GamesGames reviewsPokémon Legends Arceus review: This time it’s different

Pokémon Legends Arceus review: This time it’s different

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Okay, what the hell is the Pokémon franchise? I’ve been asking this question for many years now. How do they keep getting away with it? Half-finished games, rudimentary systems, half-assed stories, laughable graphics… you’ve heard it all. Everything points at these games being a disaster, and yet they not only sell extremely well, but also keep getting good review scores. Who’s to blame? Well, we know who’s to blame for the games, but everything else is on us. We buy those and I review those. 

But that’s the thing about Pokémon: we might shower it with brutal criticism while still playing it non-stop. Because the thing is, the formula of its success is so goddamn easy, it would take an evil genius to ruin it. I have a feeling that that’s what Game Freak have been trying to do, and yet they couldn’t. We still want to find them all, even though we did it a number of times. We’ve been doing it so much, we should get paid for it.  But no one is getting paid. Even me. Even after all those high scores I have given Pokémon Shield. How could I? Well… the answer is simple. I enjoyed it. I wish I didn’t, but I did, and when it comes to games, fun is all that matters. If it isn’t the Nintendo motto, it should be. 

Well… anyway. Pokémon Legends: Arceus. This time, it’s different, they say. This time it actually looks unlike the others. It has a story unlike the others. It works differently. It might even have problem running on a 15 year old hardware. Will I believe them? Should you? Let’s see. 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

The strange familiarity 

The sky turns black and a strange rift appears. After a while, it spits out a small boy, who is falling to the ground, seemingly doomed to die. Does he think about his unavoidable demise? No — his phone is ringing. Kids these days, huh? 

The phone is not only ringing — it’s transforming into some kind of angular monstrosity. And the monstrosity speaks. Catch, it says, all of the Pokémon. Save, it probably says, the world. Or something. It played it not that long ago but I already have forgotten half of it. You will, too: the plot is as brain-dead as all of the latest games. I don’t know who keeps giving this guy the job. Remember, it was him who has given us Hop. Toshinobu Matsumiya should be in jail. 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Anyways, nonsense story is normal for this series. Despite the fact that the majority of its audience is 40 year old men, the developers continue to think that it’s a children’s game. The story, though, is so impressively dull and uninspired that it almost deserves a reward. It’s bad and there’s no point in speaking about it. The only thing that’s sorta interesting is that it all takes place in the past, this being a kinda remake-prequel sort of thing. Instead of PDA Pokédexes, everybody uses books. Instead of phones… they have nothing. People don Samurai clothes and live in wooden houses. It’s… a change of pace. 

The whole plot revolves around ancient clans obsessed over Pokémon who started losing their minds and behaving aggressively. It’s our job to get them to calm down — and research every single one of the Pokémon roaming the world. 

All of this sounds okay, but hardly amazing. What’s a lot more amazing is how it plays out. You know the typical Pokémon game: you start at home, get one of the three starters and begin bumping into random monsters in order to catch them. Here you also get a starter, but other than that it’s very different. Forget linear paths and fixed cameras — Pokémon Legends: Arceus has an open world with a free camera and a somewhat non-linear way of doing things. 

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Imagine this: when you want to catch a Pokémon, you throw a Pokéball at it. No need to fight it or anything.  And if you do end up fighting it, you do it there and then, while being able to freely move around the battlefield. Your avatar can even get hurt!

It sounds mundane, but for a Pokémon fanatic, it’s a massive upgrade. Remember the zones in Shield and Sword that allowed you to see all wild Pokémon? It’s like this, but the whole game. And even the most ordinary elements like cataloguing the monsters have changed. Now it’s not enough to catch one or two — you’ve gotta do it a dozen times. See that Pichu? Catch it. Now do it again, but this time make it so it doesn’t notice you. Now try to hit the back of its head (who’s the monster here?). Now fight it to see the way it moves (or fight with it). Every single thing you do is being recorded in the Pokédex. To do everything you’ll need… days. Weeks, even. It’s a hellish grind, and yet it’s what the fans have been asking for. They don’t mind the grind. They are here to catch them all, and they can do it ten times over. 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus finally added elements that should’ve been added years ago. The concept of moving in 3D space has always baffled its creators, and only now we are getting a game that feels moderately modern (ish). Well, maybe modern is a stretch, but compare it with all that’s came out before it and the difference is staggering. 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Having spent a lot of time hunting and catching Pokémon in Arceus, I ended up being both wowed and disappointed. Not because the game is bad — it’s fine — but because I shouldn’t be happy with this, but I am. I shouldn’t praise it, but I do. Because I do not compare it with the other games. I compare it only with the other Pokémon releases. I don’t do it with any other game, but this franchise is so damn big that it feels like it warrants special treatment. But here’s the thing: it is because it’s so big that we shouldn’t call this is a success. Pokémon is the biggest IP in the world, and yet its biggest game has got no voice acting at all and looks like it’s been salvaged from a long-lost Dreamcast disk. I know all this, and yet…

Is it fun? Yes. Is it worth the money? Probably. Is it the best Pokémon game in more than a decade? Sure. Should a fan buy it? Most probably. Should anyone else? Not necessarily. 

