Pokémon Legends: Arceus: Revolutionizing the Longstanding Pokémon Formula

Justin reviews the new Pokémon Legends: Arceus!

Pokémon Legends: Arceus, from Japanese studio Game Freak, has been out for a week now. This title is a major departure from previous entries in the mainline Pokémon series, focusing on a new time period, set well before the other games in the series that started with Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. This game features several open-world areas and new controls that allow for dynamic catching and battling that revolutionize the mechanics of this series. Beyond this change, the engaging storyline and major quality of life improvements have helped Pokémon Legends: Arceus open a refreshing new chapter in the world of Pokémon.

Pokémon is one of the most well-known franchises in the world. Even those who do not play these video games are very aware of different Pokémon and characters within this franchise. While the mainstream appeal has always focused on this monster-collecting series, it is clear that Game Freak made this game with the Pokémon fan in mind. As a big fan of Pokémon, I usually enjoy the most recent releases from this franchise, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus is more than a new title. This studio built this game in an open-world setting (The first time for this series) but did not forget where the games came from. Game Freak looked back at their canon of video games and chose the best parts of this series to create one of the best Pokémon games ever.

Wyrdeer helping the trainer get around | Pokémon Legends: Arceus

 Aspects of Pokémon Legends: Arceus are reminiscent of and inspired by many franchise titles, including the catching mechanics from Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee!, the overworld spawns and item system from Pokémon Sword and Shield, ride Pokémon for quicker traveling from Pokémon Sun and Moon, and ties to the storyline of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. They even incorporated aspects of the Mystery Dungeon games through the side quest system and New Pokémon Snap’s research focus and biome-based areas. This connection to the previous games of the series, both mainline and non-mainline, helps firmly plant this game on the upper tiers of this franchise.

New creations for this game, including several new Pokémon and regional variations of existing Pokémon, have added deeper lore into this ever-expanding universe. Some of these new Pokémon will certainly become fan favorites. But more importantly, Game Freak clearly focused on increasing the variety of Pokémon available, with several dual types (such a normal/ghost and grass/electric) either receiving its first Pokémon or is a type-up that only had a few Pokémon at most.

Zorua’s Hisui appearance, the first normal/ghost Pokémon | Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Quality of life improvements are a major factor in Pokémon Legends: Arceus’s success. These changes include access to a Pokémon’s full moveset that allows for interchangeable moves at any point in the game. Your Pokémon no longer forget the moves they previously knew but rather have four ready at one time. The player can then interchange these moves out as needed for a particular moment or battle. In addition, the ease of access for moves through the move tutor (as opposed to items) makes training your Pokémon a breeze. This includes gaining access to the new move mastery mechanic, allowing players to utilize strong and agile versions of their Pokémon’s moves, which can completely change the composition and outcome of a battle.

Crafting was also introduced, with materials readily available throughout the regions allowing the player to create pokéballs, healing potions, and other useful items in the field when running low, no longer having to make repeated trips back to town to stock up. This greatly benefits the research aspects of the game, heavily reliant on catching and battling a large number of Pokémon while exploring. This is particularly helpful for the longevity of the game; you can continue to craft pokéballs for the foreseeable future, which would allow for continued play even after completing the story.  For people who enjoy hunting for shiny and/or strong Pokémon, this will be a clear benefit for the continued gameplay of this title. Shiny hunting is also benefited from shiny Pokémon appearing in the overworld. Shiny Pokémon are versions of Pokémon colored differently from their regular counterparts, and this variation now appears while exploring. This is a notable change from previous entries, where shiny Pokémon were randomly determined upon entering a battle.

Exploring in the Obsidian Fieldlands with Bidoof | Pokémon Legends: Arceus

The statistics of Pokémon have been reworked in this game as well. In previous titles, the power and battling abilities of Pokémon were determined by attributes known as individual values (IV) and effort values (EV). This number system was rather complicated and tedious, and for competitive play, it meant a lot of needless grinding and tweaking to have a chance against other players. This system has been greatly streamlined in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, making it simpler and easier to adjust. However, the greatest outcome of this change leads to any Pokémon having the capability to be competitive and capable in battle.

 Beyond these improvements to gameplay, they have changed a core part of the Pokémon experience: battling. Battles in Pokémon Legends: Arceus are now conducted in the open areaS in a seamless transition. There are no intro animations, but instead, dynamic battles with free movement that exist in-world. This has led to incredible, cinematic battles that feel critical and dangerous without relying on gimmicks. In the overworld, Pokémon will attack the trainer directly if you are not quick enough to dodge or send a Pokémon out in response. The player can feel fully immersed in this world of battling Pokémon.

Calming Kleavor | Pokémon Legends: Arceus

 The story in this title has matured alongside the mechanics. Pokémon is ultimately a franchise largely geared towards younger audiences, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus provides a more mature storyline for many longtime fans. These story elements include political and religious factions competing, implications of warfare, health risks, and personal safety; these topics have mostly been glossed over or ignored in previous games, and it is nice to see Pokémon provide this level of worldbuilding that fleshes out its world. In addition, the historically inspired setting helps fill in the context of Pokémon that had previously only been gleaned from passing lines and Pokédex entries.

I am a long-time fan of the Pokémon franchise, having played almost every game released since Pokémon Red and Blue. Having grown up with this series, as have many fans playing the franchise today, Pokémon has always been an important part of my life. Dedication to Pokémon can take many forms (for example, I have an almost-complete “living” Pokédex or a collection of every single species of Pokémon). But ultimately, what is most important to me as a fan is that a new Pokémon game is fun. The enjoyment I have playing these games is unrivaled by all but a few other series. And Pokémon Legends: Arceus surpasses this marker and exceeds my expectations by creating a gameplay experience that is a ton of fun.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a successful entry from Game Freak attempting to bring the Pokémon franchise into the next era of gaming. But rather than just focus on creating a game set in an open world, Pokémon Legends: Arceus provides a whole new Pokémon experience. Quality of life improvements, dynamic and seamless gameplay, fascinating storylines, and incredible new Pokémon have led to a game that I personally will be playing over and over. I hope that Game Freak takes the success of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and continues this trajectory of gameplay in the future of this franchise.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is available on Nintendo Switch.

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