Pokemon Legends Arceus may be the most ambitious project that Game Freak has ever undertaken. Borrowing elements from the popular Monster Hunter series, as well as some nods to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this is the most unique Pokemon adventure so far. What the game does well it excels at, but in the places it falls short, it falls very short. Overall, however, there’s a lot to like, and many of the things that are wrong could easily be patched up in a future DLC.
Critically, the game has done rather well. Gameinformer gave it a 8.75 out of 10. IGN was a bit more harsh with a 7 / 10, but Metacritic gave it a solid B grade. From a sales perspective, this game made a heck of a splash. In its first week, Pokemon Legends Arceus sold 6.5 million copies. Interestingly enough, the Nintendo Switch finally outsold the Wii’s lifetime sales in that same announcement. The two may, in fact, be somewhat linked.
As someone who rarely writes video game reviews, it was important to me to take a lot of time in writing this Pokemon Legends Arceus review. There were a couple points that the game actually not only almost made me quit playing the game, but quitting Pokemon games altogether, especially the final boss battle of the entire game. These feel-bad moments are part of what makes this game frustrating, and yet, what’s good about the game keeps bringing me back to it, no matter how frustrating the game gets.
First, we’ll look at the Pros of Legends Arceus, and there are many. Afterwards, we’ll dig into the cons, which sadly, there are also many. You can be the judge, but unfortunately, critically speaking, this game is going to fare little better than Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl for me; and those felt like cheap remakes to me!
- The Pros of Pokemon Legends Arceus
- The Story of Legends Arceus is Fun, Immersive, and Enjoyable
The story line in Legends Arceus is actually pretty good. You find that you care about the characters a bit more than in recent installments such as Sword and Shield. I wish they did more with the “rival” researcher, as he/she seems a bit shoved off to the side most of the time. But, overall, it’s a much better story than many other games.
Yes, the game does contain a lot of sequences that make you sit for awhile. What dialogue choices you’re given seem forced just to break up the monotony, but that’s a minor complaint. In any case, the Legends game feels more immersive than recent releases. For me, X and Y had the best story-line, followed by Heart Gold and Soul Silver. With the quest-based system this game introduced, the Legends series could be an incredible evolution for Pokémon. They started off well here in that regard.
Unfortunately, a lot of the side quests offer little benefit to the player outside of holding your hand a bit in regards to completing Pokedex research entries. On the plus side, you do receive some items from a lot of these quests that are otherwise difficult to find.
There are three types of quests that you definitely want to complete. One that truly matters are those involving setting up camps, which give you places to craft items, rest your team, and update your Pokedex with the professor. The second useful quest line helps you unlock more items to buy from the general store and the satellite vendors at the camps.
The final quest line that really helps is with Ursaluna. A bit of a spoiler here: getting the evolution item, Peat Block, for Ursaluna is nigh impossible unless you want to kill hours digging for treasure riding the big bear around. Fortunately, there’s a quest line, which is a bit time-consuming, that helps you eventually acquire the necessary item. The hint here is that it involves finding someone’s sister over and over again. The great news is, once you have the Peat Block, and an Adamant or Brave nature Ursaring, you will want Ursaluna for your team. It’s a damn good Pokemon.
Sadly, most of the quests feel like hand holding or time killers. However, on the plus side, they’re cute and add a bit of flavor to village life. The only complaint that I have with the side quests is that I wish they gave you more than common items and gave you more of a cumulative reward. Strangely enough, they already have a good potential reward, like the Merit Points system that already exists. We’ll get into that Merit Point system, which is both good and bad.
- Grit Replaces EV Training
One of the most important parts of competitive Pokemon in EV training, in which you train specific stats to get the most out of your Pokemon’s strengths. In Legends Arceus, they replace the traditional EV Training system with a Grit system, and I love it. Strangely, a lot of people hate it. But, there are a lot of benefits. You do still get Grit points by defeating individual Pokemon, in much the same way Effort Values worked previously, but they are visually counted on a level scale from 1 to 10. It’s just a much more intuitive and visual way to track how your Pokemon is growing.
