Pokémon Legends: Arceus

 

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Review by · February 11, 2022

People have been getting lost in the world of Pokémon for decades. Aspiring Trainers new and old spend thousands of collective hours across dozens of games, setting off on their journeys with fresh Pokédexes at their side. Pokémon’s addictive nature has captured players time and time again despite a formulaic stagnation that settled over the series. Pokémon Legends: Arceus sets its sights on sweeping away most of the grains that had built into mountains atop the Pokémon franchise. It instead wants you to focus on interacting with the Pokémon outside of battle and in their environment. The ensuing journey into the ancient region of Hisui thus feels both fresh and familiar, and the innate appeal of the Pokémon world is garnished with a feast of new features that feel right at home in this ever-appealing universe that warranted going astray from customary routes.

The Hisui region is split into five zones; although each is its own biome, from grasslands to a mountainous tundra, they’re vast with immense variation around every corner. The curious are naturally enticed to see every inch that the region has to offer, but there’s plenty of gameplay elements to further encourage you to lose yourself in your exploration. Catching Pokémon and crafting the items needed to do so wonderfully complement each other to ensure you have a reason to visit—and revisit—the vast expanses of Hisui.

In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, you unlock recipes to craft items. You can buy Poké Balls, potions, and other goods necessary for your journey, but your money is best spent elsewhere, such as teaching your Pokémon special moves or expanding your bag space—which scales up in price dramatically with each slot you unlock. To save your funds for these valuable upgrades, you’ll want to thoroughly comb the map for materials each time you set out. They’re visible on the overworld, even from a distance. The herbs that you pick by hand, as well as the trees and ore deposits that your Pokémon can knock materials out of, stand out in just the right way, fitting in with their environment but clearly interactable. A welcoming detour, for sure, and one that quickly turns into a whole new excursion as you notice more and more materials to harvest just in the distance, and another just past that. What may have been meant as a hasty hop into the grasslands to grab medicinal bases and stones for Poké Balls quickly becomes a multi-hour outing as the world welcomes you to explore it exhaustively for what you need.

You also need Pokémon to battle and catch, and they’re another fantastic distraction in Legends: Arceus. Like materials, Pokémon are visibly distinct but still fit perfectly within their surroundings. Their cries can even be heard all around, further drawing in your attention. And even when on a faster mount Pokémon such as Basculegion or Hisuian Braviary, wild Pokémon and materials load in from respectably far distances. You have plenty of time to discern them and decide if you want to pursue them or not. Even from way up in the skies, Pokémon and materials are clear beneath you, their natural lure constantly vying for attention and making each expedition extensive and full of decision-making.

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot of the player hiding in smoke, ready to throw a grain cake at a wild Blissey.
The number of items you can craft may seem excessive, but they’re all helpful in their own ways. Knowing what to bring and how to use them will make your excursions that much more successful.

Mount Pokémon are another aspect of your adventuring arsenal, assisting you in exploring each nook and cranny of Hisui. As you unlock each mount, you’ll gain access to new locations across all zones, adding more diversity to your backtracking. You’ll only barely be able to scale steep cliffs before unlocking Sneasler, for instance, but once she becomes your ally, you can climb much higher than before. Regardless of whatever mounts you have, you can always send your own Pokémon to those slightly out-of-reach places to grab materials or start a battle with a wild Pokémon.

Cycling between your Pokémon, mounts, and even items, is seamless, and mastering this juggling act makes hunting for Pokémon and gathering materials all the more engaging. You can ride across the fields on Wyrdeer, picking up materials as you pass. Once you drop down, you can cast out a smoke bomb, send out a Pokémon to mine some ore, send a different Pokémon to gather berries, and toss a treat to distract a wild Pokémon before hurling a Poké Ball at its back. Then you can jump into Sneasler’s basket to make your way up a nearby cliff while the Poké Ball is still shaking, ready to meet whatever’s ahead. And if the Pokémon breaks free, you may be able to try again if you can land the Poké Ball skillshot from up on high. It can be easy to get lost in your extensive arsenal at first, but making the most of it—and your surroundings—comes naturally with practice and vastly opens up how you can approach the wide world of Hisui as you strive to complete your Pokédex.

To complete the Pokédex—your primary goal in Pokémon Legends: Arceus—you can’t just catch a Pokémon once and be done like in past series entries. Each individual Pokémon has its own set of requirements that will count towards logging its information. Fulfilling ten of these will count as completing their entry. Although catching multiple specimens of the same species works for almost all Pokémon, additional methods of completing their data ranges from feeding them in the wild to defeating them with a certain type of move. This adds value to coming across Pokémon you’ve already caught once or twice, so there’s always a reason to inspect and take your time with your surroundings or to get pulled in the direction of a place you’ve already seen with Pokémon you’ve already caught. With all the different ways to fill out the Pokédex, you can finish it however you like, whether you focus on catching as many Pokémon as you can, take a more action-filled approach by feeding them or pelting them with items that stun, or battling. Whichever way you choose to go about it, your quest to complete the Pokédex will lead you all across Hisui in a way that’s just gentle enough to allow you to go off-course as much as you please.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus’s opening pushes and pulls you a bit as you learn the ropes, but once you’re ready, you’re free to explore Hisui as much or as little as you want. Although the region’s Noble Pokémon need calming, you can ignore them to spend hours foraging in other areas if you choose—or you can sidetrack your Pokédex quest to seek out the Noble Pokémon right away. Noble Pokémon boss fights are fast-paced sequences that alternate between dodging and tossing balms like you would dodge a wild Pokémon’s attacks and toss Poké Balls, and battles to further weaken it. The action portions are a fun, hectic challenge as the Noble Pokémon barrage you with all manner of attacks, and they are very powerful in battle, too. Incorporating dodges and throws allows these encounters to naturally build off of what you learn during your adventure, while the battles ensure your team of Pokémon remains up to par with the game’s ever-increasing difficulty.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot of a Trainer's Glameow fighting against three wild Geodude at once.
Levels and even type advantages only take you so far when faced against a multitude of wild Pokémon. Mastering styles is key to winning against stacked odds.

