When it comes to traditional Pokémon games, I don’t think we’ve ever seen as big of a formula change as this. Fans have been demanding a grand scale, open-world styled adventure for how many years now? And the release timing makes perfect sense, due to the massive popularity of titles like Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of The Wild. While Pokémon Legends: Arceus does contain some really, really cool features and obvious inspirations from the latest mainline Zelda, the overall experience sometimes feels like a two steps forward, one step back scenario. Let me explain.
You guys already know how most of these games begin: pick your starter, learn the new mechanics and venture off into the sunset. Bada bing, bada boom. Whereas this time, the notable changes come in the form of catching and battling Pokémon, as well as the general presentation itself.
Gotta Catch Em’ All!
Starting off with catching, the way it’s done here is heaps more entertaining than past entries in the series. Players can use all sorts of items outside of combat like berries and projectiles to influence a Pokémon’s behaviour or make themselves less visible for an easier catch by hiding in the grass or shrouding themselves with a smoke bomb.
Since the fieldwork is all done in real-time, there’s an exciting sense of urgency when you’re creeping behind a Pokémon’s back, especially for the rarer types like the alpha variants. Because if they end up spotting the player character, catching them instantly becomes trickier to deal with. You’ll most likely either have to try to fight and catch them the traditional way or quickly approach and throw an item. However, some Pokémon cannot be caught when they feel threatened. AKA the better Pokémon, of course.
I quite like this wildlife aspect though, since it makes the Hisui region feel so full of life. Giving you the urge to keep exploring, harvesting materials and studying Pokémon to see how they interact with the player and the world itself. It’s not as in-depth as say, Monster Hunter for instance, and the graphics aren’t the greatest we’ve ever seen on the system – not by a long shot – but there is something so compelling about seeing these pocket monsters in action. It’s a similar feeling I got with Pokémon Snap. Except, only better… All right, that was an unfair comparison there.
The Biggest Addition in Pokémon Legends: Arceus
In regards to the battle system of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, there is one significant change that legitimately makes a difference. And I’m not talking about the real-time interactions in combat or how you can get an extra turn if you smack a wild Pokémon on the back, no. I’m actually referring to the Agile & Strong style attacks. These are a game-changer for the series, no doubt. And it’s clear as day that Final Fantasy X’s CTB gauge was a major influence here. But hey, if you’re gonna steal something, it might as well be good, right?
Ok, it’s obviously not a blatant rip-off. Although, it does make a huge impact in battle. For example, let’s say you try out an attack in agile style (which does what the name implies) and gets a Pokémon down to just over half health. If you receive another turn, you could easily take them out with a strong style attack without taking any damage. Or you could immediately one-shot your opponent to KO status with a super-effective Aerial Ace in strong style. Or you could even use agile style to cast a status effect first and then proceed with an assault.
Goodness gracious, the possibilities are endless. I love it. Even though it uses double the amount of Power Points (PP), who would’ve thought one teensy tiny change like this could’ve resulted in a whole new world of strategy? Well, not me. That’s for sure.
More Control For Players
I’m also a big advocate for how evolutions and abilities are handled mechanics-wise. Rather than the age-old prompt saying
“Should an old move be forgotten and replaced with X?” The game simply pools all of your learnt abilities together and lets you swap them out as many times as you like in the pause menu. A similar approach is taken for evolutions as well. During the adventure, it doesn’t just suddenly spring these decisions on you at a fixed level. Instead, it’s up to the player’s choice whether they decide to evolve their Pokémon or not after the requirements are reached. Fans of the franchise will definitely appreciate these mechanics.
Another aspect I kind of liked, but not really was how nearby wild Pokémon could join in the fight and gang up on the player if the battle was initiated in their movement zone thing, whatever you call it. And since there can only be one active party member at a time, it’s quite easy to get outnumbered. However, the only problem is that there’s no actual incentive to do so. As it’s almost always better to just run away and return to fight 1-vs-1 when everything’s calmed down.
Unfortunately, the same issue happens in some of the scripted fights. You’ll occasionally have to go up against three Pokémon at once for no particular reason and it just sucks, full stop. The devs clearly tried to alleviate this by making the Pokémon randomly stare into space at times. But let’s be honest, it’s nigh impossible to form a solid strategy when you’re constantly getting belted with attacks.
