Pokemon Legends Arceus review: The Pokemon game I’ve always wanted

Nintendo /

Title: Pokemon Legends Arceus
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on)
Release Date: January 28, 2022

Picture this as an episode of the Pokemon Anime. Ash Ketchum, a boy from Pallet Town, is on a journey. He makes his way through various landscapes and villages like the roving samurai of old. He encounters new friends, great dangers, and exciting Pokemon he’s never discovered until that day.

But today is different. Today, as he makes his way across a narrow bridge he finds there is something blocking him. There is a computer desk, with a dual monitor set up and a pale gentleman sitting behind that computer.

“I’m trying to get to Viridian City!” Ash says excitedly.

The man at the computer never looks his way as he types away. From a small machine next to the desk, Pokemon materialize and walk out, looking confused.

“What’s the machine doing?” Ash says, worried.

The man, again not looking up, says, “I’m using a third-party application to produce several Pokemon for my party with perfect IV stats. I had a solid six going but the online meta has currently changed so I’m adjusting my party based on what the competitive Pokemon subreddit tells me my party should be.”

Ash and his Pikachu look at each other confused. All the phrases make no sense to either of them. “Chu?” Pikachu says tilting his head to the side.

The man here’s Pikachu and looks up. “Oh my god, are you using an unevolved single-type Pokemon? It’s not even in a special Pokeball.”

Defensively Ash responds, “That’s because my buddy Pikachu was the first Pokemon was the first Pokemon I ever got.”

The man sneers, “Um, actually, you wouldn’t have been able to start off without selecting one of the three starter Pokemon for your region so try harder. Also, Pikachu isn’t meta viable so you’d get absolutely wrecked in online ranked.”

This was a scene from an episode of the Pokemon anime that never existed. Should never exist. And if it did exist would be the worst possible thing ever animated.

See, here’s a little about me, and I’ll preface this by pointing out that I am old. When I graduated high school and moved out on my own, it was the same year Pokemon came out in the US.  I was hooked immediately. I loved the design of these creatures and I wanted to know everything about them. I read the Dex entries and would doodle them in my free time. Hell, even now I actually sell wood burnings that have Pokemon designs on them. I loved these little weirdos.

Shiny-Sneasler /

One day, I was gabbing with a coworker about it and he asked me what my party consisted of. I don’t remember what it was but I remember him asking me “Where’s Gengar?” I said I didn’t like Gengar because of its personality and he scolded me because “everyone was supposed to put Gengar on their team because it’s the best counter towards Psychics in competitive play.”

I remember him telling me this and in my head, it just felt like someone was taking a book I loved and cutting it into some sort of decorative art piece because he saw someone else do it. It just seemed to ruin it. I didn’t even think there was a competitive scene at the time. And if you look back at Pokemon Gen 1, you can even tell it was NOT made for competitive play.

Time went on, things got worse. The cards got huge. The fandom grew. Everyone was talking about hidden stats, abilities, personality types, things like that. People started buying Game Sharks to cheat and create “perfect Pokemon”. Then, with the edition of online features, those people that created hacked Pokemon found a solid business in selling custom-made Pokemon online and sending them to other players. It felt like Pokemon GMO.

But I had never been there for that. I wanted to know about these. I wanted to have a team of six that I enjoyed and if I came across a difficulty in which my types weren’t a great matchup, I’d have to rethink my strategy with those six and come back later.

But I would post my team online because I thought they’d look cool and I’d get comments like, “that team would get destroyed in rank.” Or people would aggressively question my type pairings.

I didn’t care about that but it always bothered me that that was the primary focus. Even now, when I played Pokemon Legends Arceus so I could write extensive walkthroughs and guides, I had some difficulty because I would try to complete an aspect where I need a certain Pokemon and people would tell me, “turn off autosave and then save right before you get to that point. When they spawn if what you need isn’t there, turn the game off and back on again.” Blasphemy. You don’t mess with time like that, that’s Dialga’s job.

