Pokémon has not had a good run on Switch, and I of course mean that in terms of public consensus, because I still enjoy the series as is. People hated Let’s Go!, Sword and Shield, and the Sinnoh Remakes. Well, given the marginally better reception that the Mystery Dungeon remakes and New Pokémon Snap got, it looks like spin-offs are the way to go. Wow, that only supports my comparison of this series to Star Wars. Anyway, since I’m committed enough to follow this series into the fires of hell, I pre-ordered Pokémon Legends: Arceus with NO knowledge about it beyond the blurbs on Nintendo Switch News. Did I make a big mistake?
In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the titular god of the universe speaks to you, and challenges you to seek it out (after giving you a slick new smartphone of course). With no clue what the hell is going on, you are plopped out of a rift in the space-time continuum and into a mysterious region called Hisui. The Pokémon Professor finds you immediately, and helps you get recruited to the Survey Corp. of… Team Galactic?!
Okay, before we address that Mamoswine in the room, allow me to—for the first time in Pokémon’s life on the Switch—gush at the game’s visuals. Okay, well, maybe “gush” isn’t the right word; some areas, such as caves, look absolutely abysmal, and there are draw distance problems. However, when the game looks good, it looks real good. Pokémon Legends: Arceus borrows from Zelda, and makes a very picturesque world. In each region, Mt. Coronet—and the rift you fell out of—wait in the distance, and I find it awe-inspiring to look at. Also, this game has one of the best skyboxes I’ve seen in a long time; sometimes I just love looking up and vibing.
Now that that diversion is over, we can finally talk about what’s going on in Hisui—or rather—Sinnoh. This region is the Sinnoh of the distant past, back when humans were first studying Pokémon. Team Galactic is actually good this time around! Anyway, the plot is pretty straightforward, but I love it. The reason behind it is quite simply the fact that we really haven’t gotten to experience the ancient Pokémon world firsthand. We get to learn so much about Pokémon lore, and as a long-time fan, it makes me fan-gush. There’s a chance that some stuff was retconned, but you could chalk it up to historical stuff having been lost to time.
The most important part of this being set in the past is that the Jubilife City of old looks a lot like Eurekatek; and that means Japanese culture! Kimonos are in fashion, and almost everyone has Japanese names. This even extends to the U.I. and the music (including the best evolution animation I have ever seen). If you couldn’t tell, my final score for this game will be biased.
Another thing I love about the story is the potential for this to be a full-on spinoff franchise. The Pokémon world has so much lore that’s only been alluded to in books, it would be so amazing to experience the franchise’s history using this game’s system. However, since Pokémon Snap took twenty years to get a sequel, we probably shouldn’t count on that.
Let’s talk about the characters next. Your main character is, as always, mute. Fortunately, no one else is. Professor Laverton will never be Oak, but he’s a pretty cool guy. Team Galactic has several captains, and the one you’ll report to is Cyrelle; let’s just say you can tell that her descendants will inherit her stoicness. We also have the Diamond and Pearl clans, two indigenous tribes who worship opposing gods (hm I wonder what Pokémon those would be). As cool as a lot of this stuff sounds on paper, I must admit that they have pretty basic tropes. There is character development, but most of it boils down to the Saturday morning cartoon arc of “really dense people learn that they shouldn’t be so dense.”
There are several things that Pokémon Legends: Arceus promises, and we’re going to need to go over all of them one at a time. Let’s start at Jubilife Village. This quaint little place has all the facilities you need. There’s crafting in this game, which is pretty self-explanatory. Pastures function as the PC, but this time, releasing Pokémon gives you EV-manipulating items. This swole lady named Zisu can help teach Pokémon new moves as well as master existing ones (more on that mechanic in a bit). She can also help you farm more of those same EV-manipulating items. You have to worry about inventory space, but you can upgrade it via training with the puntastically named Bagin. Crafting is an important mechanic for creating essential items, and while at the village (or a campsite), this can be done with the items in your storage.
You also—FINALLY—get dedicated sidequests. Obviously, these are worth doing. Also, make sure you hop into Galactic HQ to check Laverton’s bulletin board for requests. There’s a LOT of them, and doing them is very helpful. Some of them contribute to upgrading Jubilife, while others count toward a specific entry in the Pokédex. The latter ones are my favorite because it actually shows how people discovered a lot of well-known Pokémon facts for the first time.
When exiting Jubilife, you can travel to any unlocked region in Hisui, which is its own, self-contained area. Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t truly open-world, but these areas are expansive enough to feel like it, full of Pokémon and resources. As you progress, you unlock Ride Pokémon with all sorts of field abilities. Hisui’s overworld kinda-sorta falls into the realm of overly large and empty. However, I never really got mad at that, since there was some good variety in geography. They at least learned their lesson from Galar’s Wild Areas.
