One of the more joyous experiences since owning a Nintendo Switch for the first time has been the opportunity to reconnect with the Pokemon Series, something I have not had since Pokemon Yellow far too many years ago. With Pokemon Sword I experienced my first Pokemon game since then and fell in love with the animation and scale of a not quite, but almost open world and I loved going back to old school Pokemon with Pokemon Shining Pearl at the end of 2021. As someone returning to the series after so long, these titles felt fresh but familiar and I loved playing them and learning all over again the magic of this series. For long term fans however, the Pokemon series has been relying too much on those elements and were yearning for something new to change the series up and despite the marketing campaign for this new title was subdued to say the very least, it was finally time for the first brand new and original game in the series, and my word has Pokemon Legends Arceus become my favourite game yet for Pokemon!
I made the choice to avoid all the marketing and trailers for this ahead of its release, which is quite ironic as Pokemon Legends Arceus has had one of the most subdued marketing campaigns for a big release I have seen for any title on any platform. All my Pre-Order was based on was my experiences with Pokemon Sword and Shining Pearl and an eagerness to experience what I hoped would be a new take on the tried and tested formula Game Freak has cemented with Pokemon games in recent decades.
To put it quite simply, this is for me at the very least, the best evolution of a game series in recent years which mirrors similar attempts to take a long running series, which for me the best example is the Assassin’s Creed series when it makes the jump to its own open world style jump from where it left in AC Syndicate to AC Origins. Arceus immediately takes what a Pokemon gamer player would naturally expects and gives them more than they would have hoped for. This ranges from the more familiar aspects of simply going into tall grass to trigger an encounter with a Pokemon and then battling it to try and capture it to the mundane aspects of making sure you have enough Pokeballs to complete the task of catching more Pokemon. Arceus fantastically takes all those elements and adds layers to the gaming experience, so may take time to adjust to whilst others will make you the player wonder how it has taking decades to get to this point of delivering what fans have called for but especially giving fans what they did not know they could have in a Pokemon game.
The setting of Arceus plays a massive part in how these new takes have been able to be introduced, set in the far past where humans and Pokemon lived a part with both very wary of the other, even fearful of the capabilities of Pokemon and what they can do to Pokemon mistrusting the humans. A time where there are no Pokemon Centers, no Pokemon Gyms or Leagues and more importantly a world where a Pokedex does not even exist. Which is where you, the player, come in as you are mysteriously tasked by a mysterious voice and presence to find all Pokemon to meet it, taking from a world you do not remember and placed in this new world via a rift in time and space. You land in clothing that appears to be modern and in turn futuristic to those who find you, knowing nothing about why you are there or where you were before and only that you have an affinity to approach Pokemon and capture them like no one else in this world has been able to do.
There is something special in being in the world of the Hisui region before it will be known as the Shinnoh region in later games. The aesthetic of a feudal Japan gives it all a simpler time feeling, so unlike visiting any town you would naturally visit on your way to take on a Gym Leader. It is a time before human and Pokemon learned to work together to improve their world, we see farmers caring for their fields at the beginning and limited in how much they can do but this will change as you progress through the story by capturing and giving them Pokemon to help create and look after more field giving better crops and harvests. The game so easily and effortlessly creates how things used to be and you instantly feel a part of that. Shops sell limited items until you complete “request” missions to improve their offerings and people are going about their daily lives without technology. In fact, I feel Jubilife Village is the perfect starting point and hub for all your adventures in the game, and you will be coming back and setting off from here a lot, perhaps too much in the later stages of the main story for my own personal liking but it does not take very long for it to feel like home.
There is some fan service away from the obvious Pokemon themselves and I love that at this point in the Pokemon timeline, we see the origins of the Diamond and Pearl as well as the Galaxy team. Here Diamon and Pearl are two rival clans who differ in their belief structure about what the rift in the sky contains and what it means for the origin of Hisui Region which will give anyone who has played previous games that knowing little smile whenever they interact on screen. The big surprise for me was how the Galaxy Team is the foundation for what we know would become the normalcy of Pokemon life. Made up of different Corps which handle specific tasks for the people, the player is placed in the Survey Corps, tasked with exploring the world and its regions, searching for Pokemon to complete the first ever Pokedex.
Now any player experienced in Pokemon will know that Pokedex is full of all the information on all types of Pokemon and all we must do usually is capture and evolve Pokemon to complete the Pokedex, but here in this time, you are tasked with not only cataloguing all the various types of Pokemon there are in the world, but also in researching each one to have a full Pokedex of information. This research involves studying each type, observing them in battle and the moves and power they have and giving that data to Professor Laventon who then adds it to the Pokedex. This is primarily what you will do in the game overall, with the main campaign being a good chunk of that before the post-game side of things which all Pokemon games have.
