Pokémon: Legends Arceus is the breath of fresh air this franchise needed

Predictably, I’m lost to the Pokémon world again

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Screenshot from Pokémon Legends Arceus game, where a pink-haired player is crouched by a large eevee and an even larger Luxray in a grassy area
Plenty to explore in this world. Screenshot courtesy of Kelly Chia

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

Like many kids in the 90s, Pokémon has cemented itself into my life. It’s how I met my best friend, and I think my shelves of Pokémon plushies speak to how much this franchise has affected me. 

Unfortunately, the main game series have always been formulaic. You catch Pokémon and defeat eight gym leaders. You always know what to expect: a game that takes maybe 10 hours to play through, leisurely. In fact, many players create their own challenges to make the games more difficult.

But recently, developer Game Freak has been trying to implement open world elements. Instead of a linear storyline, players are able to freely explore the world and chase whatever objectives they want. In Sword and Shield, they introduced the Wild Area, a place where players encounter scaled-to-life models of Pokémon in grass and water. I still remember the fear I felt when I accidentally ran into a giant Onyx (a surly rock snake). 

Pokémon: Legends Arceus takes this concept of encountering real Pokémon in the players’ world, and emphasizes exploration before anything else. 

Catching Pokémon is a pleasure since you’re catching them in real time, not on a turn-by-turn basis like the previous games. I can get 10 Pokémon in the time I used to spend whittling down the health of one. Battles actually feel challenging, and they’re much faster than they used to be. You can run around, giving the battle more angles and making them feel more lively. 

This open world concept is something Pokémon has desperately needed. When you encountered Pokémon in previous games, you’d run in a patch of grass, and a screen would pop up, putting your character in battle. In Legends, you actually see Pokémon in nature. It was a delight to run around the Starly that would flock to the skies if you were too loud; or see Spheal — a round seal Pokémon — roll around to greet you. 

More importantly, I was humbled by the large Pokémon who wanted to stomp me.

You see, there’s a mechanic called Alpha Pokémon, where the Alphas are much larger and aggressive. When I walked into the first area of the game, I was greeted by an Alpha Rapidash — a unicorn with a flaming mane. Scary, right? But this is a Pokémon game. I figured I didn’t have to fear death, so I innocently marched right up to it. The damn unicorn blew a giant flamethrower, sending me running for the hills. 

It was thrilling. I truly respected how formidable these Pokémon were. 

I also have to give a shout out to the villagers your character meets. In this world, people are more wary of Pokémon. This is such a contrast to a series where it’s well established that Pokémon and humans are friends. I loved helping the villagers meet Pokémon they’re inspired by and see their relationship with the Pokémon grow. 

Unfortunately, the game’s graphics are nothing to write home about. The sublime sight of watching Pokémon play in the ocean is marred by how sad that ocean looks. For a big franchise, the graphics are half-baked. Still, I’ve never expected beautiful graphics. Most of the time, I’m too busy relaxing with Legends’ gorgeous soundtrack to notice the grass. 

Despite the subpar visuals, I’m having much more fun with Legends than I can remember with any Pokémon game. 

Game Freak has spent over 20 years producing essentially the same formula. Legends is a marked difference in the franchise’s history. Seeing Pokémon this animated compared to the static encounters I’m used to gives me hope for its future. I hope to Arceus that games like Legends are here to stay.