The release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an exciting time for the series. As the largest multimedia franchise in the world, to see the series stray away from its usual formula and the many remakes comes as a breath of fresh air. Legends: Arceus takes place in the feudal Japanese-inspired region of Hisui, in a time where the modern and futuristic technology seen in the traditional games haven’t been invented yet. There is no Pokédex yet and Poké Balls have only just been invented. Having traveled back in time, the player is asked to help write the first Pokédex. At a simple glance, one familiar with Pokémon can see the differences immediately and clearly and yet, one might wonder whether there is too much of a difference at all.
The foundations of Pokémon have fundamentally changed in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Where the primary focus in a standard Pokémon game is battling, Legends: Arceus has put much more focus on research and collecting, a theme that has always been at the core of the series through the Pokédex. No longer is the Pokédex an automated, electronic device that immediately records all relevant information of a newly caught Pokémon; you and the Survey Corps that you work with are actively creating the Pokédex in Hisui (the land that will one day become known as the Sinnoh region). Catching one Pokémon isn’t enough; you are tasked with observing Pokémon behaviour through Research Tasks. These can range from catching many of the same species, defeating them in battle, defeating them with certain types of moves, giving them food, catching them at certain times or in certain ways and so much more. You can also use them in battle yourself to learn more about them through the use of certain specific attacks. With this shift in focus, battling has become a lot more optional. With the use of stealth, no longer do you always need to battle a Pokémon in order to catch it. One can simply sneak through the grass and throw a Poké Ball at it from behind. Sneaking up from behind will produce a greater chance of catching Pokémon as well. Unless the Pokémon is aggressive and sees you first, or they are particularly strong, sneaking is always an option now. This feels like a natural progression for the series as for a long time, it has always claimed to have been all about exactly that since its first outing.
With this change to a player's relationship with Pokémon, one might assume that battling might have received less attention but that is not the case. In fact, battling has also been overhauled. The most positive change to the battle system seems to be the page that Pokémon took from Temtem. Pokémon now keep all of the moves they learn in a pool and players can switch out sets of four at any time in the pause menu. No longer do you need to give up on one move for the sake of a new one. You can switch it out, try it out, and switch it back if you decide that you like the accuracy of Ice Beam better than the power of Blizzard.
In addition, a new battling mechanic has been introduced in the form of Move Mastery. When a Pokémon masters a move, which is achieved through levelling up, they obtain the option to use either a Strong Style or Agile Style version of it. Strong Style sacrifices speed for power, dealing additional damage at the risk of the enemy getting two turns in a row. Agile Style is the opposite, sacrificing power for the chance to take two turns in a row. This allows the player to decide the tide of the battle in new ways. Does your attack take out most but not all of the opponent’s health? Try a strong attack. Do you know you need to hit it twice to win? An agile attack might allow you to hit it twice in a row.
The setting of this game is entirely unique as well. Outside of Pokémon Conquest, the series has mainly focused on modern settings. Hisui is set in a time where Pokémon are misunderstood and are even feared. Specifically, Hisui seems to be based on the Edo Period of Japanese history where the Western World came with modernisation and global trade. Evidence of this can be seen in the game’s three factions: The Galaxy Team, The Diamond Clan and The Pearl Clan. The Galaxy Team represents the British Empire as evidenced by their more Western Architecture, as well as some of their members having more Western names like ‘Cyllene’ and ‘Beauregard’; The Diamond and Pearl Clans seem to be emblematic of rival samurai clans, evidenced by their traditional values like refusing to use Poké Balls. This level of attention to the setting, coupled with the entirely unique Pokémon evolutions and regional forms, makes the game feel like more than just another spinoff.
- A breath of fresh air for the series
- A fresh, overhauled battle system
- Unique, Edo-inspired setting
Although Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a splendid improvement to the classic formula, there are still a few missteps that I feel are worth mentioning. For starters, there are some flaws with the overhauled battle system. Now, Pokémon don’t always take alternating turns; sometimes, Pokémon can take two or even three turns in a row. While this can be great for the player to blitz a slow but sturdy Pokémon down, this is a power that enemies are also able to abuse. With this change, you no longer select your move at the same time as your opponent and wait for both to play out. Now, you select your move immediately before it’s used, like most turn-based RPGs. These two factors can culminate in the player getting into a battle, sending out a Pokémon that is weak to its opponent and watching as it takes two moves in a row to defeat yours before you even have the chance to strategise. It isn’t a fundamentally bad mechanic but it just feels less than perfectly executed.
The battle system has also become too simplified. All buff or debuff moves that Pokémon can use now affect not only the stat it originally changed but it’s counterpart as well. For example, Swords Dance now raises “Offensive Stats” meaning both Attack and Special Attack. Vice Versa, Acid Spray will now lower your opponents “Defensive Stats” meaning it will lower both Defense and Special Defense. These buffs and debuffs have been changed to only be temporary, with repeated uses merely resetting the timer instead of having the effect stack. Speed-adjusting moves have also been completely removed in favour of the speed mechanic changes I’ve mentioned earlier, so moves like Quick Attack now simply adjust the future turn order. With all of this being considered, moves like Calm Mind and Bulk Up that affect both Offensive and Defensive stats are literally the best buffing moves in the game because, keeping in mind that Speed is not adjusted in the traditional sense, the only stat these moves do not raise is your health. This seems like an oversimplification; not necessarily a deal-breaker because battling is not the primary focus of this game, but an oversimplification nonetheless.
My final gripe with the simplification of the battle system is status effects. All of them, with the exception of Confusion, have been changed to, in essence, become either Poison or Paralysis. Burn and Freeze (now frostbite) both function identically to Poison. Sleep (now Drowsy) functions identically to Paralysis. This takes a lot of strategy out of the game as you can no longer guarantee yourself time to set up as you cannot be sure that your opponent will not attack through use of Sleep or Freeze. This also provides an immense buff to the move Rest as Paralysis is a much lower price to pay for a complete restoration of your HP. These status effects are also temporary, so a Pokémon can now recover from Burn, Poison, and Paralysis mid battle and on their own.
- Combat can be too luck-based
- Oversimplification of the stat mechanic
- Status effects are now slightly redundant
Final Score: 8/10
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a wonderful proof of concept. It does a lot right and makes a lot of fresh changes to the series and yet, it also has its share of flaws, despite how minor they may be. It’s an exciting time for the series as Game Freak have taken a leap of faith in a game that breaks away from the norms of the series. All in all, Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes the series in a fresh direction that I hope Game Freak will stick with as my fear is that this will be a one-time thing. Perhaps they could keep on with the core series, while making a “Legends'' side series.
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