RELEASED: January 28th 2022
DEVELOPED BY: Game Freak
PUBLISHED BY: The Pokémon Company & Nintendo
DIRECTED BY: Kazumasa Iwao
PRODUCED BY: Shigeru Ohmori, Akira Kinashi, Toyokazu Nonaka, Takanori Sowa & Kenji Endo
WRITTEN BY: Toshinobu Matsumiya
ART BY: Suguru Nakatsui
MUSIC BY: Go Ichinose, Hitomi Sato & Hiromitsu Maeba
REVIEW: Coming in a bit late with this one, but for starters I was a bit busy around release and also, today is Pokémon Day, so really this has worked out quite well.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the newest mainline Pokémon game to come out since my last review. Back in November, Nintendo also released the long anticipated Diamond & Pearl remakes. I bought them. I played them. And… They were fine. Unlike most Pokémon remakes, these were, essentially, the same games as their predecessors, which is fine (I guess), but considering I’d just replayed Platinum a year prior to their announcement, they felt a bit lacking. A shiny new coat of paint over the same product does not an interesting Pokémon game make.
After that, I was a bit deflated. I wondered if perhaps I had, once again, grown out of Pokémon. If the love was finally gone.
But Pokémon Legends was on the horizon, and for once, it seemed like Game Freak were doing something different. I figured I’d try it, and it would determine whether or not I was still into Pokémon, after which, I’d call it quits.
And as it turns out, Legends is the best Pokémon game in years.
Legends: Arceus sees the player pulled into the distant past of the Sinnoh Region, then known as Hisui, where they’re found by local colonizers known as Galaxy Team. By them, as well as another enigmatic third party, they’re given a mission: seek out all Pokémon, and complete the region’s first Pokédex.
Admittedly, the game gets off to a very slow start. There’s a tutorial, and A LOT of exposition as the story is laid out for you. Like, so much exposition. Lots and lots of rather dull, at times repetitive, unskippable dialogue. An off-putting amount, truthfully.
On the face of it, the structure is similar to other Pokémon games. Catch Pokémon, defeat bosses, solve the mystery surrounding the region’s legendary Pokémon.
But if you power through, and can make your peace with the somewhat substandard graphics, then you’ll be treated to one of the best Pokémon games to date.
But the way it’s executed here is what makes Legends stand out. The catching process, for one, has been completely overhauled. Sure, you can still battle, weaken, and catch a Pokémon by conventional means, but you can also forgo most battles if you choose, and just run around frantically lobbing Pokéballs at all the miraculous little critters you see roaming around in the wild. Some are easy catches, others require you to be a bit more stealthy. Some need to be distracted with food, or pelted with items, or some combination of all of the above.
And if you don’t use the right technique, then be prepared for wild Pokémon to attack you, the player. Being more vulnerable as a character adds another layer of challenge to the game. No longer do you just follow set routes and undergo awkward cut scenes whenever you lock eyes with someone else. Now, there’s an element of danger. You could get blasted by a Pokémon attack, chased down by angry monsters, fall into water and drown, or even have the wrong Pokémon selected to catch you when you fall off a cliff.
Further, battles, while still a relatively simple affair, also require a touch more strategy this time around, as the process has been finessed, and new types of moves have been added – increasing the strength or speed of any given move, respectively.
In short, what I’m saying is the overhauled gameplay makes catching Pokémon so much more fun. Completing the Pokédex is less of a chore than it is in prior games, and stumbling into a new area and encountering a new Pokémon captures that same sense of adventure that it did all those years ago when it first happened (for me) back in Pokémon Yellow.
The more open world is also a step in the right direction. We got hints of it Sword & Shield, but here Game Freak take another leap forward. The world is yours to explore as you please, and each sprawling zone is comprised of interesting areas and hold hidden gems. Your means of traversal across each region also makes the game more fun, as you can explore it by foot, by steed, or gliding through the air with one of your flying Poké-pals.
The story, such as it is, is also pretty solid (for a Pokémon game), and seeing the Poké-skeptic inhabitants of Hisui grow to appreciate Pokémon through your actions makes for an interesting choice of story, as does hashing out the truth behind the region’s myths and legends.
As a bonus, even though most of the gameplay is just finding and catching different Pokémon, the story encompasses so much more than the standard Pokémon games do. There’s a decent postgame, and mythical Pokémon are much more readily available and even have their own small stories attached – a rarity in modern Pokémon games, and something that’s very welcome.
To be clear, the game is not perfect. There’s the aforementioned exposition-filled tutorial, for one. The sub par graphics are a little embarrassing for a 2022 game as well. But, compared to other Pokémon games, it seems like Game Freak are finally making moves towards what a Pokémon game should be.
Sword & Shield‘s wild area was the first step, as was it’s approach to the gym challenge. Legends is another leap in the right direction, with its story and its mechanical overhaul. Combine the catching, crafting and exploration of Legends, with the Pokémon League set-up of Sword & Shield, and you should have the basis for the game that Pokémon arguably should have been years ago.
It seems like Game Freak are finally tapping in to what the fan base wants, and if the latest trailer in today’s Pokémon Presents is any indication, then maybe… Just maybe… The Pokémon game we’ve all been dreaming about since we were young may actually become a reality in the not too distant future.
All-in-all, I give Pokémon Legends…
Thanks for reading! What’s your favourite Pokémon game? Let me know in the comments below!
Hope you’ve all had a wonderful Pokémon Day, and with Legends now behind us, it’s time to start looking forward to the next entry in the Pokémon saga, Pokémon Scarlet & Violet: