|Release Date||January 28, 2022|
Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes players back in time to a never-before-seen era in the Pokémon world. Though the only new Pokémon are various Hisuian forms and evolutions, the game boasts a variety of differences from traditional Pokémon titles. The two biggest changes are the open world format, which has been on the minds of players since the Wild Area in Pokémon Sword and Shield, and a new way of capturing the creatures without battling. This review will discuss not only these unique elements but how the game incorporates character and story.
Violence/Scary Images: Unlike other Pokémon games, players can be attacked by Pokémon in the wild. The creatures can sneak up and appear unexpectedly before the protagonist, which may be scary for younger players. Pokémon battle one another but are not killed.
Drug/Alcohol References: None
Sexual Content/Nudity: None
Other Negative Content: Melli is an arrogant character who refuses to apologize for any of his actions and always acts better than everyone around him. Some NPCs refuse to change, even when their traditions put others at risk.
Spiritual Content: It probably isn’t a stretch to say this is the most spiritual of all the Pokémon games to date. Its theme revolves around a deity called Sinnoh and whether it is the god of time, as the Diamond clan believes, or the god of space, as the Pearl clan believes. *minor spoilers* Sinnoh is revealed to be two Pokémon, Palkia and Dialga, rulers of space and time respectively. They continue to be worshiped by the clans, though it is revealed Arceus (after whom the game is named) is the true creator of the whole Hisuian region. The post-game antagonist searches for Giratina, a Pokémon cast out of the creator’s dimension after trying to usurp Arceus. (Sound familiar to anyone else?) The player has the option of catching all these “deities” and using them in gameplay.
Positive Content: Though the Diamond and Pearl clans disagree, they put aside their differences to help people and Pokémon in need. The Galaxy Team create a corps to study Pokémon so the creatures and humans can live in harmony without fear.
This game is rated E for Everyone.
Before I jump into the review, I should describe my background experience with Pokémon games. The GameCube-exclusive Pokémon Colosseum and XD: Gale of Darkness were my bread and butter growing up. I beat both of them many times through the years, but I never had any mainline Pokémon games. My love for the franchise was born from decades of watching the anime after school and playing the Colosseum franchise, along with pinball games and Pokémon Channel.
My first foray into the typical Pokémon games was Sword and Shield, specifically Shield. Imagine my surprise when there was little story and almost no grinding. I blazed through the game, catching Pokémon and beating trainers without the weeks of mindless battling to which I was accustomed. It was fun, but I felt like it was missing something. I bought Shining Pearl as soon as it dropped, but that had even less story. Then the trailer for Pokémon Legends: Arceus came out.
It was everything I needed and more.
Where is Sinnoh? “I’ll do you one better. WHO is Sinnoh?” I’ll do you one better. Why is Sinnoh?
Like the mainline games, the protagonist of Legends: Arceus is tasked with filling out a Pokédex. Unlike in the mainline games, this character is actually someone from the future who is dropped into the Hisuian region by Arceus itself. That’s right, anime fans. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an isekai!
Worry not, readers. There is no reincarnation or truck-kun anywhere in sight. In fact, this plot point never really gets explained, and the story would be the same regardless of the protagonist’s origin. The only way this is important in-game is because the newcomer is given a phone by Arceus and told to catch all the Pokémon. This technology is foreign to the Hisuian people, but the protagonist (and therefore, the player) is able to use its features to aid them in their quest.
Speaking of the region, Legends: Arceus is set in the Pokémon past, during a time when human and creature do not yet coexist. Two clans, Diamond and Pearl, are in a feud over their god Sinnoh. Poké-fans will recognize this as the later name for the region in the Diamond and Pearl games. In fact, this is probably why they released Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond when they did. At this point in time, the Sinnoh region is known as Hisui, and it is home to not only the Diamond and Pearl clans but to Galaxy Team.
Galaxy Team is a group of researchers who believe in the coexistence of humans and Pokémon. Not much is known about the creatures, and people in the village are understandably nervous and frightened by the Pokémon in the area. The protagonist becomes part of Galaxy Team with the task of completing the Pokédex. All new knowledge teaches the villagers about Pokémon, so they can appreciate them.
While filling out the Pokédex, the protagonist must grapple with the main narrative of the game. A giant tear in the sky appeared when they fell from the future. This tear is causing important Pokémon, guardians of sacred temples across the region, to go mad and attack other Pokémon and even people. The Diamond and Pearl clan leaders must work together with you, the stranger from the sky, to save their respective guardians and keep the villages safe. Unfortunately for casual players, credits roll before the entire mystery of the tear is explained. The true antagonist only shows their face to players brave enough to catch everything.
Pokémon games are not known for their stupendous story or grand character development. While Legends: Arceus does not have groundbreaking story beats, the narrative holds up. The fighting clan leaders both experience growth as they work together and discover the truth about Sinnoh. Religious terminology is constant, though not reminiscent of well-known real-world religions. Christians who do not mind learning about fictional mythology will enjoy the extra lore of the Hisuian region and its god(s). The post-credit cut scenes also throw in a plot twist. Though predictable, the twist adds extra depth to the overall story.
“We all live in a Pokémon World.” Though some are happier about it than others.
By being set in the past, Pokémon Legends: Arceus allows players to view the Pokémon world as never before. Much of the game is made up of side quests from villagers and Galaxy Team. The humans range from terrified to accepting of the Pokémon around their home, and tasks are specific to the villagers’ needs. The best quests involve helping a person become closer to their local Pokémon; some even end in a villager becoming a trainer or housemate to a creature they once feared.
