Pokemon Legends: Arceus: A Step in The Right Direction – Switch Review

Growing up as a millennial, Pokemon has been front and centre throughout my life. I grew up watching Pokemon in the mornings before school, collecting Pokemon cards with my friends, and clocking thousands of hours on the traditional games on Game Boy. However, the last few games in the series have been lacklustre, and it begs the question of whether the iconic formula has become tirelessly monotonous. Fortunately, Pokemon Legends: Arceus aims to completely rewrite what a Pokemon game is, and honestly, I’m happy to never return to the original formula.

Pokemon Legends Arceus In-game Screenshot (Handheld)
In-game Screenshot (Handheld)

“You won’t find anyone wearing Pikachu merchandise or snuggling up to Pokemon at night.”

For over 20 years, traditional Pokemon games have had a similar formula. You pick your starter Pokemon and raise a strong team to take on gyms while attempting to “catch ’em all”. There are some similarities, but Arceus changes the game completely. Pokemon Legends: Arceus feels more like Monster Hunter than a traditional Pokemon game. You are given a choice of three starter Pokemon — Rowlet, Cyndaquil or Oshawott — and set off on an adventure of catching and training Pokemon. However, that’s where the similarities end. Instead of a story where you move from town to town to defeat gyms, you must go out on exhibitions and report your findings back to the Jubilife Village.

In Pokemon Legends: Arceus, you play as the “kid who fell from the sky” into a mysterious land that looks a lot like ancient Japan. The story and overall feel of the game are vastly different from any other game in the Pokemon series. You are taken in by Professor Laventon — sound familiar? — after you help him capture three of his lost Pokemon. He takes you to a nearby town, Jubilife Village, and you are inducted into the Galaxy Expedition Team. Although, unlike other games, the townspeople are quite hostile towards you. But, it’s not just you. The villagers also view Pokemon in the same light. You won’t find anyone wearing Pikachu merchandise or snuggling up to Pokemon at night. Instead, they’re feared and avoided.

Pokemon Legends Arceus In-game Screenshot
In-game Screenshot

“In Pokemon Legends: Arceus, you can also catch Pokemon without actually battling.”

Catch ‘em All isn’t a term you will find in Jubilife Village. Moreover, in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, you must complete research tasks to increase your research level to completely discover a specific Pokemon. This scale goes from level one to ten and usually makes you complete straightforward tasks like catching the pokemon, defeating the pokemon or seeing the Pokemon perform certain moves. This system is arguably better than the last. I usually spent most of the game racing through areas and avoiding all wild Pokemon if I had caught them before. Now, I’m actively attacking everything I see and catching more than I ever had.

Furthermore, some research tasks also require you to take on villager Requests. As previously mentioned, the people of Jubilife Village aren’t particularly fond of Pokemon. Therefore, you might be tasked with showing or gifting them specific Pokemon. Fortunately, you will catch a lot of Pokemon, so you will never have to worry about giving away a Pokemon that you desperately need. This is mostly due to the new systems in Pokemon Legends: Arceus.

In previous games to catch something, you needed to battle them, attack and lower their HP, and throw a ball with your fingers crossed. And while that can still be the case in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, you can also catch Pokemon without actually battling. You now throw everything. If you see multiple Pokemon you want to catch, just throw two Pokeballs and keep running. You might catch them without even battling them. You can even throw items to stun Pokemon, so they don’t attack you. If you alert the Pokemon, you might have to battle it. Although, this is also an enjoyable challenge.

Pokemon Legends Arceus In-game Screenshot

“Extra difficulty in a Pokemon game is never a bad thing.”

Battling is arguably the best it’s ever been in a Pokemon game. It still follows a turn-based system like in the previous games, but it’s not quite as simple. Your Pokemon learns moves, and after a while, they learn to master that move. This opens the door to new ways of using the move in an Agile or Strong way.

Agile Style speeds the move up but lowers the damage, and Strong Style increases the damage, but your next turn will come at a later stage. This works alongside the new turn order system. Instead of the classic one turn each gameplay, Pokemon can sometimes attack twice or even three times in a row. While faster Pokemon benefit by being quick in the first place, the addition of Styles is an interesting yet brilliant change to the standard formula. Although, this also means that wild Pokemon will always be a challenge. Even Pokemon whose levels are significantly below yours can cause decent damage with the Strong Style. Nonetheless, extra difficulty in a Pokemon game is never a bad thing. Especially with the addition of Alpha Pokemon.

