Arceus summoned you! You’re chosen to take on a task! It means going to the all new Hisui region! What do you do? Well, apparently it means getting a job. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is Game Freak’s latest spin-off experiment. It asks what happens when elements of the traditional formula are mixed with Pokemon GO and Monster Hunter. The result might sometimes feel a bit tedious and not quite be what you’d expect, but it’s promising!
Almost immediately after (literally) dropping into Pokemon Legends: Arceus, players are put to work. Professor Laventon, this region’s researcher, lost three starters. After easily catching them, the people of this world realize you have a remarkable trait. You aren’t afraid of Pokemon. To stay in Jubilife Village, you need to make yourself useful to the Galaxy Expedition Team. That means helping them in their goals. Namely, you research Pokemon by battling, catching, and interacting with them to complete the first Hisui Pokedex, help the Diamond and Pearl clans to encourage relations between them and Galaxy, and maybe complete the requests of some folks in the village.
Jubilife Village pretty much acts as your primary hub in Pokemon Legends: Arceus. You have a home where you can store items and change clothing. The town, which can grow as the game goes on and complete side-quest requests, features shops, crafting station, place to buy experience-bestowing candy, a training area where you can learn moves, a farm for growing berries and crops, a hair salon, a clothing store, a trading post for special items and exchanging Pokemon, pastures for Pokemon you’ve caught, and a photo studio. When you’re ready to head out into the wild, you check in with a member of the guard to pick a region to visit. When you do, you can also select one of the base camps you’ve unlocked as your starting point. The world map will also show if there are any Outbreaks, which mean an increased swarm of one kind of Pokemon is present.
This means visiting biomes with all sorts of wild Pokemon. There are a lot of wide, open spaces. In many instances, there aren’t too many points of interest. A private beach might only be home to three or four Spheals at a time. A large swamp could only have two Hippowdons inside. Once I gained access to Pokemon I could ride, I’d often rely on them to make it easier to traverse the expanses. Especially since, in later areas, things can get a bit repetitious. I didn’t expect the Aipoms family, the Bidoof family, the Drifloon family, and the Shinx family to be so widespread. It feels a lot like Monster Hunter! You choose where you’re going. You’re in that enclosed space. You see the creatures in the field. They react to your avatar. You gather resources for crafting items or fulfilling quests. Camps become places to arrange your party, rest, or store stuff. Also if you want to leave, you have to go through a check-in with Professor Laventon to assess your progress, see how much money your actions earned, and build up your rank. (Your rank replaces gym badges and determine if Pokemon listen to you and you have access to certain recipes.)
So how do you make yourself useful to the Survey Corps? Well, you encounter a lot of Pokemon. To completely and 100% fill a Pokedex, you must tick enough items in a list of possible research activities to get the level of it to 10. The obvious ways to increase that number are battling and catching Pokemon. But there can be other actions too! For example, seeing it use a specific move in battle could be one. Which you could accomplish by catching one of your own, making sure that attack is in its movelist, and fighting with it. (Pokemon don’t forget moves here. You can choose which four are active from the menu at any time.) Feeding them can increase your knowledge. Even knocking a Burmy out of a tree works! Initially, it’s novel and fun. I found that after a while, it got pretty tedious. Especially if it involved a Pokemon that’s a rare spawn (the “baby” Pokemon are good examples).
You also take on the main story quests, which involve aiding the Diamond and Pearl clans. While similar, they’re not on the best terms with each other. Each one worships and tends to Pokemon “Nobles” in Hisui. Except some of them are falling into a frenzied state. Coincidentally, you’re the only person capable of calming them down. The path to easing their burden always involves meeting one Warden and Noble that unlocks a new transportation method, then another that involves a more active battle. When one of those fights comes up, your avatar will be running around an arena pelting the Pokemon with balms until it wears itself out enough to be fought by one of your Pokemon. Once you do that, it temporarily pauses so you can pelt it with more balms. These range from interesting to frustrating. But as the Coronet Highlands encounter taught me, you can retry or even continue your battle with your existing progress if you do fall in the fight, so there’s that!
But the things you’ll probably be doing most often is playing Pokemon Legends: Arceus like you would Pokemon GO. To be clear, you can fight wild Pokemon. You might have to in many cases! Some species are hostile. Not to mention the Space Time Distortion fields that bring in high level, uncommon Pokemon will have groups of one-to-three wild characters attacking you on sight. (This becomes a fight where you send out one Pokemon to deal with multiple opponents.) But it can also save a lot of time to just… try and catch everything instead. You have a lot of tools for more peaceful options. You can throw food to distract them. There are balls of mud and snow. You can craft or buy different kinds of Poke Balls for various situations. There are items to temporarily obscure your footsteps or appearance. If you take advantage of those, you can focus on a Pokemon, toss a ball over (preferably from behind), and hope for the best. It can even work on Alpha Pokemon, which are larger, stronger, and more aggressive than usual! It might also mean you’ll use Pokemon you wouldn’t expect. My Gastrodon Ningguang accompanied me for much of my journey because, well, I managed to catch the level 30-something Pokemon when most every other character in my party was around level 15.
Now, I mentioned this is a title that plays around with what a Pokemon spin-off can be. This means that, well, it might not be perfect! I experienced a few bugs as I played. When a hostile Pokemon targets you, there’s an alert showing you’re in danger. In my case, two times it didn’t go away! Each time that happened, I headed to a base camp. That’s essentially a designated “safe space.” After I did my tasks and took a rest to heal my Pokemon and advance the time of day… the alert was still there! It’s frustrating, because it means you’re hearing the sound, seeing the icon, and prevented from fast traveling. I also missed seeing Cyllene during one event segment, because the screen went entirely grey. The fog weather effect could use a bit of tweaking perhaps, as once when I encountered it I couldn’t make out anything around me.
There are also some side-quests that don’t always feel well thought out or get incredibly tedious. For example, some of them require Pokemon of extraordinary sizes. This means you’ll need to hope for a random Alpha encounter with one after aiding the frenzied Noble in the area where it often spawns, then catch that. Many quests also involve completed Pokedex entries. Which is fine if its for an incredibly common character like Starly. It isn’t as much fun if it is for a rarer character like Cherrim.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is quite an experimental game, and I’d say it is mostly a success. There are some elements that aren’t quite there. Which is true of most games, I suppose. It might start feeling like a job once the novelty of getting a Pokedex entry to “10” wears off. (I certainly felt like it was getting to be work and abandoned completionism by the Crimson Mirelands.) But while it isn’t perfect, it shows a lot of promise! It’s a fantastic first step for what future Pokemon spin-offs could look like. It’s certainly more refreshing than some recent mainline games, and I felt more excited each session playing than I did with Pokemon Shield or Pokemon Brilliant Diamond. I wouldn’t say it’s the most essential installment or should be someone’s first experience with the series, but people who love Pokemon should really play it.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is available for the Nintendo Switch.