The Media Man Reviews: Pokémon Legends Arceus
Updated: Apr 24, 2022
Feels like yesterday when we first heard about this game, doesn't it? I still remember so vividly when I watched that Pokémon Presents 25th anniversary livestream on the official Pokémon YouTube channel back in 2021 and getting really excited for the fact we were getting remakes of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. But then THIS game got announced as well and pretty much stole the remake's thunder as people were like "Meh, it's cool we have DP remakes at last but WHAT THE HECK IS THIS AMAZING LOOKING THING?!"
What we saw was a trailer promising us a Pokémon game like no other with a fully 3-D environment, more open world gameplay and an ancient past setting that is like nothing we've ever seen in this franchise before. The Pokémon fanbase WENT. NUTS when this game was announced and you better believe I was one of them! How could I say no to a game like this and a whole new take on the Pokémon franchise with a game that goes against the typical formula to give us a whole new experience and gives the franchise a way to feel new again?
Pokémon Legends Arceus had a lot of hype going into it after being announced and every trailer that came out just continued to further and further hype the fans up as more and more stuff was slowly revealed. Some fans even leaked the game ahead of time and the leaks just got people even MORE excited! So yeah, this game has a lot to live up to. No pressure on GameFreak, eh? So does Pokémon Legends Arceus take the franchise to new heights, or is this game nothing more than a legendary failure? Grab your satchels, stock up on Pokéballs and get ready to go adventuring as we travel through Pokémon Legends Arceus...
Section 1: The Story
If there's anything I can't give Game Freak enough credit for, it's how successful they were in keeping the story as well hidden as they did because they didn't spoil a thing about it and thus nobody had any idea of what they were in for. Hell, the opening cutscene alone throws us for a loop because we end up seeing that this is a time travel story! Yeah, the trailers didn't tell us THAT, did it?! XD
Anyway, the story sees the legendary Arceus pluck some random teenager from the present day and throws them into the past to play a part in forming the world's first ever Pokédex...because (no really). And thus the player is thrust into an ancient Japanese style setting in where the Sinnoh region was known as the Hisui region instead. The player teams up with the friendly and eccentric Professor Laventon and his assistant (Akari or Rei depending who you don't play as) to complete the world's first Pokédex while also fighting off frenzied Noble Pokémon and figuring out a way to close a space-time rift that looms over the region, threatening the lives of humans and Pokémon alike...
The first thing I want to note about the story is that this is NOT your typical Pokémon plot. There's no Gym battles, no Leagues to win and no villainous team with a nefarious goal to stop. The goal of the plot is to complete the Pokédex and find a way to close the space-time rift over Hisui before the world is thrown into chaos. The world of Hisui is even a world like no other in Pokémon games we've played before. Humans and Pokémon aren't as intertwined with one another with very few domesticated Pokemon compared to what we're used to and Pokémon in the wild display more feral and aggressive behaviour, willing to attack you if you so much as look at them funny. Heck, through dialogue in the game, it's stated multiple times that members of the Survey Corps have been hospitalized because of Pokémon attacks and in one character's backstory, it's implied they may have lost people to a Pokémon attack! So yeah, this ain't the Pokémon world we grew up in! XD
In all seriousness, this bit of world-building and twist on human and Pokémon relationships gives the plot of Legends Arceus a bit of a darker edge, which is fine considering the Pokémon franchise has always had a dark side underneath its kid-friendly exterior and it just further enhances the story as we see just what a different world we're in compared to what we usually know while adding a whole new perspective on the importance of catching and making friends with Pokémon. Filling in the Pokédex is no longer just an extra thing to do when playing the game, it's a part of the plot as Professor Laventon wants to make the first ever Pokédex as a way to understand Pokémon so humans don't need to live in fear of them, which ends up explaining somewhat the future domestication and integration of Pokémon in modern society in the other games. In fact, the world-building is easily among Legends Arceus's strongest points with a lot of fascinating lore to explore, the presence of the Diamond and Pearl clans and the "almighty Sinnoh" they worship, the Noble Pokémon and what they mean to the clans, Jubilife Village and so much more. A lot of thought went into the Hisui region and its history, culture and mythology and it's fascinating to see this new side to the Sinnoh region that we've never seen before. Imagine if we get Legends Arceus style spin-offs for other games like Ruby & Sapphire, X & Y or Sword and Shield with this kind of world-building...
