A new era of games is not without its surprises or innovations, and I can safely say Pokémon Legends: Arceus is one such innovation. A true change not only in the Pokémon format, but in its presentation of story; Pokémon Legends: Arceus has taken steps to modify and advance the two decade old formula. A new breath for old and new players, Legends solidifies itself as not only one of the freshest entries in the format, but a cohesive and fun experience at all levels of play.
My first experience with Legends began with the biggest smile on my face. This wasn’t exclusive to me either, I had the pleasure of hosting a bit of a launch party with some close friends. Everyone had the same reaction on the prospect of entering a new Pokémon experience. Legends set itself apart in promotional material as a true change to the formula, and to experience it firsthand as a fan of the series is something else. Legends is not at all the typical JRPG Pokémon has found itself as for the past two decades. It is an instanced world action game almost like Monster Hunter. There are still turn based elements, but the gameplay loop is entirely different. The world is not only open to you right after the tutorial, but how you engage with Pokémon and your environment is completely different as well. The game begins with you being tasked by Arceus (pretty much the god of Pokémon) to find all Pokémon. It thrusts you into the past, where you meet Professor Laventon and the Galaxy team who then aid you on your journey. There is a further plotline, but to cut straight to the gameplay that’s all that needs to be said. You’re able to traverse environments and interact with Pokémon all on your own after this, and that type of freedom from so early is downright magical.
What makes Legends so fun is the freedom they give the player when it comes to not only engaging with their environment, but with how they shape their journey. Pokémon and resources are everywhere, and each of these is unique to the area and the player. As mentioned in the story, at this point in time many people are afraid to engage with Pokémon because they’re dangerous, and you as the player are an anomaly in dealing with them. Once you’re able to run around and explore, you’re free to craft your own Pokéballs and battle and catch Pokémon as you please in order to fill the Pokédex. The length of each excursion is completely dependent on the player, and you’re rewarded whenever you report back to the Professor with some money. The money can be used to learn new moves, buy supplies, and expand your inventory among other things. While you can buy items, you’re eventually able to craft or find pretty much everything in the wild, and this incentivizes exploration even more. The real prize is studying Pokémon in real time and finding new ones to catch or battle, as the agency given to the player is miles beyond anything in previous games. Pokémon can be actually aggressive, and it’s up to you to dodge their skills in real time to either run away from, fight, or Pokémon battle them. You can throw items like apricorns or balls of mud at wild Pokémon to stun them, and then try to catch them without outright battling them. You can also sneak up on them and try to catch them from outside their field of view, and finally you can do it the traditional way. With rare occurrences like Alpha Pokémon, Legends can be a unique experience to every player with even more variation than normal Pokémon games, which leads to a lot of fun stories shared amongst friends and even more replay value.
In my extensive experience with Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I have had nothing but an incredible amount of fun. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it has had a similar reaction, and even passing fans of Pokémon have acknowledged it as something so fresh that it deserves more attention. The changes to the formula, ability to engage with the environment, forms of traversal and everything make this a Pokémon game to go down with the greatest of them. If this is the future of the franchise, I welcome each entry with open arms with the level of innovation this game presented. While it might not be the most incredible graphically and might still have issues with pop-in and other limitations, I can safely say this is the most fun I’ve had with Pokémon in nearly a decade.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch