Pokémon Legends: Arceus is good enough to turn newcomers into fans

Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t the best open-world RPG I’ve ever played, but it is the only Pokémon game that’s ever held my attention. While the turn-based battles in the games don’t typically excite me, Legends: Arceus is the perfect Pokémon title for newcomers. In fact, it’s changed my mind about the franchise as a whole.

I’ve long defended my disinterest in the Pokémon franchise. As a kid, the cards felt silly; as an adult, the turn-based gameplay felt restrictive and, honestly, boring. I’ve tried several times to fall in love with the nostalgic titles that my friends and partner have played repeatedly over the years. But Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first game in the franchise to keep me invested.

With tons of Pokémon to discover, an action-packed battle system and a story that hints at a larger world to discover, Pokémon Legends: Arceus was enough to turn this newcomer into a complete fangirl.

I got the game for my Pokémon Legends: Arceus review, which highlights many of the things I didn’t like about the game. Ever since then, though, I haven’t stopped talking about the new Pokémon I’ve caught, the new mechanics I’ve discovered or the touching storyline I've experienced. I haven’t just enjoyed playing it; the game actively makes me want to revisit older series titles that came out when I was a kid.

Setting up for disappointment 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot

(Image credit: Nintendo)

As silly as it may sound, the folks who have wanted Pokémon Legends: Arceus for years may have been setting themselves up for disappointment. It’s true that the graphics are not up to snuff, especially considering that the similar The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looked so much better — and it came out five years before Arceus. But if you go into the game expecting that the Pokémon will be the stars of the show, it delivers every time.

I can understand that longtime players wanted more, and to be fair, the trees in Pokémon Legends: Arceus (among other landscape features) are really unacceptable in 2022. The water looks like a single square copied and pasted hundreds of times, and the lag on certain Pokémon animations is definitely a detriment.

But as someone who was simply excited to find some new little creatures to befriend, Pokémon Legends: Arceus offers plenty to discover, and the animations of the Pokémon themselves are incredible. It seems like all the animation manpower went toward giving (almost) every move an awesome animation, and making sure the Pokémon themselves looked great. It doesn't seem as though as much effort went into tweaking the harsh lighting, or designing some better scenery.

The reason why so many folks seem disappointed in this release is because the world doesn’t have enough natural things to discover. Compare and contrast to the Koroks from Breath of the Wild, or side quests from almost every other RPG. But if you consider the Pokémon as a part of the world, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of things to explore.

Another part of Arceus' gameplay that makes it feel so wondrous for a newcomer is simply that I don’t know what’s going on. Again, this might seem silly. But discovering that Pokémon didn’t always live harmoniously with humans, and weighing the ethics of catching and battling Pokémon excited me while I was playing. It was cool to feel like I was going back to the roots of the franchise, as Arceus is set further back in time than any previous Pokémon game or show. 

I paid close attention to each cutscene, and they revealed a cute-but-complex tale about the creation of a society. As the leaders of the Diamond and Pearl clans fought throughout the story, I found myself actually reflecting on the game's themes and how they apply in real life.

Battling Pokémon is wrong 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot

(Image credit: Nintendo)

One thing that consistently bugged me about the previous Pokémon games was the total anthropocentrism that left the poor animals to be battled repeatedly until they fainted. Part of my enjoyment of Arceus came from accepting that I simply don’t agree with the practice of battling Pokémon.

Obviously, this is a game. But in real life, I would never advocate for catching and battling animals, and it makes me a little uncomfortable to do it digitally. (For some reason, I have no problem running over innocent bystanders in GTA, but that’s a question for therapy.) But once I accepted that I don’t like that part of the franchise, I was able to enjoy the game a lot more.

There are endless op-eds and fan theories about why the basis of the Pokémon games is or isn’t ethical, so I won’t delve into that. Instead, I’ll highlight what was important for my experience: I accepted that I’m a benevolent Galaxy Team member. 

Luckily for me, this dovetails perfectly with the game’s self-awareness. Unlike other Pokémon games, Arceus allows you to release your Pokémon into the wild and get rewards for doing so. As such, I’ve made it my practice not to hold onto any Pokémon that I don't actively need. I’ll keep pretending that I’m simply a field researcher doing my job.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus made a fangirl out of me 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Despite literally decades of avoiding it, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the game that finally turned me into a Pokémon fangirl. I have a favorite Pokémon (Luxray), I’m extremely strategic in battle, and I love reading all about potential benefits before making upgrades. I’m a 2000s child anew, but this time, I’m approaching the franchise with an open mind. As I go back and play the nostalgic titles released throughout my childhood, I can’t wait to see all my favorites rendered in different animation styles. Yes, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has its issues. But for a complete newcomer, it was a delightful game that left me with a new fandom to explore.