Unlike with Effort Values, which are capped at 510 EVs, with 252 EV’s in any one stat, any Pokemon can gain 10 levels in every base stat. Usually in traditional Pokemon, you would max out 252 EV’s in two stats, with 4 going into another stat, and 2 points going to waste. Now, you can just naturally build the best possible Pokemon. While this would seem to take strategy out of training Pokemon, there are plenty of people that probably don’t mind this chance, myself being one of them.
Even better, you don’t have to buy expensive items in order to gain these Grit levels. You get them as a reward for beating tough Pokemon throughout the adventure. But, even better, you get Grit items when you release Pokemon you don’t need. These Grit items are why it seems Pokemon have such generous stat boosts in this game; it’s simply that you gain Grit faster than you ever gained Effort Values thanks to these items. In fact, the early game can really kick your butt if don’t use these Grit items on your primary team members.
The Hisuian Forms are Creative and Solid Upgrades to their Traditional Counterparts
Yes, the regional form concept is not new; this is the third Pokemon game to feature them heavily. While the regional forms from Sun and Moon and Sword and Shield were creative, some didn’t really seem necessary, and didn’t really do much for most of them competitively. In Legends Arceus, though, the Hisuian forms are very well designed and fun to play with. Yes, competitively, some are worse. Others are actually rather good, especially the new evolutions for Basculin and Ursaring.
The annoying part is that evolving a few of these Hisuian forms requires items that you have to either find at random or use Merit Points to acquire. We’ll get to that system in a bit. A couple of them also require you to use a signature attack in either an agile or strong style 20 times in other to evolve them. While that sounds simple enough, these moves have below-average accuracy, which makes these tasks immensely frustrating. They don’t ruin the game, but it’s one of the grindy things that detract from the overall experience.
My one complaint is that they made Arcanine a Fire/Rock type in Hisui. The better move would’ve been to let Growlithe be Fire/Rock, but made Arcanine Fire/Steel. That’s because Fire/Rock, while nice offensively, is absolutely awful defensively. Otherwise, all of the other Hisuian forms are pretty good, including those of the starters.
- Ride Pokemon Make Adventuring Easier
The ride Pokemon system is extremely unrealistic, yes, but Sun and Moon introduced a very similar system, in order to ditch Hidden Moves. This time, it just feels done better. You actually build a bit more of a camaraderie with these ride Pokemon, whereas in Sun and Moon they were just sort of rented to you on a whim. You also require these ride Pokemon to enter new areas. Honestly, that’s a really neat progression technique, and it feels so much better than just having random Pokemon taxi you around. It’s also infinitely having to have a Pokemon in your party be tasked with carrying all of the Hidden Moves you need to access secret areas.
All of the Ride Pokemon are useful in different ways. Wyrdeer is probably the one you’ll use the most, as he dashes extremely quickly. Ursaluna helps you dig for treasure, such as evolution stones, although he doesn’t move all that fast, as you might expect. Braviary flies, and you will be flying around a lot in this game. Basculegion not only lets you surf through water, but you can still throw items and Poke Balls from his back.
But, my absolute favorite Ride Pokemon in the game is Sneasler. She takes Rock Climb to a brand new level. My favorite part is the design where you literally ride in a pack on her back and you can see your eyeballs shining in the darkness inside. It’s pretty hilarious, and also, you are going to need to scale a lot of cliffs in this game.
Best of all, the Ride Pokemon (usually) switch automatically depending on what environment you enter, as you unlock them. You do need to be careful with Wyrdeer early on, as you can accidentally slip into a river and drown. It’s a good thing drowning doesn’t automatically black you out, because that’s very annoying.
There are some corner cases where you have to hit the A button in order to switch Ride Pokemon, and a few where the game will just let you fall and die if you’re not quick on the trigger to switch to the right Ride Pokemon. You have to be mindful of which Ride mon you have selected at all times, just in case. It seems a lot of people end up losing some valuable items this way.
Plus, there are many rocks you can break in this game, and you don’t even need a specific mon. You can actually use any Ground-type Pokemon to break them automatically just by bringing them out. Overall, the Ride Pokemon system is excellent, and certainly a plus to a game where you otherwise spend a lot of time lurking about on foot attempting to avoid wild encounters.
