Pokemon Legends: Arceus looks to be an interesting game – because it is the first time in a while that the series has shown meaningful ambition. Completely breaking away from the traditional mold of the series, Arceus goes for a systemic open world take on Pokemon, ostensibly promising to deliver what fans have been asking for from the series for so long. While whether or not Game Freak can actually deliver on the lofty promises of a Breath of the Wild style Pokemon game remains to be seen, the concept is incredibly ambitious and exciting – and the details we have on hand do sound encouraging. Here are fifteen of those that you should know before buying Arceus.
FIRST MAINLINE POKEMON GAME TO NOT HAVE TWO VERSIONS
Since time immemorial, mainline Pokemon releases have followed the formula of having two variants of the game release simultaneously (sometimes they may be followed by a single, expanded and enhanced third re-released variant). Both versions tend to be largely identical – and you’re not meant to buy both, as much as you buy one and your family or friends buy the other. Because both versions have some Pokemon that are unique to them, and you have to trade across both to be able to complete your Pokedex. Arceus marks a strong departure from that setup – it is getting only one version, just one SKU, making it the first time in 25 years that a new Pokemon game launches as just one variant. This is actually because…
POKEMON LEGENDS IS MOSTLY A SINGLEPLAYER GAME
While typically Pokemon games have some fairly strong and meaty single player campaigns, the long legs and popularity they enjoy over multiple years comes down to their multiplayer component – Pokemon games include support for PvP battling, trading to complete the Pokedex, and occasionally, PvE cooperative play as well. Legends looks to be dropping most of the multiplayer side of the equation and focusing almost entirely on the single player side only. While there will be some sort of trading or connectivity with the other eighth generation Pokemon games, it’s unclear how full featured it will be (and could very well just come down to Pokemon Home connectivity). Fans who play the series for multiplayer may not find Arceus to meet their expectations – on the other hand, those who have been disappointed at the emphasis on the multiplayer side at the expense of the single player campaigns in the last few entries are probably going to find Arcues to their liking.
NOT ONE CONTIGUOUS OPEN WORLD, BUT MULTIPLE OPEN WORLD MAPS AND AREAS
Pokemon Legends‘ open world isn’t going to be one continuous world like in, for example, Breath of the Wild or Horizon – it’s actually a collection of multiple open world maps and areas. You can think of it as being closer to Monster Hunter Rise to get a better sense of how these maps are presented to the player. Hopefully, this can allow Game Freak to retain openness in each area while also keeping the design compact and layered.
As with so many open world games now, Pokemon Legends introduces crafting to the series – using resources you find out in the wild, you can craft helpful items and consumables for yourself, including Pokeballs to catch Pokemon, Potions to heal, and more. You can craft either at Jubilife Village, or at work benches in the camps and outposts you set up in the wilderness; presumably, crafting resources are going to be easy rewards to incentivize the player to explore the maps.
CHANGES TO THE POKEDEX
Pokemon Legends Arceus is all about catching Pokemon and populating the first ever Pokedex in the ancient Sinnoh region (back then known as the Hisui region). But the Pokedex itself now works a bit differently than before – unlike every other game, where catching a Pokemon once populates its entry in the Pokedex completely, Legends is going for something more along the lines of 2021’s New Pokemon Snap, where you have to observe a Pokemon in the wild, often multiple times and in multiple biomes, taking note of its different behaviour and habitats, to fully flesh out its Pokedex page. This, again, encourages the player to pay more attention to the creatures, and treat them as part of their environment rather than just something you catch once and then forget about.
POKEMON CAN ATTACK TRAINERS NOW
Of course, you have other reasons to pay attention to Pokemon now, because they can and will attack humans and trainers as well. This marks the first time we have seen Pokemon attacking humans as a game mechanic in the series – while the games always traditionally talk about it, we never really see it. But no, in Legends, wild Pokemon can attack you, and if they knock you out, you’re carted all the way back to your base camp, meaning you need to make sure you’re not getting hit. Thankfully the game gives you some nimble dodge moves to avoid incoming attacks.
BATTLES TAKE PLACE IN THE OVERWORLD NOW
Pokemon attacking you isn’t just for show – it’s part of the overhauled battles in the game, which no longer break into their own separate battle screen, but rather, take place in the world seamlessly. This presents some interesting implications for the design of the game – for example, is it possible for your existing ongoing battle to be joined by other wild Pokemon that may be in the vicinity? We don’t know yet, but the series moving away from battles breaking out into their own screen is definitely an exciting prospect.
