Pokèmon has always been a love it or hate it kinda franchise. Aside from grandpa’s collection in Pokèmon GO, most Pokèfans are die-hard. I have been enthralled with the whimsical little bastards since I first got a copy of Pokèmon Blue in my nasty little teenage claws. I was hooked on how complex it was. For fans of things like early Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, it was a solid RPG that checked the boxes with its own unique flair. It was magical, and it has been, to some degree, each time. Yet, here we are in the 8th generation of the game, and the series has largely remained the same…until Pokèmon got the Breath of the Wild treatment. What we got is Pokèmon Legends:Arceus, and it is a milestone achievement for the series.
I think I should explain the whole “Breath of the Wild treatment” concept. While some use that to describe a stale franchise going open world to try to grab some of that sweet Zelda money, I mean it as a new approach to concept. As with Zelda, Arceus manages to throw out a lot of junk we held onto for years, cleaning and streamlining the game while keeping its identity and charm. It’s a Pokèmon game that feels more like the things depicted in the anime and manga. It feels alive. Most importantly, its the first time this series has felt new and mysterious in a long while.
Mechanics such as move tutors have been tweaked. You can change a Pokémon moves at any time from a selection of everything its learned from the item menu, no consumables required. This is way cooler than it sounds, I assure you. Hair and clothing options are available from the start. You can simply throw a pokèball and catch a pokèmon. Changes like this are welcome and quite monumental for the series, for if a Nintendo franchise is like an old comfy room, it is a room often filled with hoarded things. Arceus figuratively cleans house, trimming systems that served only to tediously pad playtime.
Instead, they created a gameplay loop that is addictive, engaging and rewarding. Given a little plot shennanigans, you find yourself in the frontier land of the Sinnoh region. There have been times when I stop to take in the scenery atop a hill, only to pull out the map to see “Oh, this ends up being the Bicycle Hill!” More than Easter eggs, these moments really make the world feel alive, rich with history and lived in. I always felt that the Wild Area in Gen 8 was a test of concept, and this game shows what Gamefreak learned from that experiment.
Catching and battling are vastly different, and I would be completely happy of this was the direction they went with for the mainline series. Given that the game takes place before humans and pokèmon were homies, some pokèmon straight up come for your ass. Draw the ire of a less skiddish pokèmon, and they will chase your character down and attack. Luckily for you, you have items to shock and surprise them, pokèballs to catch them, and your own pokèmon to protect you!
Catching and initiating combat work in real time. Throw out a pokèmon to start a fight (or in Vaporeon’s case, FINISH the fight), and battle ensues. Catching is the most improved and entertaining change. You hide, dive, trick and chase pokèmon, catching them with no fighting necessary in most cases. Catching is almost a different game in it’s own right, and it’s never been more fun to do!
Graphically, it is pretty for a Switch game, if not quite as pretty as Breath of the Wild. However, I have a PS5 for graphical insanity and I understand what my Switch is for; that Nintendo magic. Right now, it’s function is to transport me back to the wild and dangerous origins of Pokèmon, where I’m as likely to catch hands as I am to catch ’em all.
Pokèmon Legends: Arceus and Pokèmon are property of Nintendo and GameFreak. Featured image courtesy of Nintendo and GameFreak.