In the summer I picked up the latest instalment in the Pokémon franchise, Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Released back in January of this year, the game set a new precedent for how fans can play in the world of Pokémon.
Arceus serves as a fairly distant prequel to 2006’s Diamond and Pearl, recent remakes of which were released just months before Arceus. The beginning of the game sees a familiar trope from the Mystery Dungeon games, where a mysterious voice speaks to the player as they go through a mystical portal – only this time, the legendary Arceus is behind it. You are implored to “seek out all Pokémon” before it transports you and your phone to the past. Not the most well-explained way of inspiring me to complete the Pokédex, but certainly the showiest, so I’ll take it.
Only after a drag of an introduction does Arceus really get going. It’s not quite an open-world game, but it’s still very impressive in its scope. The areas you can explore are huge and very exciting. You can freely run around almost everywhere in rather detailed and diverse landscapes. I’m not too proud to admit my character passed out once or twice from fall damage, or ran into attacks from bigger and stronger ‘alpha Pokémon’, because I went where I probably shouldn’t have. Just after the introduction, my first ever exploration had me running wildly from attacks by cute Beautiflys because I hadn’t got dodging down. The game does have a lot of controls that aren’t the most intuitive, so are a little awkward and take a while to get used to.
In terms of plot, Arceus is quite simple. You’ll be given a mission, explore, and report back. There are even occasional boss battles, in which you dodge attacks and defeat Noble Pokémon in each area. They’re genuinely somewhat difficult, and add variety to slightly repetitive gameplay. There’s also a range of sidequests and searches for things to do that remind of the Pokémon Ranger series. They’re entirely skippable, but I loved getting even more from the game, even if it was for simple item rewards that I didn’t really need.
It’s both relaxing and a little challenging
I’ve truthfully never had the desire to complete the Pokédex in other Pokémon games, but in Arceus, you have to work on researching a Pokémon – such as feeding it, catching it, seeing moves in battle – to get a completed entry. These extra steps can sometimes be a nuisance, particularly if you thought you were finished and just need one more thing. However, the endearing and fresh gameplay of Arceus did motivate me to see if I could do as much as possible. There’s a ranking up system for completing Pokédex tasks and captures, and one player painstakingly reached rank nine out of ten in the first explorable area alone.
Whenever I play Arceus, I always sit with it for hours at a time. I explore everything that I can because it’s so fun to do. The novelty of seeing so many Pokémon physically in the same world as my character outside of battle never wore off. In the wild, Pokémon can behave in different ways – aggressive, friendly, or shy. There certainly could’ve been ways for this to be even more varied, as it can become a little monotonous. This is especially true whenever you’re spotted by a Pokémon, and the shifty music kicks in. This often cuts off great music from the rest of the game annoyingly often – Arceus has a fantastic soundtrack when you actually hear it.
The game isn’t without other faults, either. Bad graphics that don’t match the rest of the visuals are a sure-fire way to take a player out of their gameplay experience. Only one example of this in Arceus is that Pokémon look great up close, but not so much from far away. It’s most often seen with flying Pokémon that, from a distance, move at a low frame rate and are fairly pixelated. There are also various little annoyances, such as limited inventory or a lack of the ability to sort your Pokémon, throughout the game. They don’t completely tarnish the overall gameplay experience, but do make you wish there was just some extra polish on the finished product of an otherwise really enjoyable title.
As someone who has fallen out of enjoying the main line of Pokémon games released in the past few years, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is exciting. It’s both relaxing and a little challenging, with gameplay best enjoyed by taking it slowly. With Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet recently released and featuring similarly open gameplay, I’m interested to see how they will be received and whether they are as worth getting as Arceus was for me this year.