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Pokémon Legends: Arceus Faces The Franchise’s Time and Space With Promising Results

Hisui holds plenty of promise, but lacks a lot of polish.



Pokémon Legends: Arceus Review

Developer: Game Freak | Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo | Genre: Action, Role-Playing | Platform: Nintendo Switch | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

On its way to becoming the next evolution, Pokémon Legends: Arceus messes with the franchise’s overutilized formula by gloriously and awkwardly forging a fresh foundation. Yet underneath its enticing gameplay and promising premise of exploring a semi-open Pokémon world, Legends: Arceus faces an avalanche of setbacks. From its story and visuals to its gameplay and structure, Game Freak’s long-awaited next step for their creature-catching phenomenon may not be a total knockout, but it does manage to build on over two and a half decades of glowing ideas. Legends: Arceus is a fascinating culmination of decisions that will either steer the mainline Pokémon series into a new beginning or permanently disrupt its time and space in the gaming industry. Either way, going forward Pokémon will never be the same, and perhaps that is for the better.

Adventuring Across The Fine Line of Hisui

Pokémon Legends: Arceus review Game Freak Nintendo Switch
Image: The Pokémon Company

Storywise, Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes bizarre twists and turns as it attempts to cobble together an ancient Sinnoh region. While there is a lot to highlight about specific characters and locations, the narrative’s potential is certainly nothing to write home about–but when has storytelling been the best aspect of a Pokémon game? Despite an enticing opening, Game Freak’s latest legend often falls apart amongst excessive dialogue and callbacks to the future. The game feels like it’s trying to make as many connections as possible to the modern Sinnoh region when it should remain focused on crafting the typical cast of trainers, professors, leaders, and enemies that audiences have come to love.

Without going too deep into the narrative’s specifics (even if there is not much to tell), Legends: Arceus begins by having a child from the modern day time travel to an ancient form of the Sinnoh region called Hisui thanks to the powers of the Mythical Pokémon Arceus. The almighty Sinnoh being provides the player with one straightforward objective: catch every Pokémon to find him once again. Rather than having to venture across the region to collect badges and take the Pokémon League Champion’s throne, Legends: Arceus dives all in on the old “gotta catch ’em all” slogan of the franchise as players abandon the title of trainer and take up the mantle of a researcher. While there are plenty of flashy battles to fight and plenty of standard intricate team-building decisions to make, the game’s goal never strays from catching Pokémon.

Even then, however, Game Freak’s storytelling capabilities are quite possibly at one of the lowest points it has ever reached–the game’s narrative is flat-out uninteresting and skews from its initial promises at a rapid pace. While it may be a desired supplement, again, no one is playing a Pokémon game for its narrative. As per usual with this franchise, classy and cute creatures along with seemingly innocent surface-level gameplay quickly take the spotlight as the cast and region are developed through ongoing slogs of dialogue and occasional cutscenes with some subtle cinematic direction. Pokémon Legends: Arceus treads a fine line between being exactly what fans have always yearned for and what they have always feared. In terms of gameplay, it is a true revolution for the franchise as it ironically creates a clear contrast to the story and world design; Pokémon has never been as fast-paced and thrilling as Legends: Arceus.

Players Will Want to Catch ‘Em All

Pokémon Legends: Arceus review Game Freak Nintendo Switch
Image: The Pokémon Company

Where Pokémon Legends: Arceus thrives is in establishing a new gameplay loop for the franchise that feels in line with what fans have wanted–even if it is not quite perfect due to a few jarring technical hiccups. Overall, the restructured formula will refresh Pokémon fans and satisfy their need to fulfill that original “gotta catch ’em all” slogan that the franchise has essentially sidelined since its inception. Leaning into the action role-playing genre, Legends: Arceus ditches linearity in favor of player freedom. As soon as the player joins the Galaxy Team Survey Corps and enters the wild open areas of the game, the underlying magic of Legends: Arceus begins to bloom.

There are no more meandering screens, waiting for an enemy to attack, slow health bars, or anything that was a detriment to Pokémon’s gameplay pacing and structure. Legends: Arceus has an almost instantaneous gameplay loop that will have players diving in and out of battles rapidly–or in many instances, the player won’t even have to engage in battle. Catching Pokémon has a dynamic structure that can change depending on the player’s skills. Rather than having to carefully deplete a health bar and start mashing one button to throw Poké Balls, players can now catch Pokémon before they engage in combat. Taking away the majority of the battles significantly makes time fly by in Legends: Arceus as players can survey their landscape and come up with unique approaches to capturing creatures.

Even with so many improvements and redefining elements, the modernized structure Game Freak introduces is still in need of a hefty coat of polishing–the new gameplay is incredibly entertaining but is in dire need of a second coat of paint. For one, Legends: Arceus lacks many necessary tutorials and fails to often explain some of its more intricate mechanics. While the handholding tutorials of the recent Pokémon generations have been eradicated here, the game never provides the player with explanations for basic tasks such as how to manage Pokémon boxes (pastures) or swapping out learned moves. Many fans may be quick to point at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s lack of tutorials, but considering the intricacies of an RPG and Pokémon’s audience, having some short tutorials would have been infinitely helpful.

