Legends of Arceus has been out for a few weeks now and I was hoping for a more timely post but my Switch decided to not play ball and instead opted to thrown in the towel. Rest now, for you have earned your eternal power down. While I was in mourning, you were graced instead with the fine words from Shane and then I took a little break to get things in order and to give me enough time to finish the game and put some serious hours in!
RIP OG Switch (March 3rd 2017 – January 3rd 2022)
As of writing this, I have put in about 50 hours in total, finished the main story and I believe I am close to finishing the post game. I have gotten myself a few cheeky shinies and I’m also making decent progress on completing the Dex. Although I haven’t isn’t finished, I reckon I have played enough to give an informed view on it as I have experienced almost all of what the game has to offer. For those of you who chuckle when I say ‘informed view’ I want to be clear, my informed view is also one of Poké-bias as I may or may not love the franchise, but I will be sure to be as balanced as I can in this discussion as I am not blind to the fact that it has it’s faults. There may also be some spoilers ahead as well but I will let you know when they are coming. Besides, its been out long enough now and the Pokemon Company are outright spoiling it themselves.
I’m going to break this down into four sections… Graphics, World, Gameplay and Story and will then give it a score at the end! Lets dive in!
Starting with the point of most contention, the graphics are certainly not the game’s strength. I like the art style with the paintbrush strokes and the painted feel and there is a clear effort here to emulate the Japanese Nihonga style, although it isn’t always as clean as I would like. There are moments when the world can look great in passing but if you spend enough time looking closely you can begin to see the simpler textures on the buildings and environments start to become more apparent. It was never a distraction for me but its one of those things that would have improved the game even more rather than, in my opinion, detracting from it’s quality. I will discuss the World in general in the next section but there are some areas that do look great and, in the right light, they can be quite striking but overall the quality doesn’t quite reach the level that it potentially could have been.
In contrast to the environments however, I think the combat looks great and its certainly feels like a step up on the previous game’s combat visually. Some of the moves look impressive (take Brave Bird for example) and they feel like they do cause some actual damage as they connect with the opposing Pokémon. The Pokémon themselves look fresh, with new models and animations that begin to make them feel like they are actual creatures within the which is important as you can get up close to your partners, big or small. Where previous games have held most of the spites from a far, Arceus allows you to really get up in the face of your Pokémon so they best be good! The human characters and NPCs have a cool level of variety between them with most clearly being ancestors to characters in the games we have played already but this also, in a way, limits the design choices as the comparisons need to be drawn. That isn’t to say they are all cool looking though… the Professor for example is a bit of a strange one as his style doesn’t really fit the world plus he seems to have some strange sort of hat on… these inconsistencies didn’t ruin the experience but they can be distracting from time to time.
Overall, the graphics aren’t anything to write home about but they aren’t bad enough to ruin the game either. There is a lot to be said about the expectation of what a good Pokémon game should look like and Arceus isn’t there yet but its design and its world has made some positive steps towards what that game could look like.
For a game like this that encourages you to explore the open areas given to you you’d hope for a vast, varied world that gives you plenty to discover and to a certain extent, the game delivers. There’s a variety of biomes that you can explore; from the rolling fields of the Obsidian Flatlands to the snowy crevices of Alabaster Icelands, and they, for the most part, feel different on the surface. That variation can wear thin however if you’re not invested in the Pokémon hunting though and as I played on I found myself less concerned with the environment and more concerned with the most effective way to hunt and capture the Pokémon I needed. This isn’t to say that they aren’t cool, expansive areas but often they can feel familiar and generic rather than becoming part of the experience. The Volcano in the Coastlands for example, was a disappointment for me because it is essentially just a limited rocky area that has some lava around it and no real threat. There wasn’t much in the way of awe in the fact that I was standing in the middle of what should have been a sweltering and dangerous volcano and instead felt more like a mountain area with natural lights. This is where having a temperature gauge could help add an element of challenge, where you clothes could impact on how long you lasted and it would be great if you could even utilise your Pokémon to keep you cooler. I try not to compare to Breath of the Wild, but that aspect of the game is something that requires that extra level of preparation. Imagine for example, having to take more water and ice type Pokémon with you to help you withstand the inhospitable heart of a volcano which would inform how you built your team and bond you with the Pokémon more as that water type literally saved your life. This is the sort of next level immersion I would like to see (but didn’t expect to see) in this sort of game and would be the sort of thing that would really push this sort of game further.
