I’m pretty terrible at Pokémon. Everyone who has ever talked to me about the long-running franchise will know that when it comes to pocket monsters, my brain is like a sieve for information. Despite having played at least one game from every generation since I first picked up Pokémon Pearl over a decade ago, I still remember shockingly little about the workings of the game outside of the core triangle of water-fire-grass. (And once I even forgot about that.)
My younger brother, on the other hand, is one of those people who takes Pokémon so seriously that it’s obnoxious. A self-professed hater of the “gotta catch ’em all” philosophy, he’s happy to spend hours researching the best Pokémon in each region and building out a well-rounded six-Pokémon team before even opening the game. It has frustrated me to no end over the years, but it also raised an interesting question recently: what does a true Pokénerd think about Pokémon Legends: Arceus, one of the most wildly different games ever added to the Pokémon franchise?
Of course, I had to get his thoughts on it. So after playing a few hours of the game myself, I gave him my Switch and sent him off to play it for the weekend. Here’s what he had to say about it afterwards.
Bonnie: So, I understand you’ve been playing Pokémon since a very young age. Is that correct?
Bonnie’s brother (name omitted): Yes, my first game was Pokémon Pearl.
Bonnie: Oh my god, no way. Mine too!
Yeah, it’s almost like we had the same Nintendo DS.
Bonnie: Is it true that you’ve played a game from every generation since then?
Yes, that’s correct. It’s been a big part of my life.
Bonnie: Which is your favorite Pokémon and why?
Probably Volcarona, because it’s the only good Pokémon that can use Quiver Dance, which is the best stats-boosting move in the game.
Bonnie: Cool. Mine is Grimmsnarl because he looks funny. So walk me through the process of you playing a Pokémon game, the preparation and the philosophy.
Most of the enjoyment I get from Pokémon usually comes from the process of building a really strong, well-balanced team and beating every trainer in the game. So to help achieve that, before I start the game, I try to form a team beforehand and choose which Pokémon I’m going to settle on in the game. I’m not really a big fan of grinding so this is a pretty important process for me, because if I pick beforehand, I can just level up all my Pokémon from fighting trainers, and I can avoid changing Pokémon midway through because I lose a lot of EXP doing that.
Bonnie: Isn’t all that preparation… basically grinding, though?
I guess it’s a form of grinding, but it’s like doing research beforehand versus just fighting wild Pokémon over and over again.
Bonnie: Okay – some people, such as myself, have a very different approach to Pokémon. Having borne witness to the way I play Pokémon many times, how would you describe the way I do it?
I think it’s the intended way. Pokémon isn’t really a game where the devs intended for that kind of preparation to be used in the first place. The way you approach Pokémon is probably pretty normal. If you look at speedrunners, all they really do is level up one Pokémon and beat everyone with it, right? You could do that, and it would work. So whatever strategy floats your boat. It’s kind of hard to mess it up.
Bonnie: Okay, but I frequently mess it up, though.
Bonnie: I mean, I literally had to come and ask you to beat Shining Pearl for me.
That was a fringe case. It’s only because they made the AIs stronger and the most powerful move your Infernape had was Flame Wheel, which only has like, 60 base power. [said as though I would understand what this means]
Bonnie: You’d consider yourself someone who knows a lot about Pokémon, then?
Bonnie: Pop quiz – what’s super effective against Poison?
Ground and Psychic.
Bonnie: I actually don’t know what the right answer is so I can’t tell you if you got it right. [Editor’s note: He got it right.] So as someone who knows a lot about Pokémon and is used to doing a lot of research into it, what’s it like playing a game like Legends: Arceus, where you can’t plan out your team beforehand?
That’s actually one of the things I like a lot about Legends: Arceus. Before, “catching them all” was the last thing I wanted to do in a Pokémon game. It’s pretty surprising how well they pulled it off and provided this new incentive for catching as many Pokémon as possible without making it seem out of place. It makes sense story-wise and gameplay-wise. It flows really nicely with how seamlessly it transitions between the open world traveling and in-game battling. I’m quite impressed with that aspect of the game.
I enjoy challenging Pokémon battles, and although there’s not a lot of trainer battling in Legends: Arceus, there are still challenging battles with the introduction of the Alpha Pokémon. Most of the time I spent was trying to capture as many Alpha Pokémon as possible. I was also interested in the world; the whole idea of a huge open area in a Pokémon game was really cool to me.
Bonnie: Have you been sticking with the same team the whole time, or have you been switching stuff up?
I regularly replace my Pokémon depending on what Alpha Pokémon I catch. With each region, the levels get higher, so when I catch a better Alpha Pokémon I just replace someone on my team. I don’t think type advantages matter that much anymore. I’m not sure if something’s different with the way damage is calculated in the game, but everything deals a significant amount of damage but also never really one-hit KOs. Sometimes I can be maybe 10 levels above the opponent and they still reduce my Pokémon’s HP to almost half with one hit.
That’s a pretty good change, in my opinion, because there’s always an element of risk in every battle now. It raises the stakes a bit, especially against Alpha Pokémon.
Bonnie: Is there anything you didn’t like about Legends: Arceus?
The gameplay loop got a bit repetitive after a while. Once you get more into the game you realize there isn’t actually that much to do. But overall I liked it because, like I said, I enjoy challenging battles. I like how they implemented Alpha Pokémon because if you want to have a challenge, you can fight them. If not, you can just avoid them and continue with what the game is telling you to do.
I think it would be really interesting if they expanded on this and made a game like this with a big city. You could go around the city and even catch wild Pokémon in alleyways or something like that. Overall, it’s a really good start.