- Alpha Pokemon are Worth the Effort to Catch
While there are some cons to Alpha Pokemon, in general, it’s easy to love the concept of catching giant Pokemon that give you an edge in a harsh environment. All Alpha Pokemon really are is visually bigger versions that have their stats already trained to some substantial degree. Not only that, you get Pokedex completion bonuses in many cases for catching Alpha versions.
The fact you can find huge versions of smaller Pokemon is a ton of fun, and I’ve found myself Alpha hunting almost by accident just because the pay-off is worth it. These differences are definitely an aspect of Pokemon GO (and by extension of that the Let’s Go games) that really needed to come to mainline Pokemon, having small, large, and extra large specimens. It’s a heck of a lot more realistic, and obviously, not that hard to implement with today’s gaming console technology.
- The Merit Point System Replaces Trading for Pokemon Evolutions
While it has promoted a lot of moaning, the Merit Point system was a good idea. Essentially, help others find their lost satchels and get rewarded for it. These lost satchels are denoted on your map, and if you’re quick to grabbing them, you get between 50 and 100 Merit Points based on the items those packs contained. This means someone could actually find your pack and return your items to you.
On the plus side, this is actually a really neat idea, especially when you see what the Merit Points can be traded for in the village. They help you buy Linking Cords, which allow you to get trade evolutions without a trading partner, as well as evolution stones and Pokemon specific items. Why the Peat Block for Ursaluna isn’t included among these is beyond me; apparently, they really wanted you to slave through a line of quests just to get it without hoping for it.
On the minus side, finding these satchels is the only way to get Merit Points. Considering many of these satchels are left in areas with Alpha Pokemon, swarms of high level mons, or both, it’s possible you’ll end up blacked out in the effort, as has happened to me twice as of this writing. Why the numerous in-game side quests don’t offer you merit points is actually beyond me. If they offered these Merit Points right from the get-go, even in small quantities, I’d actually want to complete these quests, rather than see them as just a reprieve from the grind of the Pokedex completion.
- Dynamic Move Pools Make Training Easier
For pretty much all of Pokemon’s history, you’ve had to make Pokemon forget moves in order to learn new ones once they have four total moves. In order to get these moves back, you often had to acquire another TM or catch and train a specimen of that Pokemon all over again. In recent generations, many moves could be taught multiple times thanks to Move Tutors and Technical Machines (better known as TM’s).
It wasn’t until Sword and Shield where you could relearn moves the Pokemon would ordinarily learn through level-up. In Pokemon Legends Arceus, they change this system entirely, allowing you to change up your moveset at any time once a Pokemon learns a move. It’s neat that Pokemon get the idea for moves, rather than immediately forcing you to ditch another move in exchange for this newfound wisdom.
Yes, many move pools were streamlined for Legends Arceus. Some moves changed significantly and others entirely removed. Status moves like Stealth Rock and Spikes were adjusted to deal damage over time rather than be entry hazards; these changes make sense in the Legends environment, as entry hazards otherwise are simple to play around unlike in competitive Pokemon.
On a positive note, while the level-up move pools are much more limited, just like in Sword and Shield, you can learn many more moves thanks to in-game tutors. Unlike Sword and Shield, these moves can be learned for a small amount of Poke Dollars, and mostly aren’t ones that Pokemon would learn just by level-up in Legends Arceus.
- Completing the Pokedex is a Great End Goal
That’s right, I put the massive undertaking of completing the Hisui Pokedex as a pro and not a con. Contrary to what a lot of people have said, you don’t have to complete all of the research tasks to get ahead. All you need is to complete enough tasks to earn a research score of 10. Yes, the more research tasks you complete earns you progression points towards Stars, which offer some huge rewards.
But, unlike what you might expect, getting to these 10 research points doesn’t mean you have to catch a ton of that Pokemon. There are other options to complete your Pokedex and the research tasks differ for each Pokemon. Some tasks even naturally clue you in with evolving Hisuian forms, and while these ways can be grindy, they at least reward you with a good Pokemon.
