If you’re a Pokémon series fan, there are very few things right now as exciting as the imminent release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the action oriented gotta catch ‘em all title releasing this week that has spent the weeks leading up to its release shrouded in mystery regarding what it would actually be like to play.
Thanks to a street date broken retail copy, I have had the copy for a few days at the time of recording this video. While I have not finished everything the game has to offer, I have put 45 hours of play time in, seen the credits roll, and dived into the post game content, and have a pretty solid idea of where the game’s level of difficulty and accessibility stands.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Pokémon Legends Arceus. We’re going to talk about what new mechanics exist in the game that may pose a barrier to disabled players, what accessibility settings exist in the game’s menus, and what level of difficulty players can expect in their journey to see credits roll, and beyond.
Let’s start off by talking, in broad strokes, about what Pokémon Legends Arceus is actually like to play.
Pokémon Legends Arceus is at its core a Pokémon game, but with its focus shifted away from turn based battles, and more toward the series original tagline of “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”.
In a formula that feels very heavily inspired by titles like Monster Hunter, players depart a hub town on missions to one of five large hub areas, which while not a true single open world are all broad in scope. Each area feels more sprawling and open ended than those in comparable title Monster Hunter Rise, and seem very much built with the design philosophy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While some invisible walls are eventually introduced to zone in areas, generally speaking players are free to wander to their heart’s content exploring large areas and catching Pokémon.
Unlike previous Pokémon games, Legends Arceus requires players to complete their Pokédex not just by catching one of every Pokémon, but instead requires more detailed research of each species to complete its encyclopaedia entry, as the game is set in the distant past. Players will need to complete species specific tasks, such as catching a set number of creatures without being spotted, or seeing them use a specific move a certain number of times, in order to research the Pokémon to completion.
To facilitate this increased hunting of each Pokémon, Legends Arceus adds a variety of new gameplay options, as well as generally increasing the pace of play.
Players can crouch and hide in tall grass in order to sneak up on Pokémon unseen, attempting to aim and throw a Pokéball at the creature and catch it without engaging in a traditional battle. Catch odds are altered by the type of ball used, and whether you can hit the Pokémon from behind unseen. If you fail the catch, you can instead throw out a Pokémon for a traditional turn based battle to weaken them and catch them that way.
Beyond that, the game also features a number of other action elements. While some of them are fairly simple, such as rideable Pokémon, others are more complex, with greater punishment for failure.
While out and about hunting Pokémon, players can be attacked by wild Pokémon that act aggressively. While the player does not have a traditional health metre, taking too many attacks from Pokémon on the overworld will cause the player’s screen to change colour, with the player eventually being knocked unconscious. The player has a dodge roll mapped to the Y button, but if they fail to dodge enough attacks and are knocked out they will respawn at a camp missing a portion of their items at random. While these can be returned to the player if they play online and another player in the world retrieves what they dropped, there is no way to turn off this penalty for failing to dodge overworld attacks.
The peak of action gameplay difficulty are the game’s new frenzied noble boss fights, where players must, to progress the story, dodge large scale attacks from a boss monster, throwing calming balms at them in the safe windows between attacks, and eventually engaging in turn based battles when openings arise.
These boss fights may not be up there with Dark Souls bosses in terms of action gameplay difficulty, but they are also certainly not easy. Most of these boss fights I lost at least once, as an experienced player of Dark Souls style games, and there is no option to avoid them entirely.
You can choose to keep your progress on death, in quarter of a health bar chunks, without penalty, rather than restarting if you want to brute force your way through, but these are designed to be difficult encounters, and that option of continuing from where you died mid fight is not well telegraphed. You do not lose items for being knocked out during these fights, and can retry them straight away without backtracking.
With that all out the way, let’s dig into how accessible, or not, this newest Pokémon title is to play.
For those with difficulty reading, either through poor eyesight, language barriers, learning disabilities, age, or other conditions, Pokémon Legends Arceus is going to be more difficult to play than previous entries in the Pokémon series, in part due to its increased focus on reading comprehension. Each species of Pokémon has its own unique requirements to complete its Pokédex entry, and checking what those are will require more reading comprehension that “hit the thing in front of you with your strongest attack”.
Add onto this the increased focus on elements like crafting, and completing specific side quests with unique completion requirements, and this is a game that will not be right for everyone. If you’ve got a youngster in your life with ADHD for example who enjoys button mashing through Pokémon, but doesn’t like it when they have to stop and read, or the idea that progression might require patiently waiting in some bushes for an opportunity for a stealth attack, this is going to be a hard sell.
