As we all know by now, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has taken the well-trodden Pokéformula of the last 20 years and turned it on its head. For fans who've been playing the games for years, it's an exciting reinvention of the series — but what about people who are completely new to Pokémon? And what about people who really like the nitty-gritty of the Pokémon games — is it too simple for them?
Luckily for you, we have both on staff! Kate (Staff Writer) has played almost all of the Pokémon games (except for Black & White 2, Pokémon Let's Go, and the Diamond & Pearl remake) and Tom (Deputy Editor) has played... none of them.
We locked them both in a room to discuss their thoughts on Pokémon Legends, coming from totally different ends of the Pokéspectrum...
Kate: First question, Tom: How many Pokémons have you played?
Tom: I had played no real Pokémons. I seem to remember a couple of puzzley ones on 3DS that were free-to-play. That’s pretty much it! Well, now I’ve played one.
It really just takes all of the stale game mechanics and dumps them in the bin
Kate: Ah yes, like Pokémon Shuffle. But today we’re talking about Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Would you say it’s better than Pokémon Shuffle?
Tom: Yes, a definite upgrade! Better graphics too.
Kate: And that’s it, thanks for coming to this chat. JUST KIDDING, HAHA. So, for me, PLA is a bit of a revolution in the Pokémon series, because it really just takes all of the stale game mechanics and dumps them in the bin. They started over from scratch, and that makes it feel fresh and exciting. But as someone without that frame of reference, how does the game feel to you?
Tom: It’s been quite addictive, to be honest, and it’s one of those games that digs into your brain and bugs you at work, or when being an adult that can’t play games all of the time. It’s just there at the moment, which is a sign of how well put together the gameplay loop is. It has that lovely gift of every time you play you achieve something, even if it’s small, and I’ve been rather charmed in my opening 7-8 hours.
Is Pokémon Legends good for Pokébeginners?
Kate: A few of my non-Pokémon friends have asked me if they should get it, since social media is just a big ol’ Poké-fest right now. And I’ve told them… no. Because I’m worried that, for people coming from similar open-world-ish games (like Skyrim, Monster Hunter) it’ll be disappointing… because it seems a little emptier than those. But maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I’m being too harsh? How do you think it compares?
Tom: Well if I was looking at it as a critic, as in if I was reviewing it, then sure there are big bits of world where it’s just you and the Pokémon. So I can see that. But, I feel like that works in the context of the game’s design, and what you’re actually doing whether playing the story or just leveling up.
The core ‘catch ‘em all’ aspect is really tightly put together and compulsive
The quests etc are very basic, but the core ‘catch ‘em all’ aspect is really tightly put together and compulsive, to me anyway. If I see a new Pokémon I instantly want to scout it, try to catch one, then fill the Pokédex. Game Freak has a number of weaknesses, but they’re masters of scratching that specific itch, I think.
Kate: For the record, I’m really loving it, but I’m weirdly cautious about recommending it. The way I’ve been playing it is leisurely, with tons of grinding, for no real reason other than to tick them off in my Pokédex.
I love the way they’ve redesigned the “catch ‘em all” core mechanic: it’s not just about catching them, it’s about observing them, which works really well in the context of the game as a sort of old-timey safari. I’ve not done a lot of the plot as a result! How far are you?
Tom: Yeah, couldn’t agree more on that! I’ve been playing pretty slowly too, because I find time drifting by as I learn about the Pokémon. I read a review saying the core story was 20-odd hours, but after 9 hours I’ve only just started exploring the second biome. It’s a very relaxing game that way, time just melts away. That’s a sure sign that it’s succeeding in drawing me in, anyway.
Kate: I don’t know if this is something that everyone does, but I’ve found it’s the exact kind of low-stakes gameplay that makes it perfect for playing while I listen to an audiobook or watch a film. That’s not what I expected, but I really like it (and I’m just about to finish the second biome, for reference!)