The research tasks vary wildly. They not only include catching, but also catching without being spotted, catching them at certain times of day, catching small and large specimens, or catching alpha versions. You can also gain research points by defeating that Pokemon, or by seeing them use particular moves, whether in the wild or under your control, all a certain number of times. Other tasks include feeding certain Pokemon their favorite foods – a nice little nuance – or completing certain side quests. Some quests also give double the research points, denoted by a red upward pointing arrow to the left of the quest.
Some people complain the Pokedex in the game is too small, but I disagree. It’s more than a lot of previous regional Pokedex counts. It’s especially more than enough in a game that rewards you with intensely studying every kind of Pokemon in detail. If anything, you’re forced to team up with mons you wouldn’t ordinarily use. Also, once Pokemon Home is implemented for Legends Arceus, you won’t mind using this game to farm the best natures for competitive teams and mons that are otherwise much more rare in other games.
Plus, there are some aids to completing the Pokedex. There are regularly Mass Outbreaks of certain Pokemon, which allow you to catch and battle quite a few of one Pokemon for research tasks. Also, if you happen to complete an entire Pokedex page, you have a shot at finding shiny versions quite easily. In just my first 30 hours, I caught two shiny Pokemon, not including one you acquire in a side quest. So, the game does reward you for the time investment; honestly, it’s probably the most intuitive way to hunt shiny Pokemon ever. In fact, many content creators do nothing but shiny hunt inside Legends Arceus, and there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest.
There is one thing that does hold this game back, though, and that’s completing the Pokedex in this game – even just the required 10 research points for each Pokemon you encounter – can take you over 60 hours. If you want to fully enjoy Legends Arceus, you have to plan out your expeditions methodically, and pick and choose which Pokemon you want to study, much like a real-life researcher. While this is a play-style many players hate, it’s one I’ve taken to quite well, and every day that I play, I feel like I’m actually improving my research methods.
As good as all these things are, this is where we get to where the game falls apart a bit.
The Cons of Pokemon Legends Arceus
- The Game is Terribly Unbalanced
As you might expect in a wild adventure, it’s very easy for players to wander into high-level areas even just starting out. But, while that’s a nice feature of the game, treating it like an actual wild expedition, there are some serious balance issues, especially when it comes to the game’s main storyline.
For example, as you progress through your Star levels as you complete parts of your Pokedex, it gets extremely easy to catch Pokemon without even having to battle them. It gets a bit too easy to catch alpha Pokemon, too. Then, while having these alpha mons, who have their stats already trained somewhat, you can progress much more quickly through the game.
Yes, this is a nice incentive to seek out the giant Pokemon. This system also allows more casual players to get through the game more quickly, and I respect that. But, it seems as you progress through Star levels, the game gets insanely easier. This has led many players to stay in the game’s first area until absolutely every research page is filled to the max, just to get these Star levels quickly as possible.
But, no matter how many Star levels you get, you can still get blown out in ways you don’t expect. Some wild Pokemon, even non-alphas, hit extremely hard and severely cripple your team if you’re not careful. I suppose this is more realistic; having the random element of being blown out does add a great degree of difficulty to the typical breeze most wild areas in Pokemon games tend to be. But, the amount of one hit KO’s I’ve endured to Pokemon half of my own mon’s level gets grinding after a bit. Revive items become your best friend in this game, and you’ll want to be able to progress through the side quests to make them available to buy as soon as possible.
I found myself using a ton of my Grit items to train HP, Defense, and Special Defense very early in the game. Even then, I still found myself taking a lot of one hit knockouts on even my best mons. Meanwhile, I’d find myself hanging in strong against alphas and after a good hit or two just catch them in a single Poke Ball. Then, you’ll run into random Pokemon that won’t get caught in a dozen Ultra Balls; meanwhile, your team is progressively getting wiped.
Perhaps, this unbalanced environment is entirely purposeful. After all, some Pokemon are bigger and therefore stronger than others. Still, it’s like the game becomes super hard for no good reason. Perhaps, my greatest gripe is how extremely aggressive Pokemon have a tendency to spawn directly behind you and attack you without any warning. I’ve lost several satchels to finishing one battle, then having two or three Pokemon come in from behind and black me out almost instantly. Talk about a feel-bad moment.