I also love how the stakes of the story go up and up as we go along with the Noble Pokémon posing a threat to everyone at first and then after they're dealt with, the space-time rift just gets worse and we end up having to fight Dialga or Palkia to save the world from ending at their hands. As the player character, we soon see that it's the world at stake and that we have more investment in what's going on than before, and unlike Sword and Shield were many felt the player got left out of the game's story a lot of the time, there's none of that here. The story involves the player character PLENTY and the stakes even get pretty personal for them at times. This plot is as much about them as everyone else, which only makes for a stronger story than games that have come before.
Also this story is the kind of story where you need to take note of EVERY character you meet as many of them end up being more than you might expect, particularly the main villain of the game who I won't spoil. Needless to say, you may be pleasantly surprised at what some of these characters turn out to be...
If there's any criticisms I have for the story, it's that I feel the game doesn't exactly wrap everything up in a neat little bow. First of all, the villain is defeated and...they just gets to walk away swearing they'll be back again. Like really? That's it? We just let them walk away without any punishment for their crimes? Not even imprisonment?! They're responsible for causing the events of the plot to even happen in the first place and they just get to walk away without even a slap on the wrist?! Like I get it, their plot's been foiled and all but still, this is a pretty weak ending to their story and is not a satisfying conclusion after everything they did! At least let Commander Kamado and Captain Cyllene arrest them or something!
Also, without spoiling the game, there's a moment where the Diamond and Pearl clans are forced into not helping you, not even to provide shelter out of fear they'll end up at war with Commander Kamado. I just found that to be pretty unbelievable and a very forced moment in the game just to make sure the player character's as isolated as they can be.
Speaking of the player character, they NEVER get to go back home at the end of the game! They're still in the Hisui region when all is said and done. So what, did Arceus intend to pluck this random teenager from the future, dump them in the past, make them complete the Pokédex and come the end of the game, challenges you to a battle in which you get to keep a piece of himself so he can walk among the world he's created...and intend to LEAVE them there?! Did he have no intentions of ever sending them back home after all is said and done?! I think Arceus is a bit of a douche!
And finally, Arceus's entire reasoning for sending you back into the past is never really explained, and if it IS, it's very vague and stuff. Like why did he pick some random teenager from the future to help complete the Pokédex? Why couldn't he have just done that to any random teenager in Hisui? If it's because the teenager from the future is more skilled with Pokémon due to being from the future then who helped complete the Pokédex before all this happened? And why THIS particular teenager? What makes them so damn special compared to the thousands of other teenagers that are probably skilled with Pokémon?! Ugh, it just raises too many questions and it only makes me wish Game Freak didn't make this a time-travel story because it didn't need to be one! The plot would've worked just fine without time-travel happening at all! This kind of thing is why I HATE Chosen One plots...
Despite that, Legends Arceus easily has the best plot of any Pokémon game that's come before or since and it's one I'll look forward to playing through again in the future...
Section 2: The Characters
Pokémon has had a consistent track record of making memorable and enjoyable characters to meet throughout their games and Legends Arceus is no different.
There's Professor Laventon who's your typical eccentric professor who is the guy with the whole Pokédex idea and is the first guy in the game to welcome the player in after they fell from the sky. He's also a guy that might suddenly give you a desire to try potato mochi. You'll understand when you play the game. XD
You also get Rei and Akari in where they'll be the professor's assistant depending on who you pick to play as. I like how they're written with different personalities with Rei being the nicer one and Akari being the more sarcastic one. It's better than what they did in Sword and Shield with Klara and Avery being completely interchangeable from one another. Sadly, as the NPC, they don't have much bearing on the plot and mostly exist to be your personal cheerleader.
There's Captain Cyllene, whom despite bearing a heavy resemblance to Cyrus from the Diamond and Pearl games, is NOT the villain of the game. She's your usual stern boss whom has a hidden soft side and her blunt, strict directness makes her one of the funniest characters in the game. Also her fear of Wurmples is equally as hilarious. XD
And then we have Commander Kamado, whom is Professor Rowan's ancestor (as directly stated by GameFreak themselves). He is the man in charge of the Galaxy Expedition Team and is a well-meaning man who only wishes to keep the Hisui region and its people safe from harm. He also has a...troubled past that causes him to have trouble trusting in others shall we say. It also causes him to make rash decisions that he later apologizes for when he realizes he was wrong.
We also have the Diamond and Pearl clans, lead by Adaman and Irida respectively. These two do NOT see eye-to-eye as they have very different beliefs in who "almighty Sinnoh" is with Adaman believing it's a Deity of Time and Irida believes it's a Deity of Space. As we players know of course, it's both as "almighty Sinnoh" is actually Dialga and Palkia. Adaman is an enjoyable leader whom is a good guy to be friends with and also has a lot of funny lines while Irida is the one whom gets the most development of the two, changing from her more cold and suspicious character to a more friendly and supporting person overall. It's why I prefer her over Adaman and even chose to go with her when playing the game. That and...other reasons. XD
The clans themselves have a lot of memorable members be they Mai and Arezu for being attractive as all hell, Lian for being a tough little kid, Iscan for his ironic fear of ghosts despite being a warden to a Ghost-type Pokémon, Palina for her part in Lord Arcanine's story and Melli for being an annoying jerk whose face you wanna punch and Ingo for being another character from the future who ended up in the past like the player did.