Many of Pokémon’s staple elements are also questionably missing in Legends: Arceus–they are not a dealbreaker, but noticeably take away from some of the franchise’s established depth. While some exempted features are fine exceptions, there is quite a handful that will raise the eyebrows of longtime Pokémon fans who are into the series’ competitive aspect. However, the bigger problem in regards to battling is that somehow the only multiplayer element of the Legends: Arceus is trading Pokémon.

Image: The Pokémon Company

The idea that a mainline Pokémon game would lack battling with friends is baffling but equally makes sense considering the game stays tightly focused on that “gotta catch ’em all” experience. Interestingly enough, the standard battle system has implemented a new heavy and quick style attack pattern that completely changes how players engage in fighting Pokémon. For a game where fights are so few and far between, Game Freak’s small innovations on their typical battle formula feel revitalizing when considering how they add the first major strategy-changing element to Pokémon’s battles since Mega Evolutions.

On the negative side of the spectrum, it should be noted that Legends: Arceus lacks needed accessibility features for players–even the barebones basics are absent. There are no changeable control options, colorblind settings, font sizes, or any settings to toggle for those who need them. How is it possible that you cannot switch the placement of the camera between the left and right shoulder? For a game with such an excellently executed gameplay structure, it is baffling that Game Freak would forget to tackle the basic needs of players who desire accessibility changes.

Ultimately, that is the biggest weakness of Legends: Arceus’ gameplay outside of the fact that is lack of battles may kill its longevity: a lack of accommodations for the player. Whether we are looking at the incohesive menu management systems in place or the inadequate amount of button presses some actions require, Game Freak’s newest Pokémon title desperately needs to take note of where its predecessors went right. With the jump to a different gameplay style, a lot of Game Freak’s older philosophies could have remained intact.

It’s a Whole New World (With Room for Polish)

Pokémon Legends: Arceus review Game Freak Nintendo Switch
Image: The Pokémon Company

From a technical perspective, Pokémon Legends: Arceus‘ real downfall does not come in the form of animations this time around but in the world design and overall chosen aesthetic. Having menu management and tutorial issues is bad, but sufferable problems cannot be quite compared to the reality that players are constantly being pulled from the game’s immersion due to flip-flopping visual quality. After almost five years on the market, the Nintendo Switch has proven that beautiful open-world titles are more than capable of running on the hybrid system. If games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Monster Hunter Rise, and even Skyrim can all look and run the way they do, Legends: Arceus has no exceptions. The game suffers from ugly sculpts, texture pop-in, and out-of-place landforms in every location. Oftentimes structures, character models, and atmospheric elements never coincide. The interior designs of houses and buildings are easy on the eyes, but the natural world is never too kind.

For a game so focused on letting players explore a wild land and discover Pokémon as a researcher, it is incredibly noticeable how empty the world of Legends: Arceus can feel. There are plenty of Pokémon to discover and areas of the map to document, but in comparison to Nintendo’s other open-world games, there is little to interact with or see in the Hisui region. Aside from catching Pokémon, there are no notable structures to explore or ancient locations to excavate. There are so far and few locations in Hisui that legitimately feel engaging or memorable with one passing glance. If it were not for the Pokémon themselves, it would arguably be one of the worst regions to come out of the franchise.

While Legends: Arceus may be all over the place with its dull and dread world to explore, the Pokémon themselves though can be charismatic and energetic. For the first time in a while, the mainline series’ region of creatures feels full of life as they react to the player and sometimes even their environment. This may not be a graphical issue, but the only grudge to have with the Pokémon themselves can be their particular placements in the overworld. Legends: Arceus simply does not have a balanced way of placing Pokémon in locations; every species is more or less stuck in one area. While not every Pokémon needs to show up in multiple zones of the map, it would help boost variety if they were to pop in other areas outside their main habitat.

The Foundation For a Future Journey

Image: The Pokémon Company

Pokémon Legends: Arceus may have overturned initial expectations with its fun gameplay loop and redefined structure, but major problems still persist throughout its design. While it is undoubtedly a flawed experience, the game’s overall grand picture will make every player hopeful for the future of Pokémon–and perhaps that is what matters most right now. In a best possible scenario, maybe one day in the distant future Pokémon fans will be able to look back on Legends: Arceus in the same way they have with Red & Blue on the Game Boy; a needed foundation for the franchise, but not something that was technically perfect underneath its imaginative concept and addictive gameplay.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an unremarkable action role-playing game with an underlying ocean of potential, and for many long-time trainers, that will be just fine. For what it is, Legends: Arceus is a new beginning crammed with glorious potential if its future followup is to continue to reimplement and refine the classic Pokémon elements that have gone missing in action during the first entry. For those who are able to look past its (literal) ugly edges, unrelieved story, single-player focus, and lack of accessibility options, Legends: Arceus will more than please. However, for any Pokémon trainer looking for a top-of-the-line adventure, they will want to stay in the present.

Creative writer, NXpress Host, and Games Editor. I have always held a high interest in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.