Also, some of the trainer battles are absurdly hard, but for the wrong reasons. I respect that there’s a Togepi that’s well trained and can kick your ass. But, there are quite a few two-on-one or three-on-one required story battles? That’s not hard if you have a strong Alpha Pokemon, but it’s stupid. Yes, these unbalanced battles have been done in the GameCube Pokemon adventures: XD: Gale of Darkness and Coliseum. But, there was story-driven reason behind them; these are unbalanced for the sake of being against the odds in such a forced and lame way.
And, the boss battles… we’ll get to those at the end, as those are what inevitably killed the game for me.
- Complete Lack of Multi-Player Functionality
Imagine if Pokemon Legends Arceus was like the Sword and Shield wild areas, with other players who you can interact with and get random items from. Yes, this was meant to be a solo adventure. Yes, you can find lost satchels. Still, shouldn’t the otherwise underwhelming Merit Points system be complimented with other neat interplay? Imagine having expedition teams, where you can literally share quests that gain you additional items.
Although it probably wouldn’t be able to be implemented here, I hope they add more multi-player functionality in the future. We’ll probably have to get another Legends series game for this, perhaps even Generation 9. Lost satchels are just not enough, and needing codes just to battle or trade, rather than have an open room, seems like a mistake. Granted, the point of the game is to run it solo, but even those of us who love solo adventuring do like to take a break once in a while, right?
No Abilities or Held Items
At first, I took no issue with there not being active abilities or held items in Legends Arceus. After all, this is the case with Let’s Go, and those games are beloved. But, after putting over 60 hours into the game, it became clear to me that wild Pokemon have held items before you catch or defeat them. Therefore it strikes me as bizarre and a bit of a non-sequitur that you can’t have your mons hold items, too.
The lack of abilities actually detracts from the study of the Pokedex, too. Perhaps, this was a calculated simplification for the sake of gameplay? After all, Pokemon do have abilities tagged in the game code, so they exist, but are inactive and completely hidden. Perhaps this game didn’t actually need abilities to be turned on, and yes, some abilities are stupidly unbalanced, but we’ve had plenty of Pokemon games – since Ruby and Sapphire – that featured Pokemon abilities and we’ve all done just fine.
- Space-Time Distortions Are Neat, But Badly Done
Having Pokemon with wildly different levels in the wild is neat and realistic. But, for whatever reason, Game Freak decided to make Space-Time Distortions a major feature of the game. In concept, these are pretty cool. After all, the player arrived through a Space-Time distortion in the first place. But, the neat factor wears off very quickly when you realize that in the early game, these Space-Time Distortions mean certain death unless you bolt around on Wyrdeer.
The space time distortion mons are so over-leveled compared to the player in the early game and even the mid-game. Also, no matter what, many of the same Pokemon always appear. It seems an Eevee always gets involved, and while it’s neat that you can easily acquire the Eevee evolutions this way, it’s extremely forced. Yes, I love Eevee, but talk about shoving a mon down your throat. Plus, you’re usually forced to battle two or three Pokemon whether you want to or not. The difficulty is welcome in a Pokemon game, I suppose, but it becomes more annoying than challenging once you’ve built a solid core team.
These distortions allow you find Pokemon you wouldn’t ordinarily find, such as the starters and a few other random Pokemon that Game Freak decided to throw into the game. Also, some of these Pokemon only appear in Space-Time Distortions, meaning you can’t even meet Arceus until you’ve encountered a ton of these distortions and happened to have the Pokemon you needed spawn within one.
Probably, the only redeeming factor of the Space-Time Distortions is that you are rewarded for the risks you take. There are many shards you can collect, which will come in handy later. But, you can also pick up Stardust and Star Pieces that sell for lots of money at shops, as well as evolution stones and items. These are completely random, but they do make up a bit for the Merit Point system’s shortcomings.
