Pokémon Legends: Arceus Review

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I CAUGHT THEM ALL, YET I STILL WANT MORE

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first time in 26 years that we’ve received a fresh take on a mainline Pokemon game and many (including myself) thought it was a huge risk. Arceus is a huge departure from the usual, mostly loved structure, but (thankfully) it’s one that’s paid off and then some for Game Freak. 

A LONG NEEDED REVOLUTION

At the time of writing I’ve put 87 hours into Arceus. I was determined to finish everything before getting into this review, so I could truly tell you why this is the best Pokémon game I’ve played since Gold and Silver. I’ve always held both games in high regard for having two regions and, of course, the original Red/Blue/Yellow for building the formula Pokémon games would use for the next 26 years. However, it has started to wear thin for many fans of the franchise who wanted something fresh. Familiar is comfortable, sure, but it’s time for change and that’s where Arceus comes in. Superbly. 

You have your home base of Jubilife Village, but from there you can travel to different sections of the Hisiu region that the game is set in (eventually become Sinnoh for those Pearl and Diamond players out there). Each area has its own distinct feel and, of course, Pokémon to discover. Plus, you get to unlock and explore each one as you get through the story. 

GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL (I KNOW, I KNOW)

Catching wild Pokémon has had the biggest overhaul. Instead of running around in  bushes waiting to be ambushed, you see them all existing out in the wild. Some will attack you if they see you, some will pay no attention and some might even come to say hello! One of my favourite moments in Arceus was having a Pikachu, the first one I’d seen out in the wild, seem legitimately happy to see me. I fed him some berries and then very easily caught him. He almost knew what was about to happen! 

As I mentioned though, not all Pokémon are friendly. The best strategy to catch them is to hide in tall grass and sneak up on them. Distract them with berries or use an item to daze them and then throw a Pokéball. If they spot you or break out, you can still engage in a battle and capture them the old fashioned way. Best to be careful though, because you can take damage from wild Pokémon outside of battles. If you take too much damage, you black out. This results in you losing items from your bag before being safely returned to your base.

This brings me nicely on to a new kind of Pokémon called Alphas. These are larger, stronger and more agitated versions of their usual counterparts that spawn in the wild. You can tell they are Alphas because they are huge and have glowing red eyes. Capturing or defeating them will land you a big bump in XP for your party and a drop of some spicy items! 

GYMS ARE A THING OF THE FUTURE?

Since Arceus is set in the past version of Sinnoh, there are actually no such things as Gyms where trainers earn badges and head for the Elite Four. This means the core objective of the title is completely different to predecessors. Having said that, gyms feel like they have been replaced by encounters with Frenzied Noble Pokémon. These are encounters where you are actively dodging attacks from aforementioned Pokémon while you throw “balms” at them in order to calm and return them to a normal state. Additionally, you need to analyse attack patterns and come up with strategies to effectively “defeat” them. It’s a nice touch that freshens things up further instead of just straight up battling each Pokémon.

A NEW WAY TO FIGHT… KIND OF

Now for a few negative points. Yes, there are some! Game Freak has introduced some new elements to battling that I largely dislike. You can now master your Pokémon’s moves, allowing you to perform them in one of three ways. You can perform a faster Agile strike which in theory could allow you to strike twice in a row. You can then attack the usual way and finally perform it as a Strong style of attack. In theory this should mean you skip a go but do more damage. 

I understand the thought process here is to bring in additional elements of strategy, but in practice I found it to be wildly inconsistent. If that’s “user error” on my part then it’s concerning that the game hasn’t been able to teach me how to perform these moves in a correct manner after 87 hours of gameplay. Sometimes I’ve been attacked three times in a row by the same Pokémon and I’ve not even used a Strong style move to skip a turn, leaving me baffled.  

A FRESH LICK OF PAINT

With Arceus, Pokémon looks better than it ever has. While you could argue that’s not too difficult with these mainline games always being handheld exclusives, the way Arceus is presented is the best it can be. At its peak, the game is absolutely stunning and at its worst it’s only hampered by technical limitations of the system it’s on (more later). The world has some stunning areas, with diversity, dynamic weather and a skybox that is amongst the best I’ve ever seen. Pokémon attacks are better than ever, filled with personality. Character designs are as fun and quirky as you’d expect, with great diversity across the board.

On the audio side of things, the music perfectly fits the game and its theme. The battle music is actually the same as previous titles but a little more intense. That said, it’s the only track I managed to recognise, with the others being originals specifically for Arceus.

TO BE THE BEST, LIKE NO ONE EVER WAS

This is the first game you can play completely solo and complete the Pokédex, which is huge. The carrot on the stick to actually do that is there. Having done that and “finished” everything, I still want to go back in and do more before I lay the game to rest. Shiny hunting is more accessible than ever and seeing one out in the wild is pretty damn exhilarating! 

All of that combined with some fantastic quality of life updates like easily selecting which Pokémon you want to send out to battle before the battle, show the risk Game Freak took completely paid off. Sure, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not perfect, but it’s as good as Pokémon has ever been. 

The biggest letdown is the console it’s being played on. Noticeable frame rate drops, assets loading in later than intended and a general sense of emptiness in the world could be resolved with even just slightly more powerful hardware. I’ve not seen a Switch title scream for a Pro model more than Pokémon Legends: Arceus. That said, it’s still my favourite game of the year so far. One I can see myself continuing to play, diving deeper into every nook and cranny. 

9

Technical limitations of the Nintendo Switch aside, Pokémon Legends: Arceus redefines what a mainline game in the series can and should be. A must-play for long-time fans and a superb foundation for future entries in the series. 

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