America - Front
America - Back
By Miles Gregory 10th Mar 2022 | 2,675 views
I sat at a lunch table excited for the Lunchables pizza my mother had picked up for me at the store, hastily trying to open the box, when I noticed something peculiar. There were these tiny little creatures staring at me from the back of the box. Curious, I began reading their names: Venemoth, Exeggcute, Metapod. There were so many colorful critters. Though my six year old brain was completely oblivious to the international sensation known as Pokemon, I did know one thing: they were very cool. I spent the following months begging for more Lunchable cutouts to collect, not knowing about the animated series or even the games. That Christmas my mother surprised me with my very own Gameboy Color and a copy of Pokemon Yellow. I was ecstatic and instantly enamored with the world of Pokemon. Batteries were drained and replaced, bulky accessories were added to play in the dark, and countless hours were spent filling out the Pokedex. For the next ten years Pokemon became my obsession.
In college, when Black and White came out, I began to lose interest in the series. It didn’t feel exciting anymore, and I explained this as a product of age. I was no longer the target demographic. I attempted to grasp onto my youth once more with Moon and then Shield, but neither entry encapsulated my imagination or attention as the older entries did. Like a tepid cup of coffee, it tastes exactly as expected, yet it's just not fulfilling. With Pokemon Legends: Arceus, however, I finally feel my lukewarm coffee getting hotter, though it’s not without a few grounds at the bottom.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is unlike any Pokemon experience you have had before. There are no random battle encounters, battle transitions, or clumsy menus that serve to slow down the experience. In its wake is an experience that could not have been replicated on previous portable hardware without concessions. The world is more open than any Pokemon game has ever been, and it’s more seamless than I ever knew I wanted. Not only are Pokemon all within the overworld, much like the Pokemon Let’s Go games, but catching and battling them also all takes place in the overworld. You don’t have to wait for a random battle to occur and load up the bespoke background (which may or may not even match the environment you were in *cough* Pokemon Sword and Shield *cough*). Instead, you simply throw your Pokemon’s pokeball at the Pokemon you wish to battle and a menu will pop up. During a battle you can move around for different perspectives or simply walk away from it and, depending on the distance, the battle will end as if you “ran” away. If you would like to catch a Pokemon instead you simply select an empty Pokeball and throw it at them. It’s simple, but it’s coherent and all in real time.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the battle system. There's a lot that still carries over from previous Pokemon titles. Of course, the rock-paper-scissors-esque type mechanics are still here and unchanged. However, the speed of the battles is much faster and there's been a major change in how turns are calculated. Speed is much more important in this game than it is in other Pokemon releases. Not only does it calculate which Pokemon goes first, but it also calculates how many moves a Pokemon can make before their turn is over. Some are fast enough to go two or even three times before their opponent can make a single turn.
Arceus also adds a new “style” mechanic. Once a Pokemon masters a move (which is accomplished through gaining experience), you can use either Agile or Strong style moves. Using an Agile style move allows you to be quicker, and may even allow you to strike twice before your opponent gets a turn, but it also lowers the base power of the move. Strong style moves, however, strengthen the base power of a move, but at the cost of speed. In addition, the accuracy of some moves is affected, with Strong style increasing it and Agile style decreasing it. This allows for an extra layer of strategy in battles. Maybe you want to add a status effect to a Pokemon before you attempt to catch it to strengthen the odds, or maybe your Pokemon isn’t quite strong enough to defeat your opponent this turn but could if the move was just a bit more powerful. There's a time and a place for everything, and choosing haphazardly could cost you a battle.
For long-time fans of the series, particularly those who play competitively, what I'm saying may not actually sound great. In fact, a lot of series staples are either removed or changed in Arceus. One large change is the removal of online battles (or even local battles). Yes, that's correct, there is no way to take your much beloved team - which you have worked tooth and nail to perfect - and fight a friend head-to-head to see who is the better trainer. In addition, there's no breeding and no IV system either, which further reduces any form of competitive battling even if the feature is added in a subsequent patch.
The EV system is changed too, though I believe this is for the better for casual gamers due to its transparency. Basically, all you have to do is give your Pokemon “grit”. Grit is incredibly common, and you will acquire a lot of grit very quickly. Defeating a Pokemon, completing a task, mining ore, and even simply releasing Pokemon (which you will be doing much more than in your typical Pokemon game) will all give you grit. This grit has a variety of different levels, so you have to use a different type of grit if your Attack EV is over 3 and another type if it’s over 6. This is all explained well in the item description, however. Again, it’s all very transparent, which can help those who are newcomers or casual Pokemon players who never thought to look at EVs before.
