This is a spoiler free review
When a franchise about evolution trucks along for over twenty years, you’d expect some major shake-ups. For what it’s worth, Pokémon has remained consistent since the beginning. Some games have been easier, some much more focused on story, and others about collaboration; but nothing has been ambitious. Pokémon is a game originally inspired by bug-catching, and the closest the series has ever come to emulating those feelings was GO!—an augmented reality spin-off—and I can’t help but wonder what took so long. What was Game Freak afraid of? Could they really fail to pull this off?
You have been hand-selected by the mythical Pokémon of creation to be sent straight to the Sinnoh region’s, known in the era as Hisui, past! Falling right out of a tear in space and time, you’re found by Professor Laventon and taken back to the small town of Jubilife. Recruited by the Galaxy Team Research corps, it is your job to solve the issues of the Diamond and Pearl clans, put together the world’s first Pokédex, and reveal all of Arceus’ truths.
A first in series history, Legends Arceus throws the player into expansive 3D areas. The player fills in each Pokédex entry by completing research tasks. They can range from catching a certain number of each species, seeing a species use a specific amount of moves in battle, or even evolving a certain number of each monster. Filling in your dex is the primary way you’ll advance the plot. Of course, to catch each monster, or keep yourself in fighting condition, you’ll need pokéballs and potions! You can now craft each item after obtaining its recipe and using your partner Pokémon to gather the necessary materials. Crafting is supposed to be quick and simple, but it can often be a chore. The item satchel is just too small, even after being fully upgraded, and running out of room is common. I lost track of the number of times I had to quickly run back to camp, and access my item box, to craft something when it should’ve just taken two buttons.
Alongside the typical variants and shinies, Pokémon can now come in different sizes. You’ll find a ton of monsters that are above or below the average size on your journey. Alpha Pokémon, miniboss encounters that force a battle to catch, are often the largest you can come across. Some Pokémon, like alpha’s, are naturally aggressive. You’ll have no choice but to fight or take flight! Unfortunately, the battle system has been toned down significantly. Each stat, and the type chart, are still around; but are now made irrelevant by the strong and weak battle styles. You can use more PP per move to perform a move significantly faster, or stronger, by your own choice. I was extremely excited for this addition, but it breaks the battle system I’ve come to love. Your primary goal in battle is now to inflict status conditions and move first. Short of status immunities, like paralysis being null on ground types, type matchups are useless.
It’s a shame that, as great as they made catching, battles themselves got so shallow. Even Game Freak had to have known this, as multiplayer battles have been completely removed. “Building a team” is no longer a thought. Now, your team is just a fast spellcaster and whatever Pokémon you’re raising up at that moment. Even A.I. trainer battles have been significantly watered down. Of the, maybe eight, fights in the game, most have only one partner Pokémon to beat. I’d be able to accept this if each monster felt as alive as a beast from Monster Hunter; but something is just slightly off. Sure, different Pokémon have their own sleeping schedules and personalities, but they never interact with each other. I was hoping for New Pokémon Snap or Monster Hunter Rise, and I got Minecraft instead. Sure, every once in a while, a big scary Geodude can scare off a Pichu! Yet, there are no major battles or small stories to be told in the world itself.
The elephant in the room is the game’s presentation. It’s not great— at all. I genuinely don’t understand how a game in this franchise can look this bland! Pokémon is the biggest media franchise of all time! The game doesn’t run poorly. In fact, in my 58 hours I never once ran into a technical hiccup beyond texture pop-in, but the pallet is just so bland. The game looks gross. A big pet peeve of mine is the way the game handles voice acting. Every character gets a unique voice, but they’re only allowed to grunt like early 2000 LEGO men. I think this is ridiculous. If Pokémon really wanted to be taken seriously, it’d take that foundational step.
Pokémon Legends Arceus is so close. My initial reaction was negative, it grew a little bit, and then it failed to all come together. There are a ton of amazing pieces here, but I just can’t see Game Freak’s big picture! If this is the future of Pokémon, I think the series is in good shape. That being said, that relies on a jump in quality akin to going from Crystal to Ruby and Sapphire. I’m not sure I trust The Pokémon, or Game Freak, to pull off something like that again. In simplest terms? Legends Arceus in Diet Monster Hunter. If Monster Hunter hadn’t just brought out the franchise-perfect beginner game, on the same system, I might have recommended Legends Arceus. I wanted, so badly, to love this game; I would’ve settled on liking it. I don’t.