Welcome to a new age in Pokemon games. Or maybe that should be an old age. After something like Sword and Shield, where do you go next? Back in time, it seems. Pokemon Legends: Arceus takes place back when pokemon were still feared and and the technology didn’t exist for a pokeball or pokedex as we’ve grown to know them. You’re at the start of a whole new era. You are now at least.
You start the game spinning through time and space. If that won’t disorient you, what will? Losing your cell phone doesn’t help either. You get it back though a little after you land on an island (in modern clothes), but it’s changed into something new and, of course, very useful. We go through the usual introduction with our new professor, Laventon, but the whole thing is a lot more drawn out as you have amnesia and have a lot to learn both as a character and a player. Of course, there’s the pesky space-time warp in the sky that you fell out of too. Laventon is just trying to study pokemon. He’s helping to create the base of what all the past games were. Not being modern time and with people not dealing with pokemon all the time yet, the pokeballs are very low-tech. Eventually, he will ask you to choose one of the 3 traditional fire, grass, or water type pokemon. You might even remember them if you played earlier games as the starters are cyndaquil (Johto region), rowlet (Alola region), and oshawott (Unova region). Don’t let their appearances fool you though, not only is the region different from their usual ones, so are their final forms. The secondary types after they evolve the second time are not the same as they were in the previous games.
After you get through all of the intro, the fun begins. You get introduced to the Galaxy Team in Jubilife City. If that name sounds familiar after the last Pokemon games released, you’re not going to be surprised to find the Diamond and Pearl Clans around as well. This is the Hisui region, what will eventually become the Sinnoh region, that we were all just playing in. Working with the team, you get sent off to investigate everything that’s going on because, even as a stranger in this land, you somehow seem to be better than everyone else when it comes to pokemon. In old games, you had to get 8 gym badges. Since there are obviously no gyms yet given that most people don’t even trust pokemon, your achievements are shown in star ranks given by your new team’s captain. That’s where part of the fun comes in.
In modern time, the pokedex technology was able to scan pokemon and learn everything about them once you caught them. Since you don’t have that technology yet, it’s time to do it the old way. In this game, your pokedex is a book and to complete an entry, you have to get points in research on the pokemon. You get those from catching them, defeating them, defeating them with a specific move type that they are usually weak against, observe them using certain moves, and a number of other options. You can get multiple points in most of the categories too by performing a task a larger amount of times. Once you get 10 points on a pokemon’s page, you’ve completed their entry. Check out the pictures below for a look at the pokedex. (I’ve censored the Y option of the pokedex, something that you unlock later in the game, so I don’t spoil everything.) Before, other than gaining experience to level your pokemon, there wasn’t incentive to keep catching or battling all the types of pokemon, but if you’re trying to complete your pokedex and get those prized stars from doing that, you’re going to need to now. Since there are no computers to access computer storage of pokemon, your pokemon are now put in a pasture that you can visit when you’re back in the city. While not everything is shown in the pasture, it’s fun to see some random pokemon you caught in there. The Galaxy Team member at the camps throughout the region can help you swap out pokemon for you. I’m not sure if someone is running back into town to swap pokeballs for you or how that works but at least you don’t have to go back yourself.
Things are definitely different out in the field now. In earlier games, you had to start a pokemon encounter to be to catch a pokemon. You could fight it to weaken it and try to make it easier to catch or you could just throw a pokeball right from the start and hope it sticks, but you needed to run into it on the field or vice versa. You don’t want to be running into the pokemon this time around though. Some pokemon are friendly and will just wander around you and others will run away when you get too close. A lot of them will actually attack you though and I actually mean you, not the first pokemon in your rotation. The borders of your screen will get darker and eventually go red if you take damage from a pokemon (or too high a fall) and you will faint if you take enough. In this game, you can throw an empty pokeball at the pokemon to try to catch it or you can throw one with a pokemon to start an encounter to either defeat it or to weaken it to make catching it easier. You even have a target to use to throw the ball. the pokeballs don’t auto-target so it is very possible to miss. A ball with a pokemon landing close enough may still start a battle, but an empty pokeball will just be lost if you miss your mark. If there’s high grass around, you can try sneaking through it to get closer to a pokemon and catch it by surprise. One thing to watch out for though is the alpha pokemon. These pokemon are physically larger, stronger, and of a higher level than the other pokemon of that type in the area. On top of their size, they are also distinguishable by glowing red eyes. (Don’t forget that zubat don’t have eyes so you don’t get the extra visual queue. I got reminded up that the hard way when I went to catch a zubat that ended up being an alpha.) While shiny pokemon are still rare in this game, they are a little more obvious because you can actually see the difference. I saw a different colored kricketot that shined some while I was going around, but sadly, I was unable to catch it. Other interesting things about pokemon are that you manually evolve them now and that you can change which 4 moves they use throughout the game. You get notified when a pokemon has leveled and reached a point where it can evolve, but they won’t actually do so until you go into your pokemon list and tell them to do so. As for the moves, you are notified when the pokemon learns a new move. While in the pokemon list, you can go into a move editor and swap moves around. Unlike previous games, the moves aren’t forgotten. They are still there and able to be swapped back in when you want. You just have access to the four that you have chosen while in battle.