While Pokémon Legends: Arceus plays great, it doesn’t look all that well. In fact, I’m doing my best not to call it outright ugly (I will further down the line, I’m only human). Look at those screenshots — do they scream “the biggest release of 2022 to you”? And yes, the Switch isn’t exactly the home of the best-looking games, but it can do better. A lot better. Even Breath of the Wild — a launch title! — looked miles better. I don’t say it often, but this time we have to blame the artists. I don’t know who looked at it and said “it looks fine”, but to me, Arceus looks extremely unfinished. 

Read also: Unpacking review: You really can make a game about anything, can’t you?

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Having an open world is fun only when there’s something to see, but the world of Pokémon Arceus is as lively as a graveyard, not counting all the Pokémon frolicking around. It doesn’t feel lived in, there’s no breath of the wild, if you will (people had been forcing this comparison for months for some reason, and I am here to  put a stop to this). Pokémon Legends: Arceus is one of the ugliest AAA games out there. The draw distance is abysmal, the texture quality is laughable, the world design is amateur. Could I do better? Hell no! But I don’t work on the biggest franchise in the world. 

And no, not having voice acting is not fine if you’re from Japan. BOTW was made in Japan, and Persona 5 as well. And while they aren’t fully voiced, there’s something there. In 2021, Disco Elysium got an update that added a full voice over. What’s your excuse, Game Freak? 

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Being a Pokémon fan means being used to abuse. You are expected to buy one game twice (not this time though!), and then it often comes out AGAIN but with some minor upgrades. In 10 years’ time it will get remastered, too. And the fans will buy it because they love it. Because they don’t want to grow up and forget how fun it was playing on the Game Boy and watching that anime. It’s a vicious circle, and I sympathise, even though I never liked this IP that much. Is Pokémon Legends: Arceus the good omen we’ve been waiting for? Will the future games be better, be… ambitious? I hope so. Arceus is a fine game, but without the brand, it’s just a budget monster hunting game with questionable aesthetics. But I think you should try it. Despite its many issues, it makes me want to believe in the future of Pokémon. A year ago we had nothing. Now there’s hope. 

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Verdict

It’s messy, it’s ugly and its story is dull, but for some reason I keep playing it. And the fans, they will be doing it for years. It’s the title we’ve been waiting for ever since Game Freak confirmed they were working on the mainline game for the Switch. It’s not the stuff of dreams, but it’s a good baseline for future greatness. It’s a proof that you can do more with Pokémon than just rehash the Game Boy formula over and over again. I just hope that they won’t stop changing things. There’s a lof of stuff that needs changing. 

Pokémon Legends Arceus review: This time it’s different

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Presentation (design, style, speed and usability of the UI)
8
Sound (original cast, music, sound engineering)
7
Graphics (in the context of the platform)
5
Optimization [Switch] (how does it run, bugs, crashes, use of system features)
7
Gameplay and Controls
9
Narrative Elements
6
It’s messy, it’s ugly and its story is dull, but for some reason I keep playing it. And the fans, they will be doing it for years. It’s the title we’ve been waiting for ever since Game Freak confirmed they were working on the mainline game for the Switch. It’s not the stuff of dreams, but it’s a good baseline for future greatness. It’s a proof that you can do more with Pokémon than just rehash the Game Boy formula over and over again. I just hope that they won’t stop changing things. There’s a lof of stuff that needs changing. 
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It’s messy, it’s ugly and its story is dull, but for some reason I keep playing it. And the fans, they will be doing it for years. It’s the title we’ve been waiting for ever since Game Freak confirmed they were working on the mainline game for the Switch. It’s not the stuff of dreams, but it’s a good baseline for future greatness. It’s a proof that you can do more with Pokémon than just rehash the Game Boy formula over and over again. I just hope that they won’t stop changing things. There’s a lof of stuff that needs changing. Pokémon Legends Arceus review: This time it’s different