Many Pokémon fans may say they have a love-hate relationship with the franchise (some people leaning more to one side than the other). As charming as the series is, before the announcement of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, it does suffer from maintaining the status quo. Promising to be a complete turn from the mainline games, the world of Pokémon would be “open world” for the first time. Will this foray into the unknown be a welcome new step for the series, or will this be just another sad tale to be brought up amongst fans of the series down the road?
Pokémon Legends: Arceus opens up with the player caught up in a strange dream sequence. Floating around in an abyss, a disembodied voice calls out to them, saying to seek out all Pokémon before leaving in a strange world with nothing but the clothes on their back and a cell phone.
Thankfully, a man by the name of Professor Laventon happens to be in the area and attempts to help the situation, but the starter Pokémon with him gets up to a bit of mischief. Running around and hiding in a nearby field, the player helps Laventon capture all of the starters. As a reward for helping him, he graciously offers to escort the player to Jubilife Village to see if they can join the Survey Corps. Although the captain seems to have a chip on her shoulder, she allows the player to take the test to join the ranks and earn their keep.
The story of Pokémon Legends: Arceus slowly unfolds from here, starting with a mission to capture as many of the Pokémon of the Hisui region as possible. There’s also the question of why the player was brought into this world, as well as investigating the strange happenings of Hisui that start right after arriving. The story is a nice change of pace from the story beats we usually get in other mainline Pokémon games.
Along with the main storyline, there are also side quests to complete. A majority of these side quests will be fetch quests, whether it’s bringing back specific Pokémon or items. The writing for the side quests is actually pretty good and some quests are better than others, but being able to see characters who have previously had apprehension towards Pokemon slowly warm up to them brings a smile to my face. Perhaps it’s simplistic to some people, but it can be nice to see.
Another thing that was particularly strong was the writing for the characters. While some side characters come and go, to the point of being forgettable, the main cast of characters is fun to interact with.
Pokémon Legends Arceus is a turn-based RPG where you capture Pokemon and use them for battle against other wild Pokemon and trainers. All Pokemon appear in the overworld, making it easy to avoid certain battles if needed. In order to progress through the game, the player’s rank will need to be upgraded, and to do that, players must capture Pokémon to build up the Pokédex. In progressing through the game, they will also face boss battles against the frenzied Noble Pokémon scattered across Hisui.
As Pokémon is a monster collecting game series, it makes sense that catching Pokemon is one of the main gameplay portions of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. There are two ways of catching Pokémon in the wild. The first is sneaking up to wild Pokémon and throwing a Poké Ball. If the player is undetected and aiming the throw so that the Pokemon is hit on their back, there is an increased chance of capturing them with a critical catch, but there remains a chance of them breaking free.
The second way to capture Pokémon is to initiate battle and get their health down a bit before throwing a Poké Ball. An aggressive Pokémon will require this when not successful with capturing them while their guard is down or while they’re stunned.
The capturing mechanic does take some getting used to due to the control scheme of throwing the Poké Ball. Along with the throw action being an awkward button, the range can also be deceptive at times. The game will indicate when in range to throw a Poké Ball, however, players have to take into account the type of ball being used. While they can be a decent distance away when using a regular Poké Ball, they will need to be much closer if using a Heavy Ball.
There are some items that can assist with capturing Pokémon as well. There are plenty of type-specific food items that can be used to distract Pokémon, so if wishing to divert their attention away for a short amount of time while getting ready, that is one way to go about capturing them. There are also non-food items such as Smoke Balls to conceal the player’s position, making it easier to have a secure hiding spot for a short amount of time, but these are all optional items and aren’t needed to capture Pokémon, although they do make things much easier.
The other major portion of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is battling, whether it’s against wild Pokémon or trainers. Battles against trainers are straightforward as they will all occur once a cutscene wraps up. There aren’t any trainers that will “lock eyes with you” like in the other mainline games. Since the people who tend to use Pokémon in battles are usually major and side characters apart of the Galaxy Expedition Team, the Diamond Clan, or the Pearl Clan, you can usually figure out when a battle is about to occur. However, there is definitely more of an emphasis put on battling and capturing wild Pokémon than there is to battling trainers. Through a good portion of the game, trainers will only have one or two Pokémon, making battles painfully easy. By the time you run into trainer battles with fleshed out teams, you’re pretty much at the end of the main game.
Battles against wild Pokemon however, will trigger when you successfully release your Pokemon. If you don’t send out a Pokemon, then you will be attacked by the wild Pokemon until you are out of their aggro range. You do have health, although there isn’t a visible bar. Instead, the border around the screen will start to get black and your vision will grow more blurry the more damage you take. Eventually, if you take too much damage, you will black out and be sent back to the village. And while this mechanic of making the screen slowly fade to black and grow blurry tends to be a staple in a lot of action games, it is one that is a bit frustrating if you are trying to run away.
