For many, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the one you’ve been waiting for. A truly next-level Pokemon experience crafted by veterans at Game Freak that expands the video game series beyond its typical bounds. For the most part, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the most refreshing Pokemon game I have played in a very long time. It outclasses all of the main games thanks to its new open-world approach and streamlined collect them all systems. There are parts in the game that really drag on for longer than needed and visually, this Pokemon game is a bit hard on the eyes but there is nothing else like it.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus acts as a prequel to the Pokemon Diamond and Pearl story. The core of the experience is much of the same. Run around and catch Pokemon, level them up and build the ultimate team. However, Legends has dismantled the traditional encounter system and replaced it with a new sprawling open-world to explore. These larger hubs mimic Sword and Shield’s public areas but are much bigger and a lot deadlier. This land is called the Hisui region. An area that you know today as the Sinnoh region.
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While the history of the region plays a big role in the game’s story and mechanics, Nintendo really doesn’t want me to talk about most of the game’s narrative. In fact, I am going to ignore it completely in this review.
All you need to know is that your character wakes up one day without a clue how they got to the Hisui region and sets off to do a whole bunch of stuff. This includes calming down rampaging clan Pokemon called Nobles, meeting a handful of very passionate clan leaders and ultimately catching all the Pokemon to research them for the team.
You see, being set in the past, Pokemon Legends: Arceus sets the tone that people have no idea what Pokemon are, why they do what they do and even look the way they do. It is a stark difference between the latest other games and this whole premise carries the game’s biggest mechanic – its research system. At the start of the game, I was given a hand-written Pokedex where I had to discover Pokemon, catch them, fight them and even use certain moves to further research them for the Professor.
While other Pokemon games have always pushed the idea of catching them all, none of them has ever done it this well. You see, successfully researching a Pokemon to max rank meant I had to catch multiple, defeat them and do some other side objectives to further increase my knowledge. I dare say that I have never intentionally gone about catching hundreds of Pokemon in previous games. I just find the few I want and leave it at that. At times, my Pokemon box has remained mostly empty. In Legends, this was the complete opposite.
Here, I would spend hours at a time sneaking through the grass while discovering and catching Pokemon. Even multiple of the same breed over and over again. Not only does the game thrive on this experience but the progression relies on levelling up your Survey Corps rank to unlock new PokeBalls to use, crafting materials and more. In a way, these ranks act as Gym Badges where certain levelled Pokemon won’t listen to you unless you have that certain rank unlocked.
The more I caught, the more XP and currency I got and the easier exploring the world was. The game pushes this core system quite hard on you and it makes sense. Again, people don’t know what these strange Pokemon creatures are and I was helping them discover this by catching, battling and at times even feeding them in the field.
It also helps that catching Pokemon is fun and instead of running around mindlessly in the grass, they now walk around the world and live happily in the Husui region. Catching Pokemon requires PokeBalls, as usual, but also tact. Some Pokemon are runners, some are fighters so learning how to approach each one is fun and rewarding. At times I could just sneak through the grass, toss a PokeBall at a Wurmple and bag it but bigger Pokemon need better balls. Some PokeBalls like the Heavy Ball doesn’t throw far I had to toss a Smoke Bomb into the distance to create a fog covering to get closer to my target.
If all else fails, I would then throw out my own Pokemon to trigger a battle to weaken it and try to catch it then. Now battles also happen in real-time and almost instantly. No more loading screen or nothing. When I wanted to fight, I threw my Evee out at the Pikachu triggered a battle. I could then use my attacks and even walk around the ongoing fight to get a closer look at the Pokemon. Some attacks even knocked me down. It is pretty cool and feels so much more natural than every other game that has come in the past. This system also helps make things so much more immersive.
Combat generally flows the same. However, the game now features these new “stance” modes that are activated once a Pokemon masters its move. Stances switch things up. A strong stance deals more damage but lowers the action speed. Agile stance raises the user’s speed stat but isn’t as strong. I just have to say that these stances don’t really feel impactful enough to be useful. I barely used them in my full playthrough of Legends. Maybe other players will find them useful but I overlooked them.
Legends not only gave me the freedom to explore the world and catch the Pokemon I saw roaming around the field but the game is expansive in other systems too. Pokemon moves, for example, are never forgotten. Instead, I could easily go and switch my moves up on the fly sort of like an inventory. I could learn more at the main city and they would just go into the inventory on the Pokemon ready to be equipped when I needed them.
I could also enhance my Pokemon using some Grit, Dust and Gravel. These items increase certain stats to a specific cap. I could then turn these items into better versions once I picked up ten of them. This would further increase them to another cap. This means beyond the usual team-building approach, I could fine-tune my Pokemon into certain stats.
Combat aside, exploring Hisui in Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a lot of fun and there’s always something to do. The game packs a robust crafting system where I could use items to make new gear like PokeBalls, potions, bombs and more. This meant I was forever running around picking up rocks, throwing my Pokemon at trees to shake them for berries and acorns and more.
While the exploration does get a little tedious after a while, the joy of item collecting, Pokemon catching and fighting deadly Alpha Pokemon scattered around the land, kept things fresh enough. Throughout the game, I also unlocked new Pokemon mounts that helped me get around. These sort of act as Hidden Moves but in a more open-world context. Basculegion let me surf across lakes and seas, for example. These mounts help speed things up especially in the later parts of the game when the hubs get much bigger.
There are also side quests to take on in Pokemon Legends: Arceus and while most of them are snore-fest MMO-like fetch quests, there are a handful I enjoyed doing. It also helps that they have all been written quite nicely into the game’s “pre-Pokemon” story so a lot of them revolve around discovering certain Pokemon features for the very first time. It was always nice to see some random lady in Jubilife Town freak out about a Pokemon’s appearance that I have seen since my childhood. I really got the feeling of a world new to these monsters.
But Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn’t perfect. While its story does a decent job portraying a world before the Pokemon we know, it does take a very RPG approach so there’s a lot of text to read and a lot of characters to try and care about. There are also some overdramatic plot points that fall horribly on their face. I can’t share details here but not all of it hits home as much as Game Freak intended.
The game is also not the most visually striking title ever released. In fact, it terribly shows the Switch’s age and is held back by the dated hardware. Texture patterns are hard to ignore in the distance, pop-in trees and 3D objects don’t do much to hide away from the camera and I could not help but cringe when looking into the distance and seeing low-res textures without any trees whatsoever.
With that being said, I learnt to ignore the rough parts of the game here because it is incredibly fun and so refreshing. There are new Pokemon to find, a whole region to explore and so many great systems to discover. There are also some cool new Pokemon to find and even some evolutions from current ones that I discovered along the way.
Yes, the Switch holds this game back from a technical point of view but it really is the most ambitious and exciting Pokemon to date. I know this could be the start of something great for Game Freak and I don’t think I could ever go back to playing another old-school Pokemon game after this. Even with its lack of visual polish, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is an exciting adventure that acts as the Pokemon game we have always wanted.
Note – We published this review during our trial run of our new “star” review system. The original score was 4/5 stars. We have since reverted back to the 10-point system so the review score shown below accurately reflects this.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus Review
Story - 7/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Presentation - 7.5/10
Value - 8.5/10
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the most ambitious Pokemon game to date and while it may be flawed, it offers a fun and exciting adventure that sets the bar.
New Pokemon and locations
Great new direction
Story falls flat