The Pokemon franchise stretches back to 1996 and for anyone who has been a devoted fan over the years, a new title that sets to completely evolve how you become a Pokemon master can be quite exciting but also a little risky. Will shaking up the format of a much-beloved series be a step too far?
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a complete left field from the games that came before it. Gone are the days of having to avoid the long grass when you are trying to make it back to a Pokemon centre to revive your main Pokemon. Pokemon Legends: Arceus offers you a fully open-world experience where Pokemon are freely roaming around. Not unlike the wild areas in Pokemon: Sword & Shield.
There is no doubt that the format used for Pokemon games was starting to get stale. Very little has changed in the past 15 years. The franchise was unquestionably in need of a massive revamp and Pokemon Legends: Arceus is huge a leap in the right direction.
A lot of patience will be required to get through the incredibly bloated introduction in Arceus. For players who are already familiar with how the Pokemon universe works, there is nothing of real value to hear. The pacing is truly dreadful for the entire introduction. If it weren’t for the fact it was a Pokemon game, you may end up turning it off and forgetting to come back later. Offer some optional dialogue for players to learn more in their own time, forcing everyone through such a verbose series of explanations is completely unnecessary.
Dialogue in general often feels a little more bloated than it really needs to be. Perhaps this is only made frustrating by the fact that in 2022, we are playing a flagship video game that has no voice acting. It is acceptable from indie developers but we have seen large RPGs that are fully voice acted. There is really no excuse for this anymore with Pokemon titles.
The sluggish start is going to get you down when you first start playing, but once you make your way to the field lands, the game really starts to pick up momentum. Equipped with a bag full of Pokeballs, you must head out to find some wild Pokemon and start working your way to filling that Pokedex and becoming a Pokemon master!
Traditionally Pokemon battles would be wild encounters that occur when you walk through long grass or in specific areas of ground. This is no longer the case. As you explore, you will see the Pokemon walking freely around. You can avoid them if you wish, or you can sneak up and attempt to throw a Pokeball at them.
Throwing Pokeballs is perhaps the most significant part of the change to the gameplay style. You have full control to aim and throw a Pokeball. If you sneak up on a Pokemon, you can throw a ball at them to try and capture it, without needing a battle. Alternatively, you can equip a Pokeball with a Pokemon from your party inside and throw it at a wild Pokemon to begin a battle.
Combat retains the traditional turn-based format with a few new features that allow you to use increased PP to perform a stronger attack or an agile attack that may allow you to take two turns in a row. Escaping a battle is as easy as running away.
Arceus puts a very strong focus on the Pokedex. Catch ‘Em All has always been the mantra of Pokemon franchise but there has never been much of a gameplay incentive to achieve this. The Pokedex now comes with research goals that incentivise you to catch more and to also battle more. Winning X battles, Catching X pokemon, Using attack Y, X times etc. All of these give you a feeling of incremental progress as you push on with your adventure.
The map size in Arceus is considerably larger than the wild area in Pokemon Sword & Shield but the world itself feels a little dull at times. Open fields, forests and some old ruins. The world feels a little procedural at times and doesn’t have any points of interest. It wouldn’t benefit the gameplay or story in any way but for the player spending hours exploring the wild, it would be nice if there were some more landmarks and interesting points out in the wild areas that are more inspired have some character.
Visually, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is not going to be winning any awards. It is a dip in quality from what we had seen in Sword & Shield and a significant drop from what we know the Switch can do with games like Breath of the Wild.
Smaller assets like the leaves on trees suffer from a lot of pixilation, even up close. The environments, while vast are quite sparse in detail. Lacking in flora, fauna and anything man-made. It has the attention to detail that an open-world game from 15-20 years ago would have. The Pokemon are probably the games saving grace, but you need to get up very close to appreciate them. From a distance, a glaze effect makes them blurry and a lack of anti-aliasing makes them as unattractive as the rest of the environment.
Although the core elements of Pokemon Legends: Arceus are a lot of fun to play, there is quite a few quality of life improvements that the game is in desperate need of.
Fast travel is a clunky affar that requires you to fast travel back to a camp, then fast travel to the village before being able to fast travel to another region. You can load up the map at any time to see the fast travel points, but only some of them are available. Even if visiting the village first was necessary, you have to waste time visiting a camp and speaking with the professor before you can go there.
The quest log and quest tracking is also a bit of a mess. You can have dozens of quests which you can sort in a few different ways, the ability to sort by region, which is one of the most valuable is missing. You find yourself having to read every quest over and over to check what region it is for. The map will only show you the active quest. Many other games will show quest icons on the may and signal that they are not the “active quest”. The quest log, much like the environment, feels a little too dated. Unlike the environment, the quest log is a rather easy UI thing to get right. It is a shame that this got such a rough, half baked implementation.
Despite the game having a lot of bad design choices, graphical issues and feeling a little dated in terms of open-world game standards, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is still a lot of fun to play. Pokemon is in desperate need of some change and while Arceus hasn’t quite shaken things up as much as Breath of the Wild did for the Zelda franchise, we can only hope this game is used as a stepping stone to give Pokemon the breath of fresh air it has been in dire need for.