TEST – After years of anticipation, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has arrived, revolutionising the Pokémon game series somewhat. The power of the new addition is a real breath of fresh air, winding its way through the green hills on this decidedly more open-ended adventure. There are no tournaments or badges here, just adventure, combat, nature and the wild creatures that make it up. Your mission: complete the story’s first Pokédex and decipher why some monsters are more aggressive than usual (besides glowing like disco balls).
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting since the original announcement, I finally got my hands on Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It’s fair to say that this is my most anticipated Pokémon game in over two decades. You know I’m a huge fan of Pokémon, and I never miss a game. I always look forward to the release of Pokémon games. Whether it’s a brand new game or a remake of a previous game, I’m always excited.
However, I was interested in Pokémon Legends: Arceus for a very different reason. Not just because it’s one of my favourite franchises, but because it raises the stakes even higher in the RPG department, which happens to be my favourite genre. Of course, the open-world travel didn’t leave me cold either, but is this aspect of the spy game enough of a glue? Do I lose myself in this adventure, so much so that I lose the concept of time? Fortunately, the answer to all of these is yes.
This is the Pokémon game I’ve been waiting for. It’s a natural evolution of the series that takes the franchise in an exciting new direction. Sure, I’ll always love the traditional style, gameplay and mechanics of the old Pokémon games, but Arceus opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. So let’s dive in and discover what makes this outing so memorable.
Tales from the sky
Let’s start the game by dropping out of a sky portal. What an entrance! Like my virtual protégé, I was puzzled, confused and wondering. From the second I landed on the shore, I was enchanted by the game world, even if at that moment I merely wanted an answer to what had just happened.
Here you’ll meet the Arceus Professor of Pokémon Legends, Dr Laventon. Your journey begins by helping him capture three Pokémon: Cyndaquil, Rowlet and Oshawott. I knew these would be the starting Pokémon (we all did, right?), and when it came to choosing between them, my decision was easy. I chose Cyndaquil: a fire-starter with whom I have many fond memories from my adventures in the Kanto region. In the end, however, I regretted my choice. More on that later.
We arrive in Jubilife, the city that essentially serves as the hub of the game. Here you can take up the main story missions, mostly given to you by Commander Kamado or Captain Cyllene. You can also catch some side missions, and these actually prove to be a good time. I never once felt like people needed help. I’d rather see the completed pokédex entries or the pokémon themselves.
This brings us nicely to our primary destination in the Hisui region. You see, this game serves as a sort of prequel to Diamond and Pearl, and you’re supposed to explore the land that will one day be known as Sinnoh. But since we’re back where it started, the world needs a pokédex, and that’s your job. That in itself is great fun for me. I like that you set up the first one, and in doing so, you set off an essential part of history.
Of course, to complete it, you need to catch all the creatures in the Hisui region, and frankly, I love the new ways you can catch them. First of all, you can see them even when you’re flying high in the sky. You can see the Pokémon below you, though you have to be on the ground actually to throw balls at them. If you have a Pokémon in sight, you have several options for approaching them. You can fight and weaken them the old-fashioned way that all Pokémon fans are used to. Or you can sneak up on them, making a sneaky approach.
For me, it’s a fun and unique take on the traditional formula. If you crouch down and stay out of the Pokémon’s line of sight, you can throw a ball at them. If it lands well, you have a chance to catch them. You can also increase your odds by hitting the creature from behind with a ball, which also leads to a battle. If you hit them from behind with the ball containing your Pokémon, it stuns them, leaving them defenceless against your attacks for two turns, assuming you don’t use a “strong” attack.
Strong and Agile are the two fighting styles that will debut as part of a new system for battling Pokémon. This mechanic adds extra depth to an already fun system. Strong attacks deal more damage but at a cost, usually allowing your opponent to make two attacks before you have another turn. Alternatively, there’s the agile style, which will enable you to get in two attacks yourself, although at the expense of damage. This adds a sense of strategy to battles. I find weighing my options fun and crucial to winning against my toughest opponents.
But there are other ways to make your team stronger, with items like grit. Again, we’re talking about something that can turn the tide of battle yet is easy to ignore. Too often, you find yourself at the back of the pack when facing your opponent. To be honest, it happened to me quite often in the beginning. I no longer attacked second in the battle, at least not when I increased my team’s speed until I realised that bravery is a statistic that amplifies different statistics.
And it’s not just your team that needs to be at its best. Since pokémon roam free and can attack you, evasion is a must. Fortunately, it’s easy to do and also adequate enough. It’s also a vital skill in battling noble Pokémon, which is key to the main story.
The crack in the sky from which you fall, as well as dropping you to the sandy beach below, also casts strange energy on the noble Pokémon, creatures worshipped by the Diamond and Pearl clans, each responsible for a different lord (and lady). You’ll need to quell their fury, and these battles are perhaps the most enjoyable. There’s a lot at stake here, making these fights even more exciting than the others.
A bit too big for the open world
You can also bypass the angry creature and throw soothing balms made from its favourite foods at it. Each time you absorb a lord, you progress through the story, unlocking new parts of the Hisui region to explore, and I found it both exciting and tedious at the same time. Let me explain why…
The opportunity to explore a vast world and different landscapes is a great joy for an RPG nerd like me, and the fact that I can do it all while riding magical creatures is the icing on the cake. Whether it’s from the sky, sea, or land, it’s terrific to ride noble Pokémon.
What I can do in the world I enjoy, but sometimes I find myself wishing for more, or to feel at least a little more fulfilled. But sometimes, I feel that wandering gets boring after a while. Although it is a vast, open world, it also feels empty. Plus, it doesn’t quite achieve the visual beauty I was expecting, and frankly, that’s my biggest problem.
Not a spectacular orgy
I play Arceus on a Switch OLED model, but the graphics still left something to be desired, and the frame rate drop while docked doesn’t help. But I can’t deny how lifelike the world is, especially when viewed on the OLED screen. Also, it’s fun to experience different weather conditions, climates and locations. Still, as much as I enjoy exploring what is now known as the Sinnoh region, I can’t overlook these graphical bloopers, especially because other Switch games like Breath of the Wild, which are older, still look better.
However, despite these problems, Pokémon Legends: Arceus achieves what it sets out to do, offering fresh mechanics and a new way to enjoy a world full of incredible creatures. Is this a masterpiece? No, it’s not, but I think it’s laid the foundations for a phenomenal sequel.
All in all, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a must-play for all Pokémon fans and a welcome experience for newcomers. In fact, if you’ve never played a Pokémon game on Switch, this might be the platform to start. Change is coming, Arceus is proof of that, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the Pokémon series.
+ A vast adventure in a huge (if a bit empty) world
+ Catching Pokémon is still great fun
+ Well-developed era
– General lack of challenge
– The graphics could be better
– An empty world
Developer: Game Freak
Genres: role-playing, action-adventure
Publication: January 28, 2022