Pokémon Legends Arceus Review: Pokémon are terrifying creatures

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus may have been one of the most highly anticipated games the Pokemon franchise has seen in years, but somehow it has absolutely lived up to those expectations.

After years of settling into a traditional format, Pokémon Legends: Arceus breaks the mold for this longstanding series and Game Freak has delivered one of their most stunning titles to date.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus Review

The Pokémon franchise has been a massive force in gaming for well over two decades now, but Game Freak has shown a reluctance to innovate or deviate from their proven formula in recent years. Even with the upgraded graphics of Pokémon Sword and Shield, those installments kept the vast majority of the general mechanics that have anchored the games for years.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus finally broke that trend, and that massive opportunity for change sent both expectations and pre-launch criticism into overdrive. It wouldn't have been a surprise if that build-up affected the reception once it was released on January 28.

Against the odds, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is true innovation in a way the Pokémon franchise hasn't seen in years. Players with nostalgic memories of Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Colosseum will see some of the seeds laid in those games nearly two decades ago come to fruition, but it's so much more than what those classics strove to be.

Gameplay feels like being in the TV show

As soon as Pokémon Legends: Arceus starts to introduce players to the new catching and battling systems, it becomes immediately evident that it is something special. When a battle begins, you can still move your character around to get a different angle on things or get some distance to run if the battle doesn't go as you intended.

It was this tiny detail that triggered a realization that stuck with me through hours and hours of story and exploration. Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels like being in the TV show, and Pokémon games have never truly felt like being in the TV show before.

There are little nuances that never show up in the traditional top-down RPG style of the Pokémon games. Just like Ash Ketchum commanding his Pikachu, you can get at the ready and find a good place to stand so you can keep a careful eye on your Pokémon during battle. If you get too close to the action, you'll feel it as the opposing Pokémon's attacks can quickly knock you to the ground.

Pokemon Legends Arceus Review
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TO BATTLE: You'll find yourself in a variety of environments

If you're not engaged in combat, you can pop your Pokémon outside of its Poké Ball and stand beside it. If you stop interacting with your Pokémon, it will often lay down and take a nap next to you.

While the absence of these things didn't necessarily affect those titles, their sudden appearance here creates a warm fuzzy feeling that most longtime Pokémon fans will understand and share. These highlights also tend to cover up one of the only notable flaws in this game, as the graphics throughout could definitely be better.

While Legends: Arceus is solid graphically, and sometimes gorgeous, the textures could use upgrading. Grassy areas can flicker occasionally, and as flying Pokémon first spawn in your distant view they can have an oddly low framerate. The art direction and style is top notch, but the graphics still show potential for enhancement.

Pokémon are terrifying creatures

Pokémon Legends: Arceus has taken a concept that's core to the TV show and it's finally given that reality a home in the games. As you're told early on in this game, and hear repeated more than once throughout, Pokémon are terrifying creatures.

That is something that the Pokémon games have never truly communicated, as the structured nature of their classic turn-based RPG style lent itself towards a different kind of tension. Pokémon Legends: Arceus doesn't beat around the bush, it's telling you point-blank how dangerous Pokémon can be.

Pokémon Legends Arceus Review
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YOU ARE NOT SAFE: Pokémon are terrifying creatures, and they're always a threat

When exploring any wild area of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, you're constantly having to evaluate your own safety. If you wander into a new area, you'll have to temper your wonder at the new Pokémon you spot by checking to see if their level is something you could even attempt to battle, let alone catch.

If you're not careful, wild Pokémon can spot you and begin their assault before you even have a chance to throw out a Pokémon to defend yourself. If your Pokémon have all fainted, those wild Pokémon will gladly attack you relentlessly until your character blacks out, drops several items, and has to be rescued before respawning back at a base camp.

Pokédex grind avoids feeling repetitive

If you're worried about how much time and enjoyment you'll be able to get out of the game, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not a quick experience you'll breeze through in a few days. On the contrary, it's a challenge that can take hours and hours, but it doesn't get boring or tedious as you work your way through.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus may start off a bit slow for some players' tastes, but it does so in order to gradually introduce all of the completely new gameplay mechanics added to this game. Even if you're a Pokémon veteran, it'll take a bit of adjustment to settle into the new gameplay style.

Like most open-world RPGs, Pokémon Legends: Arceus allows you a level of freedom to pursue side quests and extra tasks rather than being forced to focus entirely on the main story. On top of that, trying to rush the main story can actually make the game significantly harder, as your Pokémon will find themselves woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead.

Pokémon Legends Arceus Review
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CATCH EM ALL: Catch as many Pokémon as you can in each excursion

The more side quests you work on and the more grinding you do by catching new Pokémon to fill out Pokédex requests, the easier those late-game challenges will become. The most difficult part of the game, aside from some of the final battles, is the dynamic Noble Pokémon you'll be up against.

Some of these can be extremely challenging as you're tasked with carefully dodging attacks on foot while chucking weakening balms at the Noble Pokémon before you can engage it in battle. Pokémon Legends: Arceus actually allows you to adjust the difficulty of these battles.

If you take too much damage and fail one of these contests, you are given the option of either restarting the battle from scratch or choosing to continue with fresh health while keeping some of the progress you've made. This allows hardcore players to push themselves to finish the battle cleanly from the very beginning, but it allows those more interested in progressing the story a safety valve to lower some of that difficulty.


The Verdict

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is without a doubt one of the most stunning Pokémon games ever released, and it will serve as a beacon of hope for players who have grown tired of the somewhat stagnant structure used in the core series. Those who continue to love the classic style will also find plenty of joy in Pokémon Legends: Arceus as it keeps much of the same challenge and the turn-based battle sequences while adding to them in interesting ways.

Pokémon Legends Arceus Review
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GORGEOUS IMPERFECTION: The graphics may not be pristine at all times, but they can still be beautiful

It's not a perfect game, and some players may be frustrated by the underwhelming graphics. However, the graphical issues never interfere with the gameplay or the overall experience. These are little things that some players will notice and enjoy poking fun at, but they don't hinder the game in a noticeable way.

If Pokémon Legends: Arceus is only the beginning of this new style of Pokémon game, we should see those final pieces of the puzzle perfected down the line. The most important thing for Game Freak to truly nail in a unique installment is gameplay, and that's where Legends: Arceus delivers in spades.

RealSport Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch with code provided by Nintendo.

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