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Review: 'Pokémon Legends: Arceus' changes the franchise's legacy

Game Freak's newest title breaks free of its original formula with open gameplay but the execution is lacking


"Legends: Arceus boldly defies traditional expectations while failing to fully deliver the definitive Pokémon fantasy — to travel a vast region, catch Pokémon and become the best trainer."

Ever since I was a young, the Pokémon franchise has been something I have enjoyed playing. Despite appealing to a younger demographic, I always found joy participating and playing in the world that was so important during my childhood. 

Though I had lost interest in recent years, the new features of "Pokémon Legends: Arceus" caught my attention for the first time since the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon in 2016.

"Pokémon Legends: Arceus" is Game Freak's first attempt at crafting an open world, expansive experience. Since the series' first releases in 1996, the developers have finally stepped away from the tried and true formula, which, in recent years, has become noticeably stale. 

While the new concept is refreshing, its execution is missing something. 

Legends: Arceus boldly defies traditional expectations while failing to fully deliver the definitive Pokémon fantasy — to travel a vast region, catch Pokémon and become the best trainer.

The Hisui region

Legends: Arceus' core gameplay experience is backdropped by the Hisui region, a past version of the Sinnoh region originally explored in Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. The region is split up into multiple zones, each featuring different sets of Pokémon and various types of areas to explore. 

Despite the distinctions, the zones struggle to feel particularly unique from one another. Multiple times throughout my gameplay, I struggled to remember where I had been and where I had caught what. This problem partly boils down to the design of the zones themselves, which felt a bit bland and uninspired. It doesn't help that the entire region itself is not very graphically appealing. 

While graphics certainly don't make a game, they do play a big factor into the aesthetic experience. "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" had a similar aesthetic design to Legends: Arceus but the former was executed in a much more captivating way than the latter. 

Game Freak is apparently multi-billion dollar company with seemingly infinite resources. This should lead to high-quality, top shelf games, but it does not always. It feels as though many of the resources in the game's development were pumped into play over all else, which is where it exceeds expectations. 

The gameplay

Pokémon hasn't evolved much since its original inception. With most of the games featuring a locked camera, they have struggled to differentiate themselves from one another other than in characters and catchable Pokémon. 

This drastically changed in Legends: Arceus. 

The game opens directly into a semi-open catching segment, introducing the main character to Professor Laventon who tasks the player with catching the game's three starters: Rowlet, Cyndaquil and Oshawott

The player is also introduced to new catching mechanics, which allow players to directly throw Poké Balls at roaming Pokémon without having to initiate a fight. The change gives freedom to catch multiple Pokémon at a time in a quicker fashion, something that took ages in previous games. 

This is the best change introduced and gives the franchise a much needed breath of fresh air. The mechanics on display feel responsive and fluid, allowing the player a sense of freedom. The player is also able to ride Pokemon through the Hisui region, a returning feature from past games that feels meaningful. 

Early on, players catch a Wyrdeer, a deer-like Pokemon that can be mounted. This feature enhances the sense of freedom afforded to the player, helping them move from one end of the zone to the other in a matter of minutes. 

The definitive fantasy? 

While the gameplay has improved from past titles and revitalizes the franchise, Legends: Arceus doesn't definitively make for a fantastic experience. Ideally, players would be able to travel from town to town, battle multiple trainers and work their way through a gauntlet of gyms like in past games. But that is not on the table here. 

Instead, the game feels like a beta test for something greater. It feels as though Game Freak wasn't confident enough in its abilities to craft a true Pokémon experience; Or perhaps they aren't so capable. 

While Legends: Arceus is a fun time for returning players, I wouldn't recommend it for people who aren't die hard Pokémon fans. There isn't enough variety on display here to call this the definitive experience. And after five to six hours, players may find themselves bored and wondering if this is all there is to it. 

In the future, hopefully Game Freak can expand on what it has crafted here into a more visually appealing, fun and explorative experience. 

Perhaps then it'll be worth the $60 asking price. 

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