- The Open World is Not Really Open
There is certainly an open world feel to Legends Arceus, and each of the different areas are enormous with plenty of environments to traverse. While it seems level design is a point of contention, it seems like they did a good job designing these areas, even if they don’t seem to correspond to the Sinnoh region players are familiar with from Diamond and Pearl. The real annoyance is having to return to the village just to switch areas.
Also, as massive as the areas feel when you’re running around on foot, once you acquire all of the various Ride Pokemon, the maps suddenly feel a lot, lot smaller, and the region much tinier. Yes, these maps don’t make up the totality of the Hisui region (one day to be renamed Sinnoh), and there’s plenty to do with what we’re given. But for a game that feels huge, it starts feeling a lot smaller in a hurry. Could DLC remedy this feeling? It certainly could. Still, this isn’t quite the open world game players were hoping for, but it’s a start.
- Inventory Space is at a Premium, and Crafting Feels Tacked On
It’s sort of a minor complaint as many games have limited inventory slots that can become a nuisance, but Legends Arceus doesn’t give you much relief. You have to learn how to gain inventory space one slot at a time, and it gets progressively more expensive each slot. It’s a relatively minor complaint, but still. The real issue comes in when you realize that while the crafting system is neat, it actually causes you some serious resource management headaches.
The inventory crunch has become one of the major pain points for me in the game, to the point where I constantly complain to my partner about my satchel being full again for the billionth time. Yes, crafting is a great addition to Pokemon games. But, unlike in games such as the Monster Hunter series, where crafting is a necessary part of game play, most of the items you really need can be easily purchased once you complete the village shop quests. The investment in those quests is miniscule compared to having to seek out crafting materials just to have enough Poke balls or healing items to continue your adventure.
There comes a point where you send out your Pokemon to collect small amounts of crafting materials more often than you’re bringing them out to battle. If crafting was absolutely necessary to progress through the game, this would actually be a fun addition to these games. But, because the key items you need can just be purchased with in-game money, which you get a ton of just by catching Pokemon, the crafting seemed like an experiment that becomes more annoying than useful. That being said, to have crafting at all in a Pokemon game is nuts; like a lot of things in this game, it could’ve been a lot better executed.
The Style Moves Are Confounding
I wish I could put the Battle Style system in the pros, because it’s actually an interesting concept that should’ve added a new dynamic to this game. Honestly, as useful as you’d expect Agile and Strong style moves to be, they just end up breaking the move priority system. Perhaps I’ve simply been using them incorrectly, but I can’t tell you how many times I’d use an Agile move, yet then have my opponents hit me two or even three times in a row before I get to respond. Some agility that is…
Now, there is a plus to this system; the concept of hitting quick at a loss of power and hitting hard at the potential cost of a turn generally is a good idea. When you’re trying to weaken a Pokemon, the Agile style’s cost in power can be a benefit. Strong style moves can help you one-hit KO some mons you otherwise wouldn’t.
But, more often than not, all Agile and Strong style moves do is mess badly with the turn based combat we are used to. Another gripe I have is that several Hisuian form evolutions require the use of agile and strong style moves to evolve. It doesn’t help that a lot of the signature moves you have to then use also tend to be rather inaccurate, and since agile and strong style moves use 2 point points rather than one, you’re returning to camp to rest every two minutes.
The biggest gripe I have is getting hit three times in a row uncontested, all because the opponent started off with an Agile style move. Not once can I recall being able to get in two uncontested hits in a row, but even wild mons have hit me three times in a row, knocking out some of my best mons, leading me to toss the controller and quit the game for a day or two.
The Battle Styles are an excellent idea, but again, another great concept that went poorly executed. When it works, it’s a really nice addition, but mostly it leads you to losing battles you have no business losing inside of turn-based combat.
New Status Conditions Are Unfun
Why Legends Arceus decided to change Sleep into Drowsy and Frozen into Frostbite is beyond me. I absolutely despise these changes. First off, with Drowsy replacing actual sleep, Rest is now absurdly broken. Opposing mons will use Rest, then still have a good chance at hitting you through their drowsiness. Yes, you can also run Rest to the same effect, but it’s still a badly design mechanic.
