With Pokémon Legends Arceus, the franchise travels back in time to the origins of its history. Successful bet ?
With a scheduled release Friday, January 28, 2022, Pokemon Legends Arceus already aims to renew the cult license created by Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori. A major bet for this video game juggernaut, which has been struggling to reinvent itself for a few years. Anchored in a new temporality, on the borders of the medieval region of Hisui (former Sinnoh), has this unprecedented adventure allowed the game to evolve?
Pokémon finally offers a narrative at its height
The recipe for Pokémon games hasn’t really changed in 25 years, but it must be admitted that it is largely the charm of the video game saga. For Nintendo, the challenge was therefore to succeed in reinventing the franchise, without losing its original salt. A sizeable bet, which the firm takes up via a ambitious semi-open world RPG.
The narrative frame first, without revolutionizing the genre, offers us a real change compared to previous opuses. The different temporality of the game allowed some fantasies, it is clear that Nintendo was able to take advantage of it, with a original and effective plot. Unlike many episodes before it, Pokemon Legends Arceus offers an adventure tinged with mysteries, which even after several hours continues to raise certain questions. The introduction in particular has the merit of plunging us into a hitherto unknown universe, and of surprising us, even in the choice of starters.
Relieved of the stakes of the main episodes, Pokemon Legends Arceus is also an opportunity to address a subject often relegated to the background in the franchise: lore. Generally confined to Legendaries, and without much impact on the rest of the adventure, this nevertheless fundamental aspect of the license finally offers all the interest it deserves. It must be said that in Sinnoh in particular, the legends of the Pokémon world have a central place. It is indeed in this region that the god Arceus emerges from the original nothingness to give birth to Dialga and Palkia, capable of controlling time and space respectively. A fundamental biblical episode in the history of the game.
If Hisui therefore offers itself substantially the same geography as the episodes Diamond, Pearl and Platinum (then later the remakes Sparkling Diamond and Sparkling Pearls), this trip to the past of the license is therefore an opportunity to discover the region in a totally different light. Right here, no tournaments or arena champions, the objective is to help Professor Lavender to list all the Pokémon in the area to create the first Pokédex in history. A titanic task, which will push the main character to join the Galaxy Group (the same one that, a few centuries later, will try to rule the world), and to meet the Diamond and Pearl Clans to investigate the mysterious Pokémon Monarchs. Between lore and fan-service, the title is thus an opportunity to discover more in depth the origins of a universe that we thought we knew by heart.
Let’s take a walk in Hisui
Far from the often very linear gameplay of its predecessors, Pokemon Legends Arceus offers us a vast open world to explore. It was also one of the main promises of the game, before we finally realized that the latter would in fact be broken up into several distinct areas. If many feared seeing their momentum for adventure slowed down by this detail, it is clear that Game Freak has succeeded very well: although independent of each other, these enclosed spaces constitute a playground big enough for our ambitions of trainers.
It is finally with pleasure that we quickly find ourselves wandering in the marshes of the Plateau Tourbeux, or along the Digue de l’Estuaire. Each area has its own environment, and therefore its own Pokémon, which will change depending on the weather or the time of day. In addition to offering a rather nice contemplative dimension, the game also allows a nice diversity in the approach of wild Pokémon. It is thus possible to engage in turn-based combat, or to attempt a capture by surprise, which adds a real challenge to the exercise. Be careful, some species more aggressive than others will not hesitate to directly attack the playable character, who now has his own reserve of life. Coupled with the disappearance of surprise encounters in tall grass, this renewal of the gameplay turns out to be rather beneficial for the game, to the point that even after about ten hours, you never get tired of the exercise.
With ambitions at the height of Mont Couronné, Pokemon Legends Arceus however suffers from several incomprehensible flaws on a game of this magnitude. Starting with the artistic direction of Hisui, which without being missed, is frankly not up to what we expect in 2022. It’s hard not to play the comparison with The Legend of Zelda : Breath of The Wild, yet released nearly five years earlier. Deprived of textures, atmospheric elements and a good number of details, the world sometimes seems very empty, to the point of being sorely lacking in dimension.
In certain enclosed spaces in particular, the observation is almost painful to see as we sometimes have the impression of being in a pre-production environment intended for developers. There are also a number of visual bugs, mainly in combat in aquatic and swampy environments, or when trying to climb a rock. On the sidelines of its ambitions and its many qualities, Pokemon Legends Arceus suffers from certain failures that are difficult to forgive, but also from a few absences which nevertheless seem essential to any RPG. To start with the non-existent mini-map, which forces us to consult the map regularly so as not to get lost on the way. Let’s hope on this point that Nintendo will review its copy in the first updates of the title.
To the delight of completists
Pokémon fans know it, it is once the main adventure is over that the titles of the license take on their full interest. By relegating the fights to the background, Game Freak finally offers the budding Jacky Léon the possibility of becoming Pokémon observers, rather than following the path of the unbearable Sacha. Finally a role that lives up to our ambitions: in addition to having to complete the very first Pokédex in the history of Hisui, it will also be necessary carry out several hundred observation missions to understand the pocket monsters around us. The task is long, but imposes itself as a true epic for those who will accept it.
Because this trip to the past of the franchise is also an opportunity to discover several new creatures. In addition to a few species never before observed, Pokemon Legends Arceus also full of regional forms, whose appearance and skills adapted to Hisui’s surroundings. The idea is not new, since since Alola in Pokemon Sun and Moon, these special variations have become a must for games. However, their discovery is always just as exhilarating, to the point that we want more.
The age of maturity
Despite several flaws that we would have done without, Pokemon Legends Arceus is however far from disappointing us. Without denying its origins, the title succeeds in the bet of renew certain mechanics that have been immutable until now, such as mastering certain abilities, or adding “styles” of combat which make it possible to adapt its play to the adversary. Beneficial changes for the franchise, which finally seems to realize that its first-hour fans have now passed their thirties, and that they no doubt aspire to a little more strategy.
However, the game does not exclude the new generation, since some challenges will offer to adapt their level of difficulty after a first defeat. However, the expedition now wants to be more autonomous. While Game Freak had the unfortunate habit of holding our hands throughout the journey, this new opus manages to mature the codes of the license, now leaving more room for wild exploration and numerous side quests. Even the fights, if they are more anecdotal in the story, gain in difficulty. The Monarchs in particular, now abandon turn-based for epic clashes that are closer to the mechanics of franchise bosses like The Legend of Zelda or of Mario. On this point in particular, however, we regret that the ingame commands are struggling to follow, especially when it comes to dodging.
The open world also offers us its share of challenges and good surprises. Starting with the presence of Pokémon Monarchs in the wild on the map, who will not hesitate to kill you if you have the misfortune to cross their path a little too early in the adventure. Crafting and survival, without revolutionizing the game, also make it possible to bring a new dimension to the title, by requiring better management of its stock of objects, but also its level of health. So many new features that sound like a return to basics for Nintendo, which is taking advantage of this time travel to renew a license that has remained in the past for too long.