Pokemon Legends: Arceus — is it still decent 3 months on?

Pokemon Legends: Arceus — is it still decent 3 months on?
PHOTO: Game Freak

As far as the mainstream Pokemon titles are concerned, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is arguably one of the more unusual takes that Game Freak has rolled out in recent years. Now, I am fundamentally aware that PLA isn't technically canon, but it resembles the 'standard' Pokemon formula enough to make the latter a fair benchmark for comparison. 

But with the game having been out for three to four months at this point, how does it actually fare in the longevity department? Or, in other words, is it still as fun?

Specifically, we'll be taking a look at some of the key gameplay changes that the developers seem to be experimenting with in PLA and judging how they might square up against the mainstream formula. After all, there are a number of tweaks here that many players actually wouldn't mind seeing in future Pokemon games, and by that same token, there are some that won't fare as well. Plus, the timing lines up nicely too, considering Pokemon Scarlet and Violet were recently announced and are scheduled for release at the end of 2022. So, let's take a look.

Chucking pokeballs

As most fans are already aware, catching Pokemon in PLA is remarkably, though not completely, different from the usual battle-throw-catch structure. Part of it is certainly due to the open-world exploration route that they've adopted for it, but it's the methodology that has changed.

After all, it's a much more complex affair than just waltzing into the tall grass and waiting for a battle to unfold like you would in a regular Pokemon title. PLA offers an experience that makes you feel like the Steve Irwin of the Hisui region (bless his soul), where Pokemon roam about the wilds on-screen like in Sword and Shield's Wild Area. To catch them, you're expected to study their habits — namely staying neutral, fleeing, or attacking — and formulate an appropriate plan of engagement. 

But while the approach is certainly novel and probably fun for the first few hours, I feel the appeal really doesn't last as long as one might expect. It dried up rather quickly for me, and towards the latter half of the game, the whole examination step just became an 'option' rather than a necessity.

Plus, it usually ends up being way more trouble than it's worth, and for the most part, the process just devolves into good old-fashioned battling. In a way, PLA's experience is like having your battle options permanently meshed with Safari Zone-style gameplay — it's okay for what it's worth in terms of novelty, but the longevity simply doesn't fly. With that in mind, I think it'll be much more viable for them to stick to the existing formula moving forward, and it's probably easier for newer audiences to accommodate as well.

How to train your Goodra

Much like the catching mechanics, PLA also takes a slightly different route when it comes to battling and training Pokemon compared to the mainstream titles. 

The most obvious change to the battling system is that there's no longer a dedicated transition from the overworld view to the battle view. The battle sequence happens seamlessly, and your trainer is even able to move about while it unfolds.

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As a matter of fact, wild Pokemon can even attack you outside of battle sequences, so there are cases where you'll be actively dodging attacks en route to wherever you're going. This is one of the changes I'm quite fond of because it adds points to the immersiveness with little to no downside, and it makes the overall gameplay feel much less static. So that's a 'yes' from me.

Another change I think is great for beginners but won't recommend moving forward is how PLA addresses the Effort Value, or EV point system.

I could spend the whole day rattling on about the intricacies, but the central concept here is that it allows you to somewhat 'tailor' your Pokemon to be stronger or weaker in certain areas. The difference in PLA versus the conventional titles is that instead of picking two or three areas to max out, you can basically level up all available statistics to a maximum of 10 using certain items.

On one hand, I think this change is much easier to grasp than the conventional system since you don't need to keep a count of how many points you've invested into a stat and can just go ham on all of them. Of course, there are flaws in this approach too, and one of them is that it makes training Pokemon boringly straightforward, so while I do see the potential benefits it might present to beginners, it probably won't appeal to competitive veterans because it removes too much of the tactical aspect.

As for battling, the most interesting change to the formula is probably the introduction of the Agile and Strong move styles, though the truth is that I could really do without them in future titles as well.

These are basically 'augments' to your standard pool of moves that will affect your Pokemon's subsequent placing in the move queue — kind of like what you might see in a tabletop strategy game. 

Unfortunately, this system suffers from the same issue as the game itself — it's novel and makes gameplay a little more diverse, but I don't think it should be implemented in mainstream titles.

Not only is the priority system somewhat ambiguous because you don't exactly know where the Agile or Strong move will place you, but it will likely screw up the competitive battling scene beyond comprehension if it ends up becoming a thing. 

Seeing the sights

With PLA placing so much emphasis on scouting Pokemon and foraging for resources, it's probably apt to include a section on 'getting around', so to speak. This is probably one of the best changes I would like to see in future titles, simply because Hisui is so gloriously expansive both by day and by night.  

