Nintendo and Game Freak gave 2022 its first major video game release on Jan. 28 with “Pokémon Legends: Arceus,” the latest entry in the decades-old franchise. Set in the distant past, “Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is the first Pokémon game to adopt an open-world, mission-based gameplay system in place of the linear paths that players set upon in the series’ older titles.
“Arceus” does a lot of things beautifully. For me, a newcomer to the series, the intangibles really stood out to me. Something about “Arceus” drew me in. Its world or characters are not all that special. It does not even have voice acting for dialogue. And yet, for some reason, “Arceus” still delivers a deeply personal and extremely satisfying experience. There is something meditative and tranquil with traversing Hisui’s landscapes on a quest to create the region’s first Pokedex.
The turn-based combat system, a staple of the franchise, received a small but appreciated upgrade with selectable styles for each attack. The strong style for a stronger attack and the agile style for a quicker one. Although these are not massive changes, they are still a nice little way to spice up a Pokémon battle and give it a little more strategy.
However, “Arceus’s” downfall is through a term I have coined “Nintendoism.” Nintendoism is a concept present in many objective-based Nintendo games, notably “Animal Crossing” and, now, “Arceus”, where the player is constantly bombarded with tasks to do in order to move the story along; the only incentive is the ability to unlock more tasks. This is lazy game design, and it is tiresome to finish a long task, just for a character to say: “Good job! Here is another thing you have to do.” Normally, story elements are the things that force players to proceed through the story, but Nintendoism throws that out the window and creates a devastating lapse in their game design. “Arceus” especially highlights Nintendoism because it is an open-world experience, which makes doing everything that much more tiring sometimes. While playing, I often wondered how the in-game society functioned if I was not in the story because I did everything for the village, from playing music all the way to stopping an inter-clan war, did not come with any reward or any real incentive to go on other than to unlock the ability to do even more chores around the world.
“Arceus” is a good game, but after owning the Switch for a while, the gameplay loops for me are exhausting and predictable. However, it is a great entry point to the world of Pokémon, as it gives the player the opportunity to explore the world with complete freedom. If one has not tried a Pokémon game before, “Arceus” is a great starting point, but for people familiar with Nintendo as a company, it is okay to sit this one out and give ourselves a well-deserved break from Tom Nook’s indentured servitude.