Video Game Review: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Pokemon: Legends of Arceus screenshot
Bradford Ozuk // The Watchdog

If you have been paying attention to Nintendo’s game releases lately, there’s little I can tell you about “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” that you don’t already know. It was marketed as a game that predates all other Pokémon games by quite some time, and the initial trailers showed off mechanics like dodging Pokémon moves and catching them without engaging in actual battles.

Of course, the trailers also provoked criticism due to how they looked. On the same platform as such legendary games as “Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey,” it was clear that “Legends: Arceus” featured environments akin to a game you’d see on the PlayStation 2. Considering the widespread criticism of the Pokémon franchise around game quality that simply wasn’t up to par, this announcement did not inspire hope. But like all Pokémon games, I bought it anyway.

The trailers were pretty spot-on, all things considered. “Legends: Arceus” takes place long before Pokémon are even widely owned by trainers. The player character even takes part in a foundation that originates the usage of both the Pokeball and Pokedex. The game tackles this development in a surprisingly nuanced fashion. In many instances, people are fearful of Pokémon. Some might ask you for help finding out what different Pokémon do. The other main organizations are skeptical of you keeping your Pokémon partners in balls. Unlike other games, where everybody on the planet owns and is experienced with Pokémon, you pioneer a change in the world by gathering information. It makes the Pokedex feel useful instead of just a checklist of what you have. Additionally, it takes multiple exposures to complete a Pokedex entry. There are several different ways to increase the entry-level, each having different tiers. These range from catching up to 25 of that species, to seeing them use a certain move, to specifically catching heavy versions of that species. You only need to hit 10 individual breakpoints to complete an entry, but it provides a nice sense of collection and completion when you fill up those boxes. And yes, the game compensates by letting you release Pokémon en masse.

The gameplay stays true to the trailer, which is easily the highlight of the game. The open world is leagues better than their first attempt in “Pokémon Sword” and “Shield,” straight-up removing the need for battles in the first place. Don’t worry, you can still battle, but the options for approaching Pokémon are endless. You can sneak around and attempt to avoid notice entirely. You can throw Pokeballs at any point and even use various berries to bait them or distract them. Your Pokémon gain experience with every interaction, so you could feasibly complete the game without a single unnecessary encounter.

Most importantly, this system and plot give way to something I have been clamoring for in a Pokémon game for years now: it’s difficult. Your tutorial is limited to catching Pokémon and quest waypoints. The rest is entirely up to you. You can wander the world at your leisure, to collect as many items as you want or get lost searching for different species. However, be wary not to engage with the red-eyed “alpha” species that will likely overwhelm you in power. Additionally, you as a player are liable to get hurt and even poisoned by wild Pokémon if you get noticed and don’t dodge their moves. Pokémon combat is also increasingly difficult, with wild Pokémon easily able to stand toe-to-toe with those in your party, a feature that has been absent from Pokémon games for what feels like forever.

Similarly, however, the graphical issues also transitioned from the trailer to the game. The environment is sorely underdeveloped, to nobody’s surprise. They’re outdated by probably 15 years, and graphical comparisons have made the rounds comparing this game to games from over a decade ago. Pokémon run at two frames per second if they’re far enough away. All houses are minuscule and identical to one another. The facial animation is still stiff. Pokémon movement animations are still painfully uninspired. This is practically a given with Pokémon games, but it is no less painful in 2022.

That said, the game runs smoothly and is a Pokémon experience unlike any other. If you’re like me and think the main drawback to Pokémon was the amount of handholding there was, then this is the game for you. It might not be groundbreaking in any sense of the word, but it is a welcome change to the Pokémon franchise that has me incredibly hopeful for the future. Embark on a new adventure to traverse the Sinnoh region in a way you have never experienced before.