Just in case you haven't picked up the game yourself, PLA is split into two halves when it comes to the concept of travel, and the first of these is the home base of the Survey Corps in Jubilife Village. Here, it's honestly no different from your usual RPG town — it's where you handle all the off-duty administrative tasks, and where you initiate the transition into the different narrative arcs. 

As for the second half, this refers to the 'open world' that PLA offers as a whole. By speaking to the guard at the village gate, you'll be able to head out on expeditions to various provinces in the Hisui region, though it's also worth noting you can't travel between regions without returning to Jubilife Village first.

Admittedly, this is a slight inconvenience especially if you're just popping out to catch the last Buizel you need for a task, but there's a pretty convincing reason for doing so in-game, so I'll close an eye here.

Now, I don't have anything to complain about with regards to the exploration. Each province is pretty expansive in and of itself, with various nooks and crannies that you can check out as you progress through the narrative and unlock more traversal options. It's especially beautiful, not to mention nostalgic if you played Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl, or any of the original Gen 4 titles before this, because the team has spent a great deal of effort to make sure PLA's various landmarks line up with the regional lore they've created for the Sinnoh region.

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In fact, the best example of this is probably the fan-favourite area we currently know as Floaroma Town. In the Gen 4 titles, it's a gorgeous little cluster of houses stacked up against a flourishing meadow of Gracidea flowers, though it's mentioned that the area was, at one time, so devoid of life that even Pokemon refused to wander near it. I have to drop a mild spoiler here, but one of my favourite moments in PLA was learning how exactly this wasteland became so vibrant thanks to Shaymin and a certain member of the Diamond clan.

In summary, I would actually be ok if they brought the depth of PLA-style exploration back for future titles, but without the need to rotate to your home base. It's definitely going to be a heck of a lot of work for the developers, but I think it'll make the experience feel a lot more immersive than what the mainstream formula currently features. It would be like amping up Sword and Shield's Wild Area experience to 11, and there's probably no Pokemon fan out there who would say no to that.

What happens after?

Okay, so discussing post-game content isn't a change per se, and I'm quite aware that criticising the amount of post-narrative content in a Pokemon title (or rather, the lack of it) is like complaining that fire is hot. Yet, I think it's still worth delving into for a bit.

After all, it's pretty much a given that there isn't going to be too much to do in these titles after finishing up the main story (excluding the usual completionist goals), but I feel PLA falls short even when compared to that margin. 

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In most Pokemon games, there is at least some form of post-game challenges, such as the Battle Tower in BD/SP, but the closest thing you have to that in PLA is a fixed roster of Trainers you can challenge by speaking to Warden Ingo, and that's hardly appealing.

The list doesn't expand much, the Pokemon and levels stay the same, and there's actually nothing to do at all beyond finishing up NPC side quests and the Pokedex. It's like the developers did what could technically qualify as a 'bare minimum', but it's really lacking, and the already-abysmal amount of post-game appeal suffers even more because of it. 

To put it simply, there's nothing to keep you hooked, and yes, that means no breeding too.

As a matter of fact, the only multiplayer interaction you have in the game is trading Pokemon with other players like you can in any modern title, so PLA is as self-contained as these titles come. You could argue that PLA is fundamentally a spin-off so it doesn't need a post-game per se, but with all the changes they're trying out in battling and training, it really feels like a waste not having more situations in which to apply them. 

Should you buy it?

In short, the answer is yes if you're looking for a spot of novelty in a franchise whose formula is largely rehashed with a different coat of paint each generation. After all, the one thing that Pokemon Legends: Arceus has in spades apart from swarms of aggressive Paras is its novelty factor, and truth be told — it is honestly quite refreshing if you play it in pockets from time to time.

However, as enjoyable as those occasional jaunts around Hisui might be, it's also like giving candy to a child — good in small doses, but you probably won't want to make it a habit.

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PLA's post-game is pretty much nonexistent beyond completing the Pokedex or shiny-hunting - there's no breeding, Battle Tower equivalent, or PvP to occupy your time, and even the exploration and questing can only go so far before you've seen every corner that the game has to offer.

Sure, you can definitely restart your playthrough to try out a different starter or various challenge runs, but the same can be said for pretty much any Pokemon title, so it's moot here. On the whole, I think the long-term playability of the game simply isn't there, and many of its 'experimental' systems are largely flawed in the context of the mainstream Pokemon titles.

With that in mind, I still think every Pokemon fan should at least give it a go if they've got spare cash by virtue of it being something new, but I find it hard to get attached to what they have on offer.

This article was first published in Hardware Zone.

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