I can’t help but to enjoy Pokémon games. Pokémon Red and Blue helped me discover RPGs and the one genre that I could enjoy while platformers, action adventure, and shooters felt like too much pressure for me. While there have been some games in the series that rubbed me the wrong way (Gen 4 & 7), I have given each new game a try and test to see how the appeal of Pokémon grows to keep me interested. As I reach my thirties, I understand full well that Pokémon is not designed to target my age group, but the developers try to tap into that nostalgia while remaining focused on their young demographic.
Enter Pokémon Legends: Arceus. This is the type of game that we wished we had back on the GameCube (no offense to Colosseum and Gale of Darkness). An “open-world” Pokémon game where you explore the wild and catch Pokémon. It is a bit agonizing that Game Freak has never made a game like this before, but they must have been waiting for when gaming devices got more advance to realize their visions. Right? Right!?
The game opens up with something I wasn’t expecting. Your character is shown floating in between time and space. Since you play as a Gen Z child, your phone is there with you. Suddenly a shining figure appears and tells you to seek all Pokémon to meet it again. After that, you wash up on the shores of Prelude Beach in the Hisui region (later known as the Sinnoh region). A Pokémon researcher named Professor Laventon finds you and escorts you to Jubilife Village and takes you to the Galaxy Team Headquarters. To reassure the villagers that you are not a spaghetti monster in disguise, you agree to join the Survey Corp to help the Galaxy Team and gain the trust of the villagers. From there, you explore Hisui and learn about the native locals and the reason why the sky is falling.
As I played the game, I tried to understand what I liked about the gameplay the most. Some people were quick to describe it like Breath of the Wild or Monster Hunter. I think Arceus takes ideas from both games to create its own experience while leaning more into being a survival (slight horror) game at the beginning and transforming into one of the familiar formats. In Breath of the Wild, you are given every tool that you need at the beginning of the game and it is up to you to decide on how to use those tools to get through the game’s challenges. Monster Hunter is different where you have a main weapon, resources that you pack in preparation, and your wits and reflexes. Arceus gives you a starter Pokémon, a portable craft table, and a dodge button. The rest is up to you to manage. When I compare these three games, I honestly have to say that Arceus may be more difficult than the other two when starting out.
Let me explain. Arceus and Monster Hunter have the common ground of crafting resources to assist you on quests. If you run out of items like potions, antidotes, flash bombs, ect., you can still defend yourself with your weapon until you have time to either gather materials or fly back to camp. Arceus takes the same concept, but your main weapon has a weakness and can break in a hit or two. Arceus almost demands that you prepare well in advance before leaving camp to ensure that you have a strong team of Pokémon that can meet the unknown challenges that you may encounter. You also need to manage your resources since you can only carry a small amount of materials with you in case you need to craft more pokéballs or potions while you are out. This makes certain situations tense when you enter a new area and have no idea if something is going to annoy you or flat out kill you.
The name of the game is catching them all. Since you are creating one of the world’s first Pokédex, it makes sense that you will need to study them. Unlike other Pokémon games where you unlock the Pokedéx entry for catching a Pokémon for the first time, you need to catch them multiple times, battle, evolve, and do other tasks in order to complete your research. You only need to reach a research level of ten to finish each entry, but if you want the satisfaction of 100 percent completion, be prepared for a long grind. This incentive is something that the mainline games lacked to me. I had no desire to catch every Pokémon since there was nothing satisfying about it outside your participation trophy for doing it all. My goal in those games is to become the Pokémon Champion, and the Pokédex is just a tool to help me learn about different Pokémon. In this game, I got excited when finding a new Pokémon because as a researcher it was my main job. The simple roleplay mindset allowed me to enjoy the gameplay since not a lot of battles happen in this game, thus I don’t need to focus on that aspect until the time comes for it (which is a good and bad thing that I will explain later).
Arceus likes to make one thing clear to you; Pokémon are not your friends and will not hesitate to kill you. Some Pokémon are docile and will just try to vibe with you. Others will act like law enforcement and attack you on site with no questions asked. Something that has been missing in Pokémon lately is the understanding that creatures capable of destroying civilizations and worlds are just freely roaming around and have no moral code to be pals with you. These are dangerous creatures! I have a whole new theory now that parents send their children out to be Pokémon Masters just for the off chance they don’t survive out there and thus help with population control (it would explain why there are a lot of single moms in your local Pokémon area). I have never been on edge while playing a Pokémon game, but the overpowered alpha Pokémon that you can encounter plus the almost mystic air of the region just made me cautious until I got the lay of the land. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I enjoyed having the constant air of danger looming over me until I had a tough squad who could protect my fragile ass.