Status effects and weather effects have changed slightly too. “Frozen” is now “Frostbite”, and instead of not being able to attack it functions more like burn does, where every move your Pokemon gets hurt. “Sleep” has also been replaced with “Drowsy''. Status effects such as infatuation or confusion are removed entirely as well. I won’t go too much into detail about all the changes here but, suffice to say, I never felt like I was missing anything from the typical Pokemon experience.
There's a weather system too, of course. It’s much more like Pokemon Sword and Shield’s Wild Area, which has changing weather patterns. However, it feels much more natural to the overall world here. There are no longer any weather systems which do damage every turn, but the developers have adjusted associated weather, such as snow, accordingly. The weather effects are much simpler overall, which may be another disappointing discovery for hardcore competitive Pokemon fans.
One common complaint about Pokemon games is their often simple narratives that touch on interesting themes but seldom dive deep enough to feel meaningful. Unfortunately, Arceus is no different in this regard. You're dropped into this world from the future with one instruction: "complete the Pokedex". Professor Laventon, who is creating the very first Pokedex, just happens to stumble upon you unconscious on a beach. He introduces himself, shows you some of the more basic mechanics of the game, and then takes you to Jubilife Village, home of the Galaxy Team. The Galaxy Team is a group of individuals who aim to protect humans from the awful power of Pokemon. You discover that a space-time rift has started making certain Pokemon frenzied, including the Diamond and Pearl clans' very own noble Pokemon. You're now tasked with quelling each of the five noble Pokemon, and discovering where the space-time rift is coming from and how to close it.
There are lots of interesting themes present, from the village's fear of Pokemon, to the feuding nature of rival clans, and even the effect of time travel and space-time distortion overall. However, none of them lead to anything substantial. Even the ending doesn’t feel satisfying. I won’t spoil anything here, but I will say that the way your player character handles being thrown into the past is incredibly unrelatable.
There are some positive aspects of the overarching narrative and events. Initially, Jubilife village is completely devoid of Pokemon. As you complete missions, those within the town do start adopting Pokemon and becoming more comfortable with them. The adoption of Pokemon in the town even leads to farming opportunities and building creations. It would have been nice if there was some emphasis on expanding the town itself, as it would have helped make missions feel a bit more worthwhile.
There are also some relatives of popular Pokemon characters within the game. If you've spent a lot of time playing Pokemon Diamond/Pearl then you'll instantly notice similarities in a lot of the characters you encounter. Some of them have been confirmed to be direct relatives of those in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, such as Professor Rowan. Others just have such an uncanny similarity to people from present day Sinnoh that you’d swear they also traveled through time (which is actually true for one particular individual). It’s nice to have these references, as fans of the series can have a lot of fun identifying where a favorite character’s lineage came from and extrapolating from there.
As for what you will primarily be doing in Arceus, the answer is simple: filling out the Pokedex. This sounds like a recipe for tedium, but the way the game handles Pokemon’s concept of “catch ‘em all” is surprisingly inventive for the Pokemon series. To fill out a Pokedex entry you must do at least 10 research tasks, but you don’t have to do any research task specifically (aside from one type of Pokemon, which I won’t spoil). There's typically a large list of potential tasks. You can defeat a Pokemon a certain way, catch a specific amount, stun them with items, watch them perform a certain move, or any number of other activities. Tasks stack, and some are worth double the research points. Research points are then collected to increase your rank, which takes the place of gym badges.
For most Pokemon, you'll fill out their Pokedex entries simply training your party, but the variety of tasks does a great job of preventing the game from feeling tedious or stale. In addition, there are still Pokemon to discover, even if they are out in the overworld. Some only appear at certain times of the day, in specific areas, or after meeting certain qualifications. It wasn’t until the very endgame that I began to feel a bit bored with filling out my Pokedex, and by that time I was well over 80 hours in.
While out in the field you may occasionally encounter a space-time rift. These rifts can be both challenging and rewarding, as they contain special items and Pokemon. In some cases, these space-time rifts are your only opportunity to catch particular Pokemon, since they may be coming from the future Pokemon world. The game doesn't make capturing these Pokemon easy, however. These Pokemon are both high level and will gang up on you. Sometimes two, three, or even four Pokemon many levels higher than you will try to attack you at once.
