As a fan of Pokemon since its beginnings in 1995, the latest entry into the series, Pokemon Legends: Arceus for the Nintendo Switch, came with many “it’s great, but…” statements. It’s something that feels shameful when the game is so easily enjoyable.
As someone who has pictured a 3D Pokemon game like this in my head ever since a tiny pixel drawing of a rock with two muscular arms stole my tiny heart over 20-years ago, it’s hard not to nit-pick every little thing. Legends is by far the closest Pokemon has ever gotten to such a childhood vision, but years and years of forming opinions about what Pokemon is and what Pokemon is not apparently jumbled my brain up bad.
Pokemon can be this, and it’s definitely succeeding at being so. It just took me a couple hours of screaming “NO GYM LEADERS?!” at my television screen for me to f**king get over it and enjoy the game.
One of my biggest gripes over the last few years was that I simply wasn’t catching that many Pokemon anymore. As a vet of the game, since the actual game never changed, it was pretty easy to figure out which Pokemon would be necessary to beat the game and which could just be left alone.
Maybe that’s a cold way to play Pokemon (if you’re not actively trying to catch ’em all), but with 800+ Pokemon it was clear which ones I would need in my party and which ones would have gotten destroyed by my in-game opponents.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus finally figured out how to make me catch more Pokemon again, and it did so by forming the crux of the game about completing the Pokedex. Thrust back in time, you find yourself in an ancient town that has yet to live in harmony with Pokemon. They’re still learning how to craft Pokeballs and discover the many Pokemon that live in the world.
It’s cute and a lot of fun, but as a lifelong fan, I pretty much know all the Pokemon. Running around a big map and catching Pokemon in real-time is enough to make for a fun experience, even if that Pokemon is Wurmple, but there aren’t that many new Pokemon to learn about here.
I also stayed pretty partial to first-generation Pokemon, the ones from my childhood, but for many that love is there for Wurmple’s and third-generation starters so I can’t really fault the game for that. There’s 800+ Pokemon now and I must live with the fact.
Even after some monstrosities they’ve unleashed onto us in later games however, I still found myself thinking that another hundred new Pokemon would be a little more fun to learn about than ones I already knew.
Either way, throwing Pokeballs to capture Pokemon moving about in real-time is a blast and it feels amazing. You squeeze the trigger like a first-person shooter and the Pokeball smashes into that thing so hard. Slamming a Togepi in the face occasionally felt rough, but sorry little guy, there’s only one speed on this bad boy.
Though Legends may have gotten me to catch the most Pokemon since Pokemon Go, why I’m doing that as per the story of the game was almost nonsensical. Arceus, the god of all Pokemon, is making one boss Pokemon go crazy in each new explorable area, and I must help quell their fury.
Time-travel issues aside such as, ‘well if I’m completing the Pokedex now in the past why would I ever need to do it again in present day?’ I am also sitting through way too much dialogue. I know why I fell out of the sky and into the past and it’s because ‘this is a video game.’ This is just Pokemon and that’s okay.
I can dodge-roll now and catch Pokemon flying around in the sky. I do not have time to care about Mr. Diamond and Ms. Pearl or whatever their names are. They also added a couple instances of “interactive cut-scenes” where I’m holding the control stick forward a little while I walk behind a character just reading exposition as me. No thank you.
It’s hard to imagine anyone really going in for the new battle mechanics. It’s still turn-based, which I would never really want to change, but the new move styles don’t sell me on improving battling. Honestly, battling really doesn’t really need to improve at all.
What feels insane, however, is that almost everything is a one-hit KO now. Battles move incredibly fast and even Pokemon over 15 levels below you can kill you in one hit. Remember the days of battling a Metapod that would use harden 20 times? Or having to hit Dragonite with Ice Beam twice to really ensure the win? Those days are gone.
Mostly every Pokemon you come in contact for the entire game has the power to kill you in one hit, but also so do you. Type matchups have never mattered so little, and neither has battling.
There are very few trainer battles and even when there is, they have two-to-three Pokemon compared to your traveling party of six. There are no gym leaders, and you usually have at least one Pokemon who can go toe-to-toe with the boss in-between having to dodge its attacks on your person.
I would have loved less one-hit KO’s and gym leaders, but for a game like this, it’s nice for fans of the series to pretty much be able to have any six Pokemon you want. Wanna keep Bidoof, the adorable beaver Pokemon, by your side for the entire game? You totally can now.
Even some of the strongest Alpha Pokemon above level 70 can be captured by throwing calming items and nailing them with a Pokeball from behind without ever initiating a battle. As an older fan of this Nintendo children’s game, I would have liked some more challenging battle elements, but the option to catch Pokemon by being stealthy or creative with items is also nice to have.
An ingenious new addition to the game also allows me to alter my Pokemon’s moves at any time by either adding new moves or reintroducing older ones. Pokemon still only carry four moves around with them at a time, but they now never forget a move and all their learned moves exist for use forever. I can still teach my Ninetails Megahorn and electric moves like Wild Charge however, so every Pokemon is now whatever you want it to be.
Maps & Menus
The maps are huge–a definite improvement from the small scale of Pokemon: Sword & Shield. The graphics of the game could use some improvement. Unlike Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Death Stranding, Dark Souls, and the many open-world games that the new Pokemon takes inspiration from, the textures in the game are not always pretty to look at.
A lot of the time, the map is bare, and there’s only a certain number of spawn points. There’s no dungeons or puzzles (save for an easy one late in the story), and the number of available Pokemon to catch is also not super high.
The outfit designs and haircuts are not begging to be acquired, unlike in Animal Crossing, and you can’t even match a good outfit for a while. Inventory management is now also a new thing due to crafting, and you must pay up to get more slots. There’s also a lot of side-quests and requests that require entering a sub-menu to find.
There isn’t much to do with your Pokemon as well after you get ’em other than look at them or be proud of your collection. From what I’ve seen on TikTok, the game has only been out for a little under two weeks and people have already completed the Pokedex and started hunting for rare shiny Pokemon.
At the End of the Day…
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is an amazing step forward for Pokemon, and I hope its success continues to evolve from this stepping point instead of being treated as a one-off experiment. Gripes aside, I’m still having a great time with the game, and fans are as well.
It may not be perfect, but it’s probably the most fun a Pokemon game has been since Pokemon Go in 2016 or Emerald in 2003, even for an old-head Pokemon gamer like me.
I’m a week in and I have an army of 3D, interactive Geodude’s now. Childhood me would be blown away.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.