Anime JRPG Review

Pokémon Legends: Arceus – Review

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a completely new take on Pokémon. With less emphasis on battling and more on discovery, you have a huge world to explore. 

Savior from the Sky

Set in older times, humans and Pokémon have yet to learn to co-exist. The Pokéball is a recent invention and most people are scared of these strange creatures. Death is seen as a very real risk to people coming into contact with Pokémon.

Suddenly you fall from the sky and into these people’s lives. You only know that as you fell into this world, you were given a mission with these words – “seek out all Pokemon”. By good fortune, you fall nearby a Pokémon professor – one who is trying to build the first-ever Pokédex. He believes that if people know more about Pokémon, they won’t be as scared of coexisting with them.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Landscape

Pokémon Legends: Arceus starts with the mission of learning more about Pokémon and it’s always there, but it soon moves on. You work to get accepted in this new society, meet rival clans with differing beliefs about the world, help powerful Pokémon that have gone berserk, and more.

While the story is fairly simplistic on the surface, it’s actually surprisingly mature in terms of the topics covered. It comments on the insular nature of closed societies, colonizing new areas while trying to coexist with nature, and the risk of death. Of particular interest was seeing the Diamond and Pearl clans with their religious differences, separate ways of thinking about life, and the feuds these often minor differences could cause.

Outside of the main story, there are plenty of side quests with tidbits about the world. Through these, we can see people start to change and ways we can leave a lasting mark. That said, it wasn’t always serious. Seeing the Geodude we caught helping in the fields was interesting environmental storytelling, but I did feel sorry for the one someone used as a weight.

Running around Hisui

The main story quest will have you running all over the region, whether it’s researching Pokémon or finding one’s favorite food to help calm it down. I did find myself often just wandering through finding new Pokémon to catch, collecting items for item crafting, or searching for other secrets hidden in the world.

Unlike some other games, Pokémon can be seen in the overworld. Not only that, but they won’t wait for a Pokémon battle – some will attack you directly. Run in front of the wrong Pokémon and you may get a jet of flames in the face for your trouble. Luckily Pokémon Legends: Arceus gives you the option to run and dodge.

One thing I loved was that you can sneak. I particularly enjoyed the reversal where I was hiding in some long grass and ‘attacked’ a Pokémon – this payback is long overdue.

Pokémon can be ‘attacked’ in a few different ways. Primarily it’s about throwing Pokéballs at them to catch them before they notice you. It mixes in some useful additions to this, like various types of food to distract them and items like snowballs to stun them. Different things work on different types, which helps to keep things interesting. There are even more powerful versions called ‘Alpha Pokémon’ which often resist most tactics. If all else does fail, you can throw your own Pokémon into battle with them and catch them in the traditional way – beat them down and pelt them with Pokéballs.

Spice of Life

Variety seems to be a theme in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. There always seems to be something new around the corner, whether it’s a new species of Pokémon, another side quest, more character customization, a new type of item, or unlocking a method to get around.

When I was just wandering around catching Pokémon, later in the game I found myself needing to use a wider variety of items; Pokéballs that fly further, smoke bombs to sneak around, and more. Not only did I unlock new items to craft, but I found more uses for the older items.

Spending my time catching Pokémon with the occasional battle was broken up by some interesting boss fights. These had me dodging attack patterns and throwing items at angry Pokémon. It used the same mechanics as everything else but felt very different from the rest of the game. These worked really well to break up the chapters of the story.

Every so often, space-time distortions appear. These convert part of the map to a space with rare items and Pokémon, but they only last a few minutes. You can also find satchels of lost items on the map (and drop your own if you’re hurt) to return to other real players. There was also coming back to old maps when I had unlocked a new travel method to see new places. Little things like this kept me engaged and distracted me from the main quest. I took about 30 hours to clear it, while I’m sure the ending could be reached in half that.

Alongside this variety was the progression. It had brilliant pacing with how it unlocked new aspects and wove them into the story and gameplay. Even in post-game, it unlocks new Pokémon and quests.

Pokéball Go!

While capturing Pokémon without a battle is more often the case, battling is still plenty of fun. It’s a similar turn-based system that those who’ve played mainline games will know, but there are some definite differences.

