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'Pokémon Legends: Arceus' is an Unfinished Masterpiece

I want you to close your eyes and take this journey with me. You get out of class and speed to the store to pick up the brand new Pokémon game the day it was released. On your way home, you stop at McDonald’s and pick up a large orange Hi-C. As soon as you get home you pop the game in and forget all of your other responsibilities. You’re a kid again! You get to the title screen and, as soon as the game starts, frame drop after frame drop and glitch after glitch. As much as you’re trying to return to that childlike wonder, your illusion keeps getting marred by different Pokémon glitching into and out of the scenery, or ones in the distance moving one frame at a time.

Now, I want to get it across that I do not think this is a bad game— far from it. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air from the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of the same style of games we’ve seen from Game Freak since its inception. The company took a risk to make a new type of game, and that’s great, but Pokémon Legends: Arceus is just unpolished. It feels like I was given an alpha version of the game meant for testers, not for actual customers.

The not so bad… but still pretty bad.

All in all, this is an incredibly addicting and fun game. In doing my research for this review, I’ve almost completed 100% of what it has to offer. However, I need to air out my grievances before I sing its praises. First is the art direction. I could say graphics but this game is on the Nintendo Switch, so it doesn’t have a lot of power to compensate for graphics. Art design and direction is why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks as great as it does. The water, the lava, even cliffs and trees almost look like stock photos instead of individually animated assets, because it didn’t have the art direction of Breath of the Wild. Both games run on the same system, but one looks strikingly better and it came out in 2017!

An unignorable issue is also the storyline. Pokémon, as a series, has never been known for its incredible stories, but even by those standards, the storyline in Arceus is not great. They try to tackle heavier subjects, such as people believing in different gods and the disagreements that come with it, but it falls flat and bland during overly long cutscenes. I wonder if it was a problem of translating from Japanese to English, but a company this big shouldn’t have that issue. Instead of a wall of silence over paragraphs of text, adding voice acting would’ve definitely helped to keep players invested. Another issue with the story is the research topics. They make you complete the Pokédex and fill out entries for so many Pokémon just to move forward with the main storyline. As much as I appreciate the concept this shouldn’t really be a requirement, as it doesn’t really have a bearing on the main storyline and just feels like you’re doing chores.

There are just so many little things that could be easily fixed. One example is the flying mount where you get the ability to fly around the map. The concept is intriguing but misses the mark—you are always descending. There’s a button to descend more, but not one to ascend. Maybe it’s so the other mounts feel more useful, but the flying one is pretty much the only one you’ll use regularly after it is unlocked.

The Pokémon can seem pretty lifeless and the game can feel empty at times. There are masses of areas on the map where you will see nothing spawn, unlike other Pokémon games where you can’t take two steps without something popping up The models of these Pokémon seem to have one of three responses to your presence and it’s dictated by their species. They either sit there like a statue, they attack you, or they run away. That last one is easily the most annoying, but I don’t think the running away is the problem— these Pokémon often don’t feel like living creatures; they feel like robots that must react exactly as they were designed. Again, a bit of art direction to give them more expression and variety in their reactions would go so far.

My last big gripe with this game is how difficult it is to complete the Pokédex, a requirement to find Arceus. You know… the thing that is in the title of the game? Apparently, he’s not even really a part of the main storyline because the credits roll before you could get a chance to encounter him. While evolving most Pokémon has been made easier, some that have been added have ways they’re supposed to evolve that are not intuitive at all. You have to look them up otherwise you would never figure it out on your own. Like Basculegion needing to take 300 recoil damage without fainting or Wydeer making you use a particular move in a particular style 20 times. It is exhausting! When I was playing the game, I always had my phone open to Google the next Pokémon. It will either evolve in a weird way or there’s a super random chance it even spawns. I like the idea of having things be rare or random to come by, but when you have to complete that objective in order to, at least in my eyes, finish the game—it is just ridiculous. 

Alright, I’ve calmed down… now let’s discuss the good.

When I first started playing, exploring and finding all of the new Pokémon felt like a treat. I was excited. It’s a very addicting feeling. It was only made better by the modifications made to the battle style. It definitely switches up some preconceived notions about how combat works, though it could use some polishing. Some battles were genuinely difficult and I miss that aspect in my Pokémon games. After what I see as a huge letdown from Pokémon: Sword and Shield, where I had to try to get one of my Pokémon to faint, I’m happy to see that sometimes Arceus isn't afraid to knock your Pokémon out.

The boss battles were a cool concept and I appreciated feeling like I was interacting with the goal, along with my Pokémon, instead of just sending them off to fight on my behalf.

If I had to summarize this game I would liken it to a frozen pizza. Is it great? No, but all the ingredients are there. I really hope they stick with this style of game, because if they do then in the coming years we could see an absolute masterpiece out of it.

To recap my over 55 hours of gameplay in the infancy of this game: it is not bad. But it’s still disappointing. It is a very fun mixup to the typical Pokémon formula and that’s refreshing. However, lackluster art direction, glitches, obnoxious missions, evolution requirements, and a less than compelling storyline may be, they don’t necessarily mar what could’ve been a beautiful game. All of that in mind, Game Freak should keep up this style of game and refine the process until we get a game that is as stellar as Arceus could’ve been.

Sources: Pokémon, Zelda, Pokémon

Featured Image: Pokémon

Contact Sam Shipe with comments at scshipe@bsu.edu or on Twitter @journalistsam.