In the realm of Pokémon, where familiarity often breeds comfort, Game Freak has dared to embark on a revolutionary journey with “Pokémon Legends: Arceus.” Having spent a whopping 87 hours exploring the vast landscapes of this innovative title, I can confidently assert that this is the best Pokémon game I’ve played since the iconic Gold and Silver versions. Breaking away from the beloved formula that has defined the series for 26 years, Arceus emerges as a resounding success, surpassing expectations and breathing new life into the Pokémon experience.
The Urgently Needed Revolution
As I write this piece, I’m still in awe of the 87 hours I’ve invested in Arceus. Determined to complete all content before delivering my assessment, I can unequivocally declare why this is the pinnacle of Pokémon gaming since the days of Gold and Silver. While those classics laid the foundation with two regions and the original Red/Blue/Yellow trio, Arceus transcends by offering a departure from the mundane, marking a significant shift in the series’ trajectory.
Your home base in Arceus is Jubilife Village, serving as a hub from which you can venture into distinct areas set in the Hisui region (a precursor to the Sinnoh region for those familiar with “Diamond” and “Pearl”). Each region possesses a unique ambiance, coupled with a myriad of Pokémon waiting to be discovered. Unlocking and exploring each area unfolds organically as you progress through the captivating narrative.
Catching Them All (I know, I know)
Wild Pokémon encounters undergo a transformative evolution in Arceus. No longer do you aimlessly run through tall grass hoping for an ambush; instead, you can observe Pokémon in the open world. Some may approach you with curiosity, while others might launch an attack. One of my favorite moments in Arceus was encountering Pikachu in the wild—the first one I saw outside of grassy encounters. It seemed genuinely pleased to meet me as I offered it some berries before easily capturing it. It felt like Pikachu knew what was coming next!
However, not all Pokémon are friendly, and the best strategy for catching them involves hiding in tall grass, approaching stealthily. Distracting them with berries or using items to stun them adds depth to the capturing process. If they spot you or break free, you still have the option to engage in a traditional battle for capture. Beware, as wild Pokémon can inflict damage outside of battles, potentially causing your character to faint and lose items until safely back at the base.
This seamlessly leads me to a new type of Pokémon—Alphas. These larger, more powerful, and more irritable versions of their species appear in the wild. Identified by their towering stature and glowing red eyes, encountering and either capturing or defeating Alphas grants substantial experience and rich item drops for your team.
Gyms – A Thing of the Past?
Given Arceus’s setting in the ancient Hisui region, there are no traditional Gyms where trainers earn badges to challenge the Elite Four. Instead, the thrill of Gym battles is replaced by the intense encounters with fervent Noble Pokémon. These are Pokémon you must dodge attacks from while throwing “Scent” to calm them and return them to their normal state. Analyzing attack patterns and devising strategies to “defeat” them adds a refreshing twist to the gameplay. It’s a welcome departure, making encounters feel novel and engaging.
A New Battle Mechanic… Sort Of
Now, let’s delve into some negatives. Yes, there are a few! Game Freak introduced a battle mechanic that, unfortunately, I’m not particularly fond of. You can now master your Pokémon’s moves, allowing you to execute them in one of three ways. You can opt for quicker, agile strikes that theoretically enable you to land two attacks consecutively. Alternatively, you can choose the regular method for a standard attack or unleash a powerful version for increased damage.
While the idea is to introduce an additional strategic element, I found it to be inconsistent. Even after 87 hours of gameplay, the game hasn’t effectively taught me how to execute these actions correctly. At times, I’ve been consecutively attacked three times by the same Pokémon, and I haven’t managed to execute the powerful move to skip a turn, leaving me perplexed.
With Arceus, Pokémon visuals have never looked better. While it may be argued that the mainline games being exclusive to handheld consoles contributed to this, Arceus stands out with its presentation. At its peak, the game is undeniably stunning, and at its worst, any shortcomings are a result of the system’s technical constraints (more on that later). The world boasts breathtaking locations, dynamic weather, and arguably the best skybox I’ve seen. Pokémon attacks are more spectacular than ever, brimming with personality. Character designs are as quirky and charming as expected, showcasing remarkable diversity.
On the audio front, the music seamlessly complements the game and its themes. Battle music, while somewhat reminiscent of previous works, carries a heightened tension. Yet, it’s the only track I can distinctly identify, with the rest being original compositions crafted specifically for Arceus.
Becoming the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was
Arceus stands as the first Pokémon game that you can play entirely solo and complete the Pokédex—a monumental feat. The driving force behind this achievement is palpable. Despite having “finished” all content, the desire to return for more persists, making the sight of a shiny Pokémon in the wild genuinely exhilarating!
Combined with excellent quality-of-life updates, such as easily selecting Pokémon to send into battle before fights, Game Freak’s risks in fully realizing the potential of Arceus have paid off. While not perfect, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is the best Pokémon game to date.
The most significant disappointment, however, lies in its host console. Noticeable frame drops, delayed resource loading, and an overall sense of emptiness in the world might find resolution with slightly more powerful hardware. I’ve never seen a Switch game more in need of a Pro model. Nevertheless, it remains my favorite game of the year thus far, and I can envision myself continuing to play, delving into every nook and cranny.