But this is one of the things I love about Pokemon Legends Arceus so much. It not only  a game that has a smaller focus on competitive play, it almost completely removed the mention of it in the story with maybe maybe 20ish trainer-versus-trainer battles at max. And even then, these are also people whose teams are relatively weak because they’re looking to you for advice on getting better at being trainers.

In fact, with the exception of an almost completely unnecessary trading option, online play has been completely removed from the game and I adore it.

Cute-Goomy /

The game is what I’ve always wanted. I’m not tasked with being the best. I don’t have a bunch of aggressive lunatics preventing my trip through the world by making these things fight. I don’t have to complete a Pokedex for a person who lives in a world where everyone already knows all these Pokemon. Like, why do I have to fill out a Pokedex entry for a Pokemon that’s used by the Champion?

Instead, I’m in a living breathing world where I need to fall back and actually find these creatures living. I don’t just get to research them fighting. I get to research them at certain times of day. I get to research how they evolve and under what conditions. I get to research them eating. I get to feel like they’re real.

My character also feels real. Instead of just selecting a Pokeball and letting my character throw it via cut scene, I’m actually lining up the shot and throwing it based on the weight of various styles of Pokeball. Landing a difficult shot feels akin to landing a tricky shot in a golf game.

And while traversing the game world, the controls for the various Pokemon that help you travel feel wonderful — especially the way you can switch. I can ride through pastures on a Wydeer, jump into the water and find myself on a Basulegion only for it to jump in the air and become a Braviary with a few simple button presses. Solid controls like this as opposed to the simple click-to-watch-an-action gameplay of previous games pulls me in in a way no previous Pokemon game has.

Even the box storage system of Pokemon has been replaced with pastures. The Pokemon I’m not using get to stay on a farm where I get to see them roam around. Sure, it looks weird when Dialga is floating around by a haystack as a farmer looks on, nonplussed, but I love it more than knowing they’re in stasis in some digital hellscape.

And with the removal of things like a ton of moves, a cut back on status conditions, and a heavy focus on exploring, every Pokemon is viable. If there is a Pokemon you’d like to use, even if that reason is just that you like it, guess what…it’s viable. Like, if you want to Ash it and keep Pikachu with you the whole time, I will straight up tell you that it can learn Rock Smash and do some serious damage against Arceus. It doesn’t matter, you can take the six that you want and make it yours.

Take my team.

Alpha-Team /

The Eevee is going to become a Slyveon. You know why I put this team together? Not because of power sets or match-up types. I just wanted a team of Pokemon that are very pale with dark detailing. That’s it. And honestly, this team is a hot mess of weaknesses.

But in Pokemon Legends Arceus, it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to walk down a linear path being attacked by “beauties” or “school kids” or anyone else that happens to be out of a city. I’m not going to be stuck for half an hour in a series of obnoxious caves on my way to the elite four, fending off rock-type wild Pokemon and strangely dressed dragon-type masters and veteran trainers. I’m here to explore. I’m here to discover. And team make-ups do not matter and I love it for that.

This game finally FINALLY gives me the ability to not only make a team of whatever I want without problems, but it also gives me a Pokemon Snap-like world that I can walk around freely in. I can chill in the grass and watch Mr. Mime sit on an invisible chair and drink a tea that exists only in his mind. I can let out my newest Pokemon and then let out my Gallade and watch him politely bow to it. Best of all, I can take my alpha Eevee and release it in some scenic location and just let it take a nap somewhere.

Eevee-Asleep /

It makes my Pokemon feel like living breathing creatures and that’s the experience I always wanted. Not turning them into numbers and sentient Uno cards, living things.

Pokemon Legends Arceus (Nintendo Switch) Score: 9.5

Despite some minor graphical issues, Game Freak has managed to build the kind of living world I’ve always wanted from a Pokemon game. The Pokemon feel alive and filled with personality, from the adorable Snorunts to the hyper Aipon to the playful antics of Gengar. And they all exist in a fully realized world with neighboring clans and memorable characters.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.