This is really broken down into you going out on Expedition runs to the various regions of Hisui, with a new one becoming available once you reach a certain point in the story and reach a ranking level with Galaxy Team. This is where the gameplay completely changes from anything previously, as being on an expedition means you must be very resourceful, so the crafting system allows you to craft your own Pokeballs, potions and health items to continue your expedition. Tod o this you will gather materials to craft the items and the materials are very easy to find but with more advanced items again being made available once you get far enough into the story and your rank increases. The rank increases are measured in Stars, which really replace the Gym Badges you would normally have to gather and each time you complete an expedition or need to return to Jubilife Village, you will hand in your progress data which can earn you money to spend but also your Ranking XP, with every completed Research task and Pokemon sighting and capture, counting towards your expedition score which is then turned into rank stars, awarded to you by Captain Cyllene, who never seems to smile!
My favourite change is in the battling, capturing, and managing of your Pokemon, which for me is the most refreshing of all. You now have free aim when it comes to throwing Pokeballs to capture Pokemon in the wild and you approach this in a very natural way as gone is the classic way of just walking into tall grass to trigger an encounter. Learning how to silently approach a Pokemon, crouching and moving slowly or using berries as a distraction before you attempt your throw. There is still the random luck in whether you will capture the Pokemon or not keeping it very much old school but the ability to use stealth and distractions, even sneaking up to aim your Pokeball at your target Pokemon without being seen will all increase the chances of capture. Unlike other games, you will not carry your additional Pokemon with you and they are not stored digitally either at a PC in boxes but instead back at Jubilife Village in pastures, which you can see your additional Pokemon roaming there when you return to the village. You can use the pastures or the representative at any base camp to change the Pokemon in your “Satchel” so you can still carry up to six Pokemon and change your team as you see fit. What did come as a very welcome surprise, is that no longer will Pokemon be forced to forget a move in order to learn a new one when the four move slots fill up, instead they retain all the moves the learn as they level up and evolve and now you can simply pick a move set, replacing but not losing moves so you can really personalize each Pokemon, undoing what I always found annoying using the TM System to get a new move but having to sacrifice an old one which was incredibly frustrating, so this is a fantastic new system I hope remains going forward.
One interesting element to being in the world is that now you yourself can be hurt as you explore the world, and you will need to explore a lot to find all the different Pokemon. Wild Pokemon can also attack you if they feel threatened and should you pass out from taking too much “Call of Duty screen going red” and you could lose your satchel and some of the items you were carrying. Now via the online element to the game, which features no battling with other players but does allow you to trade Pokemon, other players can “find” your lost satchel and return it to you and you can also find the lost satchels of others, which will earn you Merit Points that can be used to purchase some rare items some Pokemon need to trigger an evolution, a nice touch seeing how you will be out there exploring anyway.
Battling in the wild still uses the turn-based system but now has an added twist in the “Agile and Strong” options once a Pokemon has mastered a move. Essentially this allows you to select a move and with Agile it will do less damage if offensive move and mean you may get an extra turn during the battle. Strong will use more PP, do more damage etc. but can mean it will take longer to recover for a turn giving your opponent an extra action. This adds a new strategy element to the battles, especially when taking on the mini boss or Noble Pokemon you will need to defeat to push through the campaign, but the game also has a very intriguing new type of Pokemon for you to battle, the Alphas. An Alpha Pokemon is a much larger version of a standard Pokemon type and usually 20 or more levels above what your team might be at the time and potentially having a move that type of Pokemon would not normally have. Defeating them will give you a nice XP boost for your team of Pokemon but you can also capture them as well and if you have the necessary Star Rank to command that level of Pokemon, can be used in your team. These battles can be intense in the wild but very rewarding if you can build and add to your team with a good Alpha.
Visually I really love how this game looks, so much that I really do not get the complaints about it online from some folks. Yes, there can be moments where the framerate drops, both in handheld and docked modes and the draw distance is more noticeable later in the game but it has that anime feel I just like so much, very much like Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot won me over. I love the musical score including the new battle theme and it has such lovely new animations for trading as well as Pokemon Evolutions that just make you stop. The character models and Pokemon, especially the Alpha sized ones just look great as do all the regions that you can visit which makes exploring them just a joy.
Which is how I feel playing Pokemon Legends Arceus, it is just joyful to play a brand new Pokemon game that feels like it brings the series to 2022, updated and refreshed and delivering a fantastic Pokemon experience which feels new but also familiar. It took me 32hrs to complete the main story and I have no problem diving back in to try and complete the Pokedex and solve all the secrets and mysteries still there to be found. I hope the future of this game will have expansions because I do not see myself tiring of this game for a very long time to come.
Pokemon Legends Arceus delivers the kind of Pokemon game experience so many have been hoping and asking for such a long time and the potential to do more is huge. The satisfaction of the main story to the new style of battling and focus on exploring this world rather than just being in it gives it an amazing tone that is not about just “I wanna be the very best” and instead has a far richer “I want to learn everything to share that knowledge with everyone” goal that I thrive on. What an incredible way to kick off 2022 as a Nintendo Switch owner
Now I must head back into the game, I have a Magikarp I need to evolve!