Pokémon Legends: Arceus – Zero Punctuation

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There’s a genre of anime called “Isekai” that some fat nerd told me about while I was porking his mum, in which some regular dweeb from contemporary reality gets transported to a fantasy or video game world where their regular contemporary dweebiness makes them rare and special and a hero to a bunch of polythene big titty anime babes who all want him to accidentally perv on them in the bathhouse episode. And it’s become weirdly popular among anime nerds. Oh sorry, I misread that. And it’s become totally understandably popular among anime nerds in recent years, although the genre goes back all the way to 1889 with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. Who I never took for a massive web, but there you go. I bring this up because Pokemon Legends: Arceus is basically Pokemon as an Isekai. Just the thing for all you Pokemon fans who were concerned that Pokemon Go had made the franchise marginally less embarrassing to talk about in grown-up conversations. The premise is, you are generic contemporary gender to be determined Pokemon trainer who I guess fell off the stage in Smash Brothers Brawl or something and wakes up in the olden days of the Pokemon world when Pokemon training has only just become a thing.

The protagonist swiftly astonishes the primitive locals and is hailed as a hero from the sky when they show no fear towards some tiny adorable fluffy helpless baby animals and beans them all in the skull. Silly, yes, but finally a Pokemon game where it kinda makes sense that you seem to be the only trainer who’s figured out they can carry more than three or four of the buggers. Soon we get recruited by a quote “surveying” organization who have tasked themselves to quote “survey” all the local Pokemon by capturing them and forcing them into either manual labor or gladiatorial combat. You know, the same way Columbus “surveyed” the Americas. Or how one “surveys” an ant colony with a kettle of boiling water. But you fucking know what Pokemon is, let’s skip to the nutty grutty. My recommendation of Pokemon Legends Arceus is conditional on the viewer’s answers to the following survey. Question 1: Do you like Pokemon but are slightly conflict averse and would rather it played down the battling other Pokemon trainers and gym leaders and focused on the animal torture? There are some battles with other trainers in Arceus, but always with this air of “Oh shit I knew we were forgetting something.”

They just spring it out of nowhere every now and again. Like you get to the next story objective and the anime Thomas the Tank Engine character you’re working with goes “Wait! I need to assess your battling ability before I can let you pick up the dry cleaning.” Most of what you do is hunt Pokemon in big open wilderness maps, and that doesn’t have to involve battling at all if you’re crafty with stealth and distraction items. Ho yes, where once it was “Watch out player there’s wild Pokemon in the tall grass!” Now it’s “Watch out wild Pokemon there’s player in the tall grass!” One thing I like is that it doesn’t do the standard JRPG thing of dragging you into a mandatory turn-based battle if a wild Pokemon spots you in the way that always ruins the flow as assuredly as a chinchilla in a chocolate fountain. You can only opt into random battles by throwing a Pokemon out. Otherwise your pursuer just straightforwardly and agreeably twats you in the mush until you leave. But you can easily get away and your health comes back like a psychotic girlfriend on a swing so traversing the world is about as challenging as walking home through an only marginally perturbed car park. This isn’t really a “challenge” sort of game.

which brings me to question 2: Do you like Monster Hunter? Or do you think you’d like if it was a lot less complicated? Because your objective in Arceus is simplicity itself. In fact it’s the same one that’s always been slathered atop the franchise: “Gotta catch ’em all.” Or rather, “Gotta catch several of ’em all and then hang around ’em for a while like a weirdo at a children’s play area to fill out the checklist of arbitrary objectives each of ’em have before they’re officially surveyed.” But even this aspect of the game is remarkably easy-going. You don’t actually have to do everything on each Pokemon’s checklist. If you can’t be arsed to do the “squelch this Pokemon with Asphalt damage” objective you can just complete the freestyle squelching event eight or nine times and they get surveyed either way. Also, like Monster Hunter the NPCs will give you a variety of fetch quests on the side that you can do to help them out, or then again not fucking bother with because the rewards are always kinda shitty and I never seem to have room for them anyway ‘cos our backpack is the size of a teabag and the dude who expands it only does so by one slot at a time and we have to let him prattle on for five minutes before he’ll even do that.

Also, did you like Monster Hunter’s epic scraps with motherfuckers the size of several motherfuckers in an undersized communal bath, but got all squeamish about the business of stabbing them and slicing their bits off to make into shoes and ballerina tights? Well Pokemon Legends Arseburger also has a few tentpole boss fights with the local God Pokemons. And because we’re so easygoing and conflict averse you don’t actually fight them, you just pacify them by flinging snacks at their heads in the style of Super 3D Noah’s Ark. Because I know it always calms me down to be pelted with sausage rolls for five minutes. These fights are mostly not standard Pokemon battles but exercises in wearing out your throwing arm and wearing the lettering off the dodge button, but again in the spirit of “Oh shit we forgot to put Pokemon battling in the Pokemon game” there are opportunities to throw out a Pokemon and go a few rounds to put the boss in a dazed state where they take more damage. I mean, consume ballistic sandwiches faster. This is a rather awkward and off-putting clash between the game’s turn-based and real-time combats, and probably looks a bit weird from an outside perspective when the boss stops trying to furiously trample you into bonehead butter to play two rounds of papers -scissors-stone with your pet neon merekat.

So that’s basically my survey in a nutshell. Would you enjoy a cross between Pokemon and Monster Hunter with a focus on 100% completion but where you can achieve 100% completion largely just by plopping yourself in the world and bumbling around for several hours? Then we can just about set sail for recommendation harbour. Just one more question. Were you turned off by the way Monster Hunter had decent graphics? Did you think that was a bit showy and vainglorious of it? Well, no fucking worries about that here. Pokemon Legends Arceus looks about as good as one could expect from any game with “arse” in the title. I know the pursuit of ever higher definitions is the root of all this industry’s evil but Pokemon makes the kind of money that doesn’t have to look so bland and full of pop in and my character’s surprised face shouldn’t remind me of the facial animation in Sonic Adventure where everyone looked like they’d lost a fight with a cenobite. I guess it’s not like Nintendo has to try. That’s the wonderful thing about exclusivity, isn’t it. This is the only Pokemon you’re getting so your eyeballs will eat this visual gruel and fucking like it. What’re you gonna do, buy Sega’s rival version of Pokemon where all the characters have angry eyebrows?

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