Pokemon Legends Arceus Review: "The Closest Thing To The Pokemon Game We've Dreamed About"
There have been plenty of Pokemon spin-off games over the years, but few have truly shaken up the formula and been quite as expansive as Pokemon Legends Arceus. This is a game that semi-emulates the core series since the goal is to catch Pokemon and complete the Pokedex, but throw all your knowledge about gameplay mechanics out of the window because Legends Arceus is unlike any Pokemon game we've seen before. This is almost the open-world title fans have been dreaming of, for better and for worse.
- Want to know all of the Pokemon in the game? Check out our guide on the Pokemon Legends Arceus Pokedex.
The history of Pokemon
Pokemon Legends Arceus rewrites almost everything the Pokemon series has ingrained into our brains over the last 25 years, simply because it has to. The game is set hundreds of years in the past, in the region of Hisui, which is actually Sinnoh before it got its fourth generation name. Humans and Pokemon mostly live separately: Pokemon trainers don't exist, there's no such thing as gyms, and early Poke Ball technology has only just started development.
Aside from a few isolated instances throughout the story, you won't be battling against any other human-controlled Pokemon teams. Battling is still a thing against wild Pokemon if you so choose because as the chosen one, you're able to command your own party of six Pokemon, but in a lot of cases, battling isn't even a necessity.
Monster Hunter: Arceus
See that mountain? You can climb it. In this case, the mountain is Mount Coronet, which players of the recent Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will be all too familiar with. The only thing is, thanks to the game not being strictly open world, you have to wait until much later in the story. This is because the game works incredibly similarly to Monster Hunter Rise, where you have a home base - in this instance, Jubilife Village - and you leave on expeditions to different biomes.
There are five unique areas in total throughout Hisui, and you can erect camps within each one to have various spawn points to embark from. Set off with your satchel full of necessary items and your Pokemon party healed to encounter all the Pokemon roaming around the world. Much like Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee, you can see Pokemon on the world, and some will even try to attack your character if they spot you.
- Our Pokemon Legends Arceus characters guide details the main folk you'll encounter during the story.
Don't gotta battle 'em all
This is where the "battling isn't a necessity" comes in though, because if you crouch and sneak up on a wild Pokemon via the cover of long grass, you can lob a Poke Ball right onto its noggin and potentially catch it without ever engaging it. Different types of Poke Ball are suited to various occasions - Heavy Balls can't be thrown anywhere near as far but are more successful on blissfully unaware Pokemon, while Feather Balls are much more accurate and can be thrown further. They're also especially good against airborne Pokemon.
If a Pokemon does spot you though, your best bet is to either flee if you don't want to catch it, or chuck one of your Pokemon contained in a ball right at its head. This will commence the battle, which for the most part, should be familiar to you. There are some differences, but the turn-based nature and aim of the game is still the same; the weaker the Pokemon, the higher the chance of catching it in a ball.
Variations in the battle format come in the form of turn order and attack styles. Once a Pokemon has used a specific move enough, that move will become ‘mastered’, and unlock ‘strong’ and ‘agile’ variations. Choosing the strong style will deal more damage, but is likely to let your foe attack twice afterwards before you get another turn in. Agile is the opposite: less damage in favour of being able to attack twice. Not always though, as it depends on some other factors, so keep an eye on the turn order in the top-right hand side of the screen. Weighing up whether to go for a OHK with a strong style or opting for agile and trying to hit twice in quick succession is a decision you'll often have to make.
Perhaps the best quality of life upgrade when it comes to battles is the ability to walk around the battle in progress, because it truly gives you a sense of scale. Pit a Rhydon against a Gyarados, and you'll be in awe at the size of the lads. Walk between the fighting pair, and you'll be knocked on your butt by any incoming attacks.
- Want to know more about the battle styles? Read our Pokemon Legends Arceus strong and agile styles guide.
Mega? Gigantamax? Nope, Alpha and Noble.
One type of Pokemon you'll want to stay away from during the early game are any Alpha variants you spot in the wild. Identified by their glowing red eyes and enormous size, these are essentially mini-bosses, much like you'd find in Monster Hunter Rise. They can absolutely be taken down and caught, but typically range from level 40-70, which will take a while for you to match.
