Pokemon Legends: Arceus is Compelling Because it’s Scary
Pokemon Legends: Arceus made a drastic change to the largely-familiar Pokemon formula. Not that the typical turn-based combat and type-based weaknesses don’t make for compelling games. However, what the old games lack is a sense of fear around its more powerful creatures. This new title, on the other hand, puts the fearsome strength of Pokemon at the forefront, and invigorates the game in new, exciting ways because of it.
This title takes the player to the past. So far back that it’s before humans and Pokemon really got along together. The Pokeball is a brand new invention. People keep their distance from Pokemon. And, out in the fields, you can see why the people stay away. These Pokemon are not the gentle, friendly creatures that sit in the bushes and wait for you to stumble across them. Here, they’re walking around, strong and proud, and heaven help you if you cross them. Well, maybe not ALL of them. Bidoof isn’t exactly coming for your throat. Bibarel, on the other hand…
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is unafraid to just stomp careless players. You don’t just walk around until you step on a tile with an invisible Pokemon on it. Here, you’re meandering through vast fields, mountains, and swamps with the Pokemon wandering right there with you. Some of them will flee if you get too close. Others, though, will start attacking you. I don’t mean that they’ll start a fight with you and battle your Pokemon. I mean they’ll start firing beams and blasts at your character. And, like most people, you don’t handle being set on fire very well. You’ll get knocked out and robbed instead of being killed, but it’s still unnerving to have the Pokemon attack you, personally, as you explore.
Previous Pokemon games had created a sort of distance between the player and the combat, but this title places you square in the battlefield. Pokemon will attack you directly. You can try to stop this by throwing your own Pokemon in to defend you. Which you have to manually choose to do. While you’re under attack, you need to select your Pokemon and throw it out into the field to defend you. Try not to stand too close while everyone’s fighting, by the way. You don’t want to get in the middle of the fight and catch an errant hyper beam. Thankfully, you can maneuver yourself while your Pokemon battle.
This danger loans some excitement and fear to playing Pokemon Legends: Arceus. While exploring, you never know if some innocent-looking creature will start blasting fireballs your way. I never expected to ever feel fear around a Psyduck or Beautifly in my life, but stumbling into a field full of high level creatures and watching them all turn on you, letting loose with various blasts, is terrifying. I never knew Psyducks could be so murderous. You really can’t take many hits, either, so any encounter is frightening. A single misstep in the wrong area will earn you a quick thrashing.
The Pokemon are all pretty durable as well. Unless you’re using an ability that preys upon your enemy’s type weakness, you’re going to be fighting for a while. It feels like every enemy Pokemon hits hard unless you’re vastly higher leveled than they are, so every encounter is a bit more nerve-wracking as you can die quickly. Especially since you’re often fighting in fields filled with Pokemon who are more than happy to hop in the fight. Encounters swiftly get out of hand when multiple Pokemon are fighting you, wearing you down fast. And if you have no Pokemon to protect you, you’re in trouble.
This doesn’t even begin to factor in the Alpha Pokemon you can find throughout Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Each of these is a colossal wandering monster that can, and often will, maul you and your whole team unless you’re specifically prepared for them. They’re giant, highly powerful versions of regular Pokemon, and they absolutely do not mess around. You can tell that at a glance just from seeing these creatures towering over the field, their eyes glowing bright red.
I love these things, even as I fear them, because they finally made me FEEL the power of a Pokemon. While fighting strong legendaries in previous Pokemon games, I never got a sense of their strength. Sometimes they were annoying to take down, but often, the hardest thing about them was not accidentally killing them while trying to catch them. Pokemon games are littered with these supposedly ultra-powerful beings. But when you fight them, they’re rarely all that challenging beyond trying not to accidentally clobber them.
Not in Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Here, these things will annihilate your player if they catch you by surprise. And if you have the gall to fight them without careful preparation, you will often find yourself getting stomped flat unless you are a much higher level. There’s a Snorlax in the very first area of the game that, even dozens of hours later, will still tear through my entire party without any effort. Most of them are pretty close to its level, but the Alphas just don’t mess around. It’s just Hyper Beam, High Horsepower, over and over, until all of my Pokemon are dead. One shot kills all around. So when I see those red eyes, I turn and RUN.
Through those lethal encounters with the Alphas, I’ve learned to fear those glowing eyes when I see them. To give them a respectful distance. Even seemingly-harmless creatures now give me pause and make me think about my routes. They force me to play stealthily and skirt around their areas unless I have a plan on how to engage. And if I don’t, I feel a genuine fear as I run away from them. Even if it’s just three or four ducks with headaches, as I know they will flatten me without any hesitation. And, thanks to this, I’m more engaged playing Pokemon than I have been in years.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus took a risk and created some real danger out in the field for players. They made the act of walking around into something that could get you stomped. Made it so, at any moment, you could meet your end to a field full of irate psychic ducks. Increased the challenge so that multiple fights could really wear you down. Finally, with the Alphas, they created Pokemon that were terrifying in their power. Pokemon who FELT powerful. In doing so, they made an experience where that sense of danger made everything feel far more exciting. All it took was inserting a little bit of terror into things to make it happen.