Also, there’s actually stuff to do besides grinding (although you’ll be doing a fair share of that for completion), although most of it doesn’t open up right away. There are over one hundred ghostly wisps to find throughout the world… and series veterans would know exactly what they’re associated with. It’s more doable than Breath of the Wild’s nine hundred Korok Seeds, plus they are very easy to notice from afar at night. In addition to that, each form of Unown is hidden in a specific place, waiting to be caught. AND ON TOP OF THAT, there are Old Verses buried in the ground that need to be unearthed with the Ride Pokémon who can dig. Every so often, a Pokémon outbreak will occur, although it doesn’t tend to spawn anything exclusive to that area.
Here’s another fun fact: THERE’S STILL MORE TO FIND! One repeatable mechanic is the ability to find the satchels of people who have died in the overworld. I assume that you’re meant to have a Nintendo Switch Online feature to do this, but when offline, the game consistently spawns enough NPC satchels for you to find. Turning them in gives you Merit Points, which can be redeemed for exclusive items, including every evolutionary stone and trade evolution item. Also new are Linking Cords, which are a very welcome addition to the franchise. These will trigger any trade-based evolution without having to do any trading (hear that, fellow introverts? We can finally get Pokémon like Gengar!). This also applies to items like the Metal Coat and Reaper Cloth.
But wait, THERE’S MORE! One of the coolest and most terrifying mechanics is the Space-Time Distortion. Every so often, one of these will spawn in a set location in each region, affecting the area within. Once inside, you can find a load of rare items, such as Shards. However, more often than not, you’ll find many exclusive Pokémon. Here comes the rub: those Pokémon tend to be overleveled for the area, and spawn out of nowhere in large groups. It’s risk-vs-reward, baby!
A LOT of mechanics have been changed… and I mean that literally. Catching Pokémon is one of the biggest ones. Like in more recent games, they appear in the overworld, but they actually react to you this time. Sometimes, they flee, but most of them want to eat your face. When spotted, you’ll have to physically avoid their attacks. Unlike the main games, tall grass is your friend, for it hides you from the critters’ sight. You’ll also need to manually aim and throw Poké Balls, and your range will vary depending on their weight. Using berries to lure Pokémon, and hitting them from behind, greatly increases your catch rate, which always has a little visual indicator (green is the best odds).
However, if you have to fight, throw one of your teammates at your challenger (the back attack technique stuns the opponent for a turn, which is really useful). In combat, the series more-or-less conforms to the traditional turn-based battle system. You can use items and try to catch Pokémon, under the same rules as before. This is where things get complicated. Speed works in an entirely different way than before. In addition to governing who goes first in battle, it also works like attack delay in Trails of Cold Steel; basically, some moves can increase the time it takes for your turn to come around. Conversely, priority moves will make your turn come around faster. If fast enough, a Pokémon can attack twice in a row, which is huge. Combat is the fastest it’s been in a long time, simply because they play battle animations AND textboxes at the same time. They also stop their nagging you about the weather; although that won’t help people who aren’t familiar with the series’ mechanics.
Priority moves aren’t the only change; in fact, the whole meta is basically changed. For starters, stat modifications are simplified, with both offensive and defensive stats able to be changed at once. For example, Sword Dance is for both Atk and Sp Atk… however, it doesn’t give +2 (in fact, I don’t even think there are stages to stat boosts this time around). Flinch doesn’t exist, and Sleep is replaced with Drowsiness, which is basically Paralysis but with an additional defense debuff. Entry-hazard moves now have 40 base power, and do residual damage over time based on Type effectiveness. Most importantly: ABILITIES AND HELD ITEMS DO NOT EXIST. By the way, this is just the tip of the iceberg with how changed the mechanics are.
There are two new aspects to moves that I absolutely love, and will dearly miss in subsequent Pokémon games. The first and most important thing is how moves are learned. Like in a traditional JRPG, all Pokémon moves are permanently remembered, and can freely be assigned as the Pokémon’s active attacks however you wish (have run REMEMBERING to do that). Another thing is that Pokémon can master moves as they level up. When mastered, you can use it in a Strong or Agile Style. These effects are pretty self-explanatory; more damage for increased delay, and less damage for decreased delay.
Since no one has been to this region before, there’s actually a reason for the Pokédex to be empty this time. As such, you have as good of an idea of what a Pokémon’s entry is as Laverton himself. To essentially build the Pokédex from scratch, you must accomplish research tasks for EVERY Pokémon. This includes catching multiple specimens, defeating them with certain types of moves, seeing them use certain moves, and more. This gets REALLY grindy. Fortunately, you don’t have to do all of it to fulfill the research requirements. Getting enough of these tasks done will contribute to raising your status in Team Galactic. These work like Gym Badges, so you better do that if you want more Pokémon than just the very first ones you ever find. The annoying thing with this mechanic is that your monetary payments are based on Pokémon caught, regardless of how much research you’ve done. Fortunately, there are other ways to get money, such as occasionally finding Stardusts and such in ore deposits.
Despite not being a Gen IX (that’s going to be later this year), there are a couple of new faces in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. One of the most iconic ones is Stantler’s evolution, Wyrdeer. In addition to new evolutions, there are new regional variants, such as Growlithe and Zorua. Each starter has a regional variant, in fact. Some of the new evolutions, such as the aforementioned Wyrdeer, are about as obtuse as recent Pokémon have gotten. However, the Research Notes know how to nudge you toward finding the conditions organically, as opposed to every main Pokémon game that isn’t Black and White 2.
Nuzlockes have become the new standard in Pokémon, so I doubt the community will ever concede that a new Pokémon game is difficult in its base state. However, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is probably the hardest that we’ll have for a while. As mentioned before, a lot of Pokémon want you dead; you can actually DIE. Fortunately, you have safety nets. An old lady sells charms that can help you survive, one of which is consumed in place of your inventory upon death.
In any case, this game really taught me how terrifying Pokémon can be. Something as puny as Stunky can rain missiles of poison from the sky just like that… and it only gets worse from there. You also have to worry about Alpha Pokémon. They’re basically the Unique Monsters from Xenoblade Chronicles, and tend to be very overleveled. If you can catch one, though, it’ll be pretty helpful, since it knows rare moves right off the bat.
There are also boss fights to account for, and I don’t mean Trainer fights (although there are some Trainer fights on occasion). The actual boss fights are against Noble Pokémon; beings worshiped by the local Hisuians. Strange happenings have made them go berserk, and you need to feed them a crap-ton of food to calm them down. In these fights, you must avoid their attacks, and figure out the strategy to stun them. Once you do that, you fight it in a Pokémon battle, and when you win that, they’ll be stunned further, and are open to a barrage of tasty treats. The fights are very straightforward, but are actually quite stressful because it’s pretty much programmed that you can barely dodge out of the way of their attacks.
Okay… maybe I’m overselling it. Pokémon Legends: Arceus will not provide the challenge that the fandom wants out of the base-game mechanics. As long as you don’t overextend yourself by going into overleveled areas, there really isn’t any danger. Also, your Ride Pokémon can generally outspeed any Pokémon that wants to chase you out in the overworld; by endgame, they become more of an annoyance. Dodging, like in many games, gives you i-frames. It’s incredibly easy to become overleveled if you go after research tasks and optional stuff, but conversely, doing that too infrequently can make you dangerously underleveled. Due to the lack of many Trainer battles, wild Pokémon are your main source of XP.
Because of that reason, I didn’t really feel like I had a team, compared to main Pokémon games. As I said before, there are next to no Trainer battles, and the open-ended world design allows you to traverse areas quickly, especially as you earn more Ride Pokémon. It is what it is, though.
As with any Pokémon game, Arceus has a truck-load of post-game… and it’s meaty, that’s for sure. In fact, this is one of those cases where the post-game is the true conclusion of the story. It opens up a lot of new Pokémon, and if you have save data from Pokémon Sword and Shield, you can catch Shaymin. Of course, the new objective is to catch these Pokémon and make the long grind to complete the Pokédex. And lemme tell you… it’s a real grind. While it’s not too tough to complete a Pokémon’s entry, the last hurdle to the maximum Team Galactic rank is insane; you pretty much have to complete more research tasks than what you need. Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of Pokémon seemed arbitrarily elusive to me (*cough* Cherrim *cough*). Fortunately, one of the best aspects of the post-game is something that the main series desperately needs: being able to obtain the other two starters without having to trade for them!
Final Verdict: 9.25/10
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a massive leap in the right direction for Pokémon. In fact, I’m not technically finished with it yet; due to what I said in my post from last week, it’s more realistic for me to try to go for completion in this game, but it’d probably be next year if I waited until then to upload this post! My willingness to attempt Pokédex completion shows how much I loved it, although I will be very salty if they don’t continue to build off of what Arceus sets up. I recommend it to any Pokémon fan who needs a change of pace, and possibly, to other gamers who couldn’t get into Pokémon in the first place.