Spoiler-Free Review: Pokémon Legends Arceus

In late January Pokémon Legends: Arceus released on the Nintendo Switch. This game is developed by Game Freak and stands as a sort of side-story taking place in the ancient version of the Sinnoh Region from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, and the recently released Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Legends Arceus provides a refresh of the Pokémon formula the refines and builds on elements introduced in previous titles long with introducing some brand new elements to create a Pokémon experience that is a unique and enjoyable.

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The first thing players will notice is that the game takes place in a semi open-world. The player wonders freely and the wild Pokémon appear on the map and depending on their disposition, will either flee from or chase down and attack the player. The player can sneak around and throw Poké Balls at these Pokémon for a chance to catch them without fighting, or they can throw a Poké Ball containing one of their own Pokémon to initiate a battle. The Pokémon attacks can be very swift and if the player isn’t careful they can easily find themselves getting swarmed and knocked out by the wild Pokémon. Alpha Pokémon are super strong versions of the wild Pokémon they are larger than normal and will have glowing red eyes. These are boss level encounters that are many levels higher than the regular wild Pokémon. Players can try to avoid these encounters until they are high enough level or especially daring players can engage and try to capture them.

These open-world areas take the Wild Areas introduced in Pokémon Sword and Shield and refines the concept taking inspiration for the deadly encounters in games like Breath of the Wild, and Monster Hunter. The player now takes damage from the attacks of wild Pokémon and if the player takes too much damage at once they will black out losing some of the resources they collected. These lost resources will appear in other players worlds and can be recovered by them when players are connected to the internet.

Story

The story from the game is designed to suit this unique departure from the rest of the series. The game takes place in ancient Sinnoh Region which is called the Hisui Region. The player encounters the Pokémon Professor Laventon and chooses their starter. They then go to Jubilife Villiage and the player gets recruited to the survey corps of the Galaxy Expedition Team and is tasked with completing the first Pokédex of the Sinnoh region. Throughout the Hisui Region there are territories filled with wild Pokémon and super strong Nobel Pokémon are the lords of these territories. A mysterious force has made these Noble Pokémon go into a frenzied state. Each Nobel Pokémon is looked over by a warden, these people belong to either the Diamond Clan or the Pearl Clan. Both clans worship the deity that created the world as “Almighty Sinnoh” the clans have been at war for generations because the Diamond Clan seeing the deity as a being of time, while the Pearl Clan believes the deity is a being of space. The Galaxy Expedition team is a neutral party seeking to establish their own place in Hisui and seek to maintain the newly-minted peace between the two clans. During the adventure the player will encounter a variety of characters many of which appear to be the ancient ancestors of characters from throughout the series.

The story leans a bit more into the mature aspects of the Pokémon world that have only been lightly brushed upon in the previous games. Hisui is a violent region set before People and Pokémon started cooperating with each other. People that wander out into the wild are often injured and killed by wild Pokémon leading to the population of Hisui believing Pokémon to be deadly creatures that should be avoided. There is also the previous war between the Diamond and Pearl clans, and lore bits hinting at just how violent the region has been in the past for people and Pokémon alike.

The game marks the second-time in the Pokémon main series that the adventure has no gym leaders. In Pokémon Sun and Moon the gyms were replaced with trials with trial captains and totem Pokémon. This system is greatly improved upon in Legends Arceus with Wardens that act as guardians for the Nobel Pokémon that lord over the various areas in the Hisui region.

Game Play

The game play is streamlined a lot from previous games. Pokémon appear in the over-world and will attack the player doing damage to them. If the player takes too much damage from attacks they will be knocked out. When the player initiates a battle the game transitions seamlessly into said battle. One of the biggest changes is the introduction of battle styles. Each the player can choose from using the regular version of the attack, the Strong Style version of the attack, or the Agile Style version of the attack. Strong style attacks deal more damage at the cost of the Pokémon’s turns coming up slower, and Agile Style attacks do less damage but the Pokémon’s turns come more quickly. Battle Styles add a new strategic layer to Pokémon battles and keep them more dynamic and engaging. The damage calculation system has been reworked so that being several levels higher is less meaningful to battles. The changes and new features make it so that even veteran players have to focus on the battles and not play on autopilot.

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There are also many quality of life improvements such as Pokémon having a pool of moves that players can swap between on the fly eliminating the need for TMs and move tutors. The EV/IV system has also been completely overhauled making it easy to train a Pokémon up to perfect stats. However, there is no way to breed Pokémon in Legends Arceus. The ride Pokémon system from Sun and Moon also returns in a more refined form with the player being able to unlock ride Pokémon that help them to travel faster, swim in the water, and fly through the sky.

The is a step up in challenge from precious games in the series, the real-time dodging mechanics will feel right at home to players familiar with games like Monster Hunter and Dark Souls. Being careless will cost you as the aggressive wild Pokémon will attack the player mercilessly and swarm them. Players can crouch and hide in the tall grass to steam up on unsuspecting Pokémon. They can also opt to pelt the wild Pokémon with items to stun them. The turn-based battles are also offer a deeper challenge with the end-game battles being some of the most challenging yet in the series.

The Pokémon models have been given a nice update as have the attack animations making the battles look great in action. The entire art aesthetic of the game is based on ancient Japanese panting so the environments haven almost watercolor look to them. Weather effects like rain and snow will show up on your player character and other characters as you play the game. Some may find the graphical style of the environments off-putting for its lack of realism and HD fidelity but it is not enough to distract from the game.

Soundtrack and Audio

The soundtrack features great remixes of the classic themes from Diamond and Pearl. The areas players explore will have ambient remixes often combining route themes with city and down themes. The trainer battles use pulse-pounding remixes of the trainer battle and gym leader themes. Sound effects are fine tuned to for the game experience. The item pickup jingle is quick to match the fast resource gathering in open world environments. Familiar sounds have new twists to them, all of this culminates to make a great sound experience. The more ambient tones of the music means that some of the world music may be less impactful and memorable than the themes that have come out of previous Pokémon games.

Flaws and Downsides

One major flaw with the game is that it is a single-player experience, removing nearly all of the multiplayer features we have come to know and love in the series. There are no PvP elements in the game, so players cannot battle with others in Pokémon Legends Arceus. As such there are no ranked battles or VGC. Players can trade Pokémon with others either locally or online. The other other online interaction is the system where when a player dies their dropped items can be picked up and returned by another player. Thematically it fits because the game is supposed to be set in a time before Pokémon Trainers, but it may come a disappointment to those looking to try out the new battle system against other humans. This lack of multiplayer means the games will have that much less reason to come back and play after completing the story.

Abilities have been removed from the game which is a significant hit to the level of depth in the battle system. With multiplayer not being a part of the game the team at Game Freak may have opted for removing that layer of complexity to keep things streamlined.

Final Verdict

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a must-play for fans of Pokémon. It offers an exciting and unique new story, and revamped game play that offers a level of challenge never before seen in the series. The game also serves as a call to lapsed fans. If you are someone that has dropped out of the Pokémon games this may be the place to join in and see what the future of the series could hold. This game is highly recommend for anyone that owns a Nintendo Switch and enjoys open world game play and adventures.

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