Pokemon Legends: Arceus – A Breath of Fresh Air for Pokemon

Pokemon Legends: Arceus Cover Art

Released on: January 28, 2022

Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Price: $79.99 CAD ($59.99 US)

Developed by: Game Freak Co. LTD. Published by: Nintendo

The world of Pokemon always calls me back. It seems like only a couple of days ago we talked about Pokemon, yet here we are again. On the same Pokemon direct that announced the remake of the fourth generation of Pokemon, the Pokemon Company said that there was a brand new Pokemon experience coming not long after the release of the remakes. While made by the same company that created the traditional (or “mainline”) Pokemon games, it would feature a much more open design philosophy. That game is Pokemon Legends: Arceus.

I didn’t know what to think when I first saw it. The visuals looked muted (similarly to Pokemon Sword and Shield), but the gameplay trailer showed the trainer lobbing pokeballs at a Pokemon without their Pokemon out to battle it. At first glance, Pokemon Legends: Arceus looked like it was going for a more Monster Hunter-esque approach to game design. With my curiosity peaked, I couldn’t help but get the game on release day. Is Pokemon Legends: Arceus as legendary as the title claims?

Pokemon Legends Arceus Title screen

Upon first opening the game, we hear a disembodied voice call out to the player. It introduces itself as “Arceus .”It asks the player what they look like and their name. After answering Arceus’ questions, it morphs the player’s phone into the “Arc Phone,” telling us that the player is from the modern-day. The player falls on their butt in a strange new place. Shortly after that, they meet Professor Laventon, who tells the player they are in the Hisui region. He asks the player to catch three runaway Pokemon. After capturing the scurry rascals, he brings the player back to Jublife Village to meet with the Galaxy Team.

I won’t mince words here, folks: Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ intro and opening tutorial feel like they go on forever. To the story’s credit, it does get terrific the more it goes on. Heck, it has the best story out of any modern Pokemon game. That said, the tutorial is long, and it only teaches trivial things like “how to throw the Pokeball” and “ how to swap from Pokemon to throwable items .”It fails to teach the player more nuanced concepts, like how stunning to stun a pokemon. There is a fantastic story down the line, but it is a slow start.

Possibly Pokemon Legend: Arceus’ most glaring issue is the visuals. While I would put them as a step above base Pokemon Sword and Shield, that isn’t saying much. This is especially the case when objects are far away. A particularly noticeable example is the textures of large bodies of water viewed from a mountain top. The surface of the water is clearly tiled. While using a lower resolution texture is a great way to save on resources, seeing the tiling of the water is one of the first lessons 3D artists learn to circumvent when texturing. Other than that, the graphics are underwhelming, even when the game tried to look its best.

Pokemon Legends Arceus, tiled water and mountain.
Even the sides of the mountain look tiled. Not a deal breaker, but it is noticeable.

Those familiar with traditional Pokemon games will be in for a pleasant surprise! Unlike the other “mainline” Pokemon games, Legends: Arceus lets the player roam freely through the world of Hisui. Along the way, the player will find wild Pokemon, ingredients to craft items, gathering spots for said ingredients, and non-player characters strewn about. After the tutorial, the player is free to roam wherever they like. While areas are locked away from the player at first, they will unlock ways to get around those reasonably early in the game.

With each new spot on the map comes new pokemon, new ingredients, and new people for the player to meet. This is where Pokemon Legends: Arceus is at its strongest. The maps are vast, and there are so many things to find and pokemon to meet.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus does let players throw out their pokemon to battle wild ones (or other computer-controlled trainers), but battles happen much differently. While Pokemon Legends: Arceus does keep the very core concepts of Pokemon battles, most attacks feel like they hit much harder in general than traditional Pokemon games. Even though Pokemon have the same stats as the old games, Speed has a much more prominent role here. It determines how many times the player’s pokemon can act and what order.

Pokemon Legends Arceus battle example
Using certain attacks will alter the turn order, sometimes allowing a Pokemon to go twice in a row.

Everything in Pokemon Legends: Arceus feels so fast and engaging. I’m always on my toes when fighting wild pokemon since wrong moves can put the player in a precarious situation if they are not careful. If the player doesn’t want to battle, they can walk away. Granted, the wild pokemon will chase the player, and if the player takes too many hits, they will blackout and be sent back to the base camp.

Blacking out will cause the player to drop some items. Hope is not lost, however! If the player has a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, they can connect their game to the internet, allowing other players to retrieve the lost loot. Once another player finds the dropped items, they appear in the player’s storage. If the player finds someone else’s dropped items, they will earn Merit Points, which they can use to purchase evolution items for their pokemon. This reward system is brilliant! I often find myself going after lost player items to get Merit Points, as the items on sale at the Merit Store help complete the Pokedex tremendously.

One issue I always had with traditional Pokemon games is that one could not get every pokemon available in the game by themselves. The player had to either find a friend to trade to get some pokemon to evolve or have two systems and each version of the game. Pokemon Legends: Arceus does away with mandatory trade evolutions in favor of having an item that evolves the pokemon on the spot. Heck, once a pokemon can evolve, the player can do so at their leisure. Even evolution is more convenient in Pokemon Legends: Arceus.

Pokemon Legends Arceus Evolution Items
This vendor is a godsend for completionists.

Coming up on the game’s release, and while playing it, I avoided as many spoilers as I could. I wanted to see what the new regional variants looked like and which pokemon I could find. This was the first time in a long time where I felt genuinely surprised by some of the evolutions in a Pokemon game, and I couldn’t be happier. There were many pokemon I didn’t expect to have an evolution or look completely different. It was a treat to discover so many cool Pokemon.

The last thing I want to bring up is the Grit system. Grit items (Grit Dust, Grit Gravel, Grit Pebbles, and Grit Rocks) are Pokemon Legend: Arceus’ version of “effort training” from the previous games. I adore this system, as it makes upgrading a pokemon’s stats much easier than it’s ever been. Each pokemon has an “effort level” for each stat with a number from zero to ten. An effort level of ten drastically increases that stat for that pokemon. To get a stat to effort level ten, the player gives Grit Dust from levels zero to three, Grit Gravel from four to six, Grit Pebbles from seven to nine, and finally, a Grit Rock for level ten. With that simple tidbit of knowledge, the player can make a beast of a pokemon ready to take on any challenge!

Pokemon Legends Arceus Shiny beefed up Mamoswine
Me and my off-green mammoth out to cause mayheim!

Where does the player get Grit items? Some pokemon drop them, but the best way to get them is by releasing a bunch of pokemon from the player’s farm that they no longer need. I adore this, as it makes me want to, dare I say, catch em all! The player gets paid for catching pokemon, and their pokemon gain experience when doing so. This system makes capturing pokemon congruent with training and earning money, and I love it!

Pokemon Legends: Arceus is precisely the game Pokemon needs. I feel like it proves the point I was trying to make in my Pokemon editorial to a tee. Despite the game not looking the flashiest and the beginning feeling long, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is unquestionably the best Pokemon game on the Switch. With a great story, excellent gameplay, and tons to discover, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a must-play for fans of the series or those who thought the old games were too easy.

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