Welcome to EXPlay, (Explain & Play) the review series where we care not for scores but tell it how it is when it comes to every game we get our hands on, whilst also taking the time to include some lengthy gameplay, to give you the reader, the chance to shape your own impressions and views whilst watching and reading. In this installment, we’re covering Pokémon Legends: Arceus by developer Game Freak.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus: (The Explanation)
Ah, Pokémon. The series took the world by storm back in 1996 and has been going pretty strong ever since. Starting with the videogames like Pokémon Red & Green in Japan (and Red & Blue for the rest of the world) and expanding into TV anime, merchandise, special collabs with musicians and more.
Bringing the attention back to the games, there have been eight main generations so far in the series and so many different spin-offs and off-shoots including Mystery Dungeon, Pokémon GO, Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Café, Pokémon Quest, and Pokémon Hey You, Pikachu! The list is pretty long and it grows further still with the recent additions of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl, and now with Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
First and foremost, there has been some kind of confusion as to what kind of game Pokémon Legends: Arceus is. Many have surmised it to be another spin-off but it is actually considered to be a mainline game, according to its title in Japanese. This fact was made clear by Joe Merrick of Serebii.net when he answered a fan’s question on the matter on Twitter.
Though Pokémon Legends: Arceus is now technically classed as mainline canon, it does have a story that goes far beyond the typical storyline of most mainline Pokémon games. The usual story trope is that you are a 10-year-old boy/girl who is about to embark on a journey to catch and battle Pokémon. You will take on Gym Leaders to earn badges and then work your way up to fight the Elite four and/or take on a Champion/rival for the last time and be claimed Pokémon Champion.
Each game in the main series doesn’t sway too far from this tried and tested formula but Pokémon Legends: Arceus goes as far to break the mold completely. Instead, you are a young adult of around 15-years old, seemingly from present day, who has somehow found themselves traversing through time and space by the power of an unknown Pokémon. You then find yourself in the Sinnoh region 100 years in the past when it was called the Hisui region.
The main premise of the game is to find every single Pokémon species and register them to your Pokédex. This in itself will keep you fairly busy as there are 242 Pokémon scattered throughout the five of the six different areas of the Hisui region. The sixth area is Jubilife Village and it serves as a hub world of sorts. It is from here you can relax and take on requests from the locals. It is also here where Team Galaxy has set up shop. By default, you will have to join Team Galaxy as a member of their Survey Team or be forced to leave the village and never return.
Taking on the missions from Team Galaxy is the primary means of progressing Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ story. These generally provide you with an indication of where to go and what to do. Most of these missions will have you fight against what is called a Noble Pokémon. These battles are much different to tradition Pokémon battles as you must move your character around to avoid getting hit and throw balms at the Pokémon until it eventually calms down. There will be times when you can get your own Pokémon out so it can battle the Noble Pokémon. After reducing the Noble Pokémon’s HP, you will gain an opening so the balms you throw can be more effective.
As regards actually catching Pokémon and battling them, the whole mechanic has been given a complete overhaul. You can freely try to catch Pokémon in the wild by sneaking up on them. If you get spotted by the Pokémon, they will either try to flee or become aggressive and attack you. If you are attacked, you can choose to let out one of your own Pokémon to fight the aggressive Pokémon or you can simply run away. If you run away, the wild Pokémon will launch attacks at you which you can attempt to outrun or dodge. Dodging attacks give you a brief moment of invulnerability so try to time your dodges just right to avoid damage. If you get hit, you will get hurt and if you are hit too many times, you will black out and lose some of the items that you carry.
Should you stand your ground and use your own Pokémon, you will engage and a refined version of the traditional battle system. You can use your Pokémon’s moves to attack the opposing Pokémon and you can use items. You will also be able to see a timeline as to which Pokémon will attack an in which order. By leveling up your Pokémon and using their moves often, they will learn to master their attacks and adopt different styles: Agile and Strong.
Agile attacks are quick and will deal less damage than normal or strong style attacks. They can open up a window of opportunity that will allow you to attack twice in a row so you could attack with an Agile style attack and then immediately follow up with a strong style attack. Strong attacks, as the name suggests, are much stronger and can deal more damage. The drawback however, is that they are slower and can leave you open to receive multiple attacks from opposing Pokémon in succession. Learning how and when to use each style will definitely come in handy when fighting multiple Pokémon.