Tom: I definitely like how relaxed and quiet it can be. My mum, who’s retired but plays a lot of Switch and in particular RPGs (she’s beaten some ‘proper’ games too, like Dragon Quest titles etc), is similarly really drawn into it. Thankfully, not knowing much of anything about Pokémon doesn’t seem to matter too much, as you can find your own way. That said, it could do with a little more information, as there have been some moments of bafflement.
Kate: Dragon Quest is actually a great comparison. My partner and I talk about how DQ11 is basically made for salarymen – people who work long shifts and want to switch their brain off when they come home. It’s a game that’s designed to be engaging and compelling, but it’s pretty much just a checkbox simulator!
PLA is similar, because you can pick it up for hours or minutes and put it down just as easily. But I agree, the tutorialising is… almost non-existent, which is surprising given how very hand-holdy it is in the first hour or two.
Tom: Yeah, it’s like they just decided to not bother with any tips after that opening! Which is fine-ish, but it starts introducing lots of items with just one sentence descriptions, and figuring out their real use often requires asking a veteran or looking it up online.
The salarymen point seems right for sure, and that’s maybe the one way it actually is a bit like Breath of the Wild; you can be immersed and try to save the world for 3 hours, or just do one quest / shrine / find a Korok seed and call it a day. It lets you set the tempo.
What about them graphics, though?
Kate: I think we should tackle the point a lot of people have been making: What do you think of the way the game looks?
I think it looks acceptable for a Switch game with open / large biomes. Could be better, but not awful
Tom: Oof, looking forward to a lot of people disagreeing with me! Maybe it’s because I play almost exclusively on the handheld, but I think it looks ok. Not good, but I don’t think I’d say it’s bad, either. I think it’s technically flawed but does have a cohesive art style that I actually quite like.
Now, I think those criticizing do have a point - The Pokémon Company is extremely wealthy, and by extension them and Nintendo can give Game Freak the resources to do far better technically. No argument with that, but as I’m playing it I’m not bothered by that, frankly, and I think it looks acceptable for a Switch game with open / large biomes. Could be better, but not awful.
Kate: I find myself wishing the art direction was a bit more exciting – they could have leaned into something more expressive of the time period – but like you say, it’s fine.
Also, I have theorised that Game Freak were given a very tight leash on this one, so they would have to prove themselves before being granted a bigger budget. I’m fine with that, because I think they did a great job with everything else… but I have high hopes for the next instalment!
Tom: Yeah, that seems very feasible. I do generally agree with the idea I’ve seen online that The Pokémon Company (and I guess Nintendo to a degree as publisher of the mainline games) enjoy their profits a little too much without re-investing enough back into tech, staff, teams etc.
I don’t know how big the Game Freak team is, but it does always seem to be battling to deliver large scope games, based on video and comments I saw around Sword / Shield animations too. In PLA, at least, they’ve really given the Pokémon a lot of life and character, they’re incredibly charming when running around and behaving in different ways.
Kate: I hope I don’t get beaten up for this, but: I think people are way too harsh on the Pokémon games when it comes to graphics! At the same time, like you said, we know they must have a lot of money. But maybe The Pokémon Company takes it all? I don’t know!
Tom: Yeah I’d need to research it, but at the end of the day it’s down to The Pokémon Company and partners like Nintendo to invest money and drive better technology if they want. Game Freak will have limits in how far it can go, perhaps.
But I also kind of agree on the graphics being treated harshly at times. It’s a SWITCH game. I remember even BoTW got ripped for graphics in its early days, textures of rocks etc. And I just think it’s boring. If a game’s world immerses you, realism and detail is secondary. If the game and art design do the job for me, I don’t worry about the rest too much.
Ahhh, look at all the lovely shinies
Kate: Eeeexactly. But I have another question for you: Have you got any shinies yet? I feel like everyone’s getting shinies and I haven’t got any.
Tom: I don’t know! Which means probably not? I have a pony thing in a blue Poke Ball, but that was a quest so it’s probably not what you’re talking about. So no, I think…
Kate: Yeah, that’s a scripted one! Shinies are just special colours, but PLA also has large/small Pokémon, too. I’m not 100% sure how to tell if they’re large or small unless they’re standing next to another one.
