Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 28, 2022
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is unlike any other Pokémon release so far. With an expansive world and plenty of Pokémon to discover, befriend, and battle, there’s plenty to keep the little kid in you coming back to this game, hour after hour. But the graphics simply aren’t up to par with other Nintendo releases on the Switch, and the game’s occasionally unfair turn-based battles can leave players frustrated.
Read on for our full Pokémon Legends: Arceus review.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus review: Story
Pokémon Legends: Arceus begins with a character — you — falling through space-time, your smartphone drifting into the ether as you get closer to a hole beneath you. When you fall through, you’re in the sprawling lands of Hisui, where wild Pokémon roam, and where humans are not accustomed to the bizarre creatures.
If you’ve played Pokémon before, you know that players usually take on the role of a Pokémon trainer. In Arceus, you must quell the frenzied nobles that have been attacking Hisuians since you fell from the time rift in the sky. You find yourself way back in time, at least 100 years before humans had come to respect and live with Pokémon.
As the game unfolds, it’s clear that you’re working to set up the world of earlier franchise games, such as Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl (especially considering that part of your objective in Arceus is to work with leaders of the Diamond and Pearl clans).
Although you might be bored by the absurd amount of cutscenes and dialogue in the first few hours of the game (and any time you reach a plot point, really), the story is quite compelling if you read all the dialogue. It’s well-written and comments on our own world today, touching on themes of religious differences, reason and logic, and anthropocentrism.
Without giving away the entire plot, the story generally follows you as you beat five frenzied boss Pokémon. To do so, you'll have to gather stars on your research badge, earned by completing research tasks such as catching new Pokémon and using certain moves in battle. In a subversion of the typical RPG plot — and the typical Pokémon plot — you'll actually enjoy a few minutes of excitement and celebration before a commander accuses you of sabotaging Hisui.
As you work to prove him wrong, you’ll get closer and closer to the ultimate ends of the game: Completing the Pokédex and catching Arceus, the godlike Pokémon that reigns over Hisui. Luckily for Pokémon lovers, there’s plenty to do after you complete all the main missions. Finishing the Pokédex, which is Hisui’s first written record of all the 242 Pokémon that live there, unlocks a new set of requests (side quests).
Pokémon Legends: Arceus review: Visuals and graphics
Unfortunately, the visuals and graphics in Pokémon Legends: Arceus rarely live up to Nintendo’s ridiculously high standard from other open-world games, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
First, let’s cover what’s great. The characters and their clothing look exactly as you’d hope, with vaguely chibi facial expressions that mix perfectly with the Pokémon themselves. The Pokémon are animated just as they are in other recent Pokémon releases, such as New Pokémon Snap. It’s a joy to watch them walk around while you hide in a bush nearby.
That’s about where the good graphics end, though. The scenery is beautiful when you see it from a distance, but up close, trees are painfully simple, and they appear over and over again. Frames get dropped all the time, especially when a Pokémon is moving around in the background of a scene. I have yet to see a Pokémon fly in a smooth circle. There's also some extremely frustrating lag, especially during the final frenzied noble battle.
The game's dark areas also highlight some painfully simple design elements. For example, in a dark room, characters and walls appear with slight white outlines that flicker as you move about the space.
Except for the occasional lag, most of these issues don’t affect gameplay. While I was playing, I didn’t care too much that the visuals weren’t that intriguing. I was too focused on the Pokémon themselves — and it’s clear most of the developers' time and effort went toward animating these creatures rather than making sure the scenery looked perfect.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus review: Gameplay
The gameplay in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is perhaps the most exciting part about the game, especially for players who’ve been at Pokémon for decades. As in the other Pokémon games, you can travel with up to six Pokémon, who faint when they’re out of HP. You can revive them by resting in town or at a base camp, or with potions or remedies. No Pokémon ever dies.
You’re free to roam around the world of Hisui as you see fit, and you’ll gain access to more areas as you beat more nobles. Soon, you’ll be able to sprint, dig, swim, climb and fly all around the area — and it’s awesome. The game utilizes all of these mechanics as you travel to different terrains, so you can go from riding a huge Pokémon in the water straight to sprinting on land.
The game also uses many typical RPG mechanics, such as crouching and running. As you approach a Pokémon, you can choose to throw a Pokéball or fruit from your satchel (which is punishingly small, even after you purchase several new slots), or toss out a Pokémon for battle. This is where the gameplay becomes a bit frustrating.
As with most other Pokémon games, battles are turn-based. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, you can choose from Strong Style and Agile Style attacks, as well as normal attacks. While Strong Style raises your impact, it also raises the chance of your opponent taking two turns in a row; Agile Style works the opposite way. Messing with the order of turns sometimes doesn’t work, and it can feel super unfair.
Another befuddling aspect of the battles is what happens when multiple Pokémon want to battle you simultaneously (or when a human opponent sends out two Pokémon at once). Rather than allowing you to send out another Pokémon or take a turn for each one of their turns, the opponents each take turns, then you take a turn, and so on. This can result in your Pokémon fainting before you even have a chance to take a turn, which feels bad especially when you’re trying to advance the plot.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus review: Requests and Wisps
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is filled with extra things to do, particularly with the added challenges of requests and wisps.
Requests are the game’s version of side quests, and they feature interesting pleas from folks around Hisui. Whether they want to see the Pokédex entry for a specific Pokémon, or they need a Pokémon to help their farm, the requests are largely focused on the spiritual purpose of the game: To help Hisui and its people live in harmony with Pokémon.
Wisps are glowing purple beings scattered all around the land, similar to Breath of the Wild’s Koroks. You’re often rewarded for looking around a dark corner or sneaking behind a building with a wisp, and you’ll get new rewards from a cute kid in town if you tell her how many wisps you’ve found.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus review: Verdict
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a great game, its visual shortcomings notwithstanding. While some of the turn-based mechanics can seem unfair, the game’s expansive world is simply joyful, filled with adorable creatures and exciting surprises to discover. Although Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t perfect, its pitfalls make me excited for future Pokémon Legends titles, especially if they continue to explore the interesting relationship between humans and Pokémon.