Supposedly, Drowsy has a lot of drawbacks. Drowsy mons take more damage and does have that possibility of not attacking – but in practice, it’s a lot more than you’d expect. Also, drowsy Pokemon are more likely to miss in snowy weather, which is actually true of mons that aren’t Drowsy so that’s a heck of a non-issue. Also, if the drowsy mon uses Spark, Volt Tackle, or Wild Change, it breaks the drowsiness. Suddenly, Luxray looks like the best Pokemon in the game; yes, Luxray was plenty strong to begin with, but giving it Rest alongside one of its primary attacking moves makes it a house.
Frostbite is even more complicated. First, you lose 1/16th of your HP each turn for being frostbitten, just as if you were poisoned. Also, your Special Attack stat is cut in half, much like Burn cuts your physical Attack stat in half. This makes moves like Bitter Malice and any of the Ice moves pretty darn busted.
Burn, paralysis, and poison do still technically work the same. However, paralysis is much more busted when the opponent choose to use agile style moves. Being paralyzed versus agile moves essentially means that Pokemon is essentially removed from the battle, as paralysis cuts your speed stat.
While I appreciate that Sleep and Frozen aren’t really that fun, to be honest, they’ve been in the game as such for many generations. Why they chose to replace them now, and in such unbalanced ways, baffles me to no end.
Boss Fights Are Annoying Tests of Agility
Here is where Pokemon Legends Arceus literally lost me. The boss fights, while the concept is excellent, are not well executed at all. A couple of them, especially the final fight in the main story, are a joke. Then, there are a couple, including the final fight with Arceus, that are almost impossible without getting lucky or being the best gamer alive.
Fortunately, there’s a built in feature that allows you to continue where you left off for each quarter of the raging Pokemon’s HP Bar you happen to deplete. In most of these battles, you don’t even have to be particularly agile to actually win. Since you don’t actually black out for losing these battles; you can just keep picking up at these breakpoints. The strategy literally becomes, get the Noble mon down to ¾, then ½, then ¼, then wail away.
Also, you’d expect that sending out your Pokemon to battle would be more helpful than it is. It’s almost a throw-away feature; all winning that battle does is give you a bit of an extra window to throw balms. Plus, these windows to throw your Pokemon’s Poke Ball are extremely short. If you’re a split second too slow, the game punishes you with a little plunk and the chance to leave you open to getting wiped.
Most of them fights are not hard at all. They’re just stupid and tacked on to make it feel different than any other Pokemon game. It would’ve been preferably to just have Pokemon that needed to have multiple HP bars depleted through battle or something. But, if this Monster Hunter style agility test is the way you want to go, these could’ve been executed much better.
My biggest gripe isn’t the style of the battles; it’s the fact that you have literally one option to win, the stupid balms. In most games with this style of combat, you have multiple items with which to strategize your battle. What’s even more frustrating to me is that you have items like Scatter Bangs, Smoke Bombs, Berries, and more, that are super helpful in catching Pokemon throughout the game. But, in the boss fights, nope, you get “magical” balms that you have to toss. There’s no strategy. Dodge and throw, dodge and throw, dodge, and oops, you screwed up. Try again?
Spoilers: the Dialga/Palkia fight at the end of the “main story” is actually the easiest of all these fights. There’s a post-game Legendary fight that’s actually harder. Then, as you might expect, the Arceus fight is practically impossible unless you practice the fight for hours or you’re one of the best gamers of all-time, because the fight isn’t intuitive nor fun at all.
If Legends Arceus was actually like Monster Hunter and simply used the items you crafted in the game to begin with, these fights would still be hard, yes, but they would be fair. Why should the boss fights be different than any other scenario already in the game? Why not actually reward the player for resource and inventory management, rather than be like, hey, here are these stupid balms you will never use at any other point. It’s extremely lazy game design, and as an oversimplification to supposedly hand hold younger games, it does everyone a disservice.