On the topic of immersion, something else that the game lacked, in a way, was life. Yes, the habitats are filled with Pokémon that are roaming around but if you take a second to watch what they do, there is very little in the way of actual ‘living’. If you take Pokémon Snap as another example, you were travelling through environments where you would see Pokémon sleeping, eating, interacting etc whereas in Arceus they run around and sleep and that’s about it. That isn’t to say they don’t have their own quirks; some run when they spot you, others choose to fight and the Sudowoodo for example hilariously pretends to be a tree when you’re seen, but there is no real sense that they are there to be anything more than caught. It would be nice to see Zubat hanging in the trees, or hordes of Pokémon migrating around the maps. At the moment they feel like they are restricted to their spawn area to await the cold embrace of the Pokéball. That isn’t to say that the world doesn’t feel great – seeing all the Pokémon out in the wild feels great to explore, especially when you first come across a new patch of critters waiting to get in your way but it feels like there is still some steps to be taken for a free roam Pokémon game to feel fully immersive. Although it sounded overly critical I will say that this feels like a natural step up from the Wild Area of Sword and Shield and hopefully this will be a feature that continues to be improved upon. It isn’t something that has stopped me playing but it has meant that I have changed my approach to playing it; instead of taking the time to research the Pokémon using the Dex you painstakingly collate and tracking your target more akin to Monster Hunter I find myself more casually sweeping the areas and throwing a barrage of balls and berries in order to enslave as many as I can before I put my Switch down again.
Arceus represents a massive step in the right direction for Pokémon and shows that there are, hopefully, big plans in the future of the franchise. The world is big and varied and can feel alive but could still do with more life to take that next step forward in creating that sprawling Pokémon world. There’s a lot to be excited about and there’s a lot to be enjoyed here and Arceus offers one of the more exciting Pokémon worlds to date.
Core Gameplay Mechanics
Arceus steps away from a lot of what made Pokémon Pokémon; gone are the random encounters in tall grass, no longer do we have to plod through routes of faceless trainers waiting to get stomped on and even the periodic gyms that lined up to give you their shiny badges are yet to be invented in this era. However It is this very break in formula that sets this game aside from its predecessors and looks to propel the franchise into a new direction, as long as they stick to their guns. Random encounters are replaced with all the Pokémon roaming around in the open world allowing for real time catches and seamless transitions into battles which makes for a much more engaging way to tackle the training and capture grind. You can sneak up on the Pokémon and catch them by surprise or throw down food to lure them away, both of which increase your chances to capture the critter and avoid a situation where multiple Pokémon join in a battle at once against your solitary team member. As mentioned in the World section, the overworld Pokémon could have much more variety in the way they roam the map or even interact with the environment leading to more ways to lure Pokémon out such as coaxing them out of caves or down from the sky or trees but that doesn’t mean that the current gameplay loop is boring. Although not as thrilling as it is at the start, for me the capturing of Pokémon never got boring and in my opinion the capture mechanic has actually never been as fun before as it is in Arceus.
Combat has been tweaked too with new styles; agile style meaning your Pokémon can move quicker at the loss of power and strong style meaning you potentially move slower but with more power adding a new level to the battles. In theory it works, however often if you have the right type advantage the quicker agile style generally means you win easier which can result in the system feeling a little unbalanced. There are some of the later battles where this doesn’t work in your favour as the NPCs can take out some of your team before you have the chance to react and multiple wild Pokémon attacking your lone partner can result in some quick wipes if you are unprepared. On the whole though, if you go into battles with decent levelled, fast Pokémon nine times out of ten you can win without a scratch. You can also switch your Pokémon’s moves at any time whereas before you’d be required to go to a move re-learner which means you can adjust your Pokémon while you are exploring to respond to some surprises that may lie ahead. This has been quite a welcomed change and it feels more natural in how it would work with your team but I do feel like the four move limit is pretty dated now. Overall though, the turn based system based on speed allowing your Pokémon (or the opponents) to move multiple times based upon speed is a nice change and one that I hope sticks around as it could add some interesting strategies to the franchise, especially if brought into a competitive scene.
I wasn’t sure whether to put it here or in Story but the gyms are no more, making way for five noble Pokémon instead. The reason I put this in gameplay is because they represent more of a gameplay shift that they do a narrative one. In these battles you, the trainer, get involved by throwing balms at the enraged Pokémon while dodging its moved and finding the opportune moment to throw a Pokémon in to battle it. It was a refreshing change from a Gym battle to be honest but it felt a little over simplified. You can beat the bosses by never actually battling it for example and instead spamming the balms which mean it felt less like a test of your team and more a test of your characters agility. I welcome the change for sure, but it would be improved if they put set pieces in that forced the battles meaning that each of the phases required different skills and team members as an area boss is meant to test everything you have learnt up to that point. Some of the later ones are tough and can be relentless so that was quite nice but they also felt simple once you figured it out.
