Pokemon Legends Arceus Review: A Much Needed Shake-Up to a Beloved Series

Image Credit: Collider

Pokémon is an absolute juggernaut of a franchise that has been around for 26 years this month, starting in 1996 with the original first-generation games Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green released in Japan. Now, 26 years later, spanning eight generations and multiple Nintendo consoles, the series has proven to have long-staying power. But in recent years, many fans, myself included, have felt that the series has stagnated and needs a big change to the formula. Now Pokémon Legends Arceus, the newest mainline game, has promised a massive shake-up to the series. Does Legends Arceus prove to be a massive shake-up to the formula, or like Team Rocket, does it go blasting off? 

Legends Arceus’s setting and story are nothing like the franchise has had before. Past games had you explore a more modern-day setting where you go battle 8 gym leaders and then go battle to the Pokémon League to become the champion. But the shake-up Legends brings to the story formula is that you are now in a feudal era Japan-style setting as settlers arrive in the Hisushi region, or for those that played Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, know as the Sinnoh region. Now, you play as a member of the survey corp, someone who helps build what will be Hisushi/Sinnoh’s first Pokedex. So, this game serves as the origin story of the Sinnoh region and the backstory to Diamond and Pearl. You will meet the various ancestors of Diamond and Pearl’s cast and it’s fun to see the difference between the ancestors and their descendants. 

The gameplay is where Legends truly sets itself apart from the rest of the series. At first, the game appears to take a lot of inspiration from another Nintendo game, The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild on the surface. In reality, it took more inspiration from Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. The formula is very similar to Monster Hunter where you have a village that serves as a sort of sub for you to prepare and go on expeditions to fight and capture Pokémon. While there is some inspiration from Breath of the Wild in it, from this minimalist music to a mechanic you unlock halfway through, the game is very similar to the one in Breath of the Wild. As for battles, while they are still turn-based, there have been enough changes that it makes me not want to go back to the older games. For example, I felt for a long time now that Pokémon’s battles and their animation were too dull to look at. Especially when you compare them to Persona 5 or Yakuza Like a Dragon, two other turn-based RPGs which had very fast-paced battle systems. You also have the new fighting style mechanic, which once a Pokémon has mastered a move, you can command them to use either agile style or strong style. The former will do less damage but will let you attack again before the opposing Pokémon does. Strong-style attacks do more damage, but may cause the opposing Pokémon to attack multiple times before your next turn. 

Then we have the changes to capturing Pokémon. You can still use your Pokémon to cause damage to the Pokémon you want to capture, and then throw the poke ball at them in order to catch them. But now, you capture them without battling them at all. You are able to sneak up on a Pokémon and toss the poke ball at them in order to catch them. Though if they are aggressive Pokémon, they can spot you and then you will either need to hide from them or toss one of your Pokémon out to battle them if you are looking to capture them. The new ways of capturing Pokémon are a lot of fun and feel like the logical evolution of the series, but I do wish we could see wild Pokémon interact with each other in the wild, such as battle each other. The changes to capturing are so good that not only am I actually trying to catch every Pokémon in this game, but also hope all future mainline Pokémon games going forward use them as the bases. Because of all these changes, I cannot go back to the old systems of battling and capturing.

As for problems I had with the game, let’s start with the elephant in the room being the game’s visuals. The Switch’s hardware is pretty weak these days especially compared to the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. At the same time though, it can get pretty distracting with how ugly this game looks at times especially when you compare to similar Switch exclusives that have just as big, if not a bigger, scope like Breath of the Wild, Monster Hunter Rise, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. While I didn’t get bored while playing, I can see some players getting bored since it is repetitive to an extent, especially in the post-game as you need to finish the Pokedex in order to truly finish the game’s story. Trainer battles were another area that I found should be mentioned: while they are in this game, they don’t pose much of a challenge even in the post-game and there are no multiplayer battles, something I feel that is missing big time from this game. Finally, in some areas, this game feels like a template for future games, and yet at the same time doesn’t come close to its full potential. If you play the game you will know what I mean by this, as there are a lot of areas where this can improve on, something you will be thinking while playing this game.

Pokémon Legends Arceus, while flawed in some areas, was the game the franchise really needed. This is a big step forward for the future of a series that has felt very stagnant. If you are someone like me who has felt burnt by the series and even had to force yourself to finish games like Pokémon Sword and Shield or more recently Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shiny Pearl, then give Legends Arceus a go. It’s up there with Heart Gold for my favorite entry in the entire series.

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