Pokémon Legends Arceus Succeeds In Making Pokémon Fun Again

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Anyone around in the ‘90s remembers how much of a cultural phenomenon Pokémon was. For the kids of the time, we were all Ash Ketchum, ready and eager to start our own journey into a world filled to the brim with cute, powerful, and mysterious little pocket monsters. We believed that Pokémon were real and that one day we too would have own our lifetime companion like Pikachu or Eevee.

It is not an understatement to say that Pokémon Legends Arceus is the closest the Pokémon Company has come to making our childhoods come to life, to make as real as possible our imagined adventure through this Pokémon-filled world. Without a doubt, Pokémon Legends Arceus is the best the Pokémon franchise has been in a long, long time.

The game starts off with the typical three fire-water-grass starters but it quickly deviates after that.

The general theme of Pokémon games can best be described by a line from this publication’s Pokémon Sword and Shield review:

“[Pokémon games] should be fun. Not just because it’s fundamentally Pokémon. But because it tries something new, tries to be something different for the first time since Pokémon Red/Blue.”

Pokémon Legends Arceus is perhaps the best Pokémon game because it threw off the burden of precedent and tried something radically new. But rather than a spin-off game like Pokémon Snap, Arceus does not seem like an experiment with a unique mechanic or gameplay style. Instead, it seems more true to the series than any other game that came before it. The magic of Arecus comes from a turn to the franchise’s roots, to the familiar and indelible catchphrase: “Gotta catch ‘em all, Pokémon!”

Pokémon Legends Arceus’s Breath of the Wild moment.

Realistically, Arceus shines because it is designed around the exhilaration of exploring a vast world of Pokémon and catching them along the way. Although not fully open-world, Arceus is Pokémon’s Breath of the Wild moment and letting players go almost anywhere their hearts desire. And around every corner, there’re new Pokémon to find and catch.

While exploring and catching Pokémon may seem like the logical place to start any Pokémon game, it has often been neglected in favor of a more linear, “story”-based version of the franchise. This precedent makes financial sense as the games could follow along with the Ash’s own gym-based journey and offer plenty of opportunities to merchandise. In the process, the games have focused more on (flimsy) story, choosing the best team, and coming up with a winning strategy against gym leaders and the Elite Four.

Battling is less important in Arceus than in other Pokémon entries. But the battles that do happen are often short and sweet!

Arceus, on the other hand, focuses more on the act of roaming, finding Pokémon, and throwing the Pokéballs. Deemphasized are the battles, which not only move more quickly without the wordy text boxes (looking at you, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl), but also become largely optional besides the very few trainer battles. In turn, the game feels more true to the experience of the Pokémon world we all imagined rather than one directed for us like the anime. The sense of being able to explore the world and catch Pokémon is one of the reasons why Pokémon GO is so popular, after all.

The game is all about capturing Pokémon and wow, is it surprisingly fun!

And when it comes to catching, there’s no doubt that it’s a special feeling. Arceus becomes the series’ first with regards to being able to aim and throw Pokéballs in the overworld rather than in a set battle arena. The world is literally yours to explore, run, sneak around, distract Pokémon in, and more. There is something to be said about throwing a Pokéball to catch a Pokémon and being able to run away to your next area without having to watch the catching animation play out before doing anything else.

An example of how the game has been oriented completely around exploring and catching is the Pokédex. In previous games, the Pokédex was little more than flourish, tracking which Pokémon you’ve caught but not much else. In Arceus, the act of filling out the Pokédex is the driving motivation for you as a member of Jubilife Village’s Survey Corps. There are multiple tasks to complete for each Pokémon – catching a certain number, catching them without being seen, seeing a certain move, feeding it berries, and more – incentivizing catching and exploring to your heart’s content.

It’s not all perfect. The graphics leave a lot to be desired and the people inhabiting the world are more lifeless than the Pokémon.

But as much as Legends Arceus is the Pokémon journey so many have been waiting for, it is far from an excellent game. Speaking objectively, the graphics are some of the worst you could find for a AAA game (I agree it is stylized but that does not get rid of some of the more technical complaints like draw distance and pop in). The story, as well, leaves a lot to be desired. There is little to do besides catching Pokémon in the wild as the Jubilife Village is rather barren the world is uninhabited. The tutorial is probably a little bit too long winded. And many of the game’s core mechanics – open world traversal, resource management, quest systems, etc. – have all been pioneered and done better in other franchises.

But all these points don’t take away from the core fact that, suffice it to say, Pokémon Legends Arceus is fun. Not only because it’s fundamentally Pokémon. But because it tries something new, tries to be something different for the first time since Pokémon Red/Blue.

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Pokémon Legends Arceus Succeeds In Making Pokémon Fun Again
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