There are two types of world events you can experience as well that add another level of variety to the activities in the game; outbreaks and time distortions. The time distortions periodically appear as you explore the map and bring in Pokémon not found in the past such as Porygon as well as some of the rare items including those needed to evolve certain team members. They can be difficult at early levels as you get ganged up on by several high level Pokémon at once however once you can get sneaking around and get a hang on the combat they can also be quite rewarding. The other event are the outbreaks which is where ten to twenty of the same Pokémon miraculously pop out of thin air one after another allowing for you to catch multiple of the same Pokémon therefore filling your Dex quicker while also increasing your odds of getting a shiny Pokémon significantly. These outbreaks can be tough if you are caught unawares and if they see you and all Hyper Beam you at once you will quickly get knocked out so there is an element of prep needed for these. In terms of the world as well they can feel a bit jarring and unnatural as they just appear once one has been caught so it would be nice to see this mechanic developed further if it is brought into future games.
This game has moments of surprising difficulty but ironically some of them aren’t easy to find. The Post Game bosses (one tough NPC battle straight into another two subsequent bosses) came as a surprise and I lost several times on account of being completely unprepared. There are also moments when multiple Pokémon gang up on you, the trainer, and constantly spam attacks which resulted in me blacking out a few times. Besides from these though, the exploring means your team actually grows quite quickly and therefore can feel overpowered pretty swiftly. When you consider this with the fact that in the few trainer battles that there are they only really have one or two Pokémon, it doesn’t feel like much of a challenge. A lot of the issues I came across were almost self inflicted; falling of cliffs, getting cocky when surrounded by Pokémon that sort of thing. Difficulty has always been a point of contention in Pokémon games and I would say there is an effort to make this harder but it doesn’t feel like a challenge yet. If you were to self impose rules, such as the Nuzlocke challenges, then I can see this game being one of the hardest yet, however in terms of the difficulty the game creates it ranks slightly harder than some of the recent games. Simple tweaks could make this that little bit harder; turn off exp share, increase Pokémon’s health in battle to draw the fights out and make the bosses that little bit more complex in order to test everything you have learnt.
Pokémon has never been known for its story but I will say I enjoyed this story more than most of the stories that came before but lets be real, that is a low bar. I don’t play these games for the story and in this game, as much as it does in any Pokémon game, it serves as a way to justify moving you from A to B to C. I will admit, towards the end there were some bits that surprised me like [SPOILER] when you get kicked out the village and although I suspected Volo was being a bit sus, his battle at the temple was one that I wasn’t prepared for and it kicked my arse a few times.
What the game does do is flesh out more of the lore around the region, the Pokémon and their relationship with humans but that’s only really if you are interested in finding it out. Some of the side requests are interesting little detours and make the go here, catch this, come back loop a little more entertaining but I can’t say that for every task. A lot of this requires you to pay attention to what people are saying and I know that many people who don’t really care about any of this will likely skip these entirely, and you know what, that isn’t there fault. The game doesn’t do a great job of making you want to be interested or care about any of it and gives you no compelling reason to not fast forward through the text which is a shame. I appreciate that it probably isn’t the core focus of any of the Pokémon games but it would be great to see a lot more narrative focus in future games as it could really start to re-energise the series. There are lots of interesting threads to be pulled at in this world; how do you build a village with the aid of Pokémon, how does conflict exist between regions when Pokémon are involved and even how does things like faith and religion exist within a world where there are beings that can influence time and space? This is always skirted around and nodded at but never addressed. The potential of exploring a world where Pokémon are feared as they are seen as vicious beasts could make for some exciting stories and even the conflict between the Diamond and Pearl clans could be explore more as there is essentially a theological discussion to be hand here but this narrative focus doesn’t appear to be a priority which is a shame.
Legends of Arceus feels like a game for the fans and Game Freak’s attempt to say ‘you know what? We hear you. We can do this’. They have set out to prove that they can freshen up a two decade old franchise and for the most part, they have succeeded. They have created a fun and new experience that brings new features to the table and takes some steps to polish some of the older ones but it probably isn’t the game that everyone is wanting. There are high expectations for what Pokémon should be and Legends does a good job of showing what the series could be, with its new catching mechanics, overworld Pokémon and semi-open world approach but it shows that there is still a way to go to get to the game everyone wants. That being said, it has been an experience that I have thoroughly enjoyed as its provided a refreshing new take on a series that was starting to show its age. It’s addictive gameplay loop keeps me coming back for more and it makes me excited for the future of the franchise, despite the game’s somewhat lacking graphics and story.
Have you played Legends of Arceus yet? Let me know what you think in the comments down below or hit me up on Twitter! Are you excited for the future of Pokémon or were you disappointed with the game overall?