Pokemon, besides being the biggest multimedia franchise in the world, is a series very well known for the video game series from developer Gamefreak, which typically followed a familiar formula. So it’s about time they shook things up. Fans have expressed interest in an open-world Pokemon game, which seems a bit ambitious. However, the team has figured out how to match those expectations on their own terms in Pokemon Legends Arceus. It’s pronounced Ar-see-us, M.D House said so.
Pokemon Legends Arceus is secretly the video game adaptation of the hit isekai light novel series, In Another World With My Smartphone. The Pokemon God, Arceus, decided to send you to another world, with your smartphone, for entirely unknown reasons with the apparent objective of catching every Pokemon.
This other world is ancient Sinnoh, the Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum region, but right now, it’s referred to as Hisui. The residents of the ancient Sinnoh region call a god they worship the ‘Almighty Sinnoh’ (sidenote: naming a place after a god is entirely commonplace in real life).
The game begins when you cross paths with Professor Laventon by literally falling out of the sky in front of him. You give him some quick Pokemon Catching assistance, and then you’re able to join the Galactic Survey corps. This organization runs out of Jubilife Village and is dedicated to cataloging the Pokemon that exist in the world so that they can live safely alongside these powerful and potentially extremely dangerous creatures.
There are others in the region, the Diamond and Pearl clans, but they’re dealing with a spot of trouble themselves. Besides religious bickerings over the true nature of the almighty Sinnoh, ‘Noble Pokemon,’ guardians and protectors of the clans, have been struck by some sort of interdimensional lightning, setting them on a pained frenzy where they attack those who get close.
Gameplay has you go on expeditions to various parts of the region, surveying the lands and catching Pokemon to catalog them and quell the rampages of the frenzied Noble Pokemon. To catch Pokemon, you’ll need to sneak up to it, aim, and carefully lob those balls.
I’ve always wanted to do this; it’s so cool! Back strikes have a higher catch rate, but if you get spotted by a particularly aggressive one, you’ll need to either make an escape or engage it in battle if you want to snag it.
Battles against wild Pokemon, or trainers for that matter, take place in a more streamlined style. It’s still turn-based, but things like switching don’t take a turn, and there’s a much stronger focus on offense. You have fewer support moves and styles to make your attacks do either considerable damage or just make more attacks.
Walling is practically impossible unless you’ve got something absurdly bulky like a Snorlax. There’s no PvP, and battles are relatively sparse, so it’s not a big deal even if I didn’t like it. I’d love the quality-of-life changes like renaming mons and switching moves from the menu to carry on to future games, but styles can stay here.
The big deal in battles is the noble Pokemon battles that take advantage of the more actionized movement to create big boss fights, where you dodge attacks and throw balms to deal mental damage and exhaust them. These are utterly fantastic. You can integrate regular battles in the middle of them, but that is optional.
The exploration is where the real meat is, though, and while the visuals aren’t incredible by any means, I really enjoyed it. It gets around limitations by mostly conforms to a particular visual style. Except for things like wide open establishing shots, like the volcano, they can look egregious, like straight out of a Nintendo 64 game. There’s also a bit of pop-in, but you’re not likely going to notice this unless you’re using a ride Pokemon to move across one of the maps at speed, especially in handheld mode.
The UI could use the ability to remap buttons because it’s really weird. Switching ride pokemon is tied to left and right on the d-pad, and so is the Pokedex and menu as down and up, but using a ride pokemon is +? Shouldn’t Up be a ride pokemon and + be the menu?
You can craft more balls on the fly or buy them with cash you get for performing research tasks and filling out the dex. Once you catch a Pokemon, you have them listed as caught, but you’ll need to complete extra tasks if you want their dex entry, such as catching multiples, evolving them, or defeating them in battle. Have fun, completionists. You can also use this cash to customize your trainer, buy new clothes accessories, and switch up hairstyles.
Pokemon Legends Arceus has one of the stronger narratives in a Pokemon game, featuring many fun supporting characters who get to show off within their respective arcs. There’s minimal handholding after the first half-hour, so you’re free to explore the game at your own pace. Many characters are intentionally based on other existing Pokemon characters, and they exploit this for all it’s worth. I love Volo so much, you guys.
The soundtrack is fantastic and repurposes various DS game leitmotifs in new contexts and styles to such great effect. Jubilife village also feels quite fleshed out due to all the little sidequests you can do for the various villagers; there’s generally just enough to stop them from feeling like fetch quests, and some lead to fun events later down the line.
The story is probably better than Black and White, but there’s a strange focus on the fact Poke Balls are beneficial to fostering development with your party. Due to the game’s lesser focus on battles, I didn’t connect with my party outside of one or two members (my Sylveon named Verity and my Decidueye named Pancakes) because you just don’t do much with them. I hope future entries using this style add more ways for me to interact with my Pokemon or have additional trainers to fight that impact the narrative.
Pokemon Legends Arceus gives us the open-world Pokemon adventure that we’ve asked for, but on the terms of the developer. We had to trade memorable moments with our Pokemon party for an isekai adventure about completing a Pokedex, which is something I haven’t achieved since Pokemon Crystal. As such, this entire experience was enjoyable and exceeded my expectations about what a Pokemon adventure could be. This is something I would like to see more of and something worth playing now.
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