Tom: Haha, yeah, I haven’t figured that out either. I have one Pokémon (the thing that you get from rattling trees) that was a different colour to the others? Maybe that’s a shiny, maybe not. It’s one of those things the game doesn’t really explain, so I’m trying to make sense of it.
Kate: That’s a Burmy! He comes in like… five different colours, I think, depending on what he used to make his coat. I think he’s based on a real-life bagworm. I could look this up to confirm but I refuse to do research.
Tom: That’s the one. Then no, I have no shinies
Kate: To go back to your earlier point, this game isn’t particularly good at explaining things. A generous read on that would be that it’s set in the past, and you have to figure things out for yourself… A less generous read would be that they assumed Pokémon fans would know things by default. I won’t lie, figuring things out is fun, but only to a point…
Tom: I think to be fair to the game, at least so far, you don’t need to know everything or understand every detail, it’s challenging but you can find a way. And I haven’t minded figuring things out slowly, either. Like Super Effective and Ineffective moves, I gradually figured out which symbol was which, learnt how to swap the Pokémon tactically for those moves, and that was great. It gave a few basic tips and I learnt more by myself. I’d lean on the generous interpretation and say that it’s designed well enough for players to learn themselves.
Kate: I’m inclined to agree. It’s bloody difficult, though, and some of those secret tips are important to reducing that difficulty. I’ve seen people talking about the TTK, or “time to kill”, being really high – it takes fewer moves to get knocked out in than the mainline Pokémon games.
However, it’s also WAY easier to catch Pokémon, so I reckon they’ve just simplified the numbers to make it a faster-paced game. Have you experienced that?
Tom: Yeah, I’m surprised how fast the battles are, both ways. I’ve had my Pokémon rapidly defeat ones I’m trying to catch, and I’ve had some encounters where a couple of my team were knocked out in no time. I’m ok with that in the context of this game, and the gameplay loop it’s encouraging, but I can see that it was probably balanced differently in other ‘main’ games.
Kate: I really dislike the slowness of Pokémon battles in the other games, so it works great for me. Especially because I can run around, so I don’t feel as trapped. I’ve cut many battles short by just lobbing Poké Balls immediately!
But is Pokémon Legends: Arceus good for Pokémasters?
Tom: So, as a long-time Pokémon fan, what’s your main feeling with PLA? A step forward, sideways, back? I’m interested in that partly because I’m enjoying it so much that I’m still hesitant to ‘go back’ and try more of the series now that I’m becoming a ‘fan’.
Kate: I think this is an excellent, unexpected next step in the Pokémon series that’s been a long time coming. I want them to expand on this idea, and not just get stuck in a new rut for the next 20 years. I want to see more cities, in this 3D open-world style. I don’t think I’d recommend going back to the old series after this! What do you think, as someone who’s new?
Tom: Yeah, I feel like I’m becoming a ‘Legends’ fan, if that becomes a thing in terms of a series of games following this approach; I love your ideas of cities and different settings. I’ve watched streams and read a lot about previous games, including Sword and Shield, and feel like they wouldn’t grab me in the same way. I guess that makes me an awful Pokémon Casual that’ll never be invited into the cool Poke Clubs.
Kate: I think Sword & Shield is the closest game to PLA, because of the open Wild Area. It’s similar, but still has way more plot and it’s a lot more on rails. Also, you don’t get to ride a deer with a beard.
Tom: That’s a problematic shortcoming, I’d say.
Kate: So, to wrap up, the most important question: Which starter did you pick?
Tom: It had to be Rowlet. It’s an owl with a bowtie. The very definition of a no-brainer. How about you?
Kate: Rowlet. Because he is round and squishy.
Tom: Now we can judge anyone in the comments that didn’t pick Rowlet.
Let us know what you think: Is Pokémon Legends: Arceus designed for newbies? Long-time fans? Or is it good for everyone? Tell us in the comments below!