Exploring The Hisui Region of Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Anyway, let’s take a look at some other gameplay features because there is plenty of stuff going on here. Where do I even start? How about the main thread of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the survey reports? Throughout the course of the game, said reports will guide the player on what to look for in specific Pokémon. Like getting it to eat food, scaring it off with a Scatter Bang, defeating one with a specific type of ability, catching a smaller sized version and so on and so forth.
It is pretty amusing at first, however, it does start to get repetitive once you realise that the objectives are all relatively similar. I mean, if you eat, sleep and breath Pokémon, then yeah, you’re obviously going to enjoy it. But for everyone else, this new formula might start to wane well before the credits roll. Plus, you cannot progress onto the next part of the map until you’ve increased your star rank by consistently filling out survey reports. So, if you’re not keen on this style of gameplay, then… Well, good luck!
When it comes to fighting, there aren’t many trainers to challenge besides a few scripted battles and there are absolutely no gyms to be found whatsoever. Yes, I know it’s a prequel to Diamond & Pearl. But in all honesty, this is one part of the game that should’ve been more fleshed out. The lack of gyms is sorely missed and the series standard low level of difficulty means you’ll mop the floor with the majority of scripted encounters. Even with the 3-vs-1 issue I mentioned before, you’re still going to win, although it’s just going to be a train-wreck of a victory.
How Are The Open-World Aspects?
But how about the open-world themed gameplay? Well, this is much better. It’s not a seamless open-world by any stretch, as there are loading screens in between the major areas. However, for the first time in the franchise, the actual trainer themselves can get knocked out and drop items if they take too much damage from wild Pokémon or fall from heights. So of course, there’s the obligatory dodge roll which may or may not seem a little overkill at first. Although, it does makes sense once you start taking on these unique, quote-unquote “frenzied” Pokémon which are a simple, yet cool action RPG addition to the series.
As you’re walking around the map, the player can throw their Pokémon at distinct trees or outcrops for materials, then craft them into items like potions, smoke bombs, berries and all sorts of things. And throughout the game, you’ll steadily unlock base camps that can be used for fast travel, healing, shopping, changing party members, item management and more. As well as certain Pokémon that’ll help the player quickly traverse the map, reach new areas or find collectables hidden to the naked eye, which is tonnes of fun.
Also, some of the side quests are quite varied and actually reward some decent items. Popping balloons while riding Wyrdeer for instance, is just pure entertainment. Something this game did exponentially better than Final Fantasy X… Yep, that Chocobo minigame can go die in a pit somewhere. And no, I am not sorry. Thank you. Moving on.
It’s The Same Old Story With Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Unlike Final Fantasy X however, the story of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not very engaging at all. It’s pretty much just a bunch of bickering and infighting between the Diamond & Pearl clans purely because they hold different ideologies. The writing simply isn’t memorable enough. The plot might be interesting for diehard Pokémon lore fans, but for everyone else, you’ll probably forget what happened the next day.
Good thing is that the soundtrack makes the adventure much more hype. There’s a clear Breath of The Wild influence here in terms of instrument choice and absence of music in certain sections, but it still resonates with that iconic Pokémon sound at the end of the day. Some of the battle themes in particular are very easy on the ears and will definitely have your feet tapping along to the beat in the street… That was not supposed to rhyme, I swear.
Despite the many criticisms I have with this new formula, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is still a lot of fun to play. It offers up so many fresh and exciting mechanics for the series, while not straying too far from what the mainline games are all about. The real-time interaction with Pokémon and the open-world design come together in a way that fans have been demanding for years. Even though the survey reporting can become quite tedious after a while, and the lack of gyms or a proper challenge can drag down the overall experience, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a giant leap for the series that anyone can jump into.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Pokémon Legends: Arceus boasts many new features that mark a drastic change for the series. Being able to catch and fight Pokémon in an open-world setting is effortlessly charming, and the new Strong & Agile style system is such a great addition. While the story, survey reports and general difficulty are a bit of a drag, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is still an enjoyable time for fans and first-timers alike.
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