Not all wild Pokemon are equal – Alpha Pokemon are especially powerful and dangerous beasts in the overworld that are easily identifiable because they’re bigger, more aggressive, and have telltale red eyes. These are the ones you want to steer clear of until you feel equipped enough to take them out – think of them as the Named Monsters in Xenoblade, or the F.O.Es in Etrian Odyssey. Like in those examples, when you do finally take Alpha Pokemon down, the rewards you gain will be greater than just defeating regular Pokemon.
CHANGES TO THE BATTLE SYSTEM
There are even more changes to the battle system than battles now occurring seamlessly in the overworld, and Pokemon being able to attack humans. In fact, Legends marks some of the most dramatic overhauls to battles the series has ever seen. You get two battle stances, Strong and Agile, with Strong emphasizing attack power but making you slower, and Agile, inversely, emphasizing speed over raw strength. You can switch between both at any time, and you will have to, because Legends also changes the actual flow of battles – it’s no longer strictly turn based like older games; instead you can stack up multiple turns for yourself based on stat buffs; similarly, the wild Pokemon you are battling can do this too. Strategically switching up styles to line up multiple turns, and then unleashing devastating blows on wild Pokemon, will hopefully change how battles are approached in these games.
While new Pokemon are traditionally only introduced with a new generation, Game Freak has been blurring that line for the last few years, and introducing entirely new species in the middle of an ongoing generation. Pokemon Legends may not be the official start of the ninth generation, but it similarly does introduce multiple new Pokemon – how many is unknown (and it’s reasonable to not expect a lot of them, since as mentioned, this isn’t a new generation), but we do know of a fair few already, including Hisuan variants of existing Pokemon species such as Voltorb, and entirely new species such as the majestic looking stag Pokemon Wyrdeer.
Traversal looks to be the most intriguing part of Legends, which is interesting since that’s not something the Pokemon series has traditionally emphasized. However, it looks like it will be building upon some concepts originally explored in Sword and Shield, which allowed for multiple immediate seamless forms of traversal for the player, but taking them to their logical extreme. So you can, for example, glide off of heights using a flying Pokemon (yes, this is an open world game in a post-Breath of the Wild world, of course it has gliding), surf across lakes and rivers on the back of your giant water Pokemon, and ride across the landscape on the back of your Wyrdeer (the aforementioned stag Pokemon). And these are only the confirmed ones we know of – will we, for example, be able to use a grass Pokemon’s vines to scale cliffs? Can we go from one form of traversal seamlessly into another? These questions remain to be answered, but the possibilities are exciting.
So how is Pokemon Legends structured? We don’t have the traditional gyms/Pokemon League setup that has become basically synonymous with the series, so we’re going into some uncharted territory here. We don’t actually fully know how Legends will work, but we have some idea – we know that we have to explore each new biome (one of those aforementioned maps), and that we accept missions to scope out the area, observe the wildlife, and catch Pokemon. These missions can take the form of something like Monster Hunter or New Pokemon Snap, and presumably once you are done with a critical number of missions for one area, you unlock a new one that you can then move to. But anything beyond this – including how the game integrates a narrative into this setup – has been kept under wraps.
Character customization is one of the most beloved features in the series, and thankfully, it’s one fan favorite idea that Game Freak hasn’t tried to take away, with pretty much every new Pokemon release now including it in some form or the other. This will be true for Legends as well, with character customization already confirmed (and we’ve seen some pretty interesting looking outfits for both the male and female characters in the trailers already).
BONUSES FOR LINKING TO OTHER GAMES
Much like other Switch Pokemon games, Legends gives players bonuses if you have save data for other Pokemon titles on the system. If the game detects save data for Let’s Go, you get a Pikachu mask (corresponding to the version you played) for your character; if it detects Sword/Shield save data, you get two bonuses – the ability to battle and catch the legendary Pokemon Shaymin (after the credits have rolled), and a really great looking Kimono set based on Shaymin for your character to wear (which you get much earlier, about an hour into the game).
Much like in other mainline Pokemon games, you get a rare starter in Legends as well – and the selection this time is interesting. The Fire type Cyndaquil (from the Johto region), the grass type Rowlet (from the Alola region), and the water type Oshawott (from the Unova region); fans have theorized these Pokemon were selected for how they tie into Feudal Japanese imagery (which Hisui represents), which is definitely cool – we’ll see whether that aesthetic is something the game incorporates more when it launches in January 2022.