Game Review: Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Nintendo Switch)

Hot on the heels of 2021’s Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl which were remakes of 2006’s Diamond and Pearl, comes Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Considered a ‘preboot’, Arceus serves as a prequel to Diamond and Pearl but is also something of a reboot for the franchise as a whole. Much will be familiar to seasoned Pokémon players but a lot has been changed too.

Developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo and The Pokémon Company for the Nintendo Switch. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is 3rd-person semi-open world adventure game set in the Hisui region, a bygone part of the Sinnoh region. Apparently inspired by the real-life island of Hokkaido during the Muromachi period.

Your character, who is customisable, has travelled here through time. Falling through a rift in spacetime to arrive with no memory of who you are.

You are found by Pokémon researcher Professor Laventon, who brings you to a local settlement named Jubilife Village. There, you learn of the settlers known as the Diamond and Pearl clans, the Galaxy Expedition Team who have recently arrived and the wild, indigenous Pokémon that are both feared and revered. After proving yourself adapt at dealing and working with Pokémon, you are recruited to the Survey Corps of the Galaxy Expedition Team. Your task? Explore the land, document and collect Pokémon, all so you can complete a Pokédex.

It seems, at first, that there’s not much of a story to Arceus but it actually has one with a lot of depth to it. As you travel across the Hisui region, you will come across ‘noble Pokémon’ who are revered as gods to the Diamond and Pearl clans. These powerful Pokémon have been struck by lightning coming from the rift and have been driven berserk. Not only will you have to calm them down, you’ll have to find out the truth about the rift and fix the on-going issues between the clans.

Gone are trainers, gone are gyms, gone are leagues and champions. It’s Pokémon at its most simple and a far cry from the long-established formula.

While completing a Pokédex might be familiar to long-term Pokémon players, Arceus also changes how that operates too. Remember, you’re in a different time, long before Pokémon have been studied. You are starting from scratch and need to not just battle or capture them. You need to study their habits and behaviours. Something that is done by completing goals that are outlined in the Pokédex. Goals like seeing a certain Pokémon use a specific move in battle, capturing a certain number of them or having them evolve a number of times. There’s no ‘one and done’ here, you’ll be expected and rewarded for capturing many of the same Pokémon and using them in battle.

Speaking of which, the main bulk of the game, capturing Pokémon, is done really well here. There’s so much freedom in how you deal with the abundance of wild creatures around the region. You can sneak up behind one, throw a Poke ball and hope it doesn’t break free. Or use different items to distract, weaken, put to sleep and so on to make its capture even easier.

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You can choose to battle the Pokémon you wish to capture so you can weaken it first or you can just outright knock it out if you just want it out of the way. All of this, the use of Poke Balls to capture, the throwing of items to distract and to send out your team (a team of 6 Pokemon) is done in real-time and with simple trigger buttons. It makes the game feel really free-flowing and exciting, especially as there are hundreds of Pokémon throughout the region.

As the game progresses, some of these Pokémon will actually have more use and allow you to access other areas. Pokémon that you can ride.

You can lose hours to the game just simply capturing and battling Pokémon all over the region so you can complete the Pokédex. There’s no pressure to carry on with the main storyline (although some areas won’t be available until you do) nor do any of the many side-quests that are given out. Side quests that always task you with doing something a little unusual, ensuring gameplay is kept fresh and varied.

It’s gameplay that will feel both foreign and familiar to regular Pokémon players with battling likely to be the thing that those people will feel most comfortable with. Though, even this system has had an overhaul.

It’s turn-based combat but you stay in control of your character throughout. You can take damage too and be knocked out. You need to position yourself away from the danger, switching quickly between Pokémon team members and using the most effective moves on your opponent. While this aspect will be very familiar, the fact that Pokémon can now master moves is a new wrinkle. Master a move and you will gain new versions of them called ‘strong style’ or ‘agile style’. Use the former and you’ll dish out even more damage but the increase in power means your next turn is going to be slower. Use the latter and you can dish out the punishment at a faster pace but you’ll lose some of that impact.

It creates a new layer of strategy. As does the swapping out of moves that your Pokémon learns as they level up. You really can build up a team of Pokémon exactly as you want them to be.

It really is as fun as it sounds, a literal time-sink of a game that sees you 20-hours in and only really scratching the surface. Even if you choose to focus on the main story and see that to its conclusion, that is just one-half of the game. Pokémon Legends: Arceus features a post-game that is just as big and demanding as what came before. Do not be surprised if you’re brushing the 50- or 60-hour mark as you finally start to complete the Pokédex.

There’s a lot to love about Pokémon Legends: Arceus but what about some of the negatives? There are plenty but most are easy to overlook in favour of the quality reboot that is this game. The ones that aren’t tend to be aesthetic. Such as the uninspiring and disappointing graphics and the lack of substance in the world.

Though there is also the futility of exploration aside from searching out Pokémon, the tedious limitations on inventory and the absurd number of cut-scenes/conversations.

Problems, but problems that aren’t anywhere near enough to call this anything but a successful reboot of a tired franchise. You can’t help but wonder, if this is what they could do with Pokémon Legends: Arceus, just imagine what could come next? Before that though, Pokémon fans can enjoy one of the most satisfying entries in the franchise in a long time.




Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Nintendo Switch)
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