Pokemon Legends: Arceus

I like Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Does the game have so many technical problems that I’m going to devote at least a paragraph to them below? Yes. But is it also the first Pokémon game that we’ve gotten in 25 years that is actually mechanically different than the other games in the series? Yes. Yes it is.

The rest of this article is going to assume that you’ve played a Pokémon game at some point. If you haven’t, reading this post first will make the rest of this review make more sense.

As mentioned above, Arceus is significantly different than previous Pokémon games. In brief: the game now takes place in a semi-open world. Story progression is based around a combination of catching lots of Pokémon, and mission completion, and there are no gym battles or equivalents. While battling and catching Pokémon both remain, the battle system has been significantly trimmed down, with held items and abilities being removed, and most status effects/stat buffs have also been changed to be simpler. The game does offer the ability to use moves in different styles, but this mostly boils down to “Do more damage, but take longer to act again, or do less damage, but act again quicker.”

You can fight multiple enemy Pokemon at once.

As the game now takes place in an open world, there are no more random battles. Instead, Pokémon just sort of go about the world, doing as they please, with most having a set spawn location. As such, catching Pokémon has changed, with many not even requiring you to battle them. Instead, you just need to get close enough to throw a Pokeball at them and hit them. Pokémon also don’t share the same set of behaviors either. Some will happily watch as you walk closer and closer prior to beaning them in the head with a well placed shot, some will turn tail and run, and some will see you and just start swinging/blasting bubbles/trying to poison you—you get the idea. For Pokémon in this last group, once they notice you and engage in combat, you’ll have to fight them with your own Pokémon if you actually want to catch them. The alternate option is to truffle shuffle your way through the waist high grass and wait for them to look away so you can lob a ball at the back of their head. The game actually encourages this, because back hits have an increased catch rate.

You will never have enough Apricorns, and when you think you do, you’ll be wrong.

Also, because this an open world game, there’s a crafting system. You can craft Pokeballs, revives, and various items with the rocks and berries you find lying around. It’s actually generally not as tedious as it might sound, primarily because the same few mats are used for a bunch of different things, and there also aren’t a ridiculous number of them you have to gather. cougheldenringcough

The open world itself is split up into 6 or so areas, and each area is self contained. For example, you can’t go from the ruin swamp zone to the ice zone without actually going back to town, and then going to the other area on the map. You likely won’t be able to explore every part of a map when you first unlock it, as portions will be locked behind ride Pokémon, the game’s version of HMs. These are various Pokémon that you’ll make friends with and will give you the ability to swim across water, fly across the sky, and scale rock cliffs. Yes, I know it seems like flying would make climbing redundant but it doesn’t really work like that in practice.

Realistically, these open world zones are fine. I’m gonna be honest, you could probably fill a grey box with lots of Pokémon and I would enjoy it. Pokémon Go put Pokémon on top of google maps, and I liked it. With that said, this isn’t Elden Ring or Breath of the Wild, there are no hidden secrets and crevices to find, and each zone itself is pretty small. They’re habitats for the Pokémon that live in them, and not much else unfortunately.

So what do I like? One thing is that Pokémon are actually rendered to scale in this game. This is a small thing, but it really does build the feeling of them being actual animals in the world instead of the “Wailord is the same size as Skitty” that we’ve had from previous games. It also gets used in two of the game’s mechanical systems, where catching Pokemon of different sizes can be a goal for various surveying missions and to distinguish Alpha Pokemon, which I’m just realizing we haven’t covered yet.

I just realized Dusknoir has red eyes by default, making this a terrible example of what this sorta thing looks like…

While you’re journeying around you might find a Pokémon that seems much bigger than you’d think it should be, with glowing red eyes. These are Alpha Pokémon, and they’re great. Outside of the immense bulk, there are few other critical differences. They tend to be much higher leveled then anything in the surrounding area, sometimes have special attacks, and have zero chill. They can’t be captured except by battling them, and until your Pokémon are in the 60-70 level range, they can and will thrash you into the ground.

I really like this because in most Pokémon games, catching Pokémon is pretty much a zero risk process, and you’ll never actually be able to go back to an area and be challenged. Alphas are a nice change of pace, and one of my most memorable moments in the game was wiping my team multiple times into an Alpha Tangrowth, then reviving them while it tried to put me six feet under. Alphas also tend to be Pokémon that could only have been obtained via evolution in previous games, so its just cool to actually fight and catch them in their already evolved forms.

Yes, that’s a wild Empoleon. It fainted from recoil damage. There was some salt.

Now that we’ve covered the actual game and mechanics, let’s talk about the game’s massive technical failings.

First, a brief statement. Creating games is a complex process with multiple disciplines and processes involved. That said , I consider most of the things in the paragraphs below to be effectively statements of fact. Maybe mimicking Super Mario 64’s performance and art style is a design choice, but I don’t give a shit. The game should not look and have performance issues this bad.

Most of the environments in the game look like garbage, and they feel incredibly static and stale outside of the Pokémon inhabiting them.
The Pokémon/NPC’s look good, but if you get more than 4 NPC’s on the screen even during a cutscene, the framerate dips. Because of this, there are very few situations where you can have large numbers of different wild Pokémon on screen, and the end result is that the game’s world can feel underpopulated.
The game has an amount of pop-in/fade in that’s comical on everything, and when you’re flying around looking for a specific plant, or a Pokémon that might be the size of that plant, this actively screws with your ability to find it. Of everything on this list, this one is biggest hindrance to actively playing the game, and pisses me off the most.

See that little hill in the distance, with nothing on it, and nothing anywhere around it?
It’s the one we’re hovering over right here.

In addition to all of this, the game has one of the most screwed up systems for animation level of detail that I’ve seen. It’s most visible on any of the flying Pokemon such as Gyrados, Togetic or Crobat, but you can actively see the point at which they get far enough away from you for the game to start dropping frames from their animation cycle.

Anyway, that’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus. If you’re someone like me who’s always wanted a Pokémon game where you run around massive open environments trying to catch Pokémon, and see them at actual scale, this game is pretty much exactly what you’ve been waiting for. You’ll be able to ignore the game’s flaws and have a lot of fun.

If you’re someone who played the games primarily for the battle system, or for engaging with the secondary mechanics like breeding for perfect IV’s and competitive move sets, those systems have been either stripped out or massively simplified, and I suspect you won’t have as much fun. I don’t personally think that the removal of things like abilities and held items is made up for by the games strong/agile move styles.

And perhaps you’re neither. Perhaps you’re not a Pokémon fan. If that’s the case, I would say that your enjoyment is going to depend heavily on what you want out of the game. You want a game with a mediocre open world, but a bunch of really cool monsters to catch? This could be for you!

If you want a game with an open world that tells a subtle story via its environment and mechanics, with a focus on difficult combat and challenging gameplay? Well, you probably want Elden Ring instead.

You want a large underwater eel? That’s a moray.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is $60 for Nintendo Switch, and only Switch, because the day we get a mainline Pokémon game on a non-Nintendo console is the day we look out the window and see a flock of pigs sailing unimpeded across the clouds.