“Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” It’s an adage repeated countless times throughout a variety of mediums and industries, a warning to those daring to take risks that might otherwise blow up in their faces. By the same token, repetition breeds stagnation, which cultivates a culture of safe steps over innovation. It halts growth. Pokemon Legends: Arceus poses as a game that tries to make a stand against both of those notions.
Legends: Arceus explores a time period before humanity fostered a relationship with wild Pokemon, taking place in the antiquated Hisui region (known better by its present-day moniker of Sinnoh) and before the conveniences, modern-day Pokemon trainers take for granted. As such, while Legends: Arceus isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s also daring to take the Pokemon formula for a completely different spin.
Here are some concerns we have with how Pokemon Legends: Arceus is shaping up to be.
5. Poor Graphics for a 2022 Release
First impressions in practically any conceivable setting are probably the most important way of putting your foot in the door. Press, audience reception, hype, and support are dictated by what sort of impact you make upon unveiling yourself to the world.
Though many were beyond happy to see Pokemon Legends: Arceus remixing the Pokemon formula many players grew up with, a whole other camp of previously eager viewers were left with a vastly different taste in their mouth: Just what are these graphics?
Granted, Pokemon as a series was never one that prided itself on immaculate presentation and visuals that would blow your pants off. Even then, the level of polish in visuals in many sectors of Legends: Arceus (or lack thereof) is alarming.
Textures on clothing, buildings, and banners look muddy and smeared. The surfaces of objects in the game world are jagged when juxtaposed against the vibrant colors and biomes of the Hisui region. From seas of long grass to the Pokemon themselves, many moving objects/polygons (not the Pokemon) have a fuzzy, shoddy, almost amateur-ish feel. This isn’t helped by the type of shading used in the game’s engine, which further highlights the surfaces of objects.
These were some of the concerns held back when Legends: Arceus was first revealed in February of 2021. One could argue that because this was early footage, such issues could be excused. However, when held in comparison to footage released recently in January 2022, there are no notable changes or improvements.
Amazing graphics may not be in Developer Game Freak’s wheelhouse but this level of presentation is disheartening especially in 2022. Trailers should build excitement and hype for a game, not sling heaping amounts of criticism towards it. Footage for a trailer is always vetted, which means the folks over at Nintendo and the Pokemon Company gave the poorer elements of the teaser the green light.
It raises questions as to why this level of polish/detail was deemed ‘okay’. Were concessions on graphics made due to Nintendo Switch’s limited capabilities? Is Pokemon Legends: Arceus being rushed to completion? Regardless of which of those answers may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that these visuals are what Game Freak and Nintendo decided to go forward with weeks away from release.
4. Lifeless and Stiff Animations/Interactions
Another element of the trailer and gameplay fans were concerned about was the lack of immersion they felt whilst exploring the vast swaths of fields in Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Like Pokemon Sword and Shield, the Pokemon could be seen in the wilderness and natural habitats, waiting for input and interaction by the players. Sword and Shield suffered from how Pokemon materialized from thin air and the stiff, mechanical lifelessness the Pokemon portrayed when encountered in the wild.
Anyone who has played Pokemon Snap or even seen snippets of the animated series will know Pokemon don’t simply stand around haplessly waiting for some goober Pokemon trainer to waltz in and throw metal (or in the Hisui region’s case, wooden) balls at their faces. A Pokemon of a certain type is expected to behave in a way that’s, well, expected of them.
Legends: Arceus seeks to remedy Sword and Shield’s issues by having Pokemon encountered naturally and even sometimes found when performing specific tasks out in the field. A commendable departure from the criticisms of Sword and Shield, however, these changes bring with them a whole other set of issues for players to contend with.
Based on trailer footage, Pokemon love standing still, with the occasional walk from place to place and running to escape when a player gets too close. Besides that, and very special/unique Pokemon types (nobles and alphas), Pokemon waddle around and don’t perform any noticeable or notable actions relevant to them.
To further break immersion (while also being hilarious) is that Pokemon don’t react at all when their fellow species are captured by players. You’d think seeing one of your own vaporized and shoved inside of a minuscule wooden ball, especially in a time period where human-Pokemon relations is in its infancy, would be a more alarming situation. The Hisui region may be teeming with the spirits of dead Pokemon, but that doesn’t mean the Pokemon themselves should act so dead.
On top of this, when players traverse the overworld and see Pokemon in the wild, some have oddly low framerate or are missing keyframes in their animation, making them look even more stiff and robotic than their other counterparts. This doesn’t seem intentional when so many other Pokemon have idle animations that work just fine. We don’t know what this drop in framerate is caused by or how reflective this is of the final product but the fact that the trailer bothered to show this problem off multiple times throughout the video without forthright addressing it gives us pause.
