Friday, February 23, 2024
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Embracing the old and the new

Daniel Lim

Since the first Pokemon game was released for the Game Boy in 1996, the series has been known for its turn-based battles that heavily lean on knowledge of the game mechanics in the form of weaknesses as well as levelling and building up a Pokemon roster to take
into battle.

From Pokemon Red and Green to the more recent releases of Pokemon Sword and Shield, the main gameplay loop of the core series remained unchanged over the years.

Having dabbled across many games in the series, Pokemon is one of the few game series that rarely got me hooked to its gameplay loop – the games have generally been ones that I play occasionally but never fully committed to.

So when the latest release in the series Pokemon Legends: Arceus was announced in 2021 and released on January 22, I expected the same.

Within the first few opening minutes, Pokemon Legends: Arceuss is already a huge departure from the standard that players have come to expect from a traditional
Pokemon game.

Photos show scenes from Pokemon Legends: Arceus. PHOTOS: GAME FREAK/NINTENDO

Pokemon Legends: Arceus gameplay

One of the main draws is its open world style gameplay, which means that the player is free to explore areas to their heart’s content, while another departure from tradition is the way Pokemon are caught.

Gone are the days of running around in tall bushes to initiate random battles. Instead, players now take an active role in stalking the tall bushes and setting up favourable situations to capture Pokemon, with gameplay more aligned with third-person stealth shooter games.

As such, players can use items such as berries and honey to lure Pokemon to certain positions, preferably with their back facing the players as it increases the catch rate unique to this game, before throwing a Pokeball to capture the Pokemon.

This method also extends to the Alpha Pokemon – larger variants of Pokemon with higher starting stats and able to accelerate the building of Pokemon teams to take into battle.

The discovery of new Pokemon is a good way segue to the story, which sees the player being dropped into a land of the past in the Hisui region that will one day become the Sinnoh region from Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, for which remasters Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were released a few months ago.

Unlike previous games in the series where players aim to be ‘the very best’ by fighting against other Pokemon trainers and eventually being crowned the Pokemon Champion, Pokemon Legends: Arceus focusses more on the lack of understanding of Pokemon.

Due to the game being set in the past where Pokemon battles are a rarity due to the still unknown nature of Pokemon and the lack of understanding by residents, the main goal of Pokemon Legends: Arceus is the completion of the Pokedex.

While the story does delve deeper into space-time disturbance, the game constantly reminds players about the completion of the Pokedex, to the point where obtaining certain rankings in the Pokedex is necessary to proceed through the story.

As such, players rarely stray far from the game’s main objective, with every action made contributing to the overarching goal of completing the Pokedex.

Even with its story, one of the major departures from the other Pokemon games is how the game makes players feel as if they are a part of the world.

In previous titles, exploration would be linear with routes players take from one town to another, or how battles take place in other dimensions separate from the main map. Pokemon Legends: Arceusmakes every action take place instantaneously and within the bounds of the map.

Battles are also conducted there, which coupled with the player’s ability to wander around while battling, helps give them a sense of being in that moment.

This, along with the minute details such as being able to aim and throw Pokeballs rather than it being a simple command, to in-game characters taking their shoes off when entering a household, also adds to the immersion.

Another change made to the core gameplay is the replacement of the Effort Values (EV) and Individual Values (IV) from previous games. Pokemon Legends: Arceus uses Effort Level which combines both EVs and IVs into a singular stat boost for the Pokemon. Raising the Effort Level is achieved by using Grit items dropped by captured and defeated Pokemon, simplifying the process of building the perfect Pokemon team.

Learning moves have also been simplified, with moves being changeable from the summary tab of the Pokemon, rather than having to fumble around to find the right items to use.
This can even be used before fights to ensure that the right set of moves can be planned ahead, rather than hoping that the decision made when choosing what move to replace will be right a few battles down the road.

While the game is far from perfect, with the game having meticulous detail up close that immediately breaks when examined from afar with draw distance that even games from decades ago can easily surpass, to the battle mechanics being similar as its previous game instalments, Pokemon Legends: Arceus represents an interesting middle ground where Game Freak were able to experiment.

While in its current state, it might not be a Pokemon game for many, hopefully moving forward some of the mechanics introduced will be implemented in future instalments of the
game series.