Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the review of the long-awaited evolution of pocket monsters



We played Pokémon Legends: Arceus for Nintendo Switch, is this really the future of the Game Freak series? The answer in our review.

If you’ve managed to keep your distance from the sensational leaks of the past few days, then know that this review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a safe haven. Nothing about the story will be anticipated, and even some of the content of this groundbreaking “Pokémon experience” you can find out for yourself on January 28, 2022, when the game finally arrives exclusively on Nintendo Switch.

Today we will limit ourselves to tell you about the new mechanics, how they work and whether they can represent the expected evolution of the series. Without neglecting of course a hint at the overall quality of this new narrative system.

Because there is talk of the most ambitious chapter in the series ever developed, which could represent a real new beginning for the pocket monsters of Nintendo. Will everything go as planned? Find out in the review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus.

Graphics: want but can’t?

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Professor Laven will be our mentor

Let’s get this out of the way right away, shall we? Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not an ugly game to look at, but it is still not up to the limited hardware on which it runs. That the guys at Games Freak are not exactly monsters in terms of technology we should all know by now, but that a series with the resources of Pokémon in 2022 we expect more is quite legitimate. That being said, the visuals, in some circumstances, are compelling. Playing in portability on Switch OLED, the screen returns bright and vivid colors that embellish each model or scenario, and it’s definitely the best way to enjoy the experience. On the screen of a normal TV, in fact, the increased resolution emphasizes too much the poverty of the graphics engine, compared to an artistic direction that we, however, very much appreciated.

Unfortunately, the low resolution of the textures and intrusive aliasing dirty the image smeared on the TV to the point of beautifying it more than necessary. The other side of the coin is in the fluidity, which the first trailers suggested to be a little claudicant to say the least and that instead, in the final code, proved to be more than appreciable. The graphics engine loses very few frames, and only in rare moments of crowding. It is clear that those of Game Freak have had to make more compromises than necessary to maintain this stability, saving on textures and filters to stem the inevitable problems of fogging and pop-up, which are present, but much less pronounced than in the Wild Lands of Pokémon Sword and Shield.

The result is then a satisfactory visual horizon that allows you to recognize the pokémon and resources in the distance, but also a smooth gameplay that goes well with the freedom of movement granted to the player, especially once unlocked pokémon rideable as Wyrdeer or Basculegion, which allow you to cross the huge maps in a seamless, without annoying slowdowns or intermission scenes. The various areas are then separated in the manner of Monster Hunter, with the Jubilant Village that leads to the other maps. Within each of them you can then travel quickly between camps, and the loads are lightning fast.

The geographical diversity is convincing, each map represents one or more biomes, providing the variety that you would expect from a title of this genre. The monsters that are encountered in Hisui are many and distributed in a sensible way in the maps: we were surprised by the excellent quality of the animations and the effects that distinguish the moves, strongly spectacularising the new fights at close range.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the Seals on the Overseas Shore

We also appreciated the implementation of a day/night cycle, which goes to affect not only the lighting, but also the fauna and to a lesser extent the gameplay, and the random weather system that brings some small but delightful visual details, such as shaders on wet clothes or realistic sound effects of rain and wind. On this aspect, it is worth noting that the soundtrack is one of the best we could hear in so many years of Pokémon, but it is also well dosed, and often replaced by the only environmental effects that contribute to a general sense of involvement.

It’s a shame, then, that Game Freak didn’t decide to go a step further and dub the dialogues of the colorful cast of characters we’re going to meet in the course of the adventure. Pass the now familiar 8-bit verses of Pokémon, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus in a sense betrays its technically retrograde nature precisely when the characters open their mouths but to give them voice there are only texts to read.

Pokémon 2.0

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Starly, and Bidoof Roaming Obsidian Heath

What is Pokémon? In short, what is it that defines it compared to many other RPGs of the Japanese school? This must be the question they asked themselves at Game Freak while imagining the future of the series, and to answer it they surely watched an episode of the cartoon. In those scenes where Ash Ketchum and co. wander freely through woods, meadows and glades, looking for wild pokémon to register in the PokéDex, the guys at Game Freak found the answer they were looking for. Away from the binaries and constraints of old-fashioned JRPGs, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the closest game to that idea of adventure. And the technical compartment we discussed above contributes significantly to its success: despite being old-fashioned, it conveys a completely new feeling to players who grew up in the Paths of the previous titles.

