Although the Hisui region can sometimes feel a bit empty, the gameplay gets a bit redundant after awhile, and the game can have its performance issues from time to time, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a brave and refreshing direction for this series. It bolds well for the future and where it can go thanks to the freedom it gives you and it introduces a way to interact with Pokemon we have yet to see in the Pokemon franchise.
I, along with many other longtime fans of the series; we have been waiting for something like this for a very long time. Sure, it doesn’t fully reach its potential and there’s plenty of room for growth, both with updates to the game itself via DLC and expansion packs, as well as taking it to the next level with future installments. Seeing gameplay footage of Pokemon Legends: Arceus prior to its arrival, I was definitely skeptical about it. It had plenty to love, such as the seemingly vast exploration, the gorgeous scenery, and the new ways to interact with Pokemon. However, the main issues I had with it before even playing it were the obvious framerate drops and the dips in performance because of the current Nintendo Switch’s hardware, as well as the world looking to be empty and not having much to do in certain areas. It turns out, most of my anticipation, along with the concerns, came to be mostly accurate. The good thing is, although the overall product could’ve used more work and polish according to what I figured was going to be issues, and the game could’ve taken more advantage of the world you play in, I still found myself not being able to put it down for days and enjoying the game thoroughly for what it is.
As mentioned, and as most fans know, the Pokemon series has been growing stale for the last couple of years. This doesn’t mean there haven’t been some good games that have released, but it’s obvious the series needed to introduce something original and fresh in order to reinvent it, similar to how it reinvented the genre when it first made its debut back in ’96. Maybe Arceus doesn’t exactly do all that. In fact, in many ways, it still feels somewhat familiar, but there are a variety of new aspects and gameplay elements to enjoy which only bodes well for what’s to come. Maybe developer Game Freak is finally listening to the fans and is beginning to take this series in an exciting new direction. Arceus is obviously inspired by games to come before it, especially The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild when it comes to its open world and the sense of freedom and exploration it offers. But, at its core, it’s still very much a Pokemon game. Most Pokemon entries do still have a sense of freedom and exploration, of course, and it’s silly to say otherwise. Then again, it can be considered somewhat linear compared to the open-world games at our disposal today. In reality, I don’t think fans ever wanted the traditional and standard elements of this series to be done away with entirely, they just want it to be expanded upon and give us players new ways to do certain tasks and catch ’em all. I think this game does that in some ways, and I truly feel it’s only the beginning. There’s a clear avenue for improvement based on what’s already established too, and it’s exciting to think of all the possibilities.
In Pokemon Legends: Arceus, you begin by speaking with a distorted voice, which is eventually shown to be Arceus. It tasks you with discovering all Pokemon in the Hisui region before sending you through a rift. Like the typical opening in many games, you wake up stranded on a beach where you’re found by Professor Laventon, a Pokemon researcher, and he brings you to a nearby settlement. You’re eventually recruited into the Survey Corps of the Galaxy Expedition Team, and that’s where your journey begins. In most games, you capture Pokemon, fight wild Pokemon, battle fellow Pokemon trainers, go to different gyms and beat the gym leaders in order to get a badge, and many other things. In Arceus, you do most of the same, but there are differences in its structure. For one, there are no gyms. Instead, although you can battle other trainers and their Pokemon, the gyms’ replacements, if you will, are Alpha Pokemon, which can be found throughout the Hisui region in different locations. They’re basically bigger, more powerful versions of Pokemon we already know, and they’re easily identifiable by the red eyes they’re sporting. If you’re not properly prepared before approaching them, they’re very aggressive and will attack you. You have to make sure your Pokemon are up to par in terms of level and their move-sets, otherwise it’s going to be a short one and you’ll find yourself trying all over again. The Alpha Pokemon are harder to catch as well, so you’ll need to employ different kinds of strategies.
In terms of the core gameplay element, which is catching Pokemon, it’s never been done with this approach. Essentially, you’re in a big, explorative world and you’re literally seeing Pokemon as you’re traveling around. The most interesting aspect of this is what you decide to do next. Depending on the Pokemon, they each have different behaviors and temperaments. Some will see you and try to run away or hide, while others will be aggressive towards you and engage in battle. You can do a variety of things, such as throw a Pokeball and try your luck at catching them. If you catch them by surprise, you have a better chance of securing the capture. There are items you can pick up as well, such as food, which you can throw in their general direction and try to distract them in order to have a better shot at catching them or gaining the upper hand in battle as well. Speaking of battling, you can throw whatever Pokemon you have near them and automatically battle them as well. It’s really up to you, and that’s the beauty of it. As for your approach as the character itself, you have bushes you can crouch in to maintain a stealthy presence, or you can run out and alert everything around you, which usually doesn’t end well if you’re surrounded by Pokemon who aren’t afraid to engage. It’s really up to you how you decide to play, at least in this aspect, and that’s the beauty of it.
