Hardwired Review: Pokémon Legends Arceus

A Legendary Franchise Finds New Life
Courtesy image
Courtesy image(Graphic: Andrew Hamilton)
Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 2:58 PM CDT
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(HARDWIRED) - Since its inception, Pokémon has existed in much the same format with only slight iterations and quality of life improvements being added to each subsequent title. Now, Pokémon Legends Arceus offers a unique reimagining of the established mold breathing new life into the wild world of Pokémon.

Taking place in ancient Sinnoh, known then as the Hisui region, of the Diamond and Pearl Games, Legends sees a world long before the advent of Pokémon to trainer companionship.

People live in fear of these super powered pocket monsters that flourish in large numbers around their humble village. Only those brave enough to face down a deadly Rowlett can step foot out into this world. Brave people like this

15-year-old child. Yes, once again, Pokémon throws you, a child, out into this world armed only with Poke balls and a few partners Pokémon. Dangerous as it may be, the brave men and women of the Survey Corps ask you to join their efforts to catalogue and train every Pokémon in the region to form the first ever Pokedex.

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Set against a backdrop of a looming sky engulfed in some sort of rift, the Hisuian world opens up. For the first time ever, catching Pokémon and engaging in battle is left entirely up to the player. A new tool belt feature lets you select from a variety of options to attract and capture all the wild creatures in this world. I really fell in love with the depiction of untamed Pokémon roaming around.

Allowing the player to sneak up on unsuspecting Pokémon to catch them off guard is such a fun way to mix up the game play. It also meant that I wasn’t as stressed about losing a Pokémon to battle damage or it getting away, as often at least. I found myself regularly sneaking around to find the best angle to get a new monster for pokepedia.

Of course, not all Pokémon can just be straight captured. Plenty of higher level Pokémon and even low level aggressive ones would just knock back pokeballs sent their way. This made catching Pokémon exciting in a new way, which was sorely needed in a Franchise this old. Every encounter turns into a game of cat and mouse. Plus now the various creatures in the world can attack you without it switching into a traditional

Pokemon Legends Arceus
Pokemon Legends Arceus(Video game footage)

Mon-to-Mon battle. That’s right. The massive bear with glowing red eyes, who can shoot a massive beam of energy from it’s mouth, can do so directly at you. This made discovering new methods of approach a must, encouraging exploration and experimentation.

Battles also see a massive shake up in the world of Legends. No longer are you super glued to the floor during battles, now you can roam and view the battle from any angle you wish. Likewise, the way attacks work is different, there are two types of attack, agile and strength. Strength attacks are more damaging but mean you attack less often, while agility stat moves grant you more opportunity to strike. This means sometimes a Pokémon will attack two times in a row before

you get to even move, adding a new layer of strategy to move lists. One of my favorite changes is the way move lists work in general. In between encounters you can select which four moves your partner monsters have learned to fill out your move set. This means no longer hauling around hundreds of TMs or visiting the move tutor 90 times just to relearn moves. Now, Pokémon accrue a move-pool to grab from. What a difference this makes going into areas where you know one type of mon is heavily present.

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Unlike the battles of the past, Legends Arceus’ combat is usually over rather quickly. Showdowns are often decided in one or two blows. Not only does this make for faster fights freeing you from endless grinds but it also incentivizes you to learn the mechanics, so you don’t get absolutely bodied by a level 5 Starly. I love this brevity and the added scaling that comes with it. Now there is always a threat looming out there.

The Hisui Region is beautiful with sweeping painterly styled views, a large play area per biome and a good variety of locals. Assisting you in traversal will be several Pokémon, I don’t want to spoil all of them here, but I will say soaring through the skies on Braviary’s back or saddling up with Wyrdeer was one of the absolutely coolest things Pokémon has ever done.

Pokemon Legends Arceus
Pokemon Legends Arceus(Video game footage)

If you look at the Pokedex as a fighting game roster, then the choices of which Pokémon made the cut for this entry are phenomenal. Lucario, Typhloshion, a new awesome looking Arcanine, all the Sinnoh starters and so many more great monsters made it. Honestly this may be my favorite base set of Pokémon out of all the games.

So many entries in the franchise got represented here and I am still in love with the regional form concept, to the point where I’m almost sad there aren’t more of them here. Unfortunately, while the world is vast, it isn’t as teaming with life as I’d hoped. There are plenty of pocket monsters roaming

the world but they rarely, if at all, react to one another. This leads to an ecosystem that just doesn’t seem alive. I often felt like I was watching the Pikachu-fied version of Nintendogs. On top of that, this game almost feels like more than the Switch can handle at times. Graphical pop-in was frequent in areas with wide views, making some Pokémon disappear then suddenly blip back like Hulk just snapped his fingers.

Trees and grass would often kind of just phase into existence and the animation at the end of the draw distance would chug along do the best they can on the less powerful hardware. I know the Switch isn’t as powerful as its contemporaries but seeing the idea of what I wanted since I was 10 realized, only to find it visually lacking was pretty disappointing.

Pokemon Legends Arceus
Pokemon Legends Arceus(Video game footage)

Not more disappointing than the story though. Legends Arceus tries its best to bring a half-baked story about Pokémon Jesus aka Arceus selecting a boy/girl from the future to go back in time and for some reason catalogue all the Pokémon there.

There is a loose narrative about building the bonds between people and Pokémon to help them see the two lifeforms can co-exist, but it lacks any real depth.

Granted Pokémon games are not particularly known for their thought-provoking storytelling, but still for the amount of VOICLESS dialogue in this game I’d hoped for something more substantial.

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Despite all that, Pokémon Legend Arceus is the most refreshing take on the series ever. The careful reworking of mechanics blended with an open area design make for a truly special game.

Seeing a long running franchise like this get this kind of revamp makes me hopeful for the future of Pokémon. A thrilling world to experience, an entertaining but ultimately hollow story and some of the most fun Pokemoning in franchise history make this one worth it.

score
score(Andrew Hamilton)

Having faced God after meeting every Pokémon Hisui has to offer, I give Pokémon: Legends Arceus a 9. Here’s hoping the Pokémon Company and Nintendo keep down this path as we head toward the 9th generation.

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