Pokemon Legends Arceus In-game Screenshot
In-game Screenshot

“The level design is arguably its best feature and biggest downfall.”

Pokemon Legends: Arceus disrupts the status quo in several ways, and one of the most notable is Alpha Pokemon. Essentially, these are just bigger variants of regular Pokemon with glowing red eyes. However, they are a lot more aggressive and will pose more of a threat in battle. Some Research Tasks even require you to catch Alpha variants of particular Pokemon, and catching one will certainly be a great addition to your team. Furthermore, they also won’t hesitate to try and wipe you out if you get too close. If you get hit too much, you will blackout and wake up at Jubilife Village with a few items missing, so I recommend either battling them or running for your life.

Arceus’ level design is arguably its best feature and biggest downfall. The early open areas are a joy to traverse through, and seeing an Alpha Rapidash try to murder you is a thrill, to say the least. Previously, long grass was your enemy, and now it’s your best friend, as it can be used to sneak up on unsuspecting Pokemon to catch them. However, as the novelty of the world wears off, the landscapes can become bland.

Pokemon Legends Arceus In-game Screenshot
In-game Screenshot

“There are currently five different Pokemon that you can ride.”

The mountainous regions are tedious to navigate, even once you befriend Sneasler. Furthermore, the areas are huge, and if you hoped Pokemon would fill the Breath of the Wild itch with puzzles, hidden areas and collectables, then you might want to look elsewhere. Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ levels are filled with countless — you guessed it — Pokemon. There are Pokemon here, there and everywhere. However, that’s about it. There are close to no puzzles to solve — besides Snowpoint and Uxie — and caves just feel like a five-minute detour. Collectables are present in the form of Wisps and are scattered around the world of Hisui. However, there are 107, and collecting them all will just reward you with a Spiritomb encounter. So, it’s up to you how bad you want to catch it. Besides this, there isn’t much else to collect, and it definitely feels like a missed opportunity.

Mounts are a useful addition in Arceus and all unlock as you progress in the story. There are currently five different Pokemon that you can ride: Wyrdeer, Ursaluna, Basculegion, Sneasler and Braviary. Every rideable Pokemon has its own way of helping you traverse. Wyrdeer, the evolution to Stantler, is the fastest on land and it’s also the first you unlock. Ursaluna is the final form of Teddiursa and can dig for treasure. Basculin’s evolution, Basculegion, helps by providing a way to cross oceans. Sneasler, an alternate evolution for Sneasel, can help you climb walls, which is incredibly welcome in the late game. Finally, Braviary lets you fly through the skies. All of the mounts are useful as you receive them in the game. However, there is nothing more satisfying than soaring above the land and diving on unbeknownst Pokemon below. 

Pokemon Legends Arceus In-game Screenshot
In-game Screenshot

“Despite its shortcomings, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a great Pokemon game.”

Pokemon Legends: Arceus also lacks some key quality of life features. Mounts, as delightful as they are, can be a little frustrating when the sprint button is tied to “B”. This takes away the finger that you need to control the camera, leaving you to make decisions between going fast and being able to see. The sprint button is also different when you aren’t on a mount, so aligning the controls would go a long way. Furthermore, while this has never been in a Pokemon game, a minimap would come in handy, especially when navigating to specific places like bases.

Fortunately, there are some quality of life features that have made everything a whole lot easier. Move changes can be made in the menu at any time outside of battle. Therefore, there is no need to return to a Move Reminder to learn a move. Trading evolution, arguably one of the most annoying aspects of Pokemon, is now a thing of the past. In Pokemon Legends: Arceus, you can buy a one-time use item that evolves a Pokemon that requires trading for evolution. Crafting is now in the game, so you can find items to craft potions and balls, and Effort Levels replace the IVs and EVs system to make things a little simpler for new players.

Despite its shortcomings, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a great Pokemon game, and a huge step in the right direction. There is almost no chance that the game will drop in price, as Pokemon games never do, but it’s honestly worth trying even if you have to pay full price. If Game Freak decides to build upon the game, there’s no stopping how good it could become.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus Key Art
Pokemon Legends: Arceus Review
Summary
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a great game with a lot of ambition. There are some issues, most notably the barren open world, but there are many new systems that completely change Pokemon for the better.
Pros
Great New Battle System
Fresh Gameplay
Flying is Always Fun
New Research Levels
Impressive Ambition
Cons
Bland Open Landscape
Some Quality of Life issues
8.5
Great