The pacing is fast. I found that almost all battles with equal levels were over in two moves or less. This includes both the few trainer battles there are and ones with wild Pokémon. Considering the different emphasis in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I felt it worked very well.

It’s worth noting that you can battle multiple Pokémon at once too. It can happen in trainer battles occasionally, but it’s mostly when surrounded by wild Pokémon and triggering a battle. It’s unfortunate that you can only use one of your own and target one enemy when four might be attacking you all at once, but it was a good way to make players consider when not to fight.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Pokémon Legends: Arceus has 242 Pokémon to catch. But unlike the mainline titles, just catching them isn’t enough. To fill out your Pokédex you need to complete a list of ‘research tasks’ for each Pokémon. These differ slightly between each type, but it’s often activities like catching a Pokémon, defeating them, seeing them use certain moves, evolving them, and so on. Repeating a task often gets a higher research level, though the difficulty increases incrementally – so catch 1 Magikarp, 3 Magikarp, 6 Magikarp, and so on for 3 levels. This is just as good as catching 1, defeating 1, and evolving 1.

While the goal may be to complete all research tasks, you can mix and match tasks if you just want to hit level 10 for a Pokémon.

I really enjoyed this focus on learning about Pokémon and the flexibility to do it in different ways. After seeing some gameplay, I was concerned that I’d spend my time catching dozens of Bidoof. This still happened at times, but it’s equally as possible to hit level 10 with only one of that species.

Easy Life

One thing that I have to praise in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is how many quality of life features it implements. From little things like being able to easily change a Pokémon’s moves through the menu, to the ability to highlight and quickly open a Pokémon’s list of research tasks – there are a lot of things to make life easier. One I particularly liked is being able to see a Pokémon’s move set and the effectiveness of their moves on the opponent when changing the Pokémon in battle.

Effort Values (EVs) have been simplified in this title and turned into ‘Effort Levels’. To those less familiar, these are less obvious stats that can be improved, which have been mostly hidden away in mainline Pokémon titles. Essentially you just use an item to increase them this time to a standard maximum, but some start with higher ones. There are no hidden Inherent Values (IVs) this time around and no confusing methods like battling certain types of Pokémon only to increase specific stats. Natures that also affect your stats in the background can be changed too via items, rather than having to repeatedly catch Pokémon until you find one with a nature that you like.

Evolution has some nice improvements too. Trade evolution can be done with an item and Evolution is triggered manually in the menu rather than automatically happening. The required items are rare, but fairly accessible.

Graphics VS Art

The graphics of Pokémon Legends: Arceus have been the subject of a lot of criticism, as well as praise. It’s been rather divisive, and I can understand why.

My feelings are mixed here. The designs, use of colors, and theming that it follows are wonderful. With that said, it’s certainly true that textures are low resolution, jagged lines are abundant and I’ve experienced pop-in due to a low draw distance and sudden drops of image quality. The framerate isn’t always great too; I once saw a Gyarados off in the distance that seemed to be moving at about 2 frames per second and a Machamp changing poses as if it was a slideshow. These technical issues did break the immersion.

Due to a lack of notable structures outside of town, the lack of details in the wider environment become more apparent – that very basic repeated grass and the same low-definition tree over and over do stand out when it’s so much of what we see. It makes sense based on the story that there wouldn’t be much in the world yet, but it doesn’t help it here.

It’s a beautiful world in some ways, but a higher level of graphical fidelity and more variety in the fields would have been better to show that. I like much of how Pokémon Legends: Arceus looks in terms of style and art direction, but there are improvements to make in this area.


Pokémon Legends: Arceus wants to be the best – and it’s certainly the best there ever was when it comes to Pokémon games. It is slightly held back by the issues on the technical side, but the gameplay kept me invested throughout. I’ve been a fan ever since the original Pokémon Blue, but I’ve never had so much fun with this series before.


Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Purchase: Nintendo Store

If you would like to see more JRPGs, you may be interested in our review of Shin Megami Tensei V or Persona 5 Royal. You can also check out our review of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, which is set in the same world, years later.

Many thanks go to Nintendo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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