3. Drastic Changes to Core Concepts
Because Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a prequel to the events of mainline Pokemon games, the way the game plays on a variety of fronts varies significantly from its predecessors (or canonic successors).
Battles don’t operate on a turn-to-turn basis like in previous games. Instead, turn priority is set based on a Pokemon’s speed stat (or possibly other gimmicks) which dictate whether the player can act first or even act twice in a row, changing the flow of how battles can be strategized and won.
The player’s trainer character is much more involved in the action now, given the yet-to-be forged relationship mankind has with the Pokemon. With the ability to dodge, roll out of hairy situations, and craft special items to help out in the field, trainers can’t rely only on Pokemon to get the job done. This means players have HP values too and careless mistakes around dangerous Pokemon can be a one-way ticket back to a base camp or town.
The Pokedex functions much differently as well. Because the Hisui region is a sprawling world that is yet uncharted, it is up to the player to write down and record their experiences with Pokemon in a variety of stages and manners to officially document them for the Dex. Catching them won’t be enough.
On top of this work, the Pokemon evolution mechanic in Legends: Arceus changes things up. According to leaks (and corroborated by game footage), evolution isn’t caused by leveling. Instead, the player must perform specific tasks with their Pokemon to initiate evolutions.
Leaks also say that in order to even get the chance to catch Arceus, players must first completely fill out their Pokedex. When compounding that rumor with the sheer amount of work players will have to commit, Legends: Arceus is going to be a game for the long haul and an absolute chore-scape for completionists.
Change isn’t a bad thing. It’s nice to get to do something new and fresh in a series one might enjoy. However, if the change is too drastic or heads into a more tedious direction than previously established, it may rub certain players the wrong way–and these are the only specific changes we know of so far. These remixed ideas all point in the direction of more work and it is up to the player to decide whether that’s their cup of tea or not.
2. Vast Open (and Empty?) World
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is also jumping on the open-world trope so many other role-playing games have utilized already. Technically, in Legends: Arceus’ case, the open world is split into four massive biomes, each offering a distinct look and weather dynamic from the other. It is easy to draw comparisons between Legends: Arceus and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild based on the open-world but upon closer examination, we get vastly differing portraits.
Whereas Breath of the Wild and its environment is chock full of ‘things going on’ and things the player may want to check out, Legends: Arceus, for its vast world, feels vastly empty. This is most noticeable throughout gameplay footage whenever the player has altitude or is traversing the lands with a mobility utility Pokemon. For all of its space, Legends: Arceus doesn’t populate itself very well, which screams of technical limitations a la Nintendo Switch.
Though this is speculation, it is also possible that the time period in which Legends: Arceus takes place exacerbates this problem. Whereas previous Pokemon games had a large number of NPCs populating areas outside of major hubs, Legends: Arceus outright states that trainers in this era are far and few in between. This may imply that beyond the borders of base camps and towns, the open world will be mostly devoid of the core human presence expected in Pokemon games, limiting interactivity and potential encounterable events.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that players earn the ability to fast-travel and ride Pokemon early on in the game, which means players will be traversing and covering a lot of ground from the get-go rather than obtaining said traversal utilities through layered progression. Although convenient, it also encourages players to get from Point A to Point B as fast as they can, rather than take in the sights. If the open-world has no sights to offer, then that could explain why these tools are given so early in the game.
1. Unsavory Precedent for the Future
Regardless of the quality of the games, Pokemon fans will continue to purchase anything Pokemon-related to get their fix. This is not a dig at the customers, who have every right to spend their money however they please. Rather, it’s a concern for the type of precedent this may set for future titles going forward.
It shows that Game Freak, Nintendo, and the Pokemon Company can get away with publishing less-than-stellar titles and unpolished games, knowing fans and customers will continue buying them regardless of the level of quality. It could potentially set a precedent for the publisher to continue churning out games of similar quality, knowing it will still break even. The only ones who lose are future and longtime fans.
Ironically, Nintendo was upfront about Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ quality from the moment it was unveiled, showing both the game’s shortcomings and strengths in tandem, which is a lot more than I can say for certain games from certain publishers that teased a much different game than the final product. Still, it’s certainly not a good look for a game to have, especially one that is set to release in a matter of weeks. As the release date shrinks, our concerns only grow.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is scheduled for release on January 28th, 2022 for the Nintendo Switch.