Another character we meet throughout the game is Volo, a merchant who seems to have a lot of interest in Hisui's past while also bearing a heavy resemblance to Cynthia from the Diamond and Pearl games. He shows up a lot and plays a supporting role to the player character but his connection to the story is a lot bigger than anyone would've expected...
We also have the Miss Fortune sisters, Charm, Clover and Coin respectively. They are a waste of space and shouldn't have been created in the first place. They have very little to do with the main plot and the one time they do contribute to the plot, which is the birth of the new Lord Arcanine, could've been filled in by Volo instead. At least in the post-game, they provide us quick and easy ways to make money so they're not completely useless.
And finally there's the titular Arceus itself...whose only purpose is to set up the plot by throwing the player character into the past and then disappear entirely until we get the final boss fight with him. You'd think for a game called "Legends Arceus", he would've had more appearances in the game and more bearing on the plot. True the villain's motivations revolved around him but it still feels like he should've had more to do. Hell, him joining in to stop Diagla and Palkia would've been great for a boss fight!
Not all the characters hit a home run, but this game did a great job on giving us a memorable cast that are either funny, interesting or have great development over the course of the game...
Section 3: The Gameplay
Now for the really fun part of this review, talking about the gameplay!
People often criticize the Pokémon franchise for mostly sticking to the same formula and not doing much to change up the gameplay aside from a few gimmicks here and there. These criticisms have been answered for Legends Arceus does not play like your usual Pokémon game.
Let's list the changes shall we? The gameplay is more open-world (though you still have to unlock new places to visit) with no linear paths leading you a certain way as you can go anywhere you want in the areas you visit, trainer battles are more scarce due to this being a world where being a Pokémon trainer is still relatively new, you don't earn money from battles you win and have to collect and sell things to make any money at all, you can craft items you collect on your travels to create potions and Pokéballs, Pokémon battles play out differently and aren't quite as turn-based like before, we have the "Strong Style" and "Agile Style" of battling that can effect how a fight goes, healing is done at camps instead of Pokémon Centres, TMs don't exist anymore and you can change your Pokémon's moveset whenever you want while a Move Tutor can teach them new moves for a price, abilities don't exist anymore, any Pokémon that evolves through trading can now evolve with items given this game doesn't have another game to trade with, there's no Gym Circuit to go through and we have what are essentially boss fights in a Pokémon game. So yeah, they've changed a fair bit here, and all for the better as it gives Legends Arceus this whole new unique experience that we've never gotten from any other Pokémon game.
Due to the setting being a more primitive time where Pokémon aren't as domesticated, it only makes sense that the gameplay would accommodate this. Thrusting the play into this more open-world style gameplay further enhances the more wild nature the world is in at the time and making it so we have to make the necessary items we need and find a way to earn our own money adds a little more difficulty to the game as not everything is handed to you in a sense. Speaking of difficulty, I would advise EVER trying to Nuzlocke this game because you will fail MISERABLY! Pokémon battles are much tougher thanks to the new combat system and it's to the point where even aggressive over-grinding won't guarantee you a victory. Believe me, having over-levelled Pokémon doesn't mean it gets any easier as you can still have your Pokémon get knocked out during wild battles. It even happens at times where you can end up against multiple Pokémon at once and they really won't hesitate to gang rush you! What makes this even worse is that the A.I. is considerably smarter than in past games. They'll ALWAYS rely on type-advantage whenever they can and will use the Strong or Agile styles to their advantage if it suits them so you can't even rely on A.I. stupidity to win a battle here. Of course, battles aren't impossible to win but as I say, the A.I. will make you work for it! Anyone who thinks Pokémon games are too easy nowadays will be satisfied with this difficulty boost at least.
The funny thing though is that while wild Pokémon can give you tough fights, I tended to have no real trouble against the trainer battles. It feels like GameFreak worried they would make the game too hard if they made the trainer battles really tough so they didn't give them high levels to reach and most of the trainer battles don't even use a full team of six Pokémon. I get that yes, it really would make the game too hard if they used a full team with this more difficult combat systems but you could still give them more than two or three Pokémon to use at least. The final boss trainer makes up for it though by having a full team of six Pokémon AND also using both forms of Giratina back-to-back...all WITHOUT giving you time to heal in-between bouts! Yeah, bet you weren't expecting that!
