It’s been a long time since I was this excited about a Pokémon game. It takes me back to the many, many hours in front of a Game Boy Color, draining many batteries on my path to being the very best like no one ever was. Decades in the making, Pokémon Legends: Arceus finally takes the leap I’ve longed for, thanks to its expanded world and refined gameplay. To catch this was the developer Game Freak’s real test, and it’s succeeded far and wide.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus evolves the game franchise
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is like stepping from Mario’s 2D origins to the third dimension with Super Mario 64. The core gameplay remains similar but is further explored in a more open setting. While not the prettiest game in the world (and we’ll get to that later), it’s exciting to find Pokémon in unsuspected places on the map and taking on requests for the townsfolk of Jubilife Village.
For example, you can find a well that you can jump into, and lying in wait is Misdreavus, waiting to be caught. You didn’t expect to see it there, but in that specific location, it can be found. That’s exciting, and the world feels more alive because of it. Each area the game puts you into is large and expansive, unlike prior titles in the series, making exploring the wilderness just as fun as it once was while playing Pokémon Gold as a kid.
But that child-like wonder is somewhat watered down by the blocky graphics. It looks like a game that was made for more powerful hardware and had to be washed over to fit the specs of the Nintendo Switch. If a Switch Pro was really a thing, I could have seen this being a launch title. However, on current hardware, the environments lack detail, look blocky, and overall, create a sense of disappointment within me.
On the other hand, the art design and the motions of each Pokémon make sense within the low-textured world of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Pokémon react differently to your presence, either running away, being apprehensive or downright aggressive towards you. Like the expansive world, these encounters bring you further into the world, despite its blockiness.
When you release your Pokémon from their balls in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, they’ll greet each other and interact with you in unique ways. The developer Game Freak stepped up the animations of each pocket monster, and this game feels like the first big step in a new direction for the series. We also love how you explore each world as, throughout the game, you’ll gain the ability to climb and swim with various rideable Pokémon. You can return to prior areas and find something new with additional mounts.
In addition, one of the main aspects of the Pokémon series is actually catching them all, and Game Freak nails that. You have to strategize how you go about catching these monsters in the wild. Species like Abra and Clefairy fade away quickly from the field if they see you, while others go right at you with their offense. Sticking to the tall grass, tempting Pokémon with treats, and throwing your Pokéball just right, makes for an engaging loop that doesn’t get old. And when you catch Pokémon for your Pokédex, you get rewarded with cash. The Pokédex also asks you to finish certain tasks that catch a certain amount of the same type or catch it without it knowing you were present. It’s very fun and keeps you interested in the game.
Furthermore, the story intrigues you from beginning to end. It’s set way before we see skyscrapers and the Elite Four, and we see the start of society between the Pearl, Diamond, and Galaxy clans. And the characters are written quite well for a series such as this. They have flaws, and you can see growth, albeit small, within the cast’s thoughts on the world around them and each other. It does take you in surprising directions, and the mention of death in a Pokémon game is quite striking. In some ways, the series has somewhat matured but is still suitable for kids to play.
Usually, the main focus is battling in a Pokémon game, and that somewhat takes a seat back in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Most battles toward the beginning are easy, but as you progress through the game, it actually provides a great amount of difficulty that hardcore fans would appreciate, especially towards the end and the post-game. I just wish that element was present throughout as the game lacks six Pokémon engagements. It was also pretty lame that some battles have you facing three at the same time against your one Pokémon. Teams would have been cool, instead.
Another change that I quite like in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the alteration of status-based moves. For example, the sleep effect only makes your Pokémon drowsy rather than asleep. There’s still a chance it can attack, making battles more challenging.
During battles, however, it is frustrating that the trainer can instantly switch Pokémon and attack in the same turn. The post-game boss we won’t spoil here constantly made my Pokémon faint without any warning. This aspect of the battle system needs some serious changes when the next entry arrives on the Switch or the next console.
With this new Pokémon comes the expansion of Requests within Pokémon Legends: Arceus. These have you finding pocket monsters around the Hisui region and fulfilling tasks for the people of Jubilife Village. For example, a photographer wants you to find Buneary, an adorable Pokémon to make the creatures more likable to villagers, but you only have a photograph to identify them. Another has you finding three annoying Bidoof around Jubilife Village wrecking supplies. You also have to find crafting items within the world like Hearty Grains to create supplies like Great Balls and medicine. Once again, all these elements help make the world feel more alive.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels like a modernization of the series we know and love. The environment and how the Pokémon interact with it is superb, and the more challenging gameplay makes a welcome return.
I love exploring this game, and I hope Game Freak returns to this format for the foreseeable future. Just improve the graphics, and I’ll be completely on board with this new journey. My 10-year-old self would truly love Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and now almost 30 years old, I can’t wait for the future of the series.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus Switch Review provided by Nintendo Link
Review also found on OpenCritic
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: January 28th, 2022
Price: $59.99, £49.99, €59,99
Game Size: 6.0 GB
Engaging open world design
Great art style that matches the series
The request system is a cool addition
Harder difficulty than recent entries
Poor graphical quality, despite good art design
Turn system during combat can be frustrating
The first half of the game lacks Pokémon battles
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An experienced freelance writer, Chris has a vast knowledge of the gaming medium. With a Bachelor of Communications degree, he hopes to elevate his writing further. His favorite games are Kingdom Hearts, Beyond Good & Evil, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.