Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a major departure from the nearly 26-year-old Pokémon series. While it obviously reveres the past — and borrows from it — Legends: Arceus is more interested in doing something different and experimenting with new ideas. But all of those changes can be a bit difficult to parse, and Nintendo hasn’t done a great job of explaining just how different Arceus is.
To help you understand how exactly Pokémon Legends: Arceus works, we’ve put together a list of the 12 major differences between it and the classic Pokémon series.
The biggest change in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is its structure. Instead of moving from town to town, there is only a single city in the game: Jubilife Village (which later becomes Jubilife City in the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl games). The rest of the world is unsettled, but for a handful of small camps, meaning you’re free to roam and explore without bumping into other people.
Instead of being a singular, open world like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is broken up into five major biomes. There’s a verdant field, a harsh mountain, a luscious beach (complete with its own volcano), a poisonous swamp, and a chilly tundra. Each of these areas has its own collection of native Pokémon, while some overlap between multiple areas.
You’ll start in Jubilife Village and select a biome to travel to, but you’re unable to travel from one unique area to another — you’ll have to go through Jubilife every time.
A new world
Why is the world of Pokémon Legends: Arceus so barren? Because nobody has settled it yet. Legends: Arceus takes place in the Pokémon version of feudal Japan. People speak far less casually than the original series, and very few humans know anything about Pokémon.
Your main mission in this ancient world is to capture and battle Pokémon to learn all about them, thus creating the first Pokédex.
Speaking of capturing Pokémon, it works differently in Pokémon Legends: Arceus than in traditional Pokémon games. Or rather, it can.
In Legends: Arceus, you control your trainer like it’s a third-person shooter. You walk around in 3D (similar to how you control Pokémon Sword and Shield), you can crouch to be stealthy, and you can dodge-roll. You also have a cadre of items you can chuck at Pokémon, including a variety of Poké Ball.
After selecting a Poké Ball from your item wheel, you can throw it directly at a Pokémon by holding the left trigger (ZL on the Switch), aiming with the right stick, and hitting the right trigger (ZR) once you’re lined up. If you catch the Pokémon unaware or strike it in the back, you’ll be more likely to capture it. You can also throw food at Pokémon to lower their guard.
However, Pokémon can also get mad at you in Pokémon Legends: Arceus — usually if they spot you too close to their turf. You can’t catch an angry Pokémon with normal Poké Ball, and you’ll either need to throw items to stun the Pokémon or run away until it forgets all about you.
If you don’t do either of those things, the Pokémon will send attacks your way. If you get hit enough without taking time to recover (the game has a regenerating health system), the Pokémon can knock you out, sending you back to camp.
Another way to quell an angry Pokémon is to battle it.
Just like you can throw items out at any time, you can also throw your Pokémon party members. By pressing the X button, you’ll swap between items and Pokémon, who use an item wheel-style select system so you can quickly choose the best monster for the fight. Simply throw your favorite Pokémon at another Pokémon in the wild and you’ll start a turn-based battle.
The biggest difference in the actual combat is that it’s based on speed, not turn order. A fast enough Pokémon can attack twice in a row, while a slow Pokémon might not be able to move until their opponent has attacked twice. The game offers a handy move order sheet on the right side of the screen to help you keep track of who’s next. However, the sheet disappears when you’re swapping Pokémon, which can lead to a lot of confusion.
The move order is more than just a stat game though. When Pokémon master their moves by leveling up or visiting a special trainer, they’ll be able to attack in different styles: Agile and Strong style.
Agile style moves are much faster but deal less damage, potentially allowing you to move twice before the enemy Pokémon. Strong style moves hit harder than normal ones, but will delay your next turn. Style moves take double the Power Points (PP) as normal moves, so you won’t be able to spam them.
You can also still capture Pokémon while you’re battling, and it works similarly to the old games. Just whittle them down and use your turn to throw a Poké Ball instead of an attack.
Riding Pokémon isn’t necessarily new in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, but it’s greatly expanded. Because the world is so vast (and bikes haven’t been invented yet), you’ll be cruising around the world on the back of Pokémon.
