The hype and fanfare of Pokemon Legends: Arceus comes from the fact that the game was touted to be heralding a new genre of Pokemon games. We have for ages been playing a long series of this cuddly monster title. However, with Arceus, we were promised a whole new vision of it.
And Game Freak delivered, to a certain extent. We've got a semi-open world. We get a whole new way of encountering wild Pokemon and catching them, a new traversal mechanic, among various other things.
But somewhere in the world of successful open-world games like The Witcher 3 and Elden Ring, Pokemon Legends: Arceus falls short of living up to its expectations.
One can say it is a harsh comparison, but then the game tickles my nostalgia just fine and brings a refreshing way of playing Pokemon while somewhere falling short of going the whole way.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus - A refreshing title that feels a few years late
The refreshing medieval world of Hisui
Pokemon Legends: Arceus takes players before any of the technological comforts that we have grown accustomed to have been invented. There is no Pokedex as we know it, rather a rudimentary one that we have to fill, and Pokemon are seen as dangerous wild creatures where the thought of having them as a partner fills people with dread.
In Arceus, the protagonist has been dragged back centuries to the medieval world of Hisui. They were treated with contempt on arrival but slowly won over the locals until the fall. There are also a few nods to the later titles in the series - like the name of the two clans.
Pokemon Legends does away entirely with the structuring of gyms and gym badges. The protagonist is inducted into the Survey Corps of the Galaxy Expedition Team, studying the Pokemon found in the region and dealing with any issues springing from them.
The player's primary task in Pokemon Legends is to complete the Pokedex while tackling the issues of frenzied "noble Pokemon", Pokemon which are venerated by the local clans.
The Pokedex here is not an advanced machine with all the information regarding each species of Pokemon that we know but rather a book that we have to fill out with information on native Pokemon species through completing tasks.
These can include catching or defeating the Pokemon a certain number of times, seeing a specific ability be used, or evolving them into their next form. Completing them lets players rank up in the Survey Corps.
This is a fun task. I enjoyed crouching and slowly moving up to unsuspecting Pokemon, trying to catch them and fight or dodge when plans go askew.
Similarly, the world of Arceus expectedly does not have the technologically advanced Pokemon Centers, which were a boon for players after a long walk in the wilderness. Instead, players are allowed to craft revives, potions, and even Pokeballs to sustain themselves during their journey between base camps.
The lack of these structures and the presence of punishing Pokemon in the wild spruce up the players' experience. I was forced to be tactful with my encounters and make sure I knew what I was getting myself into.
It's pretty fun to do that, seeing how Game Freak has implemented their new mechanics. The enraged Pokemon will attack the protagonist as the player throws calming balms towards them. There can be small windows of opportunity when players can summon their Pokemon to further deplete the noble Pokemon’s bar.
The world is divided into five biomes housing unique Pokemon, including snowy mountains and serene grassy plains. Apart from them, the player’s time in Hisui will be interrupted by space-time distortion events where a giant purple dome will appear. This is a dangerous area to walk into as they spawn high-level Pokemon and rare rewards.
Gotta Catch'em all! - A look at the changed mechanic
Game Freak has tinkered with the mechanics of coming across and catching Pokemon. In the semi-open world of the game, you'll see critters scampering about out in the wild. One is reminded of Pokemon Snap.
You can sneak up onto them through wild grass, so they are unaware of your existence. Hitting them with a Pokeball from the back has a better chance of catching them.
Once players are close to the Pokemon, they can also check information about the being and the success rate of throwing a ball and catching it. Once the Pokemon is aware of the player, they'll either run away or attack the player itself, with certain Pokemon having their own unique responses.
This was the first thing that I genuinely enjoyed in the game - a Pokemon's attack visually affecting the player's character as I hurriedly dodged it. Once you get hit too many times, you'll be dragged back to the village by others.
Certain Pokemon react in their own unique way when they realize the player has noticed them. For example, Mr. Mime lives up to his name when met in the wild, while Sudowoodo would freeze in the pose of a tree. Magikarps, true to their nature throughout, will flop about.
Some of these critters will also be found hanging in the trees. Players can throw their Pokeballs at the tree, which will initiate a battle that will give them the chance to catch or defeat the wild Pokemon.
Players can also come across Alpha Pokemon, a more prominent and scarier version of a normal Pokemon. They are hugely powerful and can easily become your nightmare if you are underprepared. I learned this the hard way while roaming in the Obsidian Fieldlands and meeting a large Rapidash.
But the world of Arceus feels devoid of anything else. Other than spawning, it is simply a vast expanse of contained spaces that are not filled with anything unique. While most of Hisui is uninhabited, as it reflects in the game space, the developers could have done more to flesh out the exploration aspect.
Experiencing the critters in the wild
The new semi-open world is finally doing justice to how Pokemon is supposed to be experienced. Players are allowed to go out into the open wilderness, where you get to encounter the creatures. And with the little nuances and personalities that the developers have attached to them - the encounters become even livelier and more meaningful.
Players can even call out all of their Pokemon, who will then huddle around each other and talk. These little details are often endearing and dynamic, making one feel like they are living the game. Pokemon Legends Arceus massively improves upon these aspects over its predecessors.
Battling in Pokemon Legends Arceus also feels different with Strong and Agile attacks. These variations impact which Pokemon will take their next turn and become significant in longer fights or clutch situations. In my playthrough, the mechanics did not prove widely useful as most battles were rather quicker in nature, especially the ones out in the wild.
Changes to learning and re-learning moves for a Pokemon is a welcome move that makes the task feel less like a chore. The game also does not feature eggs and other such additions of the later titles. Although it has no impact on the enjoyment of Pokemon Legends Arceus, I did enjoy walking around with an egg waiting for it to hatch in previous titles.
I must say that Pokemon Legends Arceus got me excited about Pokemon games after a long time. The open-world nature of the title, encountering monsters in the wild, seeing their idiosyncrasies, dodging their attacks - all of this makes for fun-filled dozens of hours in the game. The choice of the setting works well with their stride into something new.
Yet, what annoyed me was the lack of anything else. It soon becomes more of a grind, as the journey is not layered with anything else. One has to finish two mammoth grinds to reach the game's actual ending.
The steps Game Freak has taken in Pokemon Legends Arceus are in the right direction. The world of Pokemon can very well do with a fully-fleshed-out RPG that showcases the beauty of those beasts and the world that they and the humans live in.
For now, they have done a commendable job but one that is part of an unfinished project. I sincerely hope they take this forward to revolutionize the way Pokemon has been played and push the boundaries of the genre itself. Arceus lacks the thrill of completing a long journey, clearing a hideout, or becoming the Champion. I only hope that the next one builds on it.
Pokemon Legends Arceus
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer(s): Game Freak
Release Date: January 28, 2022