Reiterating on a previous point, the charm about this game is, in fact, what I’ve always loved about the series. It’s always been incredibly entertaining and exciting to capture all kinds of Pokemon in order to further diversify my Pokedex, and you get the chance to do this. The game is considered a premake to Diamond and Pearl series, so everyone in the Hisui region is just getting to know all the different kinds of Pokemon there are, what each of them can do, and so on. In a way, as a player, you’re responsible for bringing this kind of knowledge to the people in order to study Pokemon further and go from there. It’s a specific aspect that makes you feel very important, and I can’t say any other Pokemon game has made you feel this way. Of course, there’s still a sense of importance in completing a certain mission in prior games, but in this one, even though you’ve carried out certain tasks to bring professors information about Pokemon, this one takes it to the next level. A way you do this is by completing specific tasks for each Pokemon in order to gather more information about them. For example, if you capture/defeat a Pikachu “x” amount of times, you’ll get experience points. There are plenty of other tasks for each Pokemon to complete, which makes the overall gameplay experience a bit interesting since it gives you something to strive towards.
Traveling this world has never been this fun. You’ve always been able to ride a bike, for example, in other games to get around a bit faster. You were also able to fly if you had a Pokemon that knew the move. In this game, you’re able to summon a Pokemon to ride around on, which is able to get you to places much faster and reach areas which were once unreachable or simply hard to get to without traveling long distances. Unfortunately, this is where the gripes begin to kick in. From the gameplay, it seemed an full-on open-world was promised, but that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, you’re able to travel to different areas in this region, but not everything is accessible, and sometimes, it feels more like a hub-world. When you’re at your settlement and you want to leave the area, a map pops up and you choose another base camp in the wild to teleport to, in a sense. It’s more like a fast travel mechanic rather than simply being able to leave the settlement to go where you please. I know it isn’t just me, but the Pokemon series, I feel, has the most potential to take advantage of an open-world experience. The sole purpose, and what I feel this series encourages the most, is letting the player go and catch Pokemon. There shouldn’t be any hinderances in that regard. I think MMORPG elements would greatly benefit it moving forward. Let us gather together with other Pokemon trainers and catch Pokemon together, battle each other, etc. There’s so much to do and although I do admit it’s a step in the right direction, more could be done in order to deliver the definitive Pokemon experience.
I was really engaged with the story throughout my playthrough. I loved doing the main quests while also partaking in some of the side quests the NPC’s offer you. That being said, it could feel like a redundant grind doing the same thing over and over. I found myself feeling a bit exhausted after putting in numerous hours doing repetitive tasks. Granted, it helps that you can travel to different locations and find new Pokemon to keep it all fresh, but there needs to new things to do in future installments. I’m hoping Scarlet and Violet expand on this and truly achieve what I think a Pokemon game should be in this day and age. Getting back to the story however, this series has always excelled with creating characters with unique and bright personalities. You definitely feel invested with each character you meet and, deep down, have an obligation to help them. I love how Pokemon has always been able to do this, but no other game has done quite like Arceus has.
It’s only a matter of time before Nintendo releases and upgraded Switch console in order to run the games a bit better, but I still think Game Freak can do a bit better with the current one. I mean, we’ve seen games like Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and even The Witcher 3, which are all massive games, run pretty smoothly on the Switch. I don’t mind the art-style and aesthetic in these games. In fact, I feel a bunch of the criticism and hatred towards it is a bit overblown and unnecessary. But, what I can’t deny is how the game runs at times. The framerate drops and dips in performance as you’re playing are definitely evident, and I’m not sure if it’s Game Freak not fully optimizing the game for the Switch or the Switch slowly falling behind in terms of performance. In reality though, both Game Freak and Nintendo can step it up moving forward since this has been a glaring and constant issue for some time now.
I enjoyed playing Arceus for as long as I did, and I’ll probably return to it from time to time since it can be a therapeutic experience when it’s played in moderation. I was happy to see all of the improvements and new additions, but didn’t fail to recognize its flaws either. There’s still a ways to go, but I have to commend Game Freak for taking a bold step to try something different, which I think paid off in more ways than one. Surprisingly though, I enjoyed what I already loved about Pokemon games the most. I guess this means the formula shouldn’t change much at all, if I’m being honest. Adding to what’s already established and fleshing out certain gameplay elements while introducing new ones is the key to having this series thrive even more. Oh, and addressing those performance issues will definitely help. I’m very much looking forward to future expansions and DLC content, as well as what Scarlet and Violet will bring to the table.