By Isaac Espinosa
As you explore the vast region of Hisui, one thing becomes clear: Pokémon are terrifying creatures. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the newest game in the Pokémon franchise, released on the Nintendo Switch. Legends Arceus takes a fresh look at the Pokémon world, introducing some elements and aspects new to the franchise. So does Pokémon Legends: Arceus provide an experience that makes me excited for the future of Pokémon? Let’s dive in and find out!
The world of Legends: Arceus is one of the past, a time and place where people and Pokémon do not live in harmony. You play as a nameless trainer who, after a brief encounter with the mythical Pokémon Arceus, is figuratively and literally dropped into the region of Hisui. Upon meeting the plucky Professor Laventon and showing him our surprising talent in catching Pokémon, he brings us to Jubilife Village. There, the Professor introduces our trainer to the Galaxy Expedition Team, an organization that is in charge of studying and surveying the Pokémon of the Hisui region. Once we become an official member, however, it’s up to us to discover the mysteries of the Hisui region and complete the first ever Pokédex. Along the way, you’ll become entwined with the Diamond and Pearl clans, both of which help to teach you more about the Hisui Regions mysterious legends. The premise of the story is very much like those in the long-running series, but without the formulaic pattern of Gym Leaders to conquer, or an Elite Four to fight, Legends: Arceus has more room for world building and for a story that feels original and surprising. Along the journey, the Hisui region continues to grow and build itself, allowing for some thrilling developments. Enhancing the story is an amazing score that helps to immerse the player within this vast and wide region. And the atmosphere of the journey makes you feel lost throughout, but not always afraid of the path forward. For the first time in a long time, I was very invested in the story of a Pokémon game.
Legends: Arceus puts a novel spin on the idea of catching Pokémon, and it’s brilliant. Unlike in the present day, people and Pokémon are very much separated, with people being utterly terrified of the creatures because of their destructive capabilities; the gameplay is oriented around this concept. In Hisui, the Pokémon all have different temperaments: some are docile, others timid, and still others very aggressive. No matter what type you face, you can perform a multitude of options to catch them, such as simply throwing a Pokéball from afar, distracting a Pokémon with food or bait to encourage it to lower its guard, or taking it on in a battle. And these battles have an entirely different strategy than in previous games, with new strong and agile styles that change the action speed of your Pokémon’s attacks. This variety ensures that catching a Pokémon will never be a boring experience, even if you’re catching a bunch of the same species.
My favorite new aspect of Legends: Arceus, however, has to be the revamped Pokédex. As a member of the Survey Corps, your job is to complete this index of pocket monsters by catching and studying every single Pokémon. You can document a Pokémon by catching it, but you’re not finished yet. There are research tasks for every single type in the game, and completing tasks makes each Pokémon’s Pokédex page more and more complete. With each completed task, you gain points that increase your rank as a Survey Corps member, which nets benefits such as taming higher level Pokémon and gaining accessibility to more powerful items. This important change to the “Catch ‘Em All” formula is genius. It encourages players to explore every single corner of the Hisui region and to use multiple teams to help, since some of the Pokémon will need to perform certain moves in order to have their page completed. And that means that even though I’ve completed the main story and almost every side quest in the game, I’m still nowhere near finished with Legends: Arceus.
I had very few problems with Legends: Arceus, since every aspect of it is a major improvement over previous Pokémon games. If I had to come up with something objectively wrong with the game, though, it’d be the graphics. I found the game aesthetically pleasing, but it could look much better, especially compared to the kind of games that run on the Switch. This normally wouldn’t bear mention if not for how Pokémon is one of the highest grossing media franchises of all time. Considering the look that some indie games produce with a mere fraction of that money, it’s a shame that the Pokémon games aren’t as graphically sound on a technical level. With all that being said, however, I still thought that the game had beautiful landscapes and ran well without any frame drops. The 3D models were expressive, which made the people and Pokémon of the game feel alive.
It’s a shame that many have written off playing Legends: Arceus because of the game’s appearance, or due to their past experiences with subpar Pokémon games, because they’re missing out on one of the best Pokémon games ever created. Pokémon Legends: Arceus has an astounding world, a wonderful story and enticing gameplay, topped off by a marvelous soundtrack and a surprisingly dark atmosphere. It has revitalized my love for Pokémon and made me recall the magical feeling I had when I first encountered Pokémon Platinum version at the age of 10. I can confidently say that Pokémon Legends: Arceus has me excited for the future of Pokémon and what it will bring next.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Recently, Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor. He also published his first story in The Verge.