Pokemon Legends Arceus is the series’ most radical departure since 2016’s Sun & Moon. Game Freak’s ambitious jump into the open-world genre not only blows up the RPG’s predictable formula but also fixes many of the issues that fans have had with the franchise for decades.
Throughout Pokemon Legends Arceus, players are faced with the unfamiliar notion that “Pokemon are terrifying.” Set in Sinnoh’s ancient past, players are dropped into a world long before humans and Pokemon co-existed peacefully.
Game Freak uses Hisui’s harsh environment to break down the formula that has been so prevalent across eight generations of titles. However, what is most surprising is just how far the developer has gone to implement massive quality of life changes that truly turn the beloved Nintendo series on its head.
Pokemon Legends Arceus – Key details
- Price: $59.99/£49.99
- Developer: Game Freak
- Publisher: The Pokemon Company
- Release date: January 28, 2022
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
Pokemon Legends Arceus trailer
A proper Pokemon RPG
In Legends Arceus, everything you do feeds into an addictive progression system. Whether you are catching a Pokemon or using certain moves in battle, you are rewarded with points that help you complete the Hisui Pokedex. Filling up your Dex then causes your Team Galaxy star rank to increase which gives you access to new features.
As the story progresses, players will gain side quests from NPCs. These missions not only go a long way to fleshing out the world and the characters in the region, but they also add tasks that can unlock new items and Pokemon. Game Freak has struck a great balance by designing an RPG where everything flows together naturally.
For example, Trainers will be able to eventually unlock new hairstyles and clothing items. But in order to upgrade these stores in Jubilife Village, you will first have to embark on several storyline quests. Even rare or Mythical Pokemon now have lengthy quests to discover them, which makes it all the more satisfying once you finally add them to your team.
Legends Arceus is also anchored by a nifty crafting system that never gets in the way or feels too overwhelming. Throwing your Pokemon at any rock or tree will automatically collect resources which then allows you to craft the Poke Balls and Potions that you need each time you head out into the wild. Resource management is so intuitive, you can sometimes find yourself getting lost for hours just running around an area to build up your inventory.
Although the familiar turn-based battle system returns, Trainers now stand alongside their Pokemon while battling and can freely move around during each fight. Not only does this give players a new perspective that has them feeling each attack thrown their way, but it actually puts them in danger as wild ‘mon can attack them as well. If you get knocked out, random items are permanently lost which brings a new level of tension and consequence to skirmishes.
Legends Arceus has also introduced the all-new Agile and Strong Style system which adds a risk and reward element into each battle. Use Agile Style and get a chance to do two attacks in a row but with less damage. Use Strong and you deliver a devastating amount of damage but at the cost of skipping a future turn. It’s very similar to Square Enix’s Bravely Default and gives users much more flexibility to strategize how they want to use their moves.
The best addition Legends brings, though, is opening up the series’ core catching mechanic by allowing players to throw Poke Balls with a completely free camera movement reticle. This level of freedom adds incredible depth to the once-predictable feature and is a big step up from older titles where you would just run into a patch of grass and then spam the A button.
Because each Pokemon has its own unique personality traits, Trainers have to strategize how they use the region’s environment to approach them. A Starly, for instance, is going to scatter off into the sky the second it hears a single footstep in its direction, whereas a Shinx will angrily charge you head-on. All of this creates an exciting gameplay loop that makes each catching attempt unique and not taken for granted, while also making each Pokemon feel like part of an actual ecosystem.
Major quality of life improvements
Game Freak has used the Sinnoh origin story to really shake up the franchise. A great example of this is how Pokemon learn new moves. Instead of your ‘mon forgetting them when leveling up, they now have full access to every move they have ever learned and you can freely swap them in or out at any time. You can even go to a Move Tutor and purchase new moves to add to your character’s pool of attacks.
Another major change is the game providing a way to bypass trade evolutions. Players can buy a consumable that triggers characters like Kadabra to evolve into Alakazam by simply giving them the item. This means single-player users are no longer forced to trade with others in order to complete their Pokedex.
As you progress through the game, you will also get special mounts that replace HMs. And Game Freak’s implementation of these characters is not only incredibly fluid but downright thrilling. Riding on the back of a Basculegion, you can actually jump out of the water and throw a Poke Ball down on an unsuspecting ‘mon in slow motion.
As you progress in the RPG, you will be freely scaling mountains or gliding through the sky which gives an incredible sense of freedom never before seen in the franchise. It encourages fans to explore every nook and cranny to complete the Hisui Pokedex.
Pokemon are terrifying
Over the past decade, the biggest complaint players have had about Pokemon is that it’s “too easy.” Pokemon Legends Arceus addresses this in a big way by introducing the Alpha Pokemon variant. These “giant” versions are, at times, downright terrifying — imagine peacefully exploring a river only to turn the corner to find a massive Snorlax with red glowing eyes hurling itself towards you.
Not only do these enraged ‘mon create a real threat in the overworld, but they are genuinely difficult encounters. Trainers will need to keep leveling up to take on Alphas as even a strong team will struggle to bring them down. Once you eventually catch them, it’s incredibly neat to have a towering version of your favorite Pokemon.
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Pokemon Legends Arceus also has proper boss battles in the form of the Noble Pokemon. Each of these encounters is insanely epic and will have you breaking a sweat to stay alive. While Game Freak technically lets you restart these skirmishes without consequences if you fail, they are still a challenge that you will want to finish.
Graphics are the weakest part of the game
Pokemon Legends Arceus is gorgeous at times. Its beautiful art style and chilling soundtrack are easily the best the series has looked and sounded in decades. So it’s a shame that the game is also held back by technical limitations.
Muddy textures and pop-in can sometimes break immersion. This is especially apparent when you are on top of a mountain or soaring through the sky. Thankfully, most of your time will be spent on the ground which looks a lot better.
Because the Hisui region is so sprawling, it can also sometimes feel “empty” since grass and environmental objects are limited. Each section of the map is so massive and full of Pokemon to discover, though, that these flaws ultimately do not hold the game back.
An emotional origin story
At its core, Arceus is a story of humans learning to understand Pokemon and building a world where the two will eventually co-exist in harmony. But the narration also cleverly questions thematic aspects of the series that we’ve taken for granted for decades.
Although it’s based in Sinnoh, the narration feels like a meditative reflection on the franchise as a whole and what it actually means to be a Trainer that battles with Pokemon. The decision to set the tale in the ancient past works beautifully in this regard as it gives players a fresh perspective.
While the plot ramps up pretty quickly in the last act, fans will be emotionally invested in the new cast, especially since many of them are direct ancestors of beloved characters from Diamond & Pearl.
For years, fans have begged Game Freak for deeper storytelling and Pokemon Legends Arceus absolutely delivers that. Players who have stuck with the series from the beginning will be blown away by how many lore-specific elements are tackled.
Unlike previous titles, the game is packed with side quests, exploration, and an emotionally rich narrative. While technically a Diamond & Pearl origin story, it is a love letter to the overall franchise that fans will not want to miss out on. This is the most exciting that the Nintendo RPG has been in years and a blueprint for how the series can move forward in the future.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.