I’ve got a big confession to make… I don’t really like Pokemon games. I’ve always liked the concept of “catching them all”, I used to watch the cartoon series with Ash, Misty and Brock, and I love Pokemon Go (even though Mewtwo continues to elude me). But as for the mainline Pokemon games, I’ve always found them a bit boring. Whereas long-running franchises like Zelda, Mario and Metroid continue to evolve, improve and in some cases, completely transform, Pokemon games have pretty much stayed the same. That’s why I’ve been looking forward to Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which promises to shake off the sense of stagnation and give the franchise a much-needed facelift.
The good news is that Pokemon Legends Arceus is, for the most part, the breath of fresh air the Pokemon series needed.
Whereas mainline Pokemon games feature traditional turn-based battles and RPG gameplay mechanics, Arceus feels much more like an action-adventure game.
It still has turn-based battles, levelling up and all that other good stuff, only on a much larger scale and with a lot more variety.
This variety can mostly be found in the way you approach Pokemon encounters, both in terms of capturing Pocket Monsters and battling them in the wild.
On the one hand, you can use cover to sneak up on unsuspecting Pokemon and attempt a direct capture, or go head-on and initiate battles with alert Pocket Monsters. You may even have to dodge a few attacks.
There’s a neat new fighting system where you can sacrifice more moves for power, or perform lighter attacks in quick succession. It adds an additional layer of strategy to the battle system, even if it’s rarely useful beyond boss-level encounters.
Best of all, battles are now seamless, making for a much smoother experience.
Indeed, the significance of the seamless battle system can’t be understated. With everything happening in real-time and without any separate battle screens, Pokemon Legends Arceus feels less like a video game and more like an interactive adventure.
I’ve seen lots of people claim that Arceus is how they pictured a Pokemon game in their head. I completely agree, and think the seamless battle system plays a big part in that.
The sense of adventure is further enhanced by the traversal system, which gives players the chance to soar through the skies, gallop across plains, and claw their way up mountains, all with the help of their Pokemon partners.
A nice side effect of this additional freedom is that you’ll encounter more powerful Pokemon relatively early in your adventure, making for a much more challenging experience overall.
Sadly, however, you’ll have to put up with endless dialogue and tutorials before you’re really able to get stuck in to your adventuring.
Excessive hand holding is one of my biggest pet peeves in gaming, and Pokemon Legends Arceus is one of the worst games in recent memory for it. Even more unbearable is when you’re shown how to do the same thing twice – despite not struggling to figure it out the first time.
The story itself takes place in the Feudal Hisui region, which would later go on to become Sinnoh. You play as a young Pokemon Trainer who is transported back to a time when humans and Pokemon don’t co-exist like they do in the games we’ve all grown up with.
It’s your job to explore the Hisui region and put together the region’s first Pokedex. Despite featuring such a simplistic story, it’s remarkable how much needless dialogue Game Freak has managed to cram in.
Pokemon Legends Arceus is definitely worth sticking with, but those early hours are a real slog to get through.
Only mildly more interesting is the setting itself. The Hisui region is a vast green space with distant mountain ranges, waterfalls, sandy beaches and caverns. Indeed, at first glance Pokemon Legends Arceus looks a little bit like Breath of the Wild.
But while Breath of the Wild’s living, breathing game world was crammed full of interesting areas to explore and secrets to discover, the Hisui region doesn’t have a lot going on.
It may be big, but it’s also extremely plain and in some cases, pretty ugly. Considering how many units the Pokemon games sell and how much money the franchise is worth, it’s a real letdown that more resources haven’t been used to give the visuals a boost, or to create a more interesting world.
Fortunately, the new and improved battle system and classic “catch them all” gameplay loop means that you’ll enjoy playing Pokemon Legends Arceus, once you get past the tutorials.
There’s certainly room for improvement, but Game Freak’s newest entry in the Pokemon series is a big step in the right direction.