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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Disclaimer before I even begin: this is a spoiler-free review. I mention the names of Pokémon that have either appeared in promotional material or have shown up in the Sinnoh region before, and I do not discuss mechanics that are introduced past the first hour. The only thing that one might want to gloss over if very sensitive to spoilers is my discussion of Jubilife Village, which dips its toes into what you can expect later in the game.

Game Freak and Nintendo have a lot to make up for since the release of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield in late 2019. Hardcore fans will always enjoy another adventure with their charming creatures and addictive battle system, but after twenty or so years of doing the same formula over and over, people are getting… well, bored. Sword and Shield, for all it did to make the competitive Pokémon battles more accessible, a scene that has long been trapped behind steep learning curves and unending time commitments, those games also did nothing else. The brand new wild areas looked and felt empty, the Dynamax phenomena was yet another gimmick added that restricted the battle strategies one can use rather than expand them, and the story was laughably atrocious. You were surprised when you went ten feet without Hop or Sonia or whomever interrupting you in an awkward cutscene to point out a goal that was given to you mere seconds ago.

Needless to say, when Nintendo and Game Freak announced that the next main line Pokémon game was going to function a lot closer to Breath of the Wild, their extremely successful transformation of another beloved and old Nintendo franchise, people were stoked for something new and fresh. So, now that it’s been a week since Pokémon Legends Arceus has been out, and I have dedicated far too much time to discovering the Hisui region whilst bracing myself for midterms, is this game what restless and dissatisfied fans have been waiting for?

In short: yes, but with an asterisk. Overall, this is a welcome departure from the formula that has guided players all these years, a format that has grown stagnant as all other Nintendo titles flourish under creative and technological progress; just because your series has a legacy status that spans generations doesn’t mean it should strive to remain as faithful to the originals as possible. As we grow and develop and change, so should the games we play!

There are no gym leaders or hundreds of trainers to test your team against, nor the goal of conquering an established Pokémon League to become the champion. Instead, you are in the wilderness of a time before humanity and Pokémon-kind have started living in harmony, long before Pokémon were even beginning to be thought of as partners. This is the first concept that the game really excels in – the newfound feeling of danger surrounding these creatures we’ve become so accustomed to think of as our buddies. In previous games, direct interactions with Pokémon are limited to mini games removed from the world you explore – Amity Square in generation four, Pokémon Amie in generation six, grooming your Pokémon in generation seven, and the camping mechanic in generation eight, to name a few big ones. Notably, all of these interactions are positive, like you groom them or feed them or play with them. We’re accustomed to these guys as our pets, so much so that we forget that Garchomp is a shark that grew legs and developed the bloodlust of the dragons.

And Legends Arceus reminds us of that. Every step of the way. And it’s awesome. Interacting directly with Pokémon is one thing; it grounds your interactions in the main game rather than an optional mini-game, making them as creatures feel more connected to the world rather than simply tools to be acquired along a journey. More than simply sharing the world though, it’s how we share the Hisui region with them, and a lot that comes from the excellent work done on the Pokémon models themselves. Specifically, how the scale works to convince you of the presence, be it threatening or welcoming, of these Pokémon. From the fluffy feeling in your heart you get when you see how tiny Budew is to the visceral fear of spying an alpha Gallade down the corridor, the threats and charm these creatures pose feels very real because of how big or small they are. It’s a simple concept that media has been exploiting for years; big monster equals scary.

But its something that has gone overlooked in the series for so long because of the battle system that has been the focus for the past twenty-odd years. The approach has always been to shrink or grow Pokémon to a size where the camera can fit in all beings in the field at once, essentially clarity of battle over the Pokémon themselves. In Legends Arceus, Pokémon are dead center of the gameplay and narrative, and that works immensely to the game’s advantage. Plenty of games have amazing battle systems, not all of them have compelling, interesting, and intricate beings like Pokémon to decorate the otherwise vaguely empty world (we’ll get to that). So fore fronting Pokémon is a wonderful way to endear players to the stars of the show for the past twenty years.

And they’re so cool. Oh my God they’re so cool. The alpha Pokémon are my personal favorite part of the game. Something about a huge monster stalking around the wilderness is just so intense, the stress you feel instantly when you see those glowing red eyes and that creepy music fades really sets the tone for a land covered with dangerous creatures that we have yet to befriend. The danger the Pokémon pose is very well complimented with the players’ prior understanding of Pokémon as friends, which just makes the shock and fear you feel all that more poignant when the friendly Shinx suddenly uses the moves you’re so used to commanding, but against you.