While the game features third person shooter style aiming and throwing mechanics, these are mitigated somewhat by a lock on system. If you can get close enough to a Pokémon, and it’s not running around, you can hold down a trigger to lock on your aim, throw a pokeball, and avoid aiming controls altogether. There are some Pokémon that may require aiming at if they’re too far away to lock onto, but generally lockon allows avoiding aiming mechanics in many situations.
Motion controls are an option for aiming Pokéballs, but they are disabled as default, and entirely optional.
The main issues accessibility wise for this game come from the move to an action gameplay approach, and the punishments for failure. If you’re someone with coordination issues, or who has physical control needs when gaming, who has previously found the Pokémon games accessible because they are truly turn based adventures, Legends Arceus might pose a problem for you. If you get ambushed by an angry Pokémon, and this will become increasingly common as you get deeper into the game, and cannot run away while dodging attacks, you will get knocked out, and you will lose items, and those items lost may cause real progression setbacks.
The dodge roll in Legends Arceus features a very forgiving number of invincibility frames, basically making you invincible as long as you dodge at the right time, but that forgiving window will be punished heavily if not used correctly.
While Legends Arceus as default features an autosave system, you can switch the game to manual saves only. By regularly manually saving, you can reset your game if needed to avoid losing items upon being knocked out, but an option to opt out of that system would save a lot of stress for disabled players.
There are also certain manoeuvres which expect a high degree of input complexity, such as jumping out of the water on the back of a water type ride Pokémon, doing a double jump, aiming a Pokéball down at the water in slow motion, locking onto a target, and throwing the ball before you land. These are not mandatory, but are encouraged and difficult technically to pull off.
In terms of overall game difficulty, the balancing of encounters in game is generally pretty well handled. Through the main story up until the credits roll, the amount of experience you will gain naturally while exploring should be roughly what is needed to complete the final fight before the credits. Fights with NPC trainers in the main game are fairly easy until the final narrative arc, with Pokémon somewhat underleveled, and trainers leaving empty slots in their Pokémon teams. This does however change in the post game content, where trainers more frequently have full teams of high level Pokémon.
The balancing of the game seems to be geared towards most people being able to complete the main story and see the credits roll, with a difficulty bump seen in the post game. Additionally, many main game challenges see a difficulty bump in the post game, so players can retry them with more challenge.
In the main game, the main challenge outside of the action themed boss fights are frenzied wild Pokémon, denoted by increased size and glowing red eyes. These are generally overleveled for the areas where they appear. They are avoidable, but available for those seeking more challenge.
Much of the post game challenge scales up considerably, with NPC trainers making effective use of new mechanics to attempt to where possible one shot your team of creatures. The post game provides more challenge than I expect from a Pokémon game generally.
In terms of game options, players can alter text speed, tweak camera inversion, change camera or motion sensitivity, toggle autosave, set right stick click to toggle the game’s hud on and off, require a confirmation before Pokéballs are thrown in battle, sliders for audio mixing, and an option to narrow or widen the volume range of audio.
For disabled players who struggle with socialising and find it difficult to find players to trade with, Legends Arceus allows you to complete the entire Pokédex solo, with new evolution items introduced to evolve Pokémon that would usually require trading to evolve.
For players with memory issues, such as those with ADHD, the game contains one puzzle dungeon environment, where a pen and paper will be useful, as the game otherwise wants the player to remember a series of element types in order which can prove difficult when larger numbers of elements need remembering in order.
Lastly, it’s important to note that Pokémon Legends Arceus is a game built around the idea of intensive completionism, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes and disabilities. As an autistic gamer I am personally loving the way the game is structured around obsessive completionism over time, but I recognise that this will not be a good fit for everyone, and could for some turn playing into unpleasant compulsion. Be aware of that going in, and make a judgement based on your experience with games that feature huge sets of tasks to work on at once.
While I can’t confirm this is the case for all Shiny Pokémon in the game, if you find a frenzied Pokémon that happens to be shiny, you can manually save the game, close the game entirely, and it will still be there when you reload, avoiding the risk of missing a shiny encounter, or the FOMO desire to catch it right at that moment.
Having now played several very intensive days of Pokémon Legends Arceus, I can say that while I personally love what it does for the Pokémon formula, I can see some places where the series going in this direction going forward would be less accessible to some groups of gamers.
The structure of Legends Arceus works great for me and my obsessive desire to autistic special interest complete a thorough Pokédex, but the action focus, focus on text and stealth, and punishments for failing to dodge attacks will not be right for everyone.