Video Game Review: ‘Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ innovates on stale formula


In ‘Pokémon Legends: Arceus,’ rather than fighting trainers and gym leaders, players explore the expansive Hisui region. (Photo courtesy of IGN)

By Jefrey Alexander, Contributing Writer

When Nintendo announced “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” (PLA), fan reception was mixed. Although people were optimistic, they were also doubtful of Game Freak’s ability to recreate the stale but fun formula of Pokémon without overhauling two decades of experience.

However, this much-needed reinvention of the Pokémon experience was excellently executed. Within the first week of its release, PLA sold an astounding 6.5 million copies, making it the second best-selling Switch title yet.

Ever since the release of “Pokémon Red” in 1996, the formula for this iconic franchise has remained rather static. A young teen is thrown into a dangerously exciting world and tasked with catching, training and evolving as many Pocket Monsters as possible, all while defeating the eight gym leaders of the region—with the exception of “Pokémon Sun and Moon,” but we don’t talk about Sun and Moon—while dealing with the treacherous plans of an evil organization.

Now, this isn’t a critique of the Pokémon formula—it sells because it’s fun—but the experience that PLA provides has been one that longtime fans such as myself have long been awaiting.

PLA completely scraps the idea of trainer battles and gym leaders. In fact, the game starts with the protagonist hurling through time and space, transported to an era when humans feared Pokémon. The protagonist is tasked with capturing every single Pokémon of the region in order to teach the people of Hisui the benefits of cooperating with Pokémon.

The game adds much-needed complexity to the Pokémon experience.

In the lands of Hisui, you can find Pokémon of all types. However, tread carefully, for if you startle them you may find yourself at the receiving end of a powerful attack. The complexity doesn’t end there. Some Pokémon, when startled, will run away from you if they notice you menacingly creeping towards them, including my favorite Pokémon, Togepi, which took me three hours to catch.

The open world of the Hisui region also adds a new level of difficulty that long-time fans of the series have been asking for. Take a wrong turn and you can find yourself fighting a boss Pokémon that’s 30 levels above your entire team. I personally got wiped out several times while exploring the lands (and ignoring the story quests).

There are a lot more fun mechanics that can be discovered as you embark on your journey through the Hisui region.

Although PLA is a good direction for the Pokémon franchise, it suffers from monotony. While catching them all is definitely fun, you might find yourself catching them all for more than 40 hours. The storyline is dull, the missions are always a variation of “Pokémon mad, go take care of it” and the characters are as stale as the formula they overhauled.

Overall, PLA is definitely one of the best—if not the best—Pokémon game released to date. I’m excited about the trajectory that the franchise is headed in, but this excitement comes after years of disappointment. We’ll see with the release of the next game whether the Pokémon Company is ready to continue innovating its older-than-me-Pokémon Formula.