All in all, Legends Arceus does the Pokémon aspect right. The world around them is what tends to bring the rest of the game down, though let me get the good out first. The main area, Jubilife Village, slowly expands and accrues more Pokémon and people within it as the game goes on, without you necessarily doing anything directly to build the village up. That kind of background progression really adds to the sense of, well, progression. It makes the world feel more responsive to your actions as a web of relationships between characters rather than simply a set of NPCs made to serve the player’s needs, even if that’s still the case. The player doesn’t directly provide the wood for the new houses to be built, but it is their actions making Hisui safer that is inadvertently making more people move to Jubilife, to accept Pokémon in their lives slowly. That kind of background storytelling is essential to making the world feel more lived in; your actions affect others in real life without your direct interaction, and if we can re-make that in a simulated world, that’s just one more touch to make it all feel more believable.

Okay. Everything so far has been good, and believe me, these are major reasons why this game is good. It’s fresh while going back to the roots of the franchise, and it sets up a world that feels lived in while also communicating how dire the situation of the people in Hisui is, surrounded by these powerful beasts they know nothing about. So let’s get to why I say this game is good, but with an asterisk.

First of all, the one flaw with the Pokémon themselves: they can go from making the world feel hostile to making the game feel annoying. When out in the world, Pokémon have three types of reactions to the player: running away, engaging in combat, or not really caring/looking for ways to play. Remember, the world is littered with these Pokémon, and each individual one can have an interaction with the player. The most popular reaction Pokémon have to you, because Hisui is a threatening landscape, is to try and attack you. As much as this is cool when a high-level or alpha Pokémon does it, it gets very annoying when you’re just trying to get from point A to B on the map and about ten low-leveled Pokémon hound you the whole way. Now you can’t really take in the environment or collect crafting materials because you’re trying not to get knocked around by five Geodudes, three Drifloons, and seven Zubats, all of which are at least twenty levels below you by late-game. It would make the areas a lot less tedious to avoid if Pokémon behavior changed with your level, and it would add to that wonderful sense of progression I was just praising. Those jerk Buizel that used to chase you around at the beginning of your adventure should at the very least not mess with you, perhaps even run away in recognition of your power. It would help reinforce the sense of Hisui as a society ruled by the powerful, which goes from being a danger in the beginning to showing how far you’ve come by the end, now that you’re able to contend with the land’s threats.

As much as the Pokémon make the world feel full, that’s about the only thing it has got going for it, environment-wise. Collecting materials is nothing revolutionary, and Legends Arceus doesn’t add the mechanic in a transformative way, even if it does use it adequately, and it’s the only other thing to do out in the world. I understand that adding more would take away focus from the Pokémon themselves, but it wouldn’t take much more to make the over-world feel less empty. Show us some nests that Pokémon have made, or scatterings of the history of the Diamond and Pearl Clans, who otherwise feel as dropped into the world as the player is. Little touches that draw curiosity or point to lore rather than just a bad texture of a grass pattern (unfortunately, this game is not as gorgeous as we all hoped it would be). Traveling between different areas is clunky as well, as you have to return to Jubilife Village if you want to go to a different area. Just let me get to the different area without putting this extra step in-between! Doing otherwise breaks up the pacing!

All the other problems that come up are from narrative choices, writing style, and characters, which I can’t discuss without getting into heavy spoilers, but they’re not insignificant. We know Pokémon, and Nintendo in general, has a certain charm to its clunky and awkward cutscenes, and I do love them for how they remind me of how it felt to discover games for the first time as a kid. But. Come on. The animation doesn’t have to be that stilted, and even if the dialogue is some of my favorite in the series, the overall narrative of the game is a little slow (thought the late game direction is really good. Not winning any awards but I did like it). The postgame arc engages in a tired narrative trope that is not done very well, and there aren’t any stand out moments that really solidified the game as a narrative experience. It’s a wonderful world with an intense sense of danger that works to the game’s benefit, but the people within it feel severed from the Pokémon they’ve supposedly been sharing the land with for years, and the land itself feels close to barren. Yeah, it’s better than the wild areas, but we should not be using them as the basis of comparison. They suck.

When all is said and done, I really do like Legends Arceus. I think it is a very, very strong step into the future of the Pokémon franchise, which has really been going downhill for too many years, much to the dismay of people who were introduced to video games by these charming little monsters. I wish the game was able to stand on its own two legs rather than rest on the assumption that it will set up for a better sequel, but what we have is really good. If you’re a long time fan, or if you dropped off around the past two or three mainline games, you’ll be comforted by the innovations if this game. If you’ve never gotten into Pokémon, I think now is a really good time to try it out, to get acquainted with the beasts within it.

Born in SF and raised in Oakland, California to Quebecois parents and sandwiched between two wonderful headaches she calls her brothers, Mathilde grew up in a contradictory city of grassroots fights for racial justice, incredible wealth foregrounded against a vast backdrop of systemic poverty, the best dim sum west of Hong Kong, and all the lessons a white ally can hope to learn from such a place. Forever entrenched in the fight to make her community proud (and addicted to any of Nintendo's creations), Mathilde hopes that her humor and insight can make the readers of HerCampus let out a rare audible hum of interest.
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