Thanks to that final Arceus fight, I’ve not completed the game as of this writing, despite completing all 10 research levels of every Pokemon except for Phione, Manaphy, and of course, Arceus. It’s simply not worth the huge amounts of stress that fight entails, and as someone with limited hand-eye coordination, it’s nigh unbeatable. Will I ever attempt to finish the fight? The benefit of winning is you get to “catch” Arceus. That’s it. To me, completing the Pokedex is enough of a win for me. Now, I’m just waiting to transfer all my Pokemon to HOME so that I can start over and focus on how fast I can complete the Pokedex sans Arceus, since that fight is entirely BS.
Yes, it IS beatable, but apparently, not for me. Yes, the fight throws a lot of shade over the positives of this game. I probably won’t touch the game again for many months, likely until the Pokemon HOME update is implemented, thanks to that final fight being the bane of my existence. But, does it ruin the game entirely after sinking 70-plus hours into the title in hopes of 100 percent completion that now looks impossible thanks to my having incurable neurological issues? Fortunately, all-in-all, it was an ambitious title that provided a unique, if overall extremely frustrating, experience.
On the balance, Pokemon Legends Arceus Is a good game but it’s definitely not for everyone. For someone like me who loves to just have something to poke around at after finishing the main story-line, it’s a solid affair. The risks they took with this game didn’t all work, but a lot of them do, and with some refinement, this could be an entire game series. I loved Pokemon Let’s Go, and this is more reminiscent of those games than the mainline series such as Sword and Shield.
Supposedly, rumor had it there is meant to be a master mode for Legends Arceus. There were rumors that data miners had found markers in the code to increase the levels at which mons learned moves, along with other difficulty changes. As it turns out, it seems these rumors were unfounded, as the markers data miners found were the levels at which Pokemon mastered certain moves – as in Agile style and Strong style.
That being said, could a “master mode” make this game be harder, yet still enjoyable? As it stands, people who undertake Nuzlocke challenges have found this the most frustrating game ever, thanks to Pokemon fainting left and right, meaning that they are essentially “dead” in terms of the challenge. There were also rumors that there would be an “easy” mode, making for more of an Animal Crossing type experience, a chill mode where you just toss balls at Pokemon and catch them with little effort.
What’s frustrating to me is that the game only needs two big changes. The first is, much like Animal Crossing, implementing daily rewards you accrue just by firing up the game. Now that I’ve finished 99 percent of the Pokedex, I don’t see any reason to continue. Having new daily quests to undertake every day would make a more enjoyable experience.
The second major change is simply, ditch the balms as your sole item for use in boss fights and be able to use your own items in addition. I’m fine with not being able to catch these Noble mons, but at least let you use the Smoke Bombs and other items to your advantage. Dodging and tossing stupid balms is the dumbest game mechanic I’ve ever encountered in a game. It’s not strategy; it’s learning timing and patterns. While learning patterns and timing may have worked in boss battles in yesteryear, you at least had all of your arsenal to throw at them. Putting the player at such a stupid disadvantage is considered a “challenge” in the eyes of Game Freak is an insult.
All that being said, Legends Arceus has a lot of good things going for it. In the future, after I can save the entirety of my collection to HOME, I’m happy to undertake a “seek out all Pokemon” challenge in which I time myself for how quickly I can do it. After all, that means I can omit Arceus. One day, I may finally beat the Arceus final fight, likely at great cost to my health and sanity. But, you don’t have to defeat Arceus to enjoy the better aspects of what this game has to offer.
Hopefully, the next time Game Freak releases a Legends game, or if many of these aspects are implemented in Generation 9 Pokemon games, they learned their lessons. If the next Pokemon games integrate the faultier elements from Legends Arceus, I’m sad to say that this may well be the last new Pokemon game I ever purchase.
My overall grade: B-minus. If the final Arceus fight wasn’t beyond ridiculously difficult – and look it up, it’s extremely overwhelming and unnecessary – it may be a solid B. Even then I still think this grade is far too generous. The fact it kept me entertained – albeit for much of that time somewhat perturbed – for 75 hours in a single play-through speaks well to the game’s strengths. Game Freak had fantastic ideas; they just could’ve been executed far better. Here’s to hoping future game patches and DLC make this game what it could’ve been.