Heavy Balling with Pokemon Legends Arceus

Welcome to Save State, where you know I had to do it to ‘em. As of this writing, Pokémon Legends Arceus released just one week ago, and of course, that’s been the one game I’ve primarily played during this time. So, today we’re going to take a brief moment and go over some of the high and low points of the new Pokémon game, as kind of a preview for the actual review, because in many ways it’s more of the same, but in others it’s a breath of fresh air for the series.

It should come as no surprise that I wasn’t a tremendous fan of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. The games were fine, functional (at times…), with an abhorrently poor online system for yet another entry in the Pokémon franchise. Somehow, movement didn’t even feel good in that game due to the way it was designed to hang the player up on every invisible wall around every round object. I’m not going to lie- BDSP actually impacted how I anticipated Pokémon Legends Arceus, and my usual excitement for a new Pokémon game vanished and was replaced with extreme trepidation, and the trailers for the game did little to diminish that sensation.

Thankfully, Pokemon Legends Arceus starts off great (once you get through the tutorial anyway), and then tosses you out into the wild to explore, collect items for crafting, and catch Pokemon. The main story objectives are outlined by markers on the map, and you can place a single waypoint marker of your own to help you navigate to points of interest on the map. Of course, lots of people were claiming this to be “Pokemon of the Wild” or something, and Legends Arceus is not that game. In fact, I’d say it’s closer to something like Monster Hunter, because you have Jubilife Village, your central town hub, and you always embark on your expedition from that hub. If you’re in the Obsidian Fieldlands and want to go to the Cobalt Coastlands, you have to finish your expedition, go back to town, and then re-embark from the town.

While you’re out exploring, having to go back to town is the least of your concerns. You’ll wander through large, open fields with berry trees, iron ore to pick up, and Pokemon all running around in their little habitats. Legends Arceus is probably the first game since Pokemon Snap that’s made the Pokemon world feel like, well, an actual world. There are no random encounters, if you see a Zubat, you can sneak up on it and toss a ball to catch it. There are no battle transitions should a Pokemon attack you, either- you can dodge their attacks and toss out your own Pokemon to battle, and you fight right there in the overworld. Multiple wild Pokemon can gang up on you, too, it’s a really interesting experience.

There’s also a wide variety of side quests when you’re not pursuing the main quest, as well. Some are simple fetch quests, while others may want you to catch and then give away a specific Pokemon, some may just want you to max out your research level on a specific Pokedex entry, the tasks you do vary. Some side quests give incredible rewards, like a shiny Ponyta or even nature-changing mints. There’s a minimalist crafting system, too, as you can get Apricorns from trees, stones from ore nodes, and then craft your own Pokeballs, or find other items to create healing items, or even smoke bombs and lures. As you fill out your Pokedex and acquire a higher rank, you’ll also acquire more money, which can take some of the edge off crafting in the later game when you might just want to push onward to find more Alpha Pokemon or fill out the Pokedex.

The actual catching of Pokémon takes substantially less time now. If catching Pokémon is your favorite part of the games, Legends Arceus absolutely nails the capture system. You can hide in grass, distract Pokémon with cakes or berries, or just outright bonk them with mud to stun them, then capture them by throwing a Pokeball. If you prefer the method of reducing a Pokemon’s HP to make capturing easier, that’s absolutely an option, and the manner in which Legends Arceus has you filling out research pages in the Pokedex rewards both methods of play. This game basically marries the experiment of the Let’s Go games, but does so in a more organic and natural way that’s more in line with what we’ve seen in other Pokemon media, like the anime and manga, which does a lot toward making such a rigidly segmented series more integrated (since you can catch a Pikachu in a Pokeball, and it can shock you, personally, now).

