I’ve been into Pokemon since I first saw the cartoon on Sky TV back in 1998 and during its (and ultimately my own) peak I was the go-to Pokemon kid at school, having memorised all the caves in Red & Blue and as the proud owner of a Shiny Charizard card.
It wasn’t until Diamond and Pearl that I stopped playing Pokemon games as I was old enough to drink and a pub crawl was a more entertaining adventure than anything Sinnoh had to offer.
Over the next ten years I kept an eye on Pokemon, buying the occassional game, but it wasn’t until Pokemon Go launched that I really got back into it in a proper way and since then I’ve played every mainline game that’s come out.
Sword and Shield were really fun, especially after the DLC completed it and I have a soft spot for the Let’s Go games because of it’s overworld shiny mechanics.
I wasn’t really a big fan of the Diamond and Pearl remakes though as it felt too similar to how Link’s Awakening was essentially a reskin of the original game but just in 3D and because of this I had mixed feelings about how fun Pokemon Legends: Arceus could be.
Before its release all I knew of the game was that it’s open-world, has a mix of Pokemon battling & Let’s Go style straight capturing and didn’t have a gameplay structure similar to those Pokemon games before it.
I went into the game expecting the new mechanics to be crammed into the same old Pokemon formula of catching enough Pokemon to meet the Pokedex requirement, battling Pokemon to level up in order to beat Gyms and working through a linear story to ultimately be crowned the champion.
I was expecting the open-world parts of the game to follow on from the Wild Area in Sword and Shield which were enjoyable but still quite limited even though the DLC really improved upon the initial implementation.
I didn’t know what to make of the capture/battle style mechanics but I anticipated that this was only applicable to certain areas with the trailers just showing the good bits to get people interested in buying the game.
A better game/life balance
After getting through the inevitable ‘pick your starter’ dialogue though I came to realise that there were no Gyms to battle, no forced path, aside from the main storyline and while you still need to catch Pokemon to progress it’s based on a number of factors instead of the usual ‘catch 50 species’ so you have the freedom to pick how you meet the goal.
When I buy new games I tend to devote the weekend after launch to playing through the game’s storyline because I know that other aspects of my life will rob me of being able to play the game consistenly and I’ll forget the story if I don’t.
Previous Pokemon games by their design have needed this level of attention as the story is the means to get higher level Pokemon, to get access to new areas and it’s not until the post game that you can really begin completing your Pokedex.
With Pokemon Legends: Arceus and it’s mission structure I haven’t had such a problem and I find it more enjoyable being able to dive in whenever I feel like playing, doing a couple of missions and forgetting about it for a few days before picking it up again.
The way the Pokedex and Pokemon levels work in the game also enables this pick up and play style. Instead of the Pokemon level being tied to a Gym badge it’s instead tied to a Pokedex rank which can be increased in a number of ways.
This means that while I don’t have the time to sink into training a well-honed team of Pokemon I can instead focus on gaining ranks in my Pokedex through catching and battling so that should I manage to capture one of the higher level Pokemon they will obey my commands.
These small tweaks on the formula make the game/life balancing act I have to do far easier.
Breathing in the wild air
Mechanically speaking Pokemon Legends: Arceus is very different to previous Pokemon titles with there being a lot more emphasis on collecting and crafting items that will allow you to catch Pokemon easier.
These items range from the components of a Pokeball to those needed to create ways of avoiding Pokemon detecting you as you try and sneak up on them in order to catch them without having to battle them or them fleeing.
The latter items are useful as you get more points for stealthily catching Pokemon with the tables turned as you are now the one who lurks in the tall grass and you may want to stay in there too if you’re low level and you spot an Alpha Pokemon.
The mechanical changes make the game similar to the Pokemon Manga which has trainers carrying out particular missions for Professors, using berries and the like to heal up their team and finding new ways to catch Pokemon instead of hoping for random battles as a result of walking through tall grass.
New Pokemon variants
In the game there are two new variants of Pokemon; Alpha Pokemon which have boosted stats and physical size but aside from being harder to battle are still catchable (and you’ll want to catch them for your team) and Noble Pokemon, which I guess would be the Gym Leaders of the story, although you don’t battle them in the same way.
To battle Noble Pokemon you instead enter a 3rd person shooter like challenge where you have to dodge attacks and throw bags of ‘balm’ at them in order to bring a health bar down. There are also points in the battle where you can bring your Pokemon out to fight them but I found that this wasn’t as effective as just learning to dodge well.
These battles are just part of the story progression and you don’t catch the Noble Pokemon at the end so they don’t help you to get a good team of Pokemon like Alpha Pokemon do. Luckily Alpha Pokemon are scattered across the open-world map so they’re easier to find, but because of higher levels and stats, are a little harder to catch.
The bad bits
The open-world map isn’t as open-world as you’d be led to think as there’s still barriers around the areas and you can only move between them by going back to the village. I’m sure there’s technical reasons for this but I think it would have been cool to be able to fly across the map like you would in World of Warcraft and see how the areas and the Pokemon change underneath you.
It’s also very clear that Breath of the Wild had a big ‘influence’ on the game and the game engine to the point where you’d swear it was a mod more than a new game, nothing shows this more than the sounds the player makes when they get hit by a Pokemon attack as it’s basically the same noise that Link makes in that game.
I really hope Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn’t a one off like Let’s Go was and that the next mainline Pokemon game continues this open-world mission based approach. If they wanted to bring back the Gym Leader mechanic I wouldn’t mind so much if it truly felt like you had free reign with what you did between those battles to progress the story.
I’m really glad that the team behind Pokemon Legends: Arceus were given the opportunity to try something different though and I hope there’s DLC in the future to expand on the game much like how the DLC for Sword and Shield did.