Pokémon Legends: Arceus


   Star Wars, Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse; all massive media franchises produced by conglomerates of industry. The question stands: which is the highest grossing franchise of all? Marvel? It doesn’t even make the top five. Mario? Soon to replace Star Wars in the fifth place spot. Hello Kitty? Second place, yet still $30 billion from first. To everyone’s surprise, Pokémon has amassed over $110 billion since 1996, the money coming from the revenue of various video games, anime shows and movies, a live-action film, strategy guidebooks, plush toys, and the signature card game. And yet, in all that time the Pokémon Company has barely changed the main mechanics of their video games (the medium that began the craze, property, and company), sticking with the same, simple and accessible form of gameplay… until now. 

   Pokémon Legends: Arceus was released on January 28, 2022, developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo. The game has been received controversially due to its overhauling of new mechanics that are unique to the new entry and change major staples of the iconic series.

   For some context, Pokémon is short for ‘pocket monsters,’ as the Pokémon in question are creatures that can be caught in balls dubbed ‘Pokéballs,’ which are in fact pocket-sized. You can then befriend these Pokémon, name them, train them, and use them in battles on your journey to become the greatest Pokémon Trainer in the region. This concept is the core of the franchise; there is a diverse range of Pokémon, and whichever ones you choose will stay with you for the whole of your Pokémon journey, if you decide it so. Some players might choose smaller, cuter Pokémon, whilst others choose larger, more intimidating Pokémon; one of the most compelling prospects of the series is that of choice. Frankly, this concept is not just the driving force behind Pokémon, but also video games as a whole; when watching a film, you are only watching the characters make decisions, but in video games, you are the character making those decisions, and can do so of your own will.

   Although this concept is really exciting and fascinating, the original Pokémon games from the mid to late 1990s simply could not bring this concept to reality. However, by the time technology was in a state where it could and show more expressive Pokémon, a more impressive world, and improved catching and battling mechanics, Pokémon had already become a massive hit, and in response to the success, the Pokémon Company refused to change the core concepts of the franchise out of fear that it would decrease sales.

   The control scheme in the games was simple, most of the game consisting of a series of menus. Because of this, minimal changes have been made to the series prior to Pokémon Legends: Arceus; although the series has been converted to 3D graphics and the amount of Pokémon has increased greatly, the series has been generally stagnant, the main concepts and pillars of the series not being built upon whatsoever.

   Pokémon Legends: Arceus is simply more real. When you catch a Pokémon in a previous game, you select the ‘Pokéball’ option, and press the ‘A’ button. In Arceus you select your preferred Pokéball, crouch down in the grass, slowly walk up to the Pokémon you want to catch, aim, and then… throw the ball when the moment is right! It feels exhilarating and is what the series really needs.

     The gameplay of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is simply a sight to behold; the game feels smooth to play, and is really an enjoyable time. After all, this is the first time the player in a Pokémon game can move in full 3D (an X, Y, and Z axis). On a similar note, the world is not linear, and the player can go wherever they want when they enter the designated area (for the most part). The areas in the game have been compared to the world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and other, similar open-world games, however the world design of Arceus is simply not as versatile, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Arceus is not designed to be a fully open-world game, but rather have certain open-world elements and some linear ones, similar to previous Pokémon games. 

   Although in some places the world is beautiful and painting-like (such as the sky), there are many visual elements of the game that have been heavily criticized. Although the animations feel limited at times, they are frankly such an upgrade from previous games that I can’t complain, however many textures in the world look like they are from a PS2 era game, and are just embarrassing to look at. For example, the ocean looks like a repeating blue wallpaper that slightly shifts once in a while (in contrast, rivers look very realistic for whatever reason), and some of the grass is legitimately just 2D textures floating above the ground. On the other hand, there is the previously mentioned The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which is also on Nintendo Switch, is many years older than Arceus, and both games are even produced by Nintendo, and yet Breath of the Wild’s water and grass both look much nicer. Small graphical issues like those previously mentioned are most likely a result of crunch-time within the development team; the Pokémon Company is infamous for overworking their employees and trying to squeak out as many games as they can, as quickly as possible; frankly, it’s a miracle that the game is in the shape that it is.

   Another apparent problem/benefit within the game is the story and dialogue. I like a decent story in a game, and some fun and interesting characters, but this game delivered in the most infuriating way possible; it takes an hour to beat the tutorial, not because of the challenging gameplay, but the sheer amount of exposition you have to sit through. And even more unbearably, there is no voice acting whatsoever. I haven’t done the calculations quite yet, but I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if there was a book’s-worth of dialogue in the game. Although the game takes place in the past of the Pokémon world, which is an interesting concept, they go on for so long about the lore of the world, and there are so many unfunny drawn-out jokes that it occasionally makes me physically sick to my stomach.

   However, another way to see this issue is that there is tons of content in the game! Perhaps, in the future the developers can add a ‘skip story’ feature into the game, or just add some voice acting. Either way, this game is very long, dialogue or not, which is a feat in itself. Some of the side quests are enjoyable, and the characters are alright, but nothing incredible, which does get boring after seven hours. 

    With fantastic gameplay, mixed graphics, and far too much dialogue, I’d probably recommend Pokémon Legends: Arceus; the game has even more strange bugs and problems than I’ve mentioned, but also has many more positive aspects as well, such as the music and creature design. Recently, the next generation of Pokémon was revealed, and it seems like many of the new mechanics from Arceus are sticking. Frankly, I deeply enjoyed this game, and most other players will too. Hopefully, a successor to the game can be released which keeps its gameplay concepts, whilst fixing story issues and graphical problems. Legends: Arceus is the first Pokémon game I’ve had a really good time playing, and I think that is something worth celebrating (even though it is odd that it took the biggest media franchise in the world this long to do so).