Each Pokemon’s Pokedex page has a bunch of tasks for you to complete, and they’re considered “complete” if you reach Research Level 10, which you can easily hit by capturing or battling a few of them, or even using them yourself to see specific moves. So, it’s up to you if you want to catch 25 Shinx to hit that research level, or if you just want to use Quick Attack and Bite of your own Shinx to knock out 15 wild ones. It’s entirely up to you. Of course, should you be a completionist, checking off every single research task of a Pokedex entry will give you a higher chance of finding that Pokemon’s shiny variant in the wild. Since there’s no breeding in Legends Arceus, that can be useful if you’re chasing after a particularly rare Pokemon.

Speaking of breeding as a missing gameplay mechanic, held items and abilities are gone as well, and the stat system has been completely revamped. Since there’s no player vs player content in Legends Arceus, not having access to held items isn’t awful, but no abilities puts a lot of Pokemon in very weird spots concerning their usefulness. The changes to the stat system are also very strange, as players might notice normal wild Pokemon taking off 50% or more of your trained Pokemon’s health with neutral effectiveness moves even if you’re 20 levels above theirs. I haven’t lost any battles, yet, but I am noticing that my Pokemon faint far, far more than usual even if I’m towering above the opposing Pokemon in levels.

There are also powerful Alpha Pokemon, showing off the size system in Legends Arceus. Pokemon come in all shapes and sizes now, and Alphas are there to show you that they’re large and in charge. While encountering an Alpha in the wild, the music will change to tell you that there’s something strong on the lookout- and you’ve got to be careful when stalking them or else you might get locked into a battle with a Pokemon who has a level 20 above your own. Taking down these Pokemon, who oftentimes tower above your own, can be pretty challenging, as they often tend to have more varied move sets, enhanced Effort Levels boosting their stats, and can use the new battle system’s Agile and Strong system.

That’s right, Pokemon Legends Arceus also made changes to the combat system. Speed no longer solely determines when a Pokemon gets to attack, because with the new attack speed system some moves may delay your turn, or give you two in a row. If your Pokemon is a good deal faster than the opposing Pokemon, it’s not uncommon to fire off a Swords Dance to boost your attacking stats and then get to take a second turn to hurt the opposing Pokemon hard. Of course, this has the flip side of making slower Pokemon much harder to use in some cases, as it can be super annoying to approach an Alpha Pokemon in battle only for it to get two turns against you right off the bat.

Your trainer in Legends Arceus also apparently doesn’t know how to double battle, either, as there are numerous times throughout the game where you’ll be ganged up on by 2-3 Pokemon at the same time, so you’ll need to weather multiple attacks before even getting to take your turn. This goes hand-in-hand with Legends Arceus being a more challenging experience overall, especially if you’re used to the stats and damage curve of the older games, but it’s nothing overbearing or too difficult. Legends Arceus has, what is likely an uncontroversial statement, the most challenging Pokemon game since probably Colosseum, especially if you’re trying to catch and fully complete everything the game has to offer.

For downsides, for some reason Legends Arceus decided not to implement a mini-map, which is a strange thing to do in a game with such large, open areas. So expect to be popping your map open with regular frequency. Legends Arceus is also, as my wife put it, very ugly. The frame rate still chugs every so often, but it’s worlds better than Sword and Shield while connected to the Internet, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. While I personally think the Pokemon models, themselves, do look better in whatever lighting engine they’ve got going on in Legends Arceus, the fact that the camera can pan to the Professor of this region and show off his gloriously pixeled Galaxy Team emblem on his coat is… pretty bad. There have been some areas that look just fine, however.

All that said, this is just a preview of my review for Legends Arceus. Expect more formed thoughts once I finally complete the game and get the review done – for right now, however, I’m maybe halfway through the game and have been taking my sweet time finishing side quests, completely filling out Pokedex entries, and seeing all the content Legends Arceus has to offer. So, if you’re interested in the full review, keep an eye out for that in just a little bit. With that being said, though, I’m going to bring this edition of Save State to a close. Please remember that jorts are never acceptable public attire, and we’ll see you next time.

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