Few video game series are as widespread as Pokémon. Since the first games came out, the series turned into a transmedia empire. The large number of products depending on the release of main games means that production times are short and that changes have come slowly to the series. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the biggest step the series has taken since its inception, and I am glad to say it is a step forward.
Where the other games see you starting as a teenager in your bedroom, PLA starts with your character sent back in time, to the land of Hisui. In Hisui, the relationship between most humans and Pokémon is one of antagonism. It is up to the player to investigate the creatures and help the people to understand them. While the story is more developed than in most of the series, it is still nothing to write home about. Luckily, investigating Pokémon is a pleasure.
Investigating is done by filling in the Pokédex, a book with different missions. These missions have some variety, and include catching or fighting a specific Pokémon, as well as feeding or watching them perform a specific move during combat. Not every mission needs to be completed, giving the player some room to express their own playstyle. Maybe some will rather fight a Pokémon many times, while others may choose to feed them berries instead.
All of this research takes place in different areas that are unlocked as the story progresses. These areas in their most part can look quite drab, sometimes downright ugly. Graphics have been a weak point of Pokémon games since they made the jump to 3D. Regardless, traversing the maps is still a joy, as the world feels alive due to the stars of the show, the Pokémon.
In Hisui, you are constantly surrounded by Pokémon. They have different personalities, some are skittish and run away when approached, others are aggressive, chasing and attacking you on sight. To catch them, you can go with the traditional route of battling. Battles happen seamlessly on the map and the player can continue to move during them, an experience much smoother than in previous games.
This is great for immersion, but the alternative way to catch Pokémon, throwing empty Pokéballs at them, is my preferred one. To increase your chances of success you can throw the ball at their backs, while unseen. It is rewarding to get a stealth capture on a hard to catch Pokémon. It is also a lot of fun to run towards a large group of Pokémon and quickly throw a lot of Pokéballs, running away from the attacks of the ones who escape. To me that was the best part of the game. It also brings up one of my issues with it, the battles just didn’t feel as relevant.
Battles in PLA are like in other games of the series. The player picks one between four moves in a turn-based system. The difference is that turns are more dependent on the Pokémon’s speed and the order can be changed, so a Pokémon can take multiple actions in a row. This adds a new level of strategy, especially with the new feature allowing Pokémon to execute moves in strong or agile styles. Those increase or decrease your speed, at the expense of damage.
The changes aren’t enough to keep the combat as interesting as the new, more freeform gameplay of the rest of the game. Even the boss encounters which replace the traditional gyms don’t have to be done by Pokémon battle, as the player may choose to fight the battle with their own character, dodging attacks and throwing items at them. A choice which is not only more exciting, but sometimes optimal, as battles are harder than in previous games, and enemy attacks can deal a lot of damage even if your own Pokémon is levels above them.
That is not to say the battles are unfair or unfun. They simply don’t feel as integral to the game. Regardless, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an excellent game and an easy recommendation for both newcomers and fans of the series.
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Developer: Game Freak
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 28, 2022
Genres: Adventure, Action RPG
Pictures of the game: Screenshots, taken by the author.