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A wild Alakazam prowls the area. From my concealed position in some tall grass, I take aim and hurl a Poké Ball at its back. A satisfying smacking sound is heard as the enormous creature is trapped in the antique-style orb. It rolls. I hold my breath. It’s no good, the Psychic-type breaks free and turns its glowing red eyes towards me. I panic and send out my Luxray. After all, this is basically the land from Diamond & Pearl, so I’ve got to have a Luxray in my party.
Moments later, the battle concludes with a Crunch attack making Alakazam faint. I collect a couple of items for my trouble and then continue my search across the land, far and wide, looking for more Pokémon to reach my goal of being the very best. For the first time in over 20 years, I find myself committed to filling the Pokédex. This is the magic of Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
See the trailer for Pokémon Legends: Arceus right here
As I gaze upon the rolling hills of Hisui, I’m enchanted. Players familiar with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact, and countless more games that offer vibrant, open environments will know this feeling well. It creates a sense of adventure and excitement. Those hills are waiting for you to set foot upon them, to unearth the treasures they hold. Only this time, there are wild Pokémon roaming the plains, and that brings my excitement to fever pitch.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus dares to take the franchise in a new direction, one that fans have been crying out for. The tried-and-tested method of exploring a mostly linear world and beating gym leaders has given way to a process of overcoming stronger Pokémon who inhabit different biomes of an overall map. Frankly, this change may not feel as grand as the one we saw in the previously mentioned BOTW, which took a huge leap away from the by-the-numbers approach of Skyward Sword, but it’s still a huge step in the right direction for Game Freak’s work.
The separate areas of Hisui are all accessed by fast travel from Jubilife City, the hub world of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. This is where the main building of the Galaxy Expedition Team is found. This organisation, who you work for, is new to the Hisui Region, and shares a delicate peace with the Diamond and Pearl clans who have made their homes here for many years (more on them later).
As a member of the GET, you are tasked with completing the Pokédex, as well as quelling the frenzied Noble Pokémon who reside in Hisui. Each of these creatures has been affected by a strange phenomenon, turning them bright yellow and making them far stronger than usual. To overcome this frenzy, you’ll have to engage each creature in combat. You pelt them with balms to lower their stamina bar, while dodging their attacks. That’s right, these Pokémon are targeting you, so be prepared to fight for your life.
Your dodge ability makes you temporarily invincible, à la Dark Souls, so that’s your main defensive play, as you wait for the opportune moment to attack with balms. You’ll also have the chance to send out a Pokémon of your own to initiate a battle, which, if you win, will stagger the Noble and give you time to unleash plenty of balms upon them.
After soothing the large Pokémon, you’ll be granted access to a new area of the Hisui region. Each section offers more critters to catch, items to find, and characters to meet. Many of these characters will be from the respective Diamond and Pearl clans.
These two factions both believe in a deity known as Sinnoh. The Diamond Clan believe Sinnoh is the God of Time, while the Pearl clan subscribe to the idea that the Almighty rules over Space. These altering beliefs lead to some friction between the two groups, with the Galaxy Expedition Team keeping good relations with both of them for the greater good. There is more story and lore to dive into, but we won’t be touching any of that to prevent spoilers coming out.
The visual style of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is beautiful. The in-game world evokes the woodblock paintings of Hokusai, as clouds form over land in a manner reminiscent of Fine Wind, Clear Morning. Stars shine over the ocean as if recreating Feminine Wave, another apparent tribute to Hokusai. I could rave about the artistry of Arceus all day, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawless.
There have been numerous examples of texture pop-in and rough-around-the-edges models during my time with Pokémon Legends: Arceus. These little blips here and there aren’t anything major, but there was one visual blemish that really killed the immersion for me. While traversing a cave, my character was surrounded by a white line, bearing a striking resemblance to a hastily cropped PNG image.
Despite these textual missteps, the new Zelda: BOTW-esque aesthetic of Pokémon Legends: Arceus matches the overall shift in tone. It trades in the relatively sharp colours of Pokémon Sword & Shield for the softer, verging-on-water-colour appearance of Breath of the Wild, and this visual overhaul reflects the departure from the series’ core gameplay style.
As for the soundtrack, this is where it’s most clear that Arceus is a hybrid Zelda game. As well as featuring sound effects from Breath of the Wild, such as when picking up an item, there’s a focus on ambient music. The piano melody that plays in Jubilife suits all slow-paced moods, from warm joy to telling melancholy. If you close your eyes while it’s playing, you would almost believe you’re in the Zelda series’ Hateno Village.
But fear not, Pokémon fans, for there are still more traditional-style pocket monster tunes present in Arceus. Trainer battles still feel right at home against the upbeat musical accompaniment that blares along to the action.
Speaking of trainer battles, they are still present in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. However, they occur with far less frequency than in previous titles. The focus here is clearly on facing wild Pokémon, so don’t expect your character to be routinely trapped by the gaze of a waiting opponent.
By keeping the game’s premise on facing the actual Pokémon themselves, Arceus excels at making you, the player, feel like a Pokémon master in the making. Once you’ve learned the mechanics, you’ll be able to cut through areas like a malevolent wind, catching roaming monsters with the click of a button. Honestly, there’s no feeling better than hurling three Poké Balls in quick succession, catching three different critters one after the other, without any of them seeing you coming.
It’s worth noting that stealth is probably your best option while playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus. If you’re spotted and attacked by a wild ‘Mon then you’d best be prepared, because they aren’t here to play. Take a few too many hits and you’ll black out, returning you to base camp. So, yeah, consider this your official warning.
I’ll also take this opportunity to say that Pokémon Legends: Arceus can feel a bit repetitive during the main quest, as the process of seeking out and quelling the Noble Pokémon doesn’t massively shake itself up throughout. Sure, there are slight changes, but the overall charm fades by a certain point. Luckily, this isn’t the entirety of the game’s main story.
I found during my review play that there is the option of online trading with other human trainers, but I was unable to test it. What I was able to test is the option to track down other players’ missing satchels. These bags are left behind after a player blacks out, and if you find them, you’ll return them to their rightful owners. You also earn merit points for doing this, which can be exchanged for items in Jubilife City.
I do have one more gripe with Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and that’s the accessibility options. In short, there basically aren’t any. Much like Nintendo’s other core games, Arceus shies away from appealing to more players by not offering options like text-to-speech, colour blind mode, and so on. I know these options aren’t mandatory, but for a franchise that appeals to countless people all over the world, you’d think The Pokémon Company would do everything in their power to include as many fans as possible.
Having played Pokémon Legends: Arceus for over 25 hours at time of writing, I can safely say I love this game. Its open areas filled with Pokémon are a joy to delve into, and will eat up hours of your time in what feels like mere minutes. The heavy borrowing of Zelda elements doesn’t detract from its identity as a Pokémon game, proving that change doesn’t hurt the beloved franchise one bit. Then you’ve got the visual style, the gorgeous music, and the joy of filling up a Pokédex in a world that truly suits exploration.
As for where the franchise goes from here, I hope they expand on this new formula. I’d love to play a game set in Ancient Johto, where we see the Burned Tower in its former glory. In fact, I’d love to experience any region of the Pokémon world in this way, because Pokémon Legends: Arceus has taken the series to a new level.
Pros: Excellent open areas, gorgeous visual style, new gameplay focus
Cons: Some visual problems, repetitive, lack of accessibility options
Pokémon Legends: Arceus releases for Nintendo Switch January 28, 2022. Game tested with code provided by Nintendo. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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