From the moment I played Pokemon Blue, I was hooked on the franchise. And since those Gen 1 titles, I have played pretty much every Pokemon mainline title and PLENTY of spinoffs. I did Pokemon Stadium and Coliseum, I played Puzzle League, I did Masters and GO for a while, Mystery Dungeon multiple times, and of course, I was the one who reviewed NEW Pokemon Snap here on The Outerhaven. Yet, when the Arceus title was announced, I admit, I wasn’t sure what it would be. The more they showed, the more curious I got about what it would be like, and whether it would be as good as I hoped. But as my Pokemon Legends Arceus Review hopefully shows you, if you’re a Pokemon fan, and wanted to REALLY experience the Pokemon world…this is the game you have to play.
Game Name: Pokemon Legends Arceus
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Game Freak/The Pokemon Company
Release Date: 1/28/22
Given the WEALTH of trailers and teasers for Arceus, you likely know the backstory of the title. You are in the land known as Hisui, which is the land that will be Sinnoh, but with one major difference. This was BEFORE it was settled by people. As such, it is wild, untamed by man, Pokemon are almost literally everywhere, and the Pokedex for this region has not been made yet. As a new member of the Galaxy Expedition Team, specifically a member of the Survey Corps, it is your job to explore the various regions of Hisui, catch a LOT of Pokemon, and learn more about them so that the region can be populated by humans without having to fear the Pokemon.
And that right there is the first thing I want to talk about in this Pokemon Legends Arceus Review: the tone. Because in this game, different from every other mainline Pokemon title, the people and Pokemon of the region DON’T have a serious bond with one another. The Galaxy Team is actually comprised of people who are new to the region and don’t have the talents nor the mindset at times to catch Pokemon. You are the rare exception to that (and they do explain why that is for the record…just don’t want to spoil it), and thus they lean on you to help bridge the gap between people and Pokemon by getting more knowledge on them via the Pokedex you’re working on.
To be clear, they’re not just SAYING that people are afraid of Pokemon, they show it in various ways. They are angered when Pokemon like Bidoof cause problems in Jubilife Village, one sidequest (more on those later) featured you capturing a Pokemon in secret because the person you were helping was deathly afraid of Pokemon. Other people you help don’t see their full potential, don’t understand the little things that make them special, or can help them become friends. Throughout the game, you’re helping make this village better by showing everyone that Pokemon are awesome, and not always something to fear.
On the flip side of that, Arceus makes sure you know that in this untamed region known as Hisui…their fears are not unfounded. The biggest gameplay loop is you going from section to section of Hisui in order to catch Pokemon, and MANY of them aren’t going to be your biggest fans.
In fact, as you go on your journey, you’re going to have to walk the line between approaching Pokemon to get in for a battle or to catch them, and then running for your life when they decide to aggress you and launch attacks against your player character. If you take too many attacks from these Pokemon? You blackout. It’s a simple twist on things, but it works beautifully and makes you really feel in a world of Pokemon as you have options on how to interact with them and not just “battle, capture, repeat”.
By that, I speak of arguably the biggest gameplay change in the Pokemon mainline franchise in some time: the stealth mechanics. Even in Pokemon Sword and Shield via the Wild Area, you could see the Pokemon running around, but the basic gameplay loop continued. But here in Arceus, you don’t HAVE to battle them to capture the Pokemon. Instead, you can sneak up behind them and catch them with a Pokeball without having to launch a single attack! You can even distract them with food, or stun them with certain items in order to make them easier to catch.
This reimagining of how you interact with Pokemon is beautiful and wholeheartedly drives the game forward in the best of ways. I was pumped every single time I caught a Pokemon this way. Especially when it happened with a Pokemon I REALLY wanted (which happened a lot), or with an Alpha Pokemon (basically Pokemon with much more power and size) as I didn’t want to battle them. You can spend hours just going around and capturing Pokemon, and that’s perfectly fine…because that’s another twist on the standard Pokemon gameplay…
You see, because the Hisui/Sinnoh Pokedex hasn’t been filled out yet, you have to learn about Pokemon the “hard way”, by either capturing and battling a bunch of them, or, by witnessing them do certain things. At first, this may seem like a chore, but instead, it becomes a challenge of the highest order in the best way possible. You’ll WANT to complete each Pokedex entry because doing so gives your character EXP that’ll grow their rank in the Survey Corps, and that gives you access to not just new regions, but new items for you to buy. Plus, most of the Pokemon in this game are going to be somewhat numerous outside of a few examples you can probably guess. Even the rarer ones can be found in the games’ multiple biomes, and as a result of that, if you play it smart, and pay attention, you’ll fill out Pokedex entries one after another, and feel awesome as you do it.
That in turn leads me to the most fun part of the game in my mind: exploration. Arguably the biggest downfall of the mainline titles is that they are very “rooted”, or straightforward if you will. You can literally draw a line from how you go from one place or another. There’s no real room for exploration. But in Arceus, exploration is arguably the most important feature because they’re trying to make you FEEL like you’re in a Pokemon world.
