Pokémon Legends: Arceus review – Fun? In my Pokémon game?

There is an old joke in the Star Wars community that, “no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans” and that sentiment has been creeping into the Pokémon fandom ever since it made the big move away from pixel graphics in the 3DS era.

Many years later in the generation of the Nintendo Switch and there’s been a lot of discontent in the fandom to say the least.

As a quick recap: Let’s Go was nostalgia bait made to turn casual Pokémon Go fans into Switch owners, New Pokémon Snap was beloved until a week after launch and no one has discussed it since and Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl was a heartless remake that felt like a second job.

Read my review of that last one to see me have a breakdown talking about Vespiquen.

The only main series entry on the Switch so far is Sword & Shield, a pair of games so embroiled in problems and negativity that discussing them further is a waste.

That’s the short story and, yes, all those games did offer some good experiences, but they all felt uninspired and a waste of the potential of the entire Pokémon premise.

Now with all that in mind it can be properly appreciated how different Pokémon Legends: Arceus is, why it’s so refreshing and why it’s the best Pokémon game in the longest time.

The premise of Legends: Arceus is that players aren’t in the “modern day” of the Pokémon world, but are instead in the past of the Sinnoh region, then called Hisui.

At this time Pokémon and humans are not harmonious and living in cooperation as most of the games show. Pokémon are seen as dangerous beasts that can seriously injure of even kill you.

As the player you are part of the Survey Corps, a brave group of outriders who are venturing out in the wild to complete the very first Pokédex, using a brand new invention known as the Poké Ball.

This setting, and the way it’s conveyed to the player, is so well done. From the dialogue of the characters and the design of the world, it truly sells this rougher version of the Pokémon world that we’re not used to, and it leans into the wild days of early Pokémon in the late 90s and early 2000s where the mystery of this universe if half the fun.

As for mechanics the player character is more important and lively than ever. Legends: Arceus isn’t a grid-based RPG where you only partake in turn-based combat, instead it has become a third person action game interlocked with the aforementioned turn-based battles.

Pokémon are no longer obscured by grass and jump out at random. Instead they exist as proper 3D models in the world that will react to the player dynamically. Some Pokémon are friendly and will follow you, others are less concerned and observe you as you do to them.

Most, however, are outright hostile. Players will need to sneak around to catch them unseen in a Poké Ball or initiate combat to whittle down their health towards a KO or an easier catch. If you’re not paying attention or just wonder into the den of a powerful Pokémon, it can knock you out.

Yes, you, not your Pokémon. Take too much damage to your health and you will black out, lose many valuable resources, and be sent back to the nearest camp.

The various overview trailers on this page will give you a good impression of how dramatically this deviates from Pokémon tradition, and it rocks. This more action-orientated, adventure / discovery twist is addictive and I found myself looking up from many play sessions well past midnight.

The loop of slowly clawing progress away from a harsh land with wits and grit, just for a new fold of the world to reveal itself, is an almost endless bank of dopamine. Human brains love seeing little numbers become larger and every avenue of this game encourages you with bits of progress and rewards.

Unfortunately much of the minutia of what makes this great falls into spoiler territory that we’re currently not allowed to discuss, but wouldn’t want to anyway to leave something to discover for those who want to play, which is highly recommended.

This can’t all be praise, and has you get closer to the end of this review and the numerical score, you will see that it hasn’t come through the playthrough unscathed.

The first and arguably biggest problem this game faces is a purely technical one. Legends: Arceus is simply unable to cope with the large world. The pop in is absolutely hilarious with elements of the environment and Pokémon suddenly appearing from thing air right in front of you because the game can’t render the world to a proper extent.

Almost the entire basis of the gameplay is predicated on positioning and strategy… things which are almost impossible when you essentially can’t see more than a few metres in front of you.

The pop in is made worse by the fact that, and there’s no kind way to say this, the game looks bad. It looks like a default project created in a game engine and created over a weekend at a student game jam.

Other games on the Switch have proven that you can have large worlds with great art design and Legends: Arceus has neither. It’s almost unfathomable that Game Freak, a company with the biggest media franchise in the world and functionally unlimited money can make something that looks and runs so poorly.

To a lesser extent the rest of the game is also rather tatty. The music is repetitive, the writing is awful and in the year of our lord (Arceus of course) 2022 the lack of voice acting in a game like this feels amateurish.

Thankfully it seems that the bulk of the time and effort has gone into the gameplay loop and, after the debacle of the animation laziness in Sword & Shield, the care that is given to each and ever Pokémon.

Watching this creatures in the world, living out their lives and how that is affected by your actions, is immensely intriguing and we can only pat Game Freak on the back for it.

But that stops when you get to an important story cutscene and instead of animating something happening, the screen fades to black. Yeah the good with the bad and all that.

Thankfully all these problems can be staved off with the sheer fun of the main gameplay and the intricate details of how it all works.

Legends: Arceus is by far the best Pokémon game of the Nintendo Switch era, and possibly the best ever since the franchise made the move away from pixel graphics. It’s so good that many veteran and newcomer fans will call this their all time favourite.

The real question now is how Pokémon evolves from here? Is all the great elements of Legends: Arceus destined to reshape the future of Pokémon, or was this just a fun distraction in a side game?


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