Gaming

Pokemon Legends: Arceus - Everything you need to know

Get up to speed on the new Pokemon game before it launches this Friday.

The Pokemon Company

Pokemon Legends: Arceus arrives on Nintendo Switch tomorrow, and it's the most daring installment in the series in years. The new game shakes up the decades-old Pokemon formula in some dramatic ways, injecting a greater dose of real-time action to the gameplay and expanding the scale of its setting. These tweaks and changes make Pokemon Legends a radically different experience than Pokemon fans may be used to, so we've put together a rundown on everything you need to know about the game ahead of its launch.

What is the story?

Narratively, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a sort of prequel to Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. The game is set in the ancient past, when the Sinnoh region was known as Hisui and the concept of Pokemon trainers and a Pokemon League hadn't yet been established.

You are cast in the role of a new recruit to the Galaxy Team, an expedition group that undertakes various surveying missions across Hisui. You'll venture out to different areas of the region to fulfill these missions, with your overarching goal being to capture Pokemon and ultimately catalog the region's first Pokedex.

How does the game work?

As mentioned, the bulk of your time will be spent carrying out missions for the Galaxy Expedition Team. You'll accept a quest from your base of operations in Jubilife Village, the game's hub area, then head to the field to carry out the assignment. In addition to capturing Pokemon, some missions will involve observing certain behaviors, such as the monster using a specific attack.

While out in the field, you can also scavenge materials like berries, stones and apricorns, which can then be crafted into helpful items like new varieties of Poke Balls. As you complete missions, you'll gradually raise your rank within the Galaxy Team, which in turn will open up new story quests to undertake and propel the narrative forward.

Catching Pokemon

Unlike in traditional Pokemon games, wild Pokemon can be seen roaming about the environment in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, adding a new wrinkle to the catching process. Some monsters such as Starly will flee if they detect your presence, requiring a more stealthy approach, while others like Shinx are more hostile and will directly attack you if you're spotted.

Pokemon Legends also gives you a greater degree of control than past titles. This time around, you must manually aim and throw a Poke Ball at a wild Pokemon to catch it. You can also choose to send out one of your own monsters to battle and weaken the wild Pokemon before attempting to capture it.

New battle strategies

Like other Pokemon games, battles in Pokemon Legends occur in turn-based fashion, but the title introduces a new wrinkle to the battle system in the form of battle styles. This time, you can command Pokemon to use Agile Style or Strong Style versions of their attacks. 

Agile Style sacrifices some power but will allow your monster to move again more quickly. Strong Style attacks, meanwhile, take longer to unleash, but are much more powerful -- good for finishing off a weakened opponent.

These new battle styles open up a new layer of strategy to encounters. For instance, you can command your Pokemon to use an Agile Style Thunder Wave to ensure it quickly paralyzes the opposing monster, reducing its speed and giving your own monster more opportunities to unleash followup attacks.

New Pokemon

While Pokemon Legends features an assortment of familiar Pokemon, the game also introduces a handful of new monsters. In addition to brand-new regional evolutions such as Wyrdeer and Kleavor, a variety of older Pokemon have Hisui-exclusive forms, including Zoroark and Voltorb. We've rounded up all of the new Pokemon revealed so far.

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Zoroark have a different appearance and typing in the Hisui region.

The Pokemon Company

Jubilife Village

Between missions, you'll spend much of your time exploring Jubilife Village, the largest settlement in the Hisui region. In addition to the Galaxy Team's headquarters, the village is home to a variety of different vendors, including a hair stylist and clothier where you can customize your trainer's appearance. You can also deposit Pokemon you've caught at the pasture and take photos with your monsters at the studio.

Are there bonuses for playing other Pokemon games?

Yes! If you've played other mainline Pokemon games on your Switch, you'll receive a few extra bonuses in Pokemon Legends.

If you've played Pokemon Brilliant Diamond or Shining Pearl, you'll be able to embark on a post-game quest to capture the mythical Pokemon Darkrai. This quest will only be available after you've cleared the main story and watched the credits roll. You'll also be able to claim a modern Team Galactic uniform from the clothier.

pokemon-legends-darkrai

You'll have a chance to catch the mythical Pokemon Darkrai if you have save data for Pokemon Brilliant Diamond or Shining Pearl on your system.

Nintendo / The Pokemon Company

If you've played Pokemon Sword or Shield, you'll be able to embark on a research quest to catch the mythical Pokemon Shaymin. Pokemon Let's Go players, meanwhile, will receive free Pikachu and Eevee masks for their character.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus launches exclusively for Nintendo Switch on Jan. 28. Everyone who picks up a copy of the game before May 9 will get two bonus customization items: a Hisuian Growlithe kimono set and Baneful Fox mask. You can read more about the game in CNET's Pokemon Legends: Arceus review.