In terms of other gameplay features, we have requests that are often given to us by random NPCs or characters we meet throughout the game and they can be simple fetch quests, not-so-simple fetch quests or just rely on making out a Pokédex entry on a certain Pokémon to satisfy an NPC's curiosity. It's not vital you complete many of these quests (the Spiritomb one is a definite to complete the Pokédex at least) and the rewards aren't always great but they can be a fun distraction if you want a break from the main story for the time being and some of the rewards can be decent, especially if it's an item you can sell for big money. As for the Pokédex itself, filling it in is no longer a fun pastime to do when the game's over. It's a NECESSITY. In order to complete the game and battle and catch Arceus, you need to complete the Pokédex or else no Pokémon god for you. Some Pokémon are easy to find while others may take some re-spawning a few times before you find them, and some you might have to get lucky in order to find. And don't get me started on how aggravating the Forces of Nature quartet are to catch...Either way, they make sure you work hard on completing that Pokédex so happy hunting everyone!
And as mentioned earlier, we have proper boss battles with the Noble Pokémon and the Legendary Pokémon. The Noble Pokémon boss fights consist of avoiding their attacks when necessary and throwing balms at them to calm them down and if an opening is available, you can use your Pokémon to fight them too. While not terribly difficult boss fights, they require you to stay on your toes a lot as many of them attack a lot and are hard to dodge (especially Arcanine and Electrode). These fights add an extra bit of intensity to the game and really makes you work for that victory. The boss fight against Dialga and Palkia is a huge let down though. You just throw balms at them over and over and that's it. You can beat them without even having to use your Pokémon, which just doesn't seem right for a boss fight against the Pokémon of Time and Space respectively! At least with Arceus, you can potentially fight him with your Pokémon and he has this awesome ability that lets him change type depending on what type will be strong against whatever Pokémon you're using at the time so that'll throw you for a loop! Heck, Arceus even manages to be a challenging (and frustrating) boss fight, unlike Origin Dialga and Palkia where they're pretty easy so who knows why the dropped the ball on the the Pokémon of Time and Space in terms of boss fights.
While you're in the overworld, you can use ride Pokémon that you unlock over time to make travelling the world easier. You can run through the fields on a Wyrdeer, sniff out treasures on an Ursaluna's back, swim through water with Basculegion, climb mountains with Sneasler or fly with Braviary. These ride Pokémon are fun to use and make travel so much more convenient when you unlock them. They do have their issues though such as Wyrdeer being able to get you to places you shouldn't be able to reach until you have Sneasler or Braviary's confusing controls where it can dive down and fly fast but it can't go up. Like, what? That's a bit strange...
Oh and random note here but EXP candies are back in this game! Hooray! They're not as easily obtainable as in Sword and Shield and although you can buy them, they are expensive so don't worry about them breaking the game. GameFreak made sure they wouldn't this time.
The gameplay makes a lot of welcome changes to both remove some of the previous game's more tedious aspects while also adding new things to make the gameplay feel fresh and new and also to prevent this game from being too easy like previous games. It may have some moments of annoyance, but the gameplay overall is really fun and actually manages to make completing the Pokédex feel enjoyable and rewarding for a change. I hope future games will incorporate some of these things into them...
Section 4: The Graphics
OK, let's get this over with...yes, the graphics aren't the best. There, I said it! Nah, in all seriousness, this is the one criticism that most people have with Legends Arceus and it's that the graphics are not all that great. It's like the Sword and Shield hate all over again, only the graphics have at least had a little upgrade from those games. I myself have to agree that it's not the best looking Pokémon game ever. I even think the Let's Go games and BDSP look better in terms of 3-D Pokémon games.
The main problem with the graphics is that the style is meant to evoke old Japanese ink brush art and while that style works well for a Japanese anime, it doesn't necessarily work well for a video-game. The textures just end up looking odd as a result and the colours are way too over-saturated so the lighting doesn't always look natural on the humans, Pokémon or the environments. If they'd kept the style closer to Pokémon Sword and Shield while giving it further polishing, this game could truly have looked amazing. As is, this style choice just doesn't translate well into computer graphics and looks gaudy as a result, not helped by the fact the game doesn't have the best rendering software ever. You'd think the highest grossing franchise in the world could afford better graphics software...
It also doesn't help there's the occasional glitch in there like Pokémon getting stuck in the surrounding environment or Raichu's sleeping animation having no visible eyes or mouth (seriously, that was creepy) so it makes the game look a little more primitive as a result.
