Pokemon Legends Arceus is what many Pokemon fans have been waiting for: an open-world Pokemon experience that focuses on the nominal pocket monsters with fresh gameplay mechanics. At the same time, however, Arceus is far from the typical Pokemon experience that most players have come to expect from the classic games.
Pokemon Legends Arceus isn’t an open-world game. It’s filled with large areas you can explore at your own pace, unlocking in a particular order. While this is necessary for story progression, it still feels like an experimental bit of game development, even if each area is fun to explore.
The new gameplay mechanics are what drive the game forward. Whereas mainline Pokemon games focus on random encounters, in Arceus, you see Pokemon and approach them to either capture or battle them. If you trigger an attack from an overworld Pokemon, they’ll attack you directly. Otherwise, you have to throw out your Pokemon to begin a battle.
The battles have new mechanics that will seem familiar to Bravely Default fans. Pokemon can learn moves in a Strong or Agile Style. Strong Style increases the Pokemon’s move power but sets them back. The agile Style uses less power but allows you to move faster. Your Pokemon battle strategy will change to take advantage of these new mechanics.
The story is also different from the usual gym battles and victory road. It showcases Pokemon as powerful, dangerous, and unknowable creatures. As you progress through the story, you help the region’s people see Pokemon in a new light, which can feel incredibly rewarding as you fill out the Pokedex and complete sidequests.
Ultimately, while Pokemon Legends Arceus is fantastic for old Pokemon fans and newcomers, an extra year or two in development could have worked wonders for the overworld and gameplay. Still, this game is worthy of thorough consideration and a detailed breakdown, which is what we’ll go into next.
An Entirely New Gameplay Experience
Get ready to catch ‘em all! This game’s progression and new mechanics mainly revolve around capturing Pokemon for the Pokedex. It’s how you progress the story and unlock new regions to explore, where you can catch even more Pokemon.
However, you don’t just walk into the tall grass for a Pokemon to jump at you. The Pokemon travel worldwide, interacting with each other and the environment. It’s up to you to decide how to approach and capture them. You can sneak through the tall grass, chuck a Pokeball at their backs, or take a page out of the Safari Zone and stun or distract them.
While you don’t have to start a battle to capture the Pokemon, you still have the option to weaken the Pokemon through battle before capturing them. Along with new Pokeballs and items, there’s an entire crafting system in the game where you can gather items in the overworld to craft other specialty items to help you get that rare and difficult capture.
Catching Pokemon is fun, but battling has a different spin. Now turns are based on a Pokemon’s speed stat. If your turn comes up, you are in the turn order. Agile moves prioritize speed over power, while Strong Style moves prioritize strength.
This allows you to pull off some sneaky tricks, like using a fast move in Agile Style to get your turn up next. Then, if you use a more robust, slower movement in Strong Style to knock out the Pokemon, the rival Pokemon won’t even be able to attack before you win.
These moves aren’t just limited to players. The Pokemon and Trainers of the region can pull the same tricks, so you must plan your battle carefully.
Alpha Pokemon is another new addition to the Pokemon Legends Arceus world. You happily trek across the map until you come across a red-eyed, massive beast that one-shots you back to camp. Alpha Pokemon are aggressive, assertive, and challenging to capture. They add an extra element of danger to exploring and are especially rewarding to catch.
You’ll have to do more than capture one of each Pokemon to fill out the Pokedex. Each Pokemon has unique challenges to work towards a full Pokedex entry, like capturing multiples of the same Pokemon, evolving the Pokemon, or battling with or against them. You’ll spend more time with the same Pokemon to learn about them.
This new method of gameplay provides an extra layer of challenge to completing the Pokedex that is welcomed by Pokemon fans. Not only do you have to capture one of every Pokemon, but you also have to battle, travel, capture multiple, or witness certain behaviors to understand them truly, making Arceus like a real-life field experience.
Unreasonably high levels, aggressive attacks, and higher-level Pokemon provide quite a bit of stealth and battling challenge, at least at the beginning. The increased difficulty level is also a welcomed change to the Pokemon formula.
Each area’s field bosses provide catching and battling challenges that you’ll have to attempt multiple times to complete, and beating them can feel like conquering a tough gym. These new difficulty levels make the game especially enjoyable for fans who have already beaten the other Pokemon games before trying Arceus.
Pokemon Like You’ve Always Imagined
The heart and soul of this game are the Pokemon. Battling and capturing are exactly how you think they’d be in real life. Watching the Pokemon in the wild, strategizing how to catch them, or watching two Alpha Pokemon you led to each other tearing themselves apart in battle provides a level of authenticity to the world of Arceus that other games may lack.
While the Pokemon don’t have the same depth and behavioral mechanics as Pokemon Snap, it’s still rewarding to see them in the wild. Just be wary of how many aggressive Pokemon are around you when you send your Pokemon out to fight. Horde battles can and will happen, and your Pokemon will face steep odds.
Dimensional rifts and new Pokemon forms are also included in the game, adding different flavors to the Hisui region. Dimensional rifts allow you to access old forms of Pokemon, Pokemon that you can’t typically find in the area, and unique items that you can use to evolve your Pokemon.
Many classic Pokemon receive new forms and evolutions in Arceus, including the final forms of the three starter Pokemon: Rowlet, Oshawatt, and Cyndaquil. Basculin, Stantler, and even Scyther have new unique evolutions for you to discover, giving some love to the first generation of Pokemon.
You can also ride Pokemon to help you explore the region, eliminating the need for HMS, so you don’t have to teach Cut to your starter. Moreover, you can control each Pokemon’s movements while flying, riding, swimming, and climbing throughout the region.
There are no set paths or obstacles to your exploration, so if you like exploring worlds in-game, Pokemon Legends Arceus is a fantastic choice.
An Empty Overworld: Not Much Besides Pokemon
While the graphics are a little better in the handheld version than in console mode, the fact remains that the Pokemon populate world looks horrible, especially compared to pretty open-world games on the same console.
The overworld is empty and ugly. The textures are bad, the water seems downright bizarre (doubly so if there are water Pokemon swimming in it), and objects pop in and out of reality at will. Unfortunately, besides the Pokemon themselves, there’s not much to explore.
It would be nice to see a fully realized world for the Hisui region, but we’ll have to wait and see if Pokemon Scarlet and Violet improve on the open-world design of this game. For this game, it’s a very significant negative.
The game is still playable and enjoyable, but putting more development time into the game would have undoubtedly improved the repetitive gameplay in the latter half of the game after the novelty of the new game mechanics has worn off.
The Good, The Bad, The Pokemon: A Major Series Mix-Up We Want More Of
Pokemon Legends Arceus is an excellent Pokemon game. Game Freak completely revolutionized the catching and battling mechanics to bring us a fresh Pokemon experience. Everything from the gameplay to the story feels fresh and is excellent for hardcore Pokemon fans and newcomers to the series.
The rushed development of this game has led to an empty overworld and a repetitive loop in the story’s latter half. Once you’ve caught the Pokemon and beaten the first half, there’s little else to keep Pokemon fans engaged, and the open world favors exploration over the storyline.
Pokemon Legends Arceus is a great game, foreseeably in the top-ten all-time, arguably the top five games to date. We’ll have to see if Pokemon Scarlet and Violet sticks to the open-world premise that Pokemon fans can spend days exploring or deliver the more established, fully fleshed-out closed-world games with a proven track record and appetite from fans.