Okay, I’m going to say it now. The moment you have all been waiting for. The comment of the year that has had you on the edge of your set since you started reading this. Brace yourself. This is your moment to shine!
The game doesn’t look that great.
Yes. The visuals in this game are not the greatest. I however do not like the comments that this game looks like a PS2 game. That is an insult to the PS2 and you need to say sorry. If there was one thing that we all knew was going to happen it would be that the game would look subpar. However, it is not game breaking. Some areas look better than others, and I have to give credit to Game Freak for at least providing a stable framerate throughout the game. It just…misses that wow factor that they were trying to go for. You see games like Xenoblade and The Witcher 3 that look great on the Switch, and you wonder why they didn’t get Monolith or Bandai Namco to help them bloom things up. It is not bad to the point of unplayable, but it is something I would like to see them work on in the next Legends game.
While others were complaining about the graphics, no one points out the other bad mechanics that I noticed (too busy bitching about trees again). One mechanic that I find irritating at times is a Pokémon staple; battling. There are indeed times where you need to battle Pokémon and other people in the story. What’s bad about this is that no matter what level your Pokémon are at, they feel weak compared to your opponents. At times you may get lucky with a one-shot, but it feels completely unbalanced how your opponent can wipe your team without breaking a sweat. This is more prominent towards the end and post game where the toughest battles are held and suddenly you are scrambling to create a decent team that isn’t weak to ground (there are a lot of Pokémon who are weak to ground in this game for some reason). Some of these fights can get straight unfair when you are pit three against one in some battles and the game acts like you can handle it no problem. I understand from a lore perspective that the concept of training Pokémon does not exist in this world, and I like that detail. However, from a gameplay standpoint it does not work.
Another thing that pisses me off is when you accidently hit the boundaries of the map. If you unknowingly reach a part of the map where Game Freak is hiding the better graphics, Jimi Hendrix pops out of nowhere and surrounds you in purple haze. It is frustrating when you are just searching the area and you accidentally walk out of bounds and have to find your way out of it. A simple invisible wall would be so much better than this weird fog.
My favorite thing about this game is the level of detail (outside of visuals) that Game Freak fleshed out. It is a nice tough to watch the village grow with new buildings and villagers as you progress. I like that your prior knowledge of the Gen 4 games can come in handy when it comes to the lore. There are a ton of easter eggs that Poke Maniacs will notice and it provides a fun treat for exploring. While those details are good, there are also some bad details that could have been easily fixed. There would be times where my character would just hover above the ground. These sections look like the ground was altered, but the collision was never fixed. There is also this weird sheen that your character gets when it rains, or sometimes you can see the outline of your character clash with dark surfaces. Again, graphical hiccups that could have easily been smoothed out, but Game Freak hasn’t finished that online class yet.
Speaking of online, there are some online functions in this game. You are able to trade with people locally and somehow online. Sadly, local and online battles do not exist in this game (since Pokémon Trainers don’t exist). There is a social mechanic in the game where you can recover dropped items by other players. Whenever you black out for being bad at the game, you drop some items from your pouch that other players can retrieve for you. The reward for doing this is earning merit points that you can use to buy good items like evolution stones. This mechanic is unfair for anyone playing offline, since there is no way to recover lost items yourself.
Let’s start to wrap up with my overall thoughts about this game. I think it’s also good to clarify that I played this game side-by-side with Kat. The extra benefit of playing this alongside someone else is a contributing factor to my enjoyment of the game. We would discover things together and help each other out and it made collecting all the Pokédex entries even more fun since we were kinda going against each other (until the final stretch when we started trading Pokémon that the other one hadn’t found yet). If you are able to play this with someone else, give it a try and see how it goes.
I found this game fun, addictive up to the end, and a true testament that Game Freak can make a good game. They just can’t make a pretty game on current hardware. I honestly feel that the only thing that holds this game back for most people is that the graphics are not “up-to-par” with current standards (whatever that is). For a person like me where graphics don’t make or break a game for me automatically, I’m glad that it didn’t put me off from playing this game. If you are the type who prioritizes graphics and visuals, then you will not have a good time with this game; and there is nothing wrong with that. Is not perfect by all means and could be so much better if it utilized a different engine. As modern gaming continues to evolve, I’m worried that the “fun” factor of a game won’t matter unless it has near perfect reviews and is near flawless in every aspect (almost like it is today). With that, enjoy playing the games you like to play and don’t let someone like me convince you otherwise.