But I still think it's an exaggeration to say the game looks like "hot garbage" because yes, the graphics aren't the best but they're not terrible graphics. While the texturing and rendering are sore points, everything is is pretty spot on in my eyes. First of all, the character designs remain as consistently great as ever with the Pokémon looking fantastic from the old to the new ones (except for Hisuian Goodra and the Origin Forms of Dialga and Palkia) and even having upgraded character models that allows for more expressive animations and even proper turning circles and sleeping poses. So yeah, no more spinning on the spot like in Sword and Shield, they actually DO turn properly in this game so that's a plus. XD I also think it's neat you can get Pokémon that are bigger or smaller than usual, particularly the alphas that tend to be HUGE compared to other Pokémon. That can make collecting them more interesting as a result as we can get bigger or smaller Pokémon and compared them to one another and also makes sense when you consider real animals and how some of them look bigger or smaller than usual.
Even the human characters look well-designed too, staying true to the usual Pokémon style while also looking very good in 3-D. They too get some expressive emotions and animations on them and the player character especially gets to be the most emotive we've EVER seen from them since the transition to 3-D. Seriously, just play the game for five minutes and I guarantee, you see more expressions from the player character in those five minutes than you will with five minutes of Sword and Shield or the Sun & Moon games! Hell, these characters are so expressive that Akari became a meme within minutes from HER facial expressions alone, particularly this one:
Looks like all those jokes about "High Quality Animations" can finally die now because we actually have those in this game. XD
Despite my criticisms of how the graphics look, I do still very much love how they designed the Hisui region. It is a HUGE open world with plenty of places to go and explore and it is gorgeously detailed from the rocks of the mountains and clifftops to the large hills you run up and even the sky at the different times of day. The night sky and the sunset sky especially look really pretty in this game. Some fans complain about the world looking "empty" but I don't think that's an accurate criticism. This is a world where humans and Pokémon aren't as intertwined as they are in the present and humans aren't as widespread as they would become in what would later become the Sinnoh region. Of course the world will look empty because there's only one human settlement and Pokémon are widespread across Hisui. Rather than detracting from the game's design, I think it further enhances what a different time we're in and how this really is Sinnoh's ancient past. And the world itself also manages to feel very immersive thanks to how detailed it is. Heck, the character models even have interchangeable textures depending on your environment. For example, when it rains, your character and the Pokémon will be rendered in shinier textures to look wet and if you trek through deep mud, your character and your Pokémon will actually get muddy. Tiny details yes, but they really do show the amount of effort that GameFreak put into this game when they add that extra bit of immersion to make the world feel more alive.
As for Jubilife Village itself, I love the look of the place as this old Earth village where buildings look more primitive and life looks way more simple with nothing modern on display. It's a nice, quaint, rustic village to walk through and explore and interact with the townsfolk as they give you requests to do. I also like the contrast in designs as we have the more simple looking buildings and houses that make up most of the village all being dwarfed by the huge Survey Corps headquarters building which is easily the most impressive and "modern" looking building in Jubilife. It only makes sense that an organization like the Survey Corps would have the biggest and most up-to-date dwelling you can visit.
Another detail I like in the graphics is that when you visit your pastures, you may see some of your Pokémon that you're keeping there out and about. It's almost like visiting a zoo or a farm and you're seeing the animals walking around, only with Pokémon and it's such a lovely detail. And if you think that's cute, you can have all your Pokémon out of their balls at once and they'll either chat to one another or go to sleep. It's a pity that we haven't got the Pokémon Camp features from Sword and Shield as playing with them and cooking dinner for them would've been fun to include but hey, let's just appreciate what we have.
The graphics are an example of how a game can still have great graphics and a lot of work and detail put into them, even if they don't look the best. They aren't great looking graphics, but they're still worth a look at for all the things they did right with them...
Pokémon Legends Arceus is by far the best title to come out of the Pokémon franchise since Pokémon Platinum. The story is a fascinating new twist on the formula with fascinating world-building, the characters are memorable and add more to the game's world and story, the gameplay is fresh and new for Pokémon while being more of a challenge than before and while the graphics need a lot of polishing, they work they put into them is still very admirable.
This game more than lived up to the hype and exceeded any and all expectations I could've had regarding it. Legends Arceus is an example that Pokémon games going forward should follow and I hope that we see something like this again in the future. Legends Arceus will go down as a legend in the Pokémon franchise...
And that's it for my review on Legends Arceus. I hope you enjoyed it and feel free to leave any comments down below about your thoughts on the game itself. Next time, we celebrate Valentine's Day with a special Valentine's countdown...
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