HomeTrending GamesPokemon Legends: Arceus Review - Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve

Pokemon Legends: Arceus Review – Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve

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We all know how Pokemon games start: you wake up having moved to a new region, and your mam gives you a pair of fresh trainers before sending you off on a trip around the world to catch ‘em all and be the very best like no one ever was. Bulbasaur, Squirtle, or Charmander are a replacement for your absent father, and you’ve got a quirky Professor helping you and a fellow child hindering in equal measure. Just don’t go into the tall grass.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus subverts the series’ established routines from the outset. Instead of waking up to your loving parent, you wake up in the arms of God Themself. You’re transported to an ancient time where capturing Pokemon is basically unheard of, everyone mercilessly rips into your clothes, and you’re regularly told that you’ll definitely die if you come within 100 metres of a Pokemon. You think Bidoof is cute and cuddly? Those teeth can flay a man in under a second. Oh, and one last thing: the long grass is your best friend now.

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Subverting expectations is Legends: Arceus’ bread and butter: there’s the open world areas, changes to battling and catching Pokemon, and gym leaders are replaced by Noble Pokemon. Some of it works and other parts don’t – but you’ll have a lot of fun working out which parts you like. Arguably the biggest change to the established Pokemon formula, however, is creating a mutual relationship between your trainer and the Pokemon you catch.


Pokemon Legends: Arceus Review - Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve

Legends: Arceus makes Pokemon terrifying – you don’t know fear until you’ve been chased by an Alpha Honchkrow twice your level and size and its swarm of Murkrow – but the game is about coexisting with its monsters on their terms and ours. Even early in the game you have to earn Wyrdeer’s respect before it lets you ride it across the region, and fostering this mutual relationship is the foremost conflict of the game.


The Diamond and Pearl clans, indiginous to Hisui, are the ones who encourage you to foster mutual respect between people and Pokemon, but despite being a newcomer who fell out of the sky and onto the cold, hard, Hisuian land, you have no choice but to side with the colonisers of the region. The Galaxy Team is not evil as such – not like its descendent Team Galactic is in Diamond & Pearl, anyway – but they are looting this land of all its resources, from berries to Pokemon.


Pokemon Legends Arceus Review - Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve

This colonialism manifests in the form of the Pokedex, as you study the Pokemon of Hisui – like Charles Darwin if he occasionally used his finches to fight other researchers. Completing the Pokedex is not like you remember, though, as catching every Pokemon isn’t enough any more.


To complete an entry in the Hisuian Dex, you need to study every Pokemon for ten levels. You can increase this level in a number of ways, by catching multiple monsters of the same species, battling them, feeding them, using super effective attacks on them, evolving them, and even by watching them use their signature moves. It feels like you are actually studying the Pokemon – a bona fide Hisuian David Attenborough – and figuring out how they tick. It also means that you can complete the whole Pokedex (barring Mythicals) without battling a single time, other than the bosses. We have to side with the colonisers, but we can respect the indiginous fauna while doing so.


Red arrow in the Pokedex to show bonus points in Pokemon Legends Arceus

This reframes how we live with and interact with Pokemon. Rather than just brainlessly killing wild animals to level up and steamroll gym leaders, Pearl Clan leader Irida puts it best: “We’re meant to stand alongside Pokemon, not count ourselves above them!” The characters and writing aren’t particularly interesting, but this quote stuck with me. While wandering the world of Hisui, you feel like you’re standing alongside Pokemon. They roam around you, run away from you, and attack you. You can send your own monsters into battle if you want, or simply flee for your life. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like a proper Pokemon researcher, and this battling, catching, and researching gameplay loop is the most fun I’ve ever had in a Pokemon game. It’s a good job, too, because when you get to the details, Legends: Arceus doesn’t hold up so well.


The graphics are terrible. This is a very bad looking game. Occasionally – usually at sunset – you get a glimpse of what Game Freak was going for, but there are countless games on the Switch that look far better than this, whether due to a more cohesive style or simply using better textures. The one exception to this is move animations, which look excellent, especially as you can move around in-battle to capture the most cinematic angle – it will be hard to go back to a fixed camera come Gen 9. Menus are fiddly, and there’s too much focus on inventory management. The new battle system of Strong and Agile style moves isn’t terrible, but often doesn’t impact the turn order at all so can feel underwhelming.

It’s not all bad though, these negatives are offset by quality of life improvements like reducing the time it takes to get into a battle and changing up your movesets. A personal highlight is the ‘run’ button in battle being bound to B, so you can mash it if you accidentally get in a fight and you’ll get away without fail. Physically making your character run – yes, even mid-battle – away from the attacking Pokemon also offers a satisfying escape.


Pokemon Legends Arceus Review - Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve

Legends: Arceus’ biggest flaw, however, is its boss battles. Completing the Pokedex encourages you to switch up your team, try different strategies, and interact with the game’s core mechanics in as many ways as possible, boss battles boil down to chucking little balls of medicine at a big bad while doing lots of dodges. It’s an unwelcome return to the classic Pokemon formula of smashing your way through with your overleveled starter, except you just mash the dodge and balm buttons until you win.

It feels like they tried to create child-friendly Miyazaki bosses and ended up with half-baked semi-Soulsian nightmares which fail to understand why either Dark Souls or Legends: Arceus work. They’re dull, tedious, and at odds with the rest of the game, which is a real shame. To top it all off, the final shot of each fight is even a Sniper Elite slow-mo kill cam which you expect to x-ray Kleavor’s balls.

The sooner you unlock a new area and can get back to the exploring and catching, the better. It’s a shame the boss fights fail to interact with what makes Arceus so special, but I’m happy that the majority of the game is spent catching, battling, and researching rather than balming.



Pokemon Legends Arceus Review - Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve

I can’t emphasise enough how fun completing the Pokedex is, and how much it makes up for the game’s numerous flaws. Poke Balls feel weighty in your hands, Pokemon react accordingly when you startle them, and Alpha Pokemon are everything that Nobles wish they could be. One of my favourite moments was when I had nearly finished exploring the very first area, the Obsidian Fieldlands. I had caught Ponyta, battled aggressive Shinx, and seen more Bidoof than I thought a man could. I was ready to turn in my progress to the Professor when night fell. As the sun set and the game started to look presentable, the Drifloon appeared. The Fieldlands were transformed. I immediately retraced my steps to catch all the nocturnal Pokemon and spent an hour exploring an area I thought I knew. A day/night cycle is hardly revolutionary, but watching the nocturnal Pokemon emerge in front of my eyes is undeniably exciting.

That’s what Arceus ultimately boils down to: it’s doing things that other games did years ago, but that feel innovative for Pokemon. As a lifelong fan of the series, it’s incredibly exciting to see Game Freak catch up, and even more exciting to roam Hisui freely with Poke Balls in my pocket and monsters everywhere I look, yet the series still lags behind its competitors.

But Pokemon Legends: Arceus is proof that Pokemon can evolve. It’s taken 25 years but this feels like the first true evolution of the series; a far bigger change than moving from 2D to 3D. It feels like the awkward middle evolution though, as graphics, voice acting, and boss fights all need serious work. If this is the path that the series is headed down, then I can’t wait for it to evolve again because let’s face it, nobody remembers Quilava.


Pokemon Legends Arceus Review - Proof That Pokemon Can Evolve Review Card

Score: 3.5/5. A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher for this review.

Next: Pokemon Legends: Arceus Makes Pokemon The Characters For Once


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