All battles are turn-based and operate like any other turn-based Pokemon title, although the execution is delivered differently because of the fact that you can control your character and actually view the battle from any angle. Turns are decided by the speed stat and are displayed on the screen for you to see. Type advantages are all the same, so if you are familiar with Pokémon type strengths and weaknesses, they still apply to this game. A new addition to battles however is Agile and Strong Style moves. Agile Style moves allow your Pokémon to move quicker, sometimes making it so that you can attack multiple times before your opponent has a chance, but these attacks are weaker. Strong Style moves allow you to hit the enemy hard, but at the cost of speed. You can toggle your moves to be set in either of these styles and depending on the battle, these can take a losing battle into a victory.
A new addition to the Pokémon series is a crafting system. As you explore Hisui, you will pick up items that can be used to craft. You can craft Poké Balls, healing items, and battle items. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock more recipes that you can craft. A minor downside is the small number of items that you can take along with you in your bag. You can increase your bag size by upgrading your slots in Jubilife Village, but as you purchase more slots, the price quickly increases. But an upside to crafting in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the fact that you don’t need to be holding the items in order to craft, as the game automatically pulls from your storage if needed.
Of course, the way that you earn money is by completing Research Tasks to progress the Pokédex, but you also earn money just by capturing a lot of Pokémon on your journey. So even if you’ve completed the entry for a particular Pokémon, capture it anyway. This also helps with the experience that you earn as well.
And worry not if you’re the type to grow tired of constantly gathering items for crafting, or if you’re not having luck finding a particular item. As long as the item is available to purchase, you can buy as many items as you need.
The boss battles are an exciting portion of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and something that would be amazing to see expanded on. Each Noble Pokémon that you see will be frenzied and need to be quelled in order to bring peace back to their portion of Hisui. In order to do that, you must battle against the Pokémon and throw food once they are stunned. But it’s not as simple as fighting against them. Each Noble Pokémon has its own attack phase where you must dodge waves of attacks before the perfect opportunity to engage in battle appears.
While it is a simple loop of dodge attacks, entering battle, throw food at the Noble Pokémon to decrease its health bar, the way that the dodging portions are done makes it interesting enough to play through. There are some bosses where it feels as though the dodging needs to be more precise than others, but none of the battles are too difficult.
The difficulty for Pokemon Legends: Arceus is fairly straightforward. As you progress to new areas, you will come across stronger Pokémon. So it is in your best interest to catch and battle against as many Pokémon as possible so that you can gain experience. Of course, you can also work around that portion of grinding by capturing higher level Pokemon as you go. In each area, there will be several larger than average Pokémon known as Alpha Pokémon. They are much higher in level than any Pokémon found in that immediate area and are immediately aggressive if you draw too close. However, you can easily work around it by using your items to distract and/or stun them in order to capture them.
The difficulty is truly what you decide to put in. If you decide to not capture as many Pokémon, you may mind yourself trailing behind in levels as you reach the end of the main story. But if you decide to capture everything under the sun, and even decide to use the Alpha Pokémon to your advantage, you’ll find yourself overleveled for much of the game.
Another Pokémon staple that has been brought over to Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the fact that you can customize your character. Starting out the game, you’ll receive the Galaxy Expedition Team uniform, as well as a few other clothing items for you to mix and match should you want to. But if you’re the type that loves to shop for new items in Pokémon games, then you’re in luck. The selection starts out small at first. Clothes will naturally be added as you clear through the main story, but the clothing store owner will also have a few quests for you to perform that will inspire her to create more outfits as well.
There is a mix when it comes to the type of clothing that you’ll see in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Along with more traditional Japanese wear that you would expect given the game’s inspirations, you can also find more modern wear as well. The number of actual different items is low, but each type of clothing does have multiple patterns and colors to choose from.
Along with clothing, you can also alter your hairstyle, hair color, and eye color. And just like the clothing store, hairstyles will slowly be unlocked as you progress through the main story, as well as when you clear through specific side quests for the hair shop owner. There is a decent amount of hairstyles and colors to choose from, although be aware that hairstyles are different between male and female characters.
The aesthetics for Pokemon Legends: Arceus do take some getting used to. Everything is fully 3D and you have full control of the camera, no matter where you are in Hisui. But of course, there are pop-ins with environmental objects and Pokémon. There’s also some fuzziness around character models, especially noticeable when multiple characters are next to each other. Some of the shadings also feel just a bit flat. But overall, it’s a decent art style, especially when it comes to the characters and Pokémon models.
Music and Lack of Voice Acting
The lack of voice acting seems to be a stubborn staple for the games. For a series that has several animated series and dedicated voice actors for specific characters, the games still insist on not adding that touch. It’s something that would have taken Pokémon Legends: Arceus to the next level, but alas.
The music, on the other hand, is great. Bringing over many staple tracks from the Sinnoh games and mixing them with traditional Japanese music, Pokémon Legends: Arceus comes out with a great OST. But of course, there are plenty of original tracks as well to stand on their own that are just as good as the remixes.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a step in the right direction for the Pokémon series. With a solid story, standard Pokémon gameplay with new additions added to separate this game from the other mainline titles, and interesting characters, Pokémon Legends: Arceus will hopefully serve as a base for the next title in this subset of games. With it already perfecting the capturing and battling loop, as well as a decent first step with crafting and boss battles, here’s to hoping that the next title will ramp up in terms of quality while also fixing some of the weaker parts of the game, such as the lack of voice acting.