Then there are the boss fights, which I found particularly fun. Initially I was worried about the repetition, as each boss fight is fundamentally the same. You're given “Balms” to throw at the Noble Pokemon in order to quell their frenzie. After a certain amount of Balms are thrown, you can choose to fight them with your Pokemon to cause more damage, or just keep throwing Balms at them. Each boss is unique in their tactics, however, and despite the fundamental gameplay being the same, they still felt new and challenging.
Now, I’ve said “challenging” a couple times throughout this review. To clarify, I don’t think that Arceus is particularly challenging. That is, if you’re a fan of Dark Souls or even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you aren’t going to be hitting any roadblocks. That said, this is probably one of the most challenging Pokemon games to-date. There were a few times when my character took too much damage, and even more times when all the Pokemon in my party collapsed. Luckily, if all your Pokemon faint in the overworld you can just teleport to the nearest encampment and rest there easily.
In fact, conveniences such as these are one thing I really enjoyed about Pokemon Legends: Arceus. The game values the player’s time. If you want to collect multiple items, you can throw multiple Pokemon. If a Pokemon levels up to the point of evolving, it simply notifies you on the side of the screen and you can choose when you want to evolve. You can change and swap moves at any point in the game via the menu. Though I know that Legends: Arceus is not built to replace the standard Pokemon formula, I’m not sure if I want to revert back after the convenience of a few of these changes. It feels so natural that I’ve started to wonder why some of these features weren’t implemented sooner.
Now it’s time to talk about the Donphan in the room: the graphics. It's no secret that individuals have been very dissatisfied with the graphical presentation of Legends: Arceus, and I’m no exception. Luckily, the game, for the most part, holds a relatively steady 30FPS, with just a few hiccups here and there. However, there are graphical inconsistencies that simply don’t make sense. For example, one button cuff on Professor Laventon’s coat is higher resolution than what should be the same exact texture on the other cuff. The logo for Team Galaxy is notably low resolution everywhere, but you’ll find random artwork pinned on a wall that looks surprisingly high resolution. The overall rendering resolution seems to target 1080p on the television, but it often relies on dynamic resolution scaling to keep its 30FPS target. This in and of itself wouldn’t be bad if the scaling didn’t rely on awful nearest neighbor interpolation. This makes the game look particularly pixelated, especially on a 4K screen.
Many elements of a scene, such as grass, use simple billboard textures that always face the camera. Pop-in is incredibly apparent, anisotropic filtering is very low, and level of detail values are incredibly low, leading to obvious changes when approaching three-dimensional objects. There are graphical glitches, such as grass textures “switching” between two states within a battle similar to Halo: Infinite (though much more noticeable). Some shadows will disappear depending on the perspective of your camera, and the lighting itself has an awful and unrealistic purple hue in the evening which is accentuated by bump mapping, causing the game to look unpolished. Despite the disappointing graphical presentation, it’s still functional, and after playing a while you stop noticing all of these inconsistencies. Although I would love to see better graphics from Arceus, the lack of polish fortunately isn’t detrimental to the overall experience.
Overall, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a quality Pokemon release despite initial impressions. I’ve experienced more entertainment and wonder from Arceus than I have in any other Pokemon release in the last 15 years. Though competitive players may disagree, I love the changes made to the battle and stat systems; they're both more flexible and easier to understand for new players. The overall gameplay loop is satisfying too, and the ability to capture every Pokemon in the Pokedex without having to trade with others is a decision I hope they stick with going forwards. Arceus does a great job of disguising its rather repetitive nature, leading to a compelling experience that seldom feels stale. Graphically it's certainly underwhelming, but I never felt this significantly impacted or hindered my enjoyment of the game.
There are some disappointing changes, such as the removal of online battling, and disappointing mainstays, like the incredibly shallow story. Still, this is the template I would like other Pokemon games to follow in the future, and I’m very hopeful that there will be an expansion for this entry in the next year to give me an excuse to revisit Hisui after over 100 hours. If you're a competitive Pokemon player, I’d recommend keeping in mind that this is not supposed to be a traditional Pokemon experience. If you're just a casual Pokemon fan, do yourself a favor and play this game - it’s worth it.