No other Pokémon game has shown how people viewed the pocket monsters before Pokémon trainers were widespread. In Hisui, official battles are nonexistent. Trainers do not line the paths because Pokéballs are still in the experimental stages. Catching Pokémon is a novel idea, and only a select few are brave enough to try it. Even the accepting villagers seldom catch the creatures in balls; they rely on the protagonist to bring them what they need.
That said, there is no obvious antagonist in this game, excluding the post-game reveal; no Team Rocket or Team Yell to prevent the player from completing the Pokédex. In a refreshing turn of events, the Pokémon themselves are the problem. The main character faces wild creatures who are unaccustomed to humans encroaching on their territory. They attack not only other Pokémon but the trainer too. This added violence may be the reason Legends: Arceus has an older protagonist than most mainline titles.
The whole atmosphere of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is immersive. Players can customize their gender and appearance, including hairstyles and skin tones for players of color. The game’s music always matches the environment, whether an ice land or the top of a volcano. Similar to the recent New Pokémon Snap, the adorable monsters are in their natural habitat. There is no tall grass to hide their habits, and every creature reacts differently to the protagonist’s presence. Some flee while others fight back. Certain Pokémon will even chase the player until they outrun it or manage to hide.
The game is so true to life, the protagonist can sneak up on Pokémon and catch them without a fight, just like Ash Ketchum finding his own Poké-pals. That brings us to the gameplay.
Welcome back to “Would I survive being a Pokémon trainer?” Hint: The answer is probably no.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus was a blast to play! The new mechanic of catching Pokémon without a battle makes the capture process much more fun and rewarding. Players still have the option of battling everything, but making it a choice is a game-changer for someone like me. I enjoy Pokémon games, but the constant battling makes me fatigued. Plus, if you are under-leveled and wander into an area with high-level Pokémon, there is little chance of catching anything. In Legends: Arceus, you can sneak up on Pokémon of any level and catch them with a perfect throw and the right kind of ball. The process is still strategy-based, but strategy of a different kind.
The open world is a vast improvement to Pokémon Shield’s Wild Area. Different types are in regions specific to them, instead of all wandering in a big grassy field. The Pokémon’s levels do rise when you enter new areas, but there is a bigger range per section. For example, in the ice area, a Swinub poses less of a problem than a Glalie. Players choose which to engage in battle and which to capture from the shadows.
Legends: Arceus introduces new ways of battling, for those who want to catch Pokémon the traditional way. The Strong and Agile styles affect how a Pokémon fights. Strong moves take longer in a turn, but they do more damage. Agile moves are fast, but the damage they deal is low. The system adds extra depth to the typical mechanics. In fact, certain tasks and Pokémon evolutions rely on utilizing these moves instead of traditional battle techniques.
After defeating and saving each guardian Pokémon, the player unlocks fast traveling with that Pokémon as a vessel. Sneasler (Hisuian Sneasel’s evolved form) lets you climb sheer rock cliffs, while the Wyrdeer (Stantler’s evolved form) gallops over flat land. Though riding the Braviary through the air is fun, the mechanic is more akin to gliding than really flying. One of my only issues with the game is the lack of upward controls with Braviary travel.
Only in Legends: Arceus
The game also features a couple of area gimmicks to keep players coming back. There are space-time distortions caused by the rip in the sky. Within these distortions, players encounter high-level Pokémon from other areas of the world. If you want to complete the Pokédex, these areas are crucial to collecting creatures not found in Hisui, like Eevee’s evolutions. Distortions appear in every area of the map, and the Pokémon in each are different. They operate on a time limit, forcing players to “git gud” and catch what they need. Despite the limitations, space-time distortions are a fun addition to the normal map. They enable players to see Pokémon who would otherwise be locked out of the game due to region or era.
Another gimmick is the “mass outbreak” phenomenon. Mass outbreaks symbolize huge gatherings of a certain Pokémon, shown by its face on the map. While this may sound like a dumb idea if you just want to catch one of everything, it is brilliantly designed for all types of players. Mass outbreaks often lead to shiny Pokémon. Personally, I have seen more shinies in Legends: Arceus than in Shining Pearl and Shield put together. I’m not a shiny hunter, but I did put enough hours into Shining Pearl to unlock Spiritomb and nearly complete the Pokédex.
Speaking of which, players can utilize mass outbreaks to help them complete Legends: Arceus’ nontraditional Pokédex. I claim to have played this game to completion, but I did not finish the entire Pokédex. Unlike a normal mainline title, this game’s research device is concerned with getting as much information as possible. Players must accomplish much more than catching every Pokémon once. Each entry boasts at least five tasks to fulfill before that particular Pokémon is considered complete. Those tasks include using certain moves, watching multiple evolutions, catching a large amount of the same creature, and much more. This is where mass outbreaks come in.
In a mass outbreak, players can capture as many of a single Pokémon as they need to complete its Pokédex entry. Twenty-five Bidoofs may be hard to find in the wild (which is untrue), but they are all gathered together in a mass outbreak. One troublesome side quest requires players to catch a heavy Buizel. That can be difficult unless you grab a bunch of Buizel at one time.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a game every Pokémon fan should experience. Not only does it have an engaging story with interesting characters, it also lets you feel like you are in their world. The new capture gimmick and open world concept are a step forward for the franchise, one I hope they will continue in the upcoming Scarlet and Violet games. All in all, Legends: Arceus is an exciting romp through an unseen time in the world of Pokémon. It was worth an hour’s wait outside GameStop in the snow, and it continues to be worth at least a dozen hours of playtime for newbies and veterans alike.
The Bottom Line
Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes the Pokémon franchise into the future. Every fan should experience this game at least once.