Another thing you can do in battle is move your player character around freely. If you are in a rather difficult battle with a wild Pokémon, you can quite literally run away. If you get too much distance between you and the wild Pokémon, the battle will be broken off and you Pokémon will return to its Pokéball. There is no shame in running away and sometimes, it can be a necessity, especially when up against Alpha Pokémon which can be 20 levels or higher than your own team of Pokémon.
Speaking of Alpha Pokémon, these are larger, stronger variants of the typical Pokémon that you see wandering around. These can be caught but it will take a lot more effort to lower their HP. You can also earn rare items when you beat them in battle or catch them without being spotted.
I briefly touched upon the subject that there are five areas in the Hisui region that are inhabited by Pokémon. You will start with only having access to one of these areas until you have progressed enough in the story to access another, and then you must repeat the process and so on. Each area is actually quite large and can have many different locations inside that area. Sometimes, you may find NPC’s that are looking to set up a base camp in a particular location. If you help them, you can fast travel to base camps whenever you need to rest your Pokémon, deposit or retrieve items or change up your Pokémon team.
One thing that must be pointed out is that while Pokémon Legends: Arceus has the look of being an “Open World” game, you are actually restricted inside each area that you explore. You cannot freely travel to one area on the map to a completely different area. You can do so between locations within the same area but to travel to a different area completely, you must return to Jubilife Village beforehand. In a sense, it is kind of like the Monster Hunter games in where you start from the hub village and then explore different regions singularly. You can move freely inside a region but you can’t just travel straight to a completely different region. You have to return to the hub village first.
As well as finding many different Pokémon in each area, you can find many different resources like berries, ore, and plants that you can use to craft items like Pokéballs and potions. Crafting is a big part of this game as well and if you have plenty of resources, you will never be too short on Pokéballs or potions, and when you are out and about in the harsh region of Hisui, you are going to need a lot of them.
Moving throughout Hisui for the first couple of hours or so is solely on foot, once you befriend your first noble Pokémon, however, you will be able to ride atop of them and get around much faster. There are three that you may already have seen in the trailers that will help you get around but there are also others that were not shown that also have their own perks. I won’t say anymore on the matter so you can discover them for yourselves.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a very welcome change of pace in my opinion and I get why people say it is like The Legend of Zelda meets Monster Hunter in terms of its general open-world-esque setting as well as a central hub and areas with powerful monsters to quell. I would also go as far to say that I get some Xenoblade Chronicles vibes as well in the sense with the Alpha Pokémon behaving like Unique Monsters and are there to provide some extra challenge.
I have been playing Pokémon since I was the Pokémon Red & Blue days and I have drifted in and out with the series since. I enjoy it but the “same old, same old” dynamic with very little innovation had me lose interest over the years. I was eventually drawn back to the series with Pokémon Sword and Shield. They were fun enough in their own right but even the dynamaxing and raid battles eventually became disinteresting and repetitive after a while. When Pokémon Legends: Arceus was announced, I was mildly curious in what the game had to offer but wasn’t totally invested. After watching the overview trailers and more gameplay footage, it certainly piqued my interest.
After playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I can honestly say it is the most engaging and enjoyable Pokémon game yet. The core mechanics that Pokémon fans love are still there but have been given more than just a snazzy coat of paint, they have been redefined in a way that actually makes catching and battling Pokémon fun again. The story itself might be a bit madcap but the actual gameplay itself is just a brilliant combination of all the little things that Pokémon work and polished in a way that can be appreciated and enjoyed by all.
I know that a lot of people have critiqued that the graphics are not great and there is a lot of pop-in visuals, etc. I just wanted to say that from what I played and what I enjoyed about the game, the lack of “super hi-res” graphics was the furthest thing from my mind. Sure, the game uses its artsy aesthetic as a shield to obscure its graphical shortcomings and it will be a long while yet before Game Freak develops a Pokémon Game with the best ever graphics known to man that will appease even the most hardiest of critics. What I do want to say though is there is a lot going for Pokémon Legends: Arceus and it would be a great shame if you can’t see the great qualities the game has.
Spin-off or Mainline debate aside, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is exactly what I have been looking for in a Pokémon game. It is a fresh take on the core Pokémon series with a true sense of exploration and actually makes it fun to catch Pokémon again. If you aren’t playing this game already, you should be.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus: (The Gameplay)
Developer: Game Freak
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Action, Role-Playing
No. of Players: Up to 2 players
Release Date: January 28, 2022 (EU & NA)
File Size: 6.0 GB