Battles are slightly different in Pokémon Legends: Arceus compared to the usual Pokémon games. Instead of having Abilities, Pokémon can “master” moves at certain levels. Mastered moves can be used as normal or in a strong or agile “style.” Strong style increases the attack’s damage but slows your Pokémon down, allowing the opponent to get in more attacks before you can move again. Agile style decreases the move’s damage, but if your Pokémon’s speed is high enough, it can allow them to strike multiple times in a row. To emerge victorious, you’ll have to make the most of these new strategic elements because some of the later Trainer fights can be especially challenging. Even wild Pokémon are quite powerful, and if you’re caught off-guard, you may find yourself facing off against three or even four at once, depending on how many were in the vicinity when the battle started.

All battles occur within the world itself, no longer in their own distinct realm like in past entries, with a background that oftentimes doesn’t match the environment. This detail makes Hisui all the more captivating; it’s entirely immersive to stay in your position when starting a battle with a Pokémon down below while you’re up a cliff. You can even move about before issuing a command to your Pokémon. Nearby materials remain visible during battle, so you can plan out where to go next once the fight is over—or just make a break for it during the skirmish. The traditional “Fight, Pokémon, Item, Run” commands all have individual button inputs, but moving too far away from a battle acts the same as selecting “Run,” further melding battle and exploration into one seamless gameplay loop.

Quests also seamlessly join the gameplay loop in numerous ways. You can listen to the concerns of the various NPCs throughout Hisui and help them out, and the quests contribute to clever worldbuilding as Hisui’s inhabitants learn more about the mysterious creatures. Many offer respectable rewards that make them worth completing, and some quests may even contribute points towards certain Pokémon’s Pokédex entries. For example, there’s one involving Combee, where you have to catch a few from different locations to discover how their honey differs. If you choose to let quests direct parts of your adventure, you’ll have even more reason to tread and retread Hisui’s exploration-rich grounds. And plenty more quests open up after the credits roll, as does more general story content, providing plenty of hours of meaningful gameplay.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus screenshot of the player and a quest NPC, who expects his Cascoon to evolve into Beautifly.
Pokémon are still vastly misunderstood in Hisui. This opens up many opportunities for quests and enjoyable generic NPCs.

Sometimes, rifts in space-time will appear in a zone you’re traversing, and these are filled with strong, rare Pokémon and rarer items. It’s challenging to avoid—or battle—these immensely powerful Pokémon while making a mad dash for the items. If you feel up to it, it’s worthwhile to reroute yourself and prioritize these rifts wherever they may be, regardless of if you’ve been in them before or not. Even if evolution items, such as Linking Cords and elemental stones, no longer tickle your fancy—although it’s always good to stock up—the rift-exclusive shards are always beneficial to seek out as they can be crafted into Star Pieces and sold for high amounts of money.

If you end up blacking out, either in one of these dangerous rifts or because a rampaging Alpha Hippowdon wanted to show you just how fast a hippo can run on land, you’ll drop some of the items in your satchel. They’re not gone forever, though—another player can pick up your satchel where you dropped it if you’re connected to the internet, thereby returning the missing items to you. Similarly, you’ll notice satchels that others have dropped each time you venture into a zone. Not only is it a kind gesture to help return the missing items to their owner, but you’ll receive merit points that you can exchange for all manner of rare goodies, such as evolution items and Rare Candies. Although you may have entered the Crimson Mirelands set on visiting the Cottonseed Prairie to catch some Petilil and Pachirisu, you’ll likely find yourself making stops at numerous other points along the way as you notice dropped satchels across your map.

Similarly, you may end up visiting another zone than the one you planned on altogether if a Mass Outbreak is sighted. These outbreaks indicate when and where a large amount of any given Pokémon is found for a limited time in a certain zone. Not only are these great opportunities to fill out any of your missing Pokédex entries, but the Pokémon in an outbreak have a higher chance of being shiny, so they’re always worth the detour no matter how far along your Pokédex is. In fact, a Pokémon’s shiny chance increases when you fill out its Pokédex entry, so even without the need to fulfill more requirements, there’s absolutely no downside to going for the outbreaks.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus wanders from the “traditional formula” that held the series a little too firmly in place. But all who wander aren’t necessarily lost—at least, not in a bad way. Players will find themselves delightfully astray within Hisui’s enthralling world, ambling with many worthwhile purposes and finding amazing new sights and Pokémon. Similarly, Pokémon Legends: Arceus finds a gameplay loop that keeps the franchise’s appeal intact while feeling impressively fresh and thoroughly engaging. It’s wonderful what you can discover when you stray off the beaten path—you just have to be daring enough to venture in that direction.


Pros

Addictive, endless gameplay, immersive worldbuilding, clever references to other games.

Cons

The Noble Pokémon battle format could have been used with more Pokémon.

Bottom Line

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a welcomingly new take on the franchise, designed precisely for getting lost in.

Graphics
90
Sound
87
Gameplay
95
Control
95
Story
82
Overall Score 90
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Niki Fakhoori

Niki Fakhoori

Video games have been an important element of my life since early childhood, and RPGs are the games that gave me the opportunity to branch out of my “gaming comfort zone” when I was a wee lass. I’ve always spent a good deal of my time writing and seeking value in the most unsuspecting places, and as such I’ve come to love writing about games, why they work, how they can improve, and how they affect those who play them.