We can assure you that the aforementioned smears, such as aliasing or ugly textures, take a back seat to the composition of a picture that finally respects the fantasy that has always been Pokémon outside the video game boundaries. Exploring the Hisui of the past, hiding in the grass that sways in the wind to observe the pokémon that graze undisturbed a few meters away, is an unusual and engaging experience. Especially because the little monsters can react to our presence in the most disparate ways: someone may run away, someone else may approach curious, most will attack us on sight and we will be forced to dodge the moves in real time. If our character takes too much damage, he’ll end up at the nearest camp, losing some items in his duffel bag.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, if a pokémon notices you, it will be more difficult to catch it

Game Over does not exist, and even when you run out of available pokémon in a fight against a wild monster, the game simply closes the fight to give us back control of the character in the 3D environment. This already says a lot about the importance that Pokémon Legends gives to the battles. They are practically secondary and, to be honest, you could even avoid almost any fight except those imposed by the story, which are not always the traditional clashes with trainers, because in this era of real trainers there are still no real trainers. Humans have just begun to study pokémon, and the deliberate superficiality of the PokéDex, which offers much less information than in the past, reflects precisely this aspect of the narrative.

If you wanted to, you could simply capture pokémon before a major confrontation by going after them of the most appropriate level. In most cases, you don’t even have to fight to capture a monster. Just pull the Poké Ball – perhaps from concealed and behind, so it increases the chances of capture – and you’re done. Alternatively, weakening a pokémon to capture it in battle is still an option, but it’s not the only one.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Cyndaquil vs. Munchlax

And your approach can also be more or less tactical. It will be easier to capture certain pokémon if you first distract or confuse them with the appropriate tools, such as the treats you can collect around the map or make through a simple but robust DIY system that lets you, among other things, manufacture the various types of Poké Ball or synthesize Potions and Revitalizers.

The exploration and capture of pokémon are the pillars of the new course and are intertwined with a progression free from the beginning, but at the same time subject to a series of stakes. In the PokéDex of Professor Laven we will find a series of objectives for each registered pokémon that will make us earn analysis points with Team Galaxy of which we are part: each threshold reached translates into a promotion and, therefore, in the permission to access the next map. Once we reach a new map, we can freely explore it far and wide right away, but the story at some point will lead us to the next map, provided that we have reached the necessary degree for entry.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, at Jubilus Village you'll find an emporium, a hairdresser, and other services

The height of this “wall” depends, in reality, on how you play. If you devote yourself hastily to the campaign, capturing just the pokémon you need to beat the boss, without even dedicating yourself to the NPC Requests, then it is clear that at some point you will have to stop and collect points for a promotion. If, on the other hand, you respect the philosophy of the game, capturing the new pokémon in which you come across and completing not all but just a few tasks for each of them, the analysis points are practically done on their own and you do not suffer any restrictions. How you approach the adventure also reflects on the overall longevity, of course.

The discrepancy between how Game Freak would like us to play Pokémon Legends: Arceus and how we actually play it is certainly an edgy issue. The battle system itself bends under this perspective. Wild pokémon can team up and attack us together: we may have only engaged one of them to find ourselves fighting a couple of other little monsters that were too close. In these cases, the defeat is almost certain, but it is not an imbalance in the difficulty level, but an indirect way to tell the player: find another way.

Fighting in Hisui

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Wyrdeer Will Be Your First Ride

That Pokémon Legends is an experimental course you understand as soon as you analyze more deeply the combat system and, better yet, all the RPG apparatus that has supported it in the past: numbers, mechanics, skills, statistics, moves and so on. Pokémon Legends streamlines it in an impressive way and this, we believe, will be the contention that may or may not really disappoint a lot of players. By now it should be well known that behind the boyish veneer of the parent series was a robust and extremely complex role-playing game that found its greatest expression in the competitive scene. Pokémon Legends gets rid of virtually every sophistication, sacrificing customization in favor of some more or less brilliant insights.