There are other things to do while out in the field other than interact with the pokemon. Since you need to make your potions, pokeballs, and other items by hand, you will need to gather ingredients. When running around, keep an eye out for plants on the ground, berries in the trees, and rocks to break open for minerals. You’ll use these to make items and you will gather recipes as the game goes on. You’ll make the standard pokeballs, great balls, and ultra balls along with new pokeballs that suit the new style of capture. You’ll also make various strengths of potions and revives. It’s good to keep the resources on hand to make things you need, but remember that you don’t have infinite space. If you run out of room, you may need to forgo picking something up or need to drop something else to get it. You can learn how to pack better (i.e. get an extra inventory slot), but it gets progressively more expensive with each new slot. Thankfully, the Galaxy Team member that gets you your pokemon remotely also has a chest nearby that you can use to empty your pack when you go back to camp. Back when I played Everquest 2, I used to like to craft as much as I liked to adventure so the harvesting part is second nature to me and crafting something I actually enjoy. You can craft on the fly out in the field while not in battle using the resources you have on hand. As long as you have what you need, you don’t need to worry about running out of pokeballs or potions out in the field like you might in other Pokemon games where you needed store access. You will also find packs from other players who dropped them when they fainted and got dragged back to the city by the Galaxy Team members. I’m not quite sure if these are randomly created “players” or if information is actually downloaded about locations from other people’s games for this while connected to the internet. Either way, you get merit points for each pack you find that you can use in game.
There are still other things to make the game interesting. Physical customization of the character is still fairly limited but there is a decent collection of clothing available so you can change your look from time to time. People around the region will have requests to ask of you that will give you side quests with rewards to add onto the main storyline. As for travel, you don’t have pokemon moves to do things but you do meet pokemon you can summon to ride and for other uses. You can also directly travel to any camp in the zone you’re in and you can reach any camp you want from the city. It can be a little annoying having to go to one camp, back to the city, and then out to the new camp if you want to travel outside your current zone though. Remember that space-time warp I mentioned earlier? While it also causes distortion fields to pop up periodically. Inside there, you’ll find higher level pokemon, often evolved ones, as well as shards, evolution stones, and other items of use. This is one area that you want to have your inventory ready for. Make sure you have enough stuff to make potions on the fly unless you have a large stock available. Also, don’t have the inventory too full because you’ll want to have room for all the items you find on the ground in the field and from drops when the pokemon are defeated. You can capture or defeat the pokemon, but once the field times out, the pokemon and random items will all disappear.
There are a lot of new things in the game that I really hope they find a way to integrate into future games. I like the way the pokedex works but I don’t know how they’d explain the need for that mechanic in a game taking place in the same period as all the other ones. The move rotation could easily be used in future games though. I’m definitely liking being able to see the pokemon like you do in this game as well as Sword and Shield. It’s a lot more fun than the random attacks that you got when forced through tall grass unless you used a repel. Being able to see the shiny pokemon in the field is cool too because it makes sense that you would be able to tell if they are a different color before actually starting a fight. Not everything is perfect though. I was actually surprised by a number of odd glitches I saw in the graphics when it came to planes connecting to making various items and buildings. I really would have thought that a game like Pokemon would be well beyond something like that by now. Otherwise, it’s a very enjoyable game that I look forward to finishing. I’m curious what type of DLC might show up in the future to make this grow like Sword and Shield did. Hopefully they have some more good ideas for the game (and fixes for the visuals) before moving on to something new.