the BGM disappears, and you’re just clicking through the dialogue in absolute silence. Not a giggle, startle or “baka!” to break the silence. I would have even preferred digitized gibberish over the silence. But, I like to be positive. You’re not missing out on anything sound-wise, so you can just pop in some earphones and turn on Spotify while grinding away to complete that Pokédex. Silver linings, you know.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus – Gameplay
The story is already different from what we’re used to, but how about the Gameplay? Since this game takes place in a distant past, where few people even dare live in proximity to Pokémon, the gameplay is bound to be different. No gyms, no endless Pokémon trainer battles during your journeys, no Pokémon league. The focus here is clear: study Pokémon. Back to the basics of actually filling out that Pokédex.
Pokédex: research tasks
The main focus of this game is to learn more about the Pokémon in the Hisui region. Since there is very little known about them, you’ll need to do more than just catch one of each species. Each Pokémon with an entry in your Pokédex will have a list of research tasks attached to it. The goal is to complete the Pokédex entry for each Pokémon, which means reaching research level 10. There will be different ways to do so: catching a certain amount, defeating a certain amount, observing them use a specific move etc.
After you’ve spent some time in a certain area, you can go to the professor in the base camp to turn in your report. Based on your activities, he’ll reward you with money and points. This will be your main income, since there are no regular trainer battles. The points will increase your rank within the Survey Corps. You’ll need to reach at least rank 5 to finish the story, since certain areas are inaccessible until you are “strong enough”. This rank also determines if Pokémon of a certain level will obey your commands in battle. If you don’t rush through the game, your rank will increase steadily, and you won’t be “blocked” story-wise.
Finding Pokémon in their natural habitat and catching them has become a lot more interesting in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. You will see wild Pokémon walking around and can choose to sneak up on them or engage them in battle. Certain Pokémon will run away when they spot you, while others will actively come and attack you. If you don’t manage to get away, you can actually “faint” and will lose some of your items. You can also save your skin by quickly throwing one of your Pokémon at them to battle it out. You can only catch certain Pokémon when the conditions are right, like the time of day or current weather. When catching a Pokémon unaware, you should hide in bushes or slowly approach them from the back. Then you still need to aim correctly and cross your fingers that the Pokémon stays in the Pokéball.
Wild Pokémon will try to attack you, and certain aggressive types can only be caught during battle. The battle system is still turn-based, but you are free to move around and can spectate the battle from different angles. Pokémon are now able to “master” moves, meaning they can use them in Agile or Strong style. The first will do less damage, but increase the chance of you getting another turn immediately. The latter will do more damage, but will cost more PP and delay your next turn. Because of this new mechanic, it’s now also possible to view the turn order, and see it change when you choose to perform an agile or strong move. Since you can move around during these battles, if you stand too closely you can actually be hit as well. Although I’ve never fainted during a Pokémon battle myself.
There’s also a new type of Pokémon, called “Alpha” Pokémon. These are actually larger and stronger than other Pokémon of the same species. You have to battle it out in order to catch them, of which the success rate isn’t that high. Don’t worry though, as you’ll find they have fixed spawn locations, so if you don’t manage to catch it you can try again later. Adding these Alpha Pokémon to your team is not only hilarious – because of their sheer size – but also smart, because they will grant you a sizable advantage because of their strength.
As mentioned earlier, a key part of the story is helping Noble Pokémon recover from their frenzies. Each time, you’ll first befriend another Noble Pokémon that will help you travel across the land. Such as a big fish to cross waters or a big bird to fly through the sky. As you unlock new methods to travel, you’ll find yourself going back to previously explored regions because you can now reach new locations. A mechanic that’s very often used in other games as well.
To quell the frenzied Pokémon, you’ll engage in a new type of battle. You’ll stand in an arena where you have to dodge the attacks of said Pokémon, until there is a window to engage them in a Pokémon battle. After defeating them, you can throw calming balms at the Pokémon to make their Frenzy meter go down. Rinse and repeat until you’ve completely calmed down the Noble Pokémon in question. I found this to be quite fun and challenging at the same time, especially later on in the game as their attacks become more difficult to dodge and require adequate timing on your end.
DIY Pokémon trainer
The Hisui region is mostly uninhabited, at least by humans, so it makes sense to be able to craft the items you need yourself. Although there are merchants available at base camps and at Jubilife village, you don’t want to have to travel back every time you run out of Pokéballs. You will learn new crafting recipes as you progress story-wise and are able to buy others from the crafting master in the village. As you explore, you can gather items by throwing your Pokémon at them. This is where you’ll really notice the excellent design of the button controls. You can switch between empty Pokéballs and other items to throw at wild Pokémon and your own team by the press of a single button. You then easily navigate to the correct one with the left and right buttons.
Once you get the hang of it, you will find yourself blazing through the land throwing balls at unsuspecting Pokémon left and have your own Pokémon shake a tree to your right. You can really keep moving and feel like you’re working efficiently. From your inventory menu, you can then craft the items you need. If you’re like me and gather every single thing that catches your eye, you’ll have to invest some hard-earned Pokécoins in upgrading your inventory space, though.
One final thing I’d like to touch upon are outbreaks and space-time distortions. Outbreaks of wild Pokémon will be reported and visible on your map. Going to an outbreak can be worth it as the catch rate of shiny Pokémon is considerably higher. It’s also a quick way to earn some XP and complete research tasks for the specific species.
Space-time distortions can happen anywhere and will be announced while you’re exploring. I highly recommend checking them out whenever you can, as they appear randomly. Inside these distortions, you’ll be able to catch Pokémon you can’t find anywhere else in Hisui. Special shards will also drop, make sure to pick them up quickly as these are pretty valuable.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus – Conclusion
I’ve touched upon the main aspects of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, yet feel like I could ramble on about it for a couple more pages. In summary, though: it’s a hella lot of fun. The open-world aspect fits the whole idea of discovering and catching new Pokémon so well. The shift to focus on completing research tasks rather than defeating other trainers and bad guys is a very welcome one. I felt way more immersed in the world of Pokémon than ever before. I also felt like a very competent trainer, being able to quickly move across different areas. Multitasking by catching Pokémon and gathering materials at the same time.
Although the story still holds your hand especially in the beginning, and the open world aspect can greatly improve together with the graphics and sound, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a great addition to the franchise. Once you’ve finished the story, there’s still about a hundred side quests for you to focus on and many more research tasks. I put in about 30 hours to finish the main story (and the new main quests after the credits roll!) comfortably, and I am looking forward to spending many more hours to actually complete a Pokédex for the first time.
Huge thanks to CDMedia for making my Pokémon trainer dreams come true.