The World of Pokemon in movies, TV shows, and even music videos is one that we've seen teeming with life. Walking through a city various bird pokemon roosting on an antenna, Pichu and Glameow playing cat and mouse through alleys, and pokemon of all shapes and sizes assisting humans in their day-to-day lives. Pokemon are a part of daily life and fully integrated showing us a world so much like our own, but also very different. How well does Pokemon Legends: Arceus fair in its attempt to show a world filled with Pokemon life?
Players immediately drop, literally, into the world of Hisui, the region that would end up becoming Sinnoh. Out of place and out of time, you're immediately inducted into the Team Galaxy Survey Corps, handed your first Pokemon, and tasked with completing the region's first Pokedex. The game immediately starts showing you the ropes, the basic ideas are the same 'Catch Pokemon with Pokeball' but the approach is quite different. The players are frontloaded with a lot of the new mechanics like stealth and crafting that slow down the first hour of the game but once you're through that there are very minimal interruptions aside from key stories and side-quests.
You weren't the only thing to emerge from this wormhole, shortly after your introduction to the world and its residents, the Diamond and Pearl clan, you hear that their revered Noble Pokemon have begun to glow with unnatural light and have become enraged. This is where the core of the story comes in. As the most competent Pokemon user in the region, you travel through each of the semi-open worlds befriending pokemon and quelling the Noble Pokemon's rage. You get to learn of the mythology of the region, the quarreling ideologies of the locals, and how each of these Noble Pokemon are tied into this mythology. From start to finish, and even into the endgame, the story of the region is constantly being fed to the players. With adequate time to set up the context, create conflict, and resolve the mystery of the wormhole you never feel overloaded nor starved for more to keep you engaged in the world and its inhabitants. Fans of the Pokemon franchise are also treated to a variety of cameo appearances from ancestors of modern-day characters,
Through the tutorial, the story does start somewhat slow but as you head into the Obsidian Fieldlands for the third or fourth time the basic structure of adventure is set. The slow build towards the conclusion begins early as each region you travel to is larger and more complicated than the last and Noble Pokemon encounters add further difficulty. This gradual escalation can be somewhat difficult to recognize but with frequent engagement collecting pokemon or picking up story beats the player will be continually engaged and only a few moments away from 'one-more-thing'.
The New (Old) World of Hisui
In Pokemon Legends: Arceus players can travel to a variety of themed maps. Luscious grassy plains, poisonous swamps, frozen tundras, and fiery volcanoes are just some of the settings that you'll come across. While not a completely open world each map gives players considerable space to roam around. Monster Hunter fans might find some familiarity in these maps. Early game limitations include the inability to climb or swim but as these abilities become available to the player it allows previous regions to be explored more thoroughly. This design allows the game to set the players on rails while they're understanding the ropes, but slowly lets go of their hands to set them loose on the world. Even with a full backpack and new Pokemon you want to add to your party, it can be a difficult decision to stop exploring when you're constantly asking yourself the question
Not only have the maps been expanded but so has battling and catching pokemon. With no random encounters, players can see at all times any available Pokemon they could encounter on the overworld. The roles of hunter and hunted have flipped as you can sneak up on a Pokemon and try to catch it outright before even initiating a battle. The stealth mechanic consists of players getting to hide in grass rolling between cover. Depending on the Pokemon's temperament this might allow you to sneak up on a skittish Pokemon not giving it the option to run away, or avoid being noticed and attacked by an aggressive Pokemon. There's even a new type of Heavy Pokeball that while it only works at close range if you manage to sneak up on a pokemon and catch it unawares gives you an increased chance of capture rewarding those who wish to play stealthily.
If you're interested in the more traditional method of catching Pokemon you can always instead send out one of your Pokemon to battle. These battles take place in the overworld, and can even rope in multiple pokemon if they're nearby. Take turns attacking one another with an aim to weaken or defeat the enemy pokemon. In battle, you can even move the player character, though it doesn't add much aside from the novelty of being able to accidentally step in direct line of the attacks. The ability to track, catch, and battle Pokemon in the overworld as opposed to between overworld and battle screen assists in keeping players engaged in the world.
New mechanics added to battling, the strong and agile style, allow your Pokemon to attain a further level of mastery with each of their attacks. This, coupled with a turn counter based on Pokemon's speed, adds an interesting new dynamic to battles allowing you to deal more damage at the cost of your turn order or speed up hitting just a bit lighter. Your Speed stat gains significant importance with the turn counter, it's not just about out-speeding your opponent once but how much can you dominate if you can consistently attack twice before anyone else gets a turn. This is even more important when you remember items or swapping out Pokemon can occur during one of these turns. These changes might not be as flashy but do add an extra layer of depth to combat as you weigh up your options.
