During the review stage of Pokemon Legends: Arceus, some fans got annoyed at ‘spoilers’ which revealed what happened in the first ten minutes of the game, so I’ve been wary until now of discussing the ending. Then, once fans raced ahead and beat it, all the talk was about the strange combined Legendary beast the game throws at us as the ultimate finale. I have no real thoughts on this, it’s just Pokemon being Pokemon. The battle before that though, with the Legendary encounter just ahead of the credits rolling, might be the most Pokemon has ever understood what Legendaries are about. Unfortunately, it’s immediately followed by the game admitting it still doesn’t really know what it’s doing.
Underlining the connection between Legends: Arceus and Diamond & Pearl, the two main Legendaries in the game are Palkia and Dialga. First off you see Palkia emerge from a rift in time and space, descending down upon you like an almighty deity able to crush you in its fist. The world shakes, the land itself in awe of this creature. Sure, it’s one of the worst designs of any Legendary, and eventually I subdue it with a kinky Roserade and a Goodra, but the sheer spectacle is unlike anything a Pokemon game has ever offered us – certainly in the main series, at least.
Next up, we clash with Dialga, Palkia at our sides. The scale grows even more grand, even more epic. Dialga and Palkia face each other, humans in between them as insignificant ants. The building around us crumbles and shatters, the monuments of our civilisation swept aside like castles made of sand by our cosmic invader. The camerawork, more daring than the typical ‘put the Pokemon in centre frame, okay that’s lunch’ attitude of the series, zooms in on Dialga’s roar of pure energy, then blasts out as its screech brings the walls crashing down. The screen alights with brilliant flares of light, Dutch angles add an extra sense of might to the beasts. It’s frenetic without being chaotic – in fact, as Dialga first emerges, it seems serene. Downright calm.
Again, this potential is wasted. After these dramatic moments, we have to throw bags of time balm – whatever that is – at Dialga’s face in order to calm it down. The boss battle is like something ripped from a ‘90s platformer, but aside from the silly balm mechanic it’s at least an upgrade on a normal Pokemon fight. Unfortunately, that still isn’t enough to live up to the cutscene that introduces it.
The game is always up against it when it comes to battles. Pokemon uses a reliable if pretty rote turn-based system, and that means it will never be as good as the fast and frantic anime battles. Dialga here attempts to help them meet in the middle, and Pokemon needs to keep up that energy going forward.
Only it can’t even keep it up for the rest of the game. Aside from the silly new forms I don’t even want to waste my breath (or rather, finger muscles) on, after catching Dialga and staring blankly as the credits roll desperately attempting to remember every single name on the list – great job on battle team Kei Setoguchi – the post-game gives you a few more Legendaries to catch, and none are afforded the same reverence. They don’t even get cutscenes. With Heatran, you have to throw lumps of mud at it in a cave then battle it, while Cresselia has the mightily impressive power of… drumroll please… inverting the directional controls while you’re near it.
Legendaries managed to feel grand in the original Red & Blue games despite being restricted by the obvious technical limitations. As these limitations have been stripped away though, the grandeur has not risen. Pokemon has been far too stagnant, and Legends: Arceus offers a shift. Like so much in Legends, it’s a step in the right direction, but it needs to keep going. In Gen 9, it will probably inch backwards, but hopefully our new Legendaries will be treated to some majesty.
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