Nintendo Nintendo Switch

Pokémon Legends: Arceus Reaches Peak Isekai Levels

Courtesy of Game Freak

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: January 28, 2022
Available as: Digital and Physical

Finally, Pokemon Gets An Actual New Game

Everybody lower the pitchforks and let me explain what I mean when I say that Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first new Pokémon game in years. I don't mean a new entry in the series, which would be 2019's Sword and Shield. While New Pokémon Snap was an entertaining example of taking the license out of the box, it wasn't the classic Pokémon game that players have been used to. Pokémon Legends: Arceus combines the classic gameplay trainers know and love, yet flips it in a fully open-world environment.

The last time a Pokémon game was this ambitious was arguably the Pokémon Colosseum titles. Featuring new characters in a new location, the games were the first time Pokémon were featured in full 3D. Over a decade later, the series would begin to slowly make its way to embracing 3D with titles such as X and Y setting the standard. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the latest title to reinvent the wheel, taking elements from other successful franchises with a familiar Pokémon flavor. Is it too ambitious for its own good, however?

Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Nintendo Switch Direct Capture

Pokemon, The Isekai I Never Knew I wanted

The game begins with the voice of Arceus, considered the creator of all Pokémon, taking to the player character. As a tradition for most Pokémon titles, this is where the player chooses their gender as well as their name. Once the player does that, they are given a task by Arceus to "catch all the Pokémon," whisking the player and their phone to another dimension far in the past. As it turns out, there's a giant portal that transcends space and time, with you as the trainer is the latest object to fall from the portal. Moments after arriving you are tasked to catch Pokémon by a nearby professor, because, of course.

Anime savvy players will already cast the game off as an "isekai," but what exactly is isekai? In short, it's a genre where the protagonist is transported to a fantasy world different from the real world they are used to. The residents in this other timeline often look at the newcomer with caution. They did appear from out of thin air after all. Thus, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an isekai and the ones to blame for this are Game Freak. I suppose it would make sense for this to be the premise as to make the game feel personal to the player in modern times?

Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Nintendo Switch Direct Capture

Pokemon Legends Puts The "Action" In "Action RPG"

During my time playing the title, I realized there were multiple phases in capturing Pokémon, all of which are different except for one. The main phase is the trainer's attempts to capture the monster without assistance from their partners. This is done by aiming the Pokeball and throwing it. Some Pokemon are easier to catch than others, with each 'mon having a specific personality trait. Some, like Bidoof, are docile and won't run. Others like Starly are incredibly skittish, fleeing at the sight of the trainer.

Some Pokemon are easier to catch than others, indicated by the number of arrows. While catching a Pokemon is as simple as aiming and throwing the ball, stealthy elements like crouching and hiding in tall grass are also utilized. The latter is hilariously ironic considering for almost three decades, trainers had to look for Pokemon hidden in tall grass. Now, the tables have turned. There are times when simply catching a Pokemon isn't enough and that's when using your partners comes in.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Nintendo Switch Direct Capture

Your Pokemon Party Has Evolved Into Your Partners

I kind of like the Pokemon in your party being called your "partners," as it makes them closer to you in this game than they ever were before. In many ways, this is most certainly the case as you use them for almost everything. If there's an out-of-reach point of interest, you can call on your partners to investigate. The player may be treated with rewards for their efforts. Like traditional Pokemon games, they can also be used to battle wild Pokemon as well.

Battles are just as players would expect from traditional Pokemon titles, including leveling up, type advantage, and the overall ebb and flow. The key difference is that the trainer can now move while their partner fights. Of course, this can lead to foolish mistakes like standing in the middle of an attack. This sense of realism is something that is entirely new to the series, giving Pokemon a much-needed sense of immersion.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Nintendo Switch Direct Capture

Familiar Locations Are Left As Easter Eggs

Despite Pokemon Legends: Arceus taking place many years in the past, there are similarities between Legends and Pokemon Diamond/Pearl. The starting city is Jubilife, with the music bearing some elements of the original city featured in DPP. The organization the protagonist works for, Team Galaxy, is starkly different from the evil Team Galactic counterpart. Operating more like the Pokemon Laboratories of previous titles, these guys just want to finish the Pokedex.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Nintendo Switch Direct Capture

First impressions I was blown away by how much Pokemon Legends: Arceus felt familiar not as a Pokemon game but as an action game itself. Game Freak took cues from many titles including Monster Hunter Rise yet managed to create a fresh new spin on the world of Pokemon. It's similar to a fast-food chain offering a new item on the menu that's vastly different from everything else. It's an acquired taste, but after a while, it's just as delicious as any other staple. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the "Shamrock Shake" of the Pokemon series and it is a path I hope Game Freak continues for future entries in the series.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus is now available on the Nintendo Switch.

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