Each biome is special in its own way. Not just in looks, but in many of the Pokemon that are there. Sure, there are plenty of repeats (I’ll get to them later), but when you enter a new biome and you see a swath of Pokemon you never encountered before? You’re pumped. In the Coastlands biome for example, in the daytime, one set of Pokemon appear, but in the night at one part, a series of Ghost-Type Pokemon arrive and I was there right when it happened and I freaked at the chance of getting ones like Duskull and Dusclops. …which I did btw.
The freedom that you have in going from spot to spot, and doing it at your own pace is enthralling. By the time I beat the main story? I was over 28 hours into the game, and I can say without missing a beat that well over half of that was just doing exploring and doing random sidequests. I felt no pressure to continue the main story at times, and other times I just didn’t want to. I LOVED finding a new area that was tucked away and seeing a new group of Pokemon that I hadn’t before. Even now, beating the main storyline…I haven’t explored all the areas, but I will, and I’ll enjoy every minute of it.
One thing I’ve mentioned multiple times in my Pokemon Legends Arceus Review is that of sidequests. Usually, sidequests are hit or miss in games like these as many feel like a slog. And while I won’t say that all of them were hits, a vast majority were fun, intriguing, and melded into what you did in the main game. Many sidequests for example had you filling out specific Pokedex entries so that the people could learn more about Pokemon. As you do more quests, Jubilife Village actually grows with you in various ways, and it’s awesome. Others will give you valuable items that will be useful later on. Like I said before, I spent a LOT of time in this game doing sidequests and I know I’ve got a lot more to do. Including some that will lead me to certain legendary Pokemon. I can’t wait to complete them all, when’s the last time you heard that said about a large-scale RPG?
Other gameplay twists that Arceus provides include the Space-Time Distortions. These are areas that will grant you access to rarer Pokemon that you won’t always find naturally in the biomes. But make no mistake, they don’t make it easy on you. Especially in the later biomes, these distortions will throw you into battles where you’ll face multiple Pokemon at once, including sometimes Alpha Pokemon! Each one had my heart pounding as I tried to catch new Pokemon without losing my entire team in the process. My very first distortion had me catching a Porygon for the first time in my Pokemon career, and that was just the start of a set of amazing catches in those places.
There’s also the Ride Pokemon. We saw a tease of what this could be like in Sword/Shield, but Arceus takes it to a new level by giving you Pokemon that’ll help you traverse the Biomes like never before, giving you more access to places, and thus, new Pokemon to capture.
And then…there’s the Noble Pokemon.
In the title, you meet two groups of people who have been in Hisui for some time. The Diamond Clan, and the Pearl Clan. Each of them helps maintain balance in the region via a set of “Noble Pokemon”. As you’ve seen in the trailers, something goes wrong and these Noble Pokemon (like the Lilligant from above), go wild. Through very special sequences you have to quell them. Specifically, you the player character have to throw balms at them to weaken them, then you go into a short battle, then continue to throw balms until they are quelled.
To some, this might seem like an odd addition, and it very quickly could’ve gotten repetitive. But true to the games’ nature of defying expectations, each one is unique and fun. And should you fail, you’ll want to get right back into the fray and show these Noble Pokemon who is boss, as well as bring them peace. They really are fun sequences, and by the time you get to the final one…well…I don’t want to spoil it.
What I will spoil though is how fun these characters you meet are. From the various members of the Survey Corps to the leaders of the Diamond and Pearl clans (Adaman and Irida), to certain “mysterious characters” you meet along the way, the more you grow, the more they grow. Leading to some big moments and decisions later on that will indeed affect your experience in the endgame.
Another interesting element that could’ve gone wrong is crafting. Unlike in the other mainline games, it’s up to you to craft just about every main item you use in the game. From potions to Pokeballs to Revives and more, you have to craft them. There are even variations on the standard Pokeballs that you can use to help you gain an edge in the field. But if you want them? You need to craft them. By the end of the game, you can buy most of what you need, but not all. And it’s fun to get items, make sure you build what you want when you want, and always be on the lookout for more stuff to collect. Especially since doing basic things like breaking rocks and knocking down trees can get you exp for your party.
Want to check out mine?
As I went through Arceus, I was surprised by how much I stuck to my tradition of making a balanced Pokemon team. But I most certainly switched up members of my party when I found a Pokemon that I KNEW I wanted. Such as when I found a Ralts in a surprising place and instantly put it in my party so I could get Gardevoir. Or when I caught a bunch of Eevee so I could finish a personal goal of having a full “Eevee-Dex”. …I haven’t completed it yet, but I’m close!
Plus, as the leaks (which I avoided like the plague) and the trailers showed, we were going to get some Hisui variants to classic Pokemon, including the starters you can get via Rowlett, Oshawott, and my personal pick, Cyndaquil. The fun part though (which is why I avoided the leaks) is seeing which Pokemon got the variants and what they are like now. Some of them are DRASTICALLY different, and it’s really cool. Others got a new evolution (like the previously revealed Kleavor) and you’ll want to see what they’re all like.
Well and truly, this FEELS like a Pokemon world, and you want to do right by yourself and your party as you go, explore, train, get materials, catch new Pokemon, and see what else awaits you. And as my crew and I talked about in the latest episode of the Nintendo Entertainment Podcast, how you craft your team and go about playing the game is honestly up to you! Creating many new experiences depending on how you want to handle the game.
