Travel with me will you? Back in time to February 26th, 2021.
It is Pokémon day, much like today, when Pokémon Legends: Arceus was announced. A new adventure with everyone’s favorite battle beasts, which featured massive open-world exploration. Surviving in a dangerous wildland, while dodging attacks from wild Pokémon, and catching new ‘mons from the tall grasses, is a real reversal from the original series. Instead of being ambushed, you were doing the ambushing.
Exploring new approaches to the series is nothing new with the spinoff games. Pokémon Colosseum, Pokémon Rescue Team, and Pokémon DX all took the familiar beasties, still had them battling, but tried new ideas. Some ideas survived into future incarnations of the game, while others were just experiments.
A lot of excitement was generated for this game from its announcement to release. Exploring a new* region, learning new systems, and seeing new variant Pokémon!
I personally was looking forward to what I viewed as a Pokémon Breath of the Wild. When the game dropped in January, I threw myself headlong into it, and while it’s been about a month since it’s released, I’ve come to you with my review over the time and space-spanning spinoff.
To start with, what sets this Pokémon adventure apart from the others is its sheer size. The whole game is divided into relatively large open zones. Each zone leads you across it experiencing the story, finding new Pokémon, and learning new mechanics. Each zone has a rich collection of physical challenges, often requiring creative exploration or returning once a new type of traveling Pokémon is unlocked.
Each zone is split into two story-related parts. First, you meet with a guardian Pokémon of one of the two local tribes. That guardian will grant you a new mode of transportation across the zones. Either faster movement, hidden item seeking, traveling over water, climbing cliffs, and eventually flight.
You use these modes of transportation to get to the second guardian, which has gone berserk. Additionally, once you unlock the new modes of travel, you can revisit older zones, often granting you access to new parts of the map previously not accessible. Often getting you to some unique Pokémon spawn points, allowing you to catch some of your favorites.
The zones are frankly huge. With tons of nooks and crannies to explore. Fast travel does exist, but with limited travel points across the map, you’ll be spending most of your time heading to mission points yourself, then fast traveling back to camp to unload your pack. You will have the ability to set up an extra camp in each zone, granting you an extra fast travel point to adventure out from.
The game is long. Much like normal Pokémon games, you spend a lot of time catching Pokémon. Unlike those entries, the expansion of your Pokédex is the primary focus. Fighting legendary Pokémon and some trainers is a major point, but it’s all about the ‘dex. You’ll accomplish this in a way that will make the grind of the original Pokémon games seem tame. Often this will require you to catch multiple copies of the same Pokémon, defeat multiples, or witness the particular little monster use one of its moves a ton of times.
The Pokédex being the primary focus of the game leads to some shifting in how you progress. In core Pokémon entries, you improve your ability to control Pokémon by getting badges from gym trainers. In Arceus, as you fill out your Pokédex, you get star rank promotions, which lets you purchase and craft new potions and Pokéballs, and improve your control level.
For the diligent collector out there, there’s more than just shinies to catch, though they’re easier to catch too. A new type of Pokémon has emerged: Alpha Pokémon. Alphas are bigger and slightly more powerful versions of a Pokemon. Often an Alpha will have a unique move or two as well. Some appear in fixed locations, such as an Alpha Rapidash near your starting location. Other times, Alphas can just randomly appear among their regular cousins.
Alphas can also appear in Time-Space distortions, which will randomly appear across each zone. They manifest for a limited time and can have rare Pokémon spawn in them, so you’ll spend quite a bit of your journey waiting for a new distortion to appear. The first distortion I encountered, is where I found my Alpha Sylveon (pictured above.)
The Place Between Time & Space
Overall, the game is a lot of fun. It’s a great departure from the core line, and arguably even from some of the other spin-off games. That being said, the game isn’t perfect, and there is a bit that could be improved.
While Legends does open-world exploration much better than Sword and Shield, this exploration can feel lonely at times. Since much of the game’s focus IS exploration, you spend most of your time in the open world, just wandering around. With this focus being linked to the idea of setting up a new city on a relatively under-settled island, a lack of tons of NPCs makes sense. Similarly, the focus of the game isn’t multiplayer as much as the core line of the series, so there aren’t random other players wandering the area like in Sword & Shield.
The post-story game is mostly about completing the Pokédex, catching Alpha Pokémon, and just finishing your quest journal. Filling the Pokédex can get a little tedious after a while. This is because of the limited storage space back at your Pokémon stable, which substitutes for the Comp. Coupled with sometimes needing to catch multiple of a single pokemon, up to 10 in some cases, to finish a Pokedex entry, it can get tiring to go back and release all your pokemon frequently. Additionally, with no multiplayer battling or similar mechanics, for many players, this game won’t have the life a core line game will have.
As of the posting of this article, Legends is not compatible with the storage and trading hub system Pokémon HOME. This is a double-edged sword. Due to the spawning system in Legends, catching shiny Pokémon is much easier. Between regular Pokémon spawning and the Outbreaks, you’ll be seeing more Pokémon pop up, so that chance for Shiny spawning will proc more. Due to the lack of transferability, shiny hunters don’t have the benefit of Arceus’ ability to catch shinies… yet.
End of Time & Space
All in all, I love Pokémon Legends: Arceus. The game is a refreshing adventure, with a lot of cool departures from the traditional formula. These departures can potentially be major boons for the mainline of the series, assuming the developers take advantage of them. If the open world, simple interactive battle system, and crafting systems make it to the main games, they will be major boons! Same with some of the miscellaneous items. Legends implemented a “Link Cable” item for the game. This item allows players to evolve Pokémon needing a trade to transform.
I would love to see more games in this format in the future. The cool action and new elements make for some exciting new combos and leave me wanting to play more, I just wish there were more to do WITH these new elements. With the new Generation 9 game announced today for later this year, here’s to hoping the designers are keeping some of these elements in the new adventure. (I’m excited for Sprigatito!)
Overall, even with its faults, I love Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It’s a cool adventure with neat mechanics. I look forward to playing it more, even with the flaws. Hopefully, Pokémon takes the lessons from Legends to heart and keeps experimenting too.
Did you like Pokémon Legends: Arceus? Do you want more experimental adventures from the Pokémon team? Let me know below!