Pokemon Legends Arceus
Year: 2022
Publisher Game Freak / Nintendo
Genre Open-World, Monster Collecting
Ratings
Gameplay Design *****
Environment Design ****
Music / Sound Design *****
Fun-Factor *****
Overall *****

so, this one of the first - if not *the* first - open-world pokemon game. you'd think it'd be kind of a risky move - and are they trying to ride on the coattails of breath of the wild?

well, in honesty, i think it works pretty damn well. lots to cover in this article, so let's see...

plot

!! SOME GAME SPOILERS !!!

you start by telling arceus your name, and how you look. (be sure you pick the starter option you like best - your id picture doesn't change!)

then arceus says:

meme of a kid, with his palm up, asking for your phone, with bold impact font text that says 'GIVE ME YOUR PHONE'.

arceus upgrades your phone, and sends you falling out into the sky in hisui. you're found by the professor, yadda yadda, you get taken to jubilife village...

at this point, you meet the galactic corps leader, and are taken in as a recruit. fast-forward a bit, and you are helping the professor finish the pokedex (as is standard for most pokemon games).

there are no gyms, there are no badges; your progress is instead marked by how many 'noble pokemon' you have calmed. i think it's an interesting way to mark progress, shifting the focus from "beat all the gyms" to "just catch everything".

the pacing of the plot seems solid enough, but i probably have a skewed view of it, as i spent more time finishing tasks than speeding through the plot... haha...

that said, i think it's a well written story. i like the character designs well enough (laventon looks a bit strange..........) and the personalities of said characters are decent.

gameplay

i think the core game loop is incredibly solid. there's always something to do, and always a reason to catch one pokemon or another.

you're given a short list of tasks per pokemon - stuff like 'evolve this x times', 'watch pokemon use x move', 'catch this pokemon x times', stuff like that. it's simple enough in concept, but it feels so *easy* to finish all these tasks that you breeze through them. that's not an admonishment, by the way - i think it works really well, short-term rewards give the player a small amount of dopamine that makes you want to keep going.

there's a lot of emphasis on exploring and playing with many different pokemon. throughout my run, i've used a huuuuge variety - and switched my team composition fairly drastically at least three times. it's not hard to keep your team's level about-the-same, and as i've been putting off some of the plot for other reasons, i've actually almost hit 100 on my current team. hah!

i like the way the 'mounts, which you use with a flute like the lati@s duo in ORAS, work in this game. switching them is very quick and they all have their own purposes.

also, there is a crafting system - yes, big groan! - but it doesn't feel like a chore. you kind of just gather things as you go. and, if you don't *want* to craft, you can buy some of the craftables manually in stores - either ingredients or the finished product. so it's not a huge grind at all. you generally only *need* to touch it for a few quests that require it.

there's a 'collect 'em all' quest akin to the stray beads in okami (or the poes in twilight princess), but it actually doesn't feel like that much of a chore, and encourages you to actually explore the map. i always felt a rush whenever i'd spot one of the flames across the map, and would run over as fast as possible to get it.

you can play with your pokemon by letting them walk around free, and you can have your pokemon interact with other pokemon too. you can talk to them too! i believe this helps them raise happiness too, aside from being adorable. (also, tangrowth is adorable when it's asleep.)

i don't actually know that i have critique for the gameplay at all. like, i dunno. i love the way it feels to play it. i like how unique quests are (afaik, there are no "radiant quests") and how much you can do in each area. the world is very big. and i like it.

world design

i love love love the environment. i can see where they had to cut corners fairly clearly, but i don't hold this against the team, as game freak is known for terrible crunch *and*, as far as i'm aware, this was made by contractors. not that i mean that as a diss - contractors are still very skilled, just not part of the main team!

i like the structure of the different features of landscapes - big rocks/cliffs, distant water, etc. i think the LOD models for trees could be improved in that they could 'fade in' a bit more gracefully. (i figure that's definitely a polish thing that time constraints didn't allow for).

the lighting is gorgeous. i enjoy the color profile it gives the world, and everything feels fairly clear in terms of visual noise (and thus, easier for the user to tell what's what).

i'm especially fond of the way they render trees. i like the leaf planes a lot (in some angles it looks a little awkward in how theyre clustered but the edges of the leaves are extremely nice to look at!). they cast really nice shadows too.

also, the rim lighting they use on terrain is really interesting. i like the glossy look it gives. i think it only falls short on some cliff faces (there's a spot in the second area, crimson mirelands, that make it look a bit strange, but that's kind of it). the grass is pretty.

the urban design is excellent, too. the town (and other settlements) feel lived-in and cozy. i love the detail on the small, hidden-away places, like the alleys between houses in jubilife.

all in all, i think they did a great job with the time they were given, and i'd probably be blown away if they were given more adequate time and less crunch to finish!

sound design

music isn't entirely my wheelhouse, but i'll try my best to describe it.

the music transitions are excellent. i love the music especially that plays near the arena in obsidian fieldlands. a beautiful nod to eterna forest's theme that made me feel a lot of emotions when i first heard it.

my only complaint, i think, is the audio balance for battles. i think the battle music is much louder than the ambient walking-around music you normally here. other than that, i think the OST is perfectly fitting to the game as it stands.

there are still some original compositions in the soundtrack - i.e., laventon's theme, which sounds like something composed for the game. and those tracks don't stand out that much when put beside the 'classics' - they fit right in. go ichinose and his team are geniuses!

EDIT 7/21/22: you should take a look at this DELIGHTFUL in-depth review of the sound design in this game. it's so thorough. it's a lot of stuff *i* even noticed, but had no idea how to word it (+ a bunch of stuff i didnt know).

final thoughts

i think this game is startlingly, unexpectedly awesome. i wasn't expecting to like it nearly as much as i did, but it's such a refreshing spinoff that i'd actually LOVE to see more. with less crunch. *staring directly at game freak's executives*

it's absolutely one of my top spinoff titles, sitting beside pokemon mystery dungeon and pokemon ranger. i love games that break the mold of the main installments. i would go so far as to say it's one of the best games theyve made in recent history. (lately i feel less fond of their newer titles - i hear BDSP was not as good as expected? and maybe arceus does it better.)

the gameplay feels great. controls are very nice. i feel very accomplished when i achieve milestones, and said milestones are well-placed and feel just right. props to the playtesters for fine-tuning that.

i would recommend this to anyone who likes breath of the wild, or just anyone who loves pokemon as a concept but not the main-series gameplay. it answers a lot of complaints i have had about the main series!

on a final note, here's a video i took that made me laugh uncontrollably.