Wyrdeer, a regional evolution of the Pokémon Stantler, acts as your early ground mount, and it can both dash and jump. Basculegion, a new Basculin evolution, serves as your water transport (before you get it, you’ll just drown in rivers). It can dash through the waves and double jump. Hisuian Braviary is the flying mount in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It doesn’t offer full analog flight, but acts as more of a glider.
You can also fast-travel between camps and notable locations in each biome, but what’s the fun of that when there are Pokémon to ride?
While battling is an important part of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, taking on other trainers isn’t very common. You won’t find other trainers in the wild staring you down, forcing you to battle if you walk in front of them. Instead, trainer battles are mostly reserved for story-relevant moments where you’re testing your mettle against a friend or taking on the big bad.
Pokémon still evolve in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, but the process isn’t automatic. When you level up a Pokémon enough to the point they can evolve, you’ll get a notification on their XP bar. To actually make the evolution happen, you have to go into your Pokémon menu and hit the X button on the one you want to evolve.
This process makes it much easier to keep a de-evolved Pokémon for learning moves, because you like it better, or if you want a specific form out of your Eevee.
Learning moves works very differently in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Instead of needing to make a decision on learning a move after you level up, new moves just go into a Pokémon’s reserve move list. While Pokémon can only have four active moves at once, you can go into their reserve any time outside of battles and trade them out.
The same trainer in Jubilife Village that helps you master moves will teach your Pokémon new ones for a fee. These new moves go into that Pokémon’s reserves, and they’ll be able to swap to them anytime.
You cannot “forget” moves in Legends: Arceus. Once it’s in your reserve, you have it forever.
Crafting is another big part of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. While you can buy Poké Balls and potions at the stores, you can also find components to make them in the world. Some of these ingredients you’ll gather by hand, but you’ll need to throw your Pokémon at rocks or trees to gather others.
There are crafting kits back at your camp that allow you to use all the ingredients in your storage locker, and a more limited crafting kit that you can use anywhere but only pulls from your inventory space.
A new kind of story
Pokémon games have told a similar story for years: A kid from a small town starts their Pokémon trainer journey, adventures through some gyms, defeats a Pokémon terrorist organization, and defeats the Elite Four to become the champion. Even when it’s deviated from this formula, many of the same ideas are present.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus takes the series in a pretty different direction storywise. We can’t get into exactly how the story begins, but there are no gyms nor is there an Elite Four. With such a young world where nobody knows about Pokémon, the story is more about teaching those around you to cohabitate with the monsters, rather than battle them for sport.
And because it’s a historic game, some characters are clear ancestors of future Pokémon characters that appear in Diamond and Pearl — making for some great Easter eggs for eagle-eyed Pokémon fans.
Missions and side quests
Instead of just a simple objective box pointing you toward the next city or telling you to talk to the professor, Pokémon Legends: Arceus gives you a quest journal for main and side quests. You’ll get a clear direction on where to go next and a light recap of why you’re going there.
Side quests are common in Pokémon games, but usually you have to just remember where that random guy that wanted a Pidgey was. In Legends: Arceus, people still want you to bring them Pokémon, but the quest log will tell you your reward in advance and offer you some direction. There are also a variety of different side quest objectives in Arceus, like chasing a Mr. Mime — and avoiding his invisible walls — through Jubilife Village.
No gyms, just boss fights
Because there are no gyms, the game will test you with a completely new kind of encounter: Noble Pokémon. The locals worship these Noble Pokémon, but they’re stuck in a frenzy due to mysterious circumstances. You’ll need to throw balms at them to calm them down while physically dodging their attacks.
This works like a bizarre third-person shooter, where you take aim and chuck as many sacks of food and scents as you can before the Pokémon attacks. If you get hit too many times, you’ll need to start over. But if you’re fast, you can dodge through the attacks with iframes.
At certain moments, the Pokémon will exhaust themselves, and you’ll be able to throw out your Pokémon to battle them. If you win, you can throw a bunch of balms in a short period of time. Once you’ve soothed the Pokémon (it’s just a big, yellow health bar that goes down with each balm hit), you’ll win the battle.