For example, now the pokémon no longer have to forget the moves: each new move learned is set aside and we can reconfigure the battle set-up at any time, simply by swapping the moves in the menu. A simple and ingenious solution that, however, completely sacrifices the importance of choice: the pokémon belonging to the same species grow ideally all the same … unless they are Alpha, ie enhanced versions and more difficult to capture.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, throw pokémon at trees to get PE, berries, and maybe some Burmy

Winking at Octopath Traveler and Bravely Default, the new combat system allows us to boost certain moves – those “mastered”, that is, that the pokémon has already used a certain number of times – making them Fast or Powerful. In both cases they consume a greater number of PP: the Fast ones inflict less damage, but accelerate the turns of the pokémon, sometimes allowing it to act twice in a row, while the Powerful ones have the complete opposite effect: they do more damage, but slow down the pocket monster.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the three starting pokémon

Considering that the pokémon we’re fighting against can also take advantage of this mechanic, you’d think it would be essential to assimilate it to get the better of the fights. Instead we found it quite negligible. Often just a move is super effective to get the better of an opponent, even in the face of huge gaps in experience levels. Unlike the aforementioned Square Enix RPGs, where it was simply necessary to exploit the peculiar mechanics to win, in Pokémon Legends you rarely feel the need.

Suffice it to say that the game’s most iconic confrontations are not subordinate to an actual fight. Instead, they are action-packed fights in which we will have to dodge the attacks of the pokémon on duty in real time, learning its patterns to roll away and respond by pulling the Sferezen in order to calm it down. If you want, you can fight against the pokémon at the right time to weaken it and increase the effectiveness of the Sferezen, but it is not strictly necessary. For the avoidance of doubt, we want to point out that these boss fights, although essential, we have definitely liked, and some proved sufficiently complex to keep us on our toes all the time.

The right way

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the Rapid Technique allows you to unleash less lethal but faster moves

Pokémon Legends: Arceus draws on twenty-five years of history to refine an experience that aims to be revolutionary and familiar at the same time. It does so by winking at completely different series that have been successful on Nintendo Switch, but also at its fans. The Game Freak title, however, doesn’t live on captures and explorations alone. It has a good variety of content, including optional NPC Requests, a source of useful and sometimes truly surprising rewards, and a robust post-game full of legendaries to capture and other content supported by a valid narrative.

The story turned out to be surprisingly captivating, thanks mainly to the many characters who lead it and to a more mythological angle: in this case, the various subplots enrich the fresco little by little, solving the various mysteries in a completely organic and coherent way. It’s certainly not Hugo Award worthy, but it’s still smooth and interesting.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the kings and queens are fun but challenging bosses

In light of all these considerations, it is difficult to say whether this is the right path for the franchise in the future. The big N has hinted that Pokémon Legends is the spiritual successor of the classic series, but we must admit that we had the impression of playing a sensational spin-off that tries experimental solutions, sometimes so daring as to question the most historical and significant characteristics of the brand. Leaving aside for a moment exploration, captures and fights, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a single release in which you can complete the PokéDex without resorting to exchanges, although they are still possible via Internet connection.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, of course you can change your hairstyle and clothing.

Can we really consider the long-awaited evolution of Pokémon successful if the new course sacrifices the competitive scene and the sophistications that have defined the gameplay for so many years, the same ones to which we appealed every time we wanted to explain why Pokémon was not only an RPG for kids, but also a title capable of thrilling adults?

The foundations to build something bigger and more stable are solid and they are all there. Pokémon Legends: Arceus may indeed be the future of the franchise, if not on Switch then maybe on Nintendo’s next platform, but Game Freak will have to square the circle or make it official as a spin-off for those who love the more adventurous aspect of the series and grew up on the notes of the cartoon theme song.

Comment

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a splendid experiment, but we’re convinced that many players will regret the more iconic features that Game Freak has sacrificed in the new exploratory and single player approach. The Japanese developer has taken the right path in an attempt to renew a series that really needed it, and now it just has to find the right balance, but above all must make a decisive step forward on the technical front, because the art direction is no longer enough. If you are tired of the classic formula, but still love the pocket monsters of Nintendo, Pokémon Legends is definitely the title you need to put you at peace with the world of Pikachu and company.

PRO

  • Innovative gameplay
  • Lots of variety in Pokémon, scenarios and content
  • Some welcome improvements
  • Music and sound effects
  • Graphic backwardness
  • The new Rapid/Powerful Technique did not convince us
  • Sacrifices many RPG features of the past
  • Have you noticed any errors?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.