Pokémon Legends: Arceus was a notably different Pokémon title by Game Freak, with some surprising overhauls to battles. One key aspect of this are the battle visuals – how attacks are performed, and how Pokémon act while fighting. We’ve touched before on the drawbacks of the 3D Pokémon titles in this department, including a review of how Pokémon Sword and Shield failed in several areas.
So how does Pokémon Legends: Arceus (PL:A) compare? What is good, and what may be still lacking? And what would we like to see transfer over into the generation nine titles, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet?
There is one very obvious difference between PL:A and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (BDSP): the battle speed. In BDSP, battles became a slow slog once the friendship mechanic kicked in. There are extra text boxes, as well as pointless, and frankly lazy, ‘hopping’ animations or a love heart animation that plays out. This happens whenever a battle starts, or a critical hit occurs, or the Pokémon hung on because they loved us so much. You never really saw the Pokémon doing that; it was just represented by a simple animation, and some text displayed telling you it wished to be praised, or moved out of the way in time with your shout (despite doing nothing of the sort).
PL:A thankfully dropped this aspect. When a battle starts with a wild Pokémon, you get a short bit of text about the battle beginning, and then it’s straight into receiving an attack or getting to choose one yourself. There’s little else added with Trainer battles as well – one often gets right into the battle (which often don’t last very long, but that’s an issue with the battle system itself rather than the visual side of it).
Far more often, Pokémon will also move right up to their opponent to strike them. This is certainly preferable to seeing a 2D image being squashed and imprinted on the target, or some vague motion directed at them, often not matching the attack name (e.g. Dubwool using Headbutt while its attacking animation depicts it kicking). A lot of the impacts here can be obscured by special effects, but at least we see them actually try to approach their opponents in dealing physical damage. Ceaseless Edge, for example, is a fine example of this. We haven’t seen attacks look quite as flashy or cool as this, and actually look like the Pokémon is realistically performing the attacks.
Another key aspect that was not implemented as well as other recent titles is a consideration of side and height. Alpha Pokémon are the obvious instance – wild Pokémon that you can use yourself that are far bigger than their regularly sized versions, and that size alone adds to their intimidation factor. But this is accounted for in battles too. Rather than attacks set at the same height regardless of the size of the opponent, the direction of the attack is clearly taken into account. This is evident in the popular clip of an Oshawott being destroyed by an Alpha Snorlax, with the Hyper Beam attack directed into the ground, because the Oshawott is so much lower down.
This extends beyond Alphas as well. One of my favourite moments of the game was seeing my Samurott fight a wild Pokémon when I sent it out onto a rock higher up than its opponent. Both Pokémon took this difference in height in account for directing their attacks, and it was the first time we’ve ever really seen this level of verticality in a battle (in a main series title, anyway).
It’s not all perfect though. While we have better attack animations, the lack of obvious and notably unique animations for taking damage and moreover fainting remains, compared to the older 3D Pokémon titles (from Pokémon Stadium to Pokémon Battle Revolution). Our previous article on Pokémon Sword and Shield gives plenty of examples of this, and this does result in less personality coming through from the Pokémon you defeat or use. Gone is the proud and upset Roselia knocked over from an attack and marching back up in defiance, or Honchkrow adjusting its hat when fainting. There have been some examples in more recent titles of good animations (e.g. Kangaskhan), but most are forgettable.
Granted, this is not an easy thing to fix – it would add up to a lot more animations that need to be made, and could hurt one of the good parts of the title: faster battles without large slowdown between attacks. There’s a balancing act, but in my mind, there are too many that are bland, and there is a sweet spot that could be found between the battle pace and how Pokémon react to attacks. The Pokémon themselves are the focus, so I feel any opportunity not granted to highlight their mannerisms is wasted.
We highlighted how Pokémon moving in to attack a Pokémon with physical contact is a major plus in this title, and that’s certainly true. One downside is that how they return to their original position is less impressive, often just sliding very quickly back in place. It looks odd and while done to keep the battle speed up, is awkward. It would appear more natural if their default position changed as they moved in to attack – such as how Fire Emblem Awakening or Fire Emblem Fates would reposition characters during a fight, especially Arena battles. This would certainly get complicated when having to account for cliffs, rivers, different heights, and so forth, so it may well just be an acceptable solution for now, but it would be nice if this was further built upon in future titles.
Some animations are still lacking as well. Happily there isn’t much on the level of Double Kick’s lazy hop animation, and one of these, Splash, is an attack you’d almost never use yourself. Some of the status boosting or debuffing attacks are a bit harder to appreciate, while the use of a hand model for Crush Grip isn’t as good as just grabbing the opponent with their own hands.
There are also just flat out less attacks in the game – 180 to be exact, all showcased in a single video above. This is little over 20% of all attacks ever used in the Pokémon games, and only 15 more than the generation one games originally introduced. This seems to be a result of both simplification and reducing the work needed to get most of the attacks looking good – it makes sense, but less variety is still a downside. It hampers both the battling system, and can result in moves getting samey if you see the same ones over and over again.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are already scheduled to release on the 18th of November 2022, so there won’t be much more development time left before the game is beta tested and shipped for release. Nonetheless, one can hope we’ll see some of the improvements from Pokémon Legends: Arceus applied to it, with further changes.
Physical contact between Pokémon while they battle is an obvious change I’d like to see carried forward. I’d be glad to see more unique fainting and taking damage animations finally added to the models, personally. There are a few already, and speed of the battle is important, but a balance could surely be achieved. It is the Pokémon that are the subject of the games, so any opportunity to let their personality shine should be to some extent prioritised. Furthermore, it would be nice to see more variety in the attacks themselves – less than 200 feels a bit limiting, even if they all had an agile and strong variant of sorts.
But above all, I’d love for the drawbacks of Pokémon Sword and Shield and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl to remain absent – more streamlined weather effects, no repeated messages for multi-hit moves like Double Slap, no lazy 2D animations overlaid onto opponents, and no “power of friendship” interruptions slowing every battle to a drag.
But that’s my take – what are your hopes for how battles will look in the upcoming generation nine titles? How did you like them in Pokémon Legends: Arceus?
Edited by Sheep.