“Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is an innovative new frontier


Photo via The Pokémon Company

A new frontier for the traditionally formulaic Pokémon series, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” was released on Jan. 28 for the Nintendo Switch. The first Pokémon game to be open world, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus,” successfully revolutionizes the series by combining real-time action with the turn-based system the series is known for.

The gameplay is probably my favorite in the series. “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” makes Pokémon a powerful threat toward you. Yes, you, not your team of Pokémon. Taking place in the Hisui region, the past name for the Sinnoh region first seen in “Pokémon Diamond and Pearl,” the player finds themselves in a time before the harmonic co-existence of Pokémon and humans. As you fill out the region’s first Pokédex, a record of data on the species of Pokémon, Pokémon will regularly attack you, whether it be through charging at you, burying you under a pile of boulders or frying you to a crisp with electric attacks. 

Luckily for your poor protagonist, I never thought I’d see the day where I’d say a Pokémon game has snappy, intuitive controls, as you’re given the option to throw in your Pokémon to do battle, catch with Pokéballs, or dodge out of the way of incoming attacks. Battling is no longer mandatory for many wild encounters, too: if you hide in tall grass, you can throw berries to divert a wild Pokémon’s attention and sneak up on them with a Pokéball — though be warned that it won’t be happy if it escapes the ball. 

That being said, the game certainly isn’t easy, and compared to the previous mainline game “Pokémon Sword and Shield,” “Pokemon Legends: Arceus” certainly delivers a challenge. While the Pokémon trainers and the Diamond and Pearl Clans’ wardens may not be the most difficult, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” introduces Alpha Pokémon, massive variants of Pokémon that can be found in the wild. If the fact they could crush you while giving a death glare with their glowing red eyes wasn’t intimidating enough, Alphas are also a significantly higher level than the regular variants found in the wild, easily crushing the player’s team if they aren’t prepared. Even worse is when they knock out one of your Pokémon, they turn to you, staring you down as they await the next Pokémon you send out into battle. 

The player will also battle Noble Pokémon in a frenzied state, glowing golden with energy. These battles are action-oriented, though the traditional turn-based battling is there. You’ll need to throw balms containing the nobles’ favorite food at them in order to calm them down. One enough balms have been thrown, you can send your Pokémon into battle against the nobles in order to stun them, all while dodging their hectic flurry of attacks. 

I am this far into the review and haven’t even touched upon the addition of move mastery and attack styles, yet another innovation to the tried and true system Pokémon has stagnated with for years. Using a move enough times and gaining enough levels will cause a Pokémon to master said move, allowing for the use of strong style and agile style attacks. Strong style attacks are stronger yet slower, while agile style attacks are weaker but faster. This is an excellent addition to the battle system, and while some simplicity is lost, I find this to add a new depth of strategy to the Pokémon battle formula, weighing your options, such as if a strong style move should be used to knock an enemy out instantly, with the risk of being hit twice should it fail.

Unfortunately, the graphics are rather subpar. There is the expectation that because the Switch is a handheld console hybrid, graphics will be worse than consoles offered by PlayStation and Xbox. While it’s true that the Switch isn’t as graphically capable, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” has graphics that are embarrassingly poor, especially compared to the likes of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey,” both of which have large, open worlds. I’m not one to judge graphics too much — I’m more concerned with the actual gameplay — but “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” lacks anti-aliasing and suffers from severe pop-in. 

Next up is the storyline, which I found myself enjoying to a surprising degree. After the rather lackluster writing from “Pokemon Sword and Shield,” I expected yet another flop in the narrative department, but this may be one of the best stories in the series alongside the likes of “Pokémon Black and White.” While I don’t think the story of “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” quite tops the aforementioned game, the story sparks intrigue and mystery, using the region’s lore to give Hisui a story full of awe for these deities. 

“Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is a brilliant revamp to the stagnant Pokémon series, bringing with it brand new innovations in a vast world with myths and legends to uncover. While the graphics are subpar, the story is one of the best in the series and the gameplay is stellar. If you own a Nintendo Switch or are a fan of the Pokémon series, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is a game you shouldn’t miss.