Then there are the Noble Pokemon, which can only be encountered during the story beats and introduce a whole new mechanic to the game. This is perhaps where Pokemon Legends Arceus is least cooked, because there's one mechanic throughout every Noble Pokemon fight: throw food at it until it is docile enough to battle. Defeat it in battle, then rinse and repeat.
Aim with the right-stick and spam ZR to lob the food balls, slowly depleting the health bar of your bright yellow adversary. You can't throw them too far though, so you need to stay close, and this is all while dodging the attacks the frenzied foe emits. Dodging is an invulnerability mechanic for the second the animation takes, and the attacks you're dodging are the standard fare of a boss battle. Waves of energy across the floor, patterned spikes, and times when it'll charge directly at you head on.
It's all a little rough around the edges. I managed to quell some Noble Pokemon without engaging it in actual battle at all, while others I had to throw Pokemon at every health bar stage. Kleavor, the first Noble Pokemon you fight, is fairly simple, but one or two towards the end of the game are nigh-on impossible without being beaten up. Thankfully, a checkpoint system is in place so if you fail, you can continue from the last health bar stage.
- One brand new mechanic comes in the form of Pokemon Legends Arceus Space-Time Distortions.
The Legend of Arceus: Breath of the Pokemon
While the latest instalment in the Monster Hunter franchise is where the closest comparisons can be drawn, when it comes to the aesthetics and worldbuilding, look no further than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Ever since the first reveal trailer for Arceus, social media was rife with people comparing the two, and there's no beating around the bush; when it comes to graphical fidelity, Pokemon Legends Arceus looks worse in 2022 than the 2017 launch of BOTW.
There's more nuance to it than that though, because for the most part, you don't notice the low texture quality when sneaking through long grass and battling Pokemon in the wild. Zoom in too close and sure, it starts to look more like a 3DS game than something the Nintendo Switch is capable of, but the moment-to-moment action isn't hindered in the slightest.
When battling in a cave - which happened only a handful of times during the story - the outlines of Pokemon look incredibly jagged as the textures struggle to stand out against the dark background. Then, when you unlock Hisuian Braviary and the ability to fly towards the end of the story, the world below you struggles to render and is very low quality. There's also a significant amount of pop-in as you explore, from trees and long grass to actual Pokemon not appearing until you're significantly closer.
The world itself can often feel empty as well. Part of that comes with the setting thanks to the only civilisation being Jubilife Village and a couple of rudimentary camps here and there, but more interesting landmarks and things to find wouldn't have gone amiss. There's no beaten path to stick to here, but having secrets and hidden objectives to discover behind puzzles or the like would be a welcome addition.
When playing in docked mode, the game also has some performance issues, with the frame-rate dropping regularly. It's manageable, sure, but playing in handheld mode is certainly the optimal way to experience Arceus.
- Pokemon Legends Arceus lost satchels are baffling players as to why they're important.
The meaning of life
What about the whole reason for Pokemon Legends Arceus existing? The game sets up some mysterious and intriguing lore, because at the start of the game, after hearing the voice of Arceus, the player falls out of a rift in the sky and lands near Jubilife Village. Dressed in modern clothing, it becomes evident there's much more to be explored in future Pokemon Legends titles or Arceus DLC.
Why is the player in Hisui? What happened to their memory? Why is the rift in the sky? The story is all about quelling the various Noble Pokemon that have been frenzied and closing the big rift on Mount Coronet, but once that's come to a close, the focus is solely on finishing the entire Pokedex. This has never been the main goal in a Pokemon game before, which means Arceus is one of the first games where you truly do need to catch 'em all. It makes for one of the most interesting and captivating stories we've seen in a Pokemon game to date.
The Pokemon game we've dreamed about
Back when Skyrim launched in 2011, a fake mock-up of a Blastoise emerging from behind some trees in glorious 3D did the rounds on the internet. Pokemon fans everywhere, myself included, salivated at the thought of such a game coming to fruition. Pokemon Legends Arceus is the closest thing we've had to that dream yet and while performance issues and lack of graphical fidelity do throw a spanner in the works, not to mention the often lonely open world with lack of meaningful landmarks, this shake-up of the formula is a return to form for Game Freak.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.