Oh, what’s that? What about Pokemon battles? In yet another fun twist on the formula, Pokemon battles do occur…but they’re treated more as special moments than a necessary part of the game at times. For example, you will NOT run into another trainer randomly in the field “lock eyes with them” and then go to the battle. Instead, they often play out in the story via setups for missions or at key progress points like showing the Clan leaders you’re ready for the next challenge. You don’t even have a rival in the game technically, another huge step away from the mainline games.
But that’s the beautiful thing, they don’t feel needed. This title isn’t about fighting other trainers, it’s about exploring Hisui and discovering the beauty of this Pokemon world. There were times that I was being followed by a random Bidoof because it apparently liked me! Or another area, I was constantly passed by wild Aipoms that couldn’t help but show off for me! Why? I don’t know, but they did it, and I loved it. Except for Paras…if you haven’t heard…they’re jerks in Hisui, so be warned.
And not to spoil too much, but we do get a lot of connections to not just the other Pokemon regions, but the key story beats from Diamond and Pearl. For example…you’re going to find out why Spear Pillar looks like it does…
So as I hope I’ve made plain in this Pokemon Legends Arceus Review, I REALLY love this game, it’s by and large one of the best Pokemon games I’ve ever played, and I’ll be playing it for a while as I know I’m not done with my journey in Hisui. But…as you might have guessed…it’s not getting a perfect score, and for some very basic reasons.
While the story of Pokemon Legends Arceus is fun in various ways, including setting a different tone than the mainline titles via the relationships between the humans and Pokemon, the “climax” of the story comes basically out of nowhere. And key revelations about other characters arrive out of left field when instead they should’ve been shown more gradually. Also, your “not rival” in Akari kind of gets the shaft after a while despite him/her (depending on your character gender) being a key character at the beginning with them asking you to help them grow. That felt odd to me.
Second, and you could argue that this was unavoidable, there is a LOT of overlap between certain Pokemon biomes and who shows up in them. For example, in one key biome, the professor of the game (whom I really liked) said that I would meet a lot of Rock and Ground-type Pokemon in it. But instead, I met a bunch of OTHER types that didn’t feel like they belonged there. This extended to the ice biome you go to near where Snowpoint City will eventually be, and I found Pokemon like Buneary, and Blissey, which REALLY felt out of place. Not just that, why are there so many Paras in these biomes? THEY’RE EVIL!!!
I know it’s impossible to have a “good and reasonable balance” in all of these biomes, but at times, it really stuck out what I was finding, and more importantly, what I wasn’t finding.
Third, there’s the bag system. Pokemon Legends Arceus pulled a Breath of the Wild by giving you a bag that you NEED to expand via a certain action. This was a very poor choice. Because especially later in the game when you have access to a LOT of items that might help you with catching Pokemon or battling, you need to keep it all in the bag. Plus, you can get items from trees, rocks, ice, and even just fighting and capturing Pokemon. Your bag fills up QUICKLY. Yet if you don’t expand the bag via paying a guy a LOT of money over time…you’re going to be constantly rushing back to the campsites in order to store stuff and then get back to the quest you were on.
Fourth, while the game is good at explaining a lot, it doesn’t tell you everything right away. For example, that shot of me and my party Pokemon? I didn’t know I could do that until someone told me about it. Same with the “Trading Post” where you get items for Merit Points…which I also had to learn about the long way around.
Finally, and I’m only putting this in here because I know you want my opinion on it…the graphics. Yes, the graphics aren’t the best. But what’s really made me sad is that people think that the graphics are the most important part of this game for some reason. It’s not. The gameplay is what’s important, and while Arceus may not be the most visually stunning game (or even most stunning Switch game) out there…it’s still rather beautiful if you look at what you’re SUPPOSED to look at. The people, the Pokemon, and the overall world. Yes, there are times when the textures aren’t the best, or you see things popping in and out, or you’ll witness far-away Pokemon jumping in animation loops because of certain factors. But it doesn’t really take away from the game because the game is not about the graphics. It’s about making you feel like you’re in a Pokemon world, and on that front, it most definitely succeeds.
At the end (and over 3000 words later), I hope this review shows you that Pokemon Legends Arceus isn’t just a great game, it’s one that transcends the Pokemon franchise as we know it. It immerses you in a deep Pokemon world that is begging to be explored over and over again. If you were to play this game from scratch after “beating” it, you’ll very quickly find that it’s a completely different experience, and that’s a beautiful thing.
The only real question now is…what will the sequel to Arceus be? And how will they grow it from the incredible baseplate they’ve made? I don’t know, but Arceus-willing, I’ll be there when it comes out, and I’ll enjoy it as much as I did this one.
Pokemon Legends Arceus Review
Pokemon Legends Arceus is a game that no one was sure what to expect from it, but what they’ll get from playing it is a game that is truly an experience, one long-desired by Pokemon fans. Filling up your Pokedex and exploring the Pokemon world has never been so much fun.
- Pokemon Legends Arceus Review