Pokemon Boss Battles
Noble Pokemon battles shift up combat even further. These battles are more directly between you, the human character, and the Pokemon, than it is a Pokemon vs Pokemon battle. Armed with each Noble Pokemon's favorite snacks you'll need to juggle between constantly throwing these treats at them while dodging out of the way of any upcoming attacks. You'll need to look for opportunities to send out your Pokemon, either by using the environment to stun the Noble Pokemon or waiting until they stun themselves. After successful combat, you'll get a free window to throw even more treats at the Nole Pokemon. These battles are big and flashy and do a good job scaling throughout the game adding mechanics like hazard zones or informing players of their dodge roll I-frames but feel somewhat half-baked. Within a single battle, the separation of the player vs Pokemon and pokemon vs Pokemon phases of the battle does feel like this concept could have had some more thought dedicated to it. It feels like a half-step in comparison to the larger leaps in design that the rest of the game was granted.
Battles aren't the only fundamental change as the laundry list of quality of life changes extends as far as my arm. Swapping Pokemon moves like loadouts, crafting items out in the field, having your party surround you in the overworld, evolution triggering from menus, trade evolutions without a trade, and more. Every aspect manages to enhance experiences that previous games might have only offered a fraction of. When first revealed the concept of crafting in a Pokemon game seemed a bit strange, but it surprisingly adds a lot of fun to the world, especially when the only way to get certain Pokeballs early is through crafting.
After the story is done it's the requests and Pokedex that will push you to continue exploring. While you can still mark a Pokemon as "caught" by simply having it in your possession. For the completionists, there are now new levels of completion to the Pokedex including obtaining Research Level 10, which fills in information like locations and descriptions, and also a fully researched Pokemon where you've completed all of their tasks. These tasks can include the basic catch or battle X number of Pokemon species, but also has unique requirements like finding out how Zubat can see or watching a Pokemon use its signature attack.
This new mechanic to the Pokedex not only does a good job falling in line with the story of the creation of the first Pokedex but also does a fantastic job emphasizing the part of the Pokemon journey based in the research of pokemon. Researching and discovering Pokemon has always been a part of Pokemon, at least on the surface, but instead of being handed a description and location information that's now information that you seek out. While these additions might not add much if you're in it to build the strongest team and beat the game, it gives players an extra push to keep playing even after the credits have rolled.
The largest hurdle that Pokemon Legends: Arceus faces is in its presentation. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is an ambitious title that pushes the capability of the Switch by offering a semi-open world for players to engage in. Within your immediate vicinity Game Freak has managed to fill your view with interesting landscapes, trees of various sorts, and of course the wild Pokemon moving about the world. Through my time playing, I suffered minimal frame drops, and even those were usually only during a Noble Pokemon battle with particle effects flying everywhere. Encountering Pokemon in the wild you'll get to see them walk around their areas, sit down or take naps, and even perform basic interactions with one another. The way a Pokemon presents itself can even clue you into their temperament and how willing you might be to approach them. It's these little details that I found would make me smile as I was working through the world.
As your eyes start to drift to the edge of the screen, or the horizon as you're running across the landscape you begin to see where the technical shortcuts were made. Running on Wyrdeer or flying with Braviary you'll see all manner of trees and rock formations popping into reality. That moment of flying really makes the game feel rough. The world of Hisui from the air vs the ground can feel like an entirely different location because of these pop-ins. Another sign of technical shortcuts is the reduced animation cycles of static Pokemon and how they slowly gain fidelity as you approach, it's just another sign of the technical limitations that needed to be placed on the game.
I'm already at at least 30 hours, and I can't wait to dive right back in. Pokemon Legends: Arceus has managed to create a living world filled with pokemon and unique locations. Players can interact with wild Pokemon in their habitats, approach Pokemon with stealth or charge into battle, and explore the world at will. You'll always be presented with something more to do whether it be story progression, or discovering a new pokemon around the corner. There are certainly technical issues present in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, thankfully most of those occur away from the action. With how large a leap forward Pokemon Legends: Arceus is it would be disappointing if we don't see another game taking further steps forward. This is a Pokemon game that current fans won't only love, but for anyone who ever enjoyed or got tired of Pokemon, this is the time to get back in.
TechRaptor reviewed Pokemon Legends: Arceus on Nintendo Switch with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Engaging Storyline
- Feel Like Researching
- Elevated Pokemon Formula
- QoL Updates
- Hardware Limitation Woes