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Pokemon Legends: Arceus shares a lot in common with a traditional Pokemon RPG, serving as a reimagining of many of the classic series' core mechanics. But it's also a radical departure in some ways, so even old Pokemon masters may find their skills don't immediately translate to this new format. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a prequel to the rest of the series built around exploring vast open spaces and capturing monsters by the boatload as you fill out the Sinnoh region's first Pokedex. Here are a few things to know before starting your adventure.
Unlike a traditional Pokemon game in which battling is your main or only path to leveling up your creatures, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is generous with experience and grants it for all sorts of things. The six Pokemon in your party will get passive experience from catching wild Pokemon even without battling, and from farming crafting materials. Simply exploring the world, catching Pokemon, and smacking trees to grab Apricorns will get you lots of experience without ever battling a single pocket monster.
Rather than evolve when hitting a certain level milestone, your Pokemon will wait for you to initiate the evolution once they're ready. A small indicator will pop up when they hit the requisite experience level, but then you'll need to go into the party menu and select "Evolve." This will start the evolution. Your evolved Pokemon will have higher base stats so it will hit harder and defend better, and using it will help you fill out the Pokedex entry for that next stage of the evolution.
The Poke Balls in Pokemon Legends: Arceus are somewhat different, in part because the context of catching Pokemon is so different. There are no Quick Balls, for example, because those are reliant on when you throw them during battle, which has been deemphasized in Arceus. There are some unique Poke Balls though, like those that are especially good at covering long distances (Feather Ball), or that are especially effective at capturing Pokemon if you catch them by surprise (Heavy Ball).
Even without a special Poke Ball, stealth is the best tool in your arsenal for capturing a Pokemon. If you sneak up behind a Pokemon, it will significantly increase your chances of capturing it. This is called a "backstrike" and essentially serves as a critical hit for your capture chances. Watch for an indicator above the Pokemon while you're targeting them to see if they've noticed your presence. If it turns red with an icon of an eye, they've definitely noticed you and have turned aggressive, so they won't be responsive to Poke Balls, so your only options are to fight to weaken them for a catch or run away and then circle back. If you successfully pull off a backstrike, you'll hear a distinct sound that's different and sounds heavier than a standard catch.
Some Pokemon in Legends: Arceus hang out in packs, but you don't have to settle for just one. If you fling the Poke Balls fast enough, you can capture multiple Pokemon all in a row, which will help you progress toward your Pokedex capturing goals. Just make sure to act fast, because sometimes Pokemon will notice that their buddies have suddenly vanished and they'll flee.
Since Pokemon sometimes hang out together, that also means you could find yourself accidentally caught up in a multi-battle. These can be tricky because you can still only have one Pokemon out to battle at a time. Be careful not to get overwhelmed by too many wild Pokemon at once. Similarly, since powerful Alpha Pokemon are given away by their red eyes and a distinct music change, be careful you don't try to capture one without noticing. It will attack you, and Alphas tend to be above the average level for a given area.
Most recent Pokemon games have used some version of a real-time clock, meaning you'd have to play at night to capture monsters that only come out at night. Pokemon Legends: Arceus doesn't use a real-time clock, so days pass on a regular cycle. Some Pokemon are still tied to the time of day in-game, though, so watch for the sun setting to pursue nocturnal Pokemon. If you want to fast-forward to the correct time of day, just go to the nearest base camp and rest in the tent until the time you want.
Much of your exploration involves catching wild Pokemon, and sometimes the tall grass is just a little too far away from the frolicking monsters to maintain your hiding spot while also using the auto-aim. Holding both triggers usually lines up a shot, but if they're just out of reach you can manually aim just a tad high--usually so the reticle is just barely touching the Pokemon--and it will hit the target just fine.
Like a traditional Pokemon game, your monsters will only be able to equip four moves at a time. But unlike a traditional Pokemon game, you can swap learned moves at will. Each monster will only learn four innate moves by default, but then you can visit a Dojo in town to learn more for a small fee. Once you teach your Pokemon extra moves, you can go into the party menu to swap which ones are available for battle. If you decide you want to change back later, you can simply swap again through the party menu without incurring an additional fee.
The battle system in Pokemon Legends: Arceus introduces Agile and Strong moves, modifiers you can apply to moves during battle, but only after you've mastered that move. Agile is quicker but weaker, sometimes allowing you to attack twice, while Strong is slower but stronger, which will sometimes open you up to double attacks from your opponent. These work in conjunction with the existing Effectiveness ratings, so you can put an Agile modifier on a Super Effective attack and it will still be very strong against your opponent with the added benefit of being quick. Conversely, you could put a Strong modifier on a less effective attack to help make up the gap. You could also use an Agile move to inflict a status effect and then immediately follow up with a regular or Strong move. Or you can even put a Strong spin on a Super Effective move to punch a bit above your weight class. Experiment with different combinations.
Failing out of a wild battle will start you at the nearest camp and cost you some of your items and materials, so you should run away whenever those start to look too hairy. Story-based battles, on the other hand, carry no real risk. Failing out will simply start you right before the battle with no penalty and all of your Pokemon restored to full health. You can feel free to jump into a story battle, even if your Pokemon are a little banged up from exploring, just to get an idea of what you'll be facing. Then you can restart with everyone healed and ready for action.
As you progress through the story, you'll get access to several Pokemon mounts with unique abilities. Most of these relate to navigation, opening up new areas. Those navigation tools are necessary to proceed to the next story point, but each of the biomes have plenty of areas that will only be reachable later when you get the mounts. Make sure you go back to older areas you've already covered and look around for new areas you couldn't access before, because there will usually be new Pokemon species and new Alphas hiding in these locations.
When you check your map you'll see small icons that look like messenger bags dotted around the landscape. These are satchels, bags dropped by other explorers. Fetching the satchel is a simple matter of getting near it and collecting it like any other farmed item, but the payoff is much more significant. Each satchel will get you Merit Points, usually in the 60-70 MP range. Those Merit Points can be traded in town for goods, and that seems to be the only way to get Evo Stones. The MP shop is just off the main village path between the Galaxy Team HQ and the Dojo.
The best way to raise your Pokemon's levels is to simply have them out in the field with you while you complete tasks. But if you're in a bind and need to quickly raise the level of a particular Pokemon, you can always visit the Candy Stand just outside the Galaxy Team HQ to buy EXP Candies. They can be rather expensive, with a Large EXP Candy coming in at a whopping 18,000g, but it's nice to have the option regardless.
Sprinting in Pokemon Legends: Arceus works very similarly to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with the ability to run in short bursts. But since increasing your stamina isn't a central mechanic like it is in Zelda, there is no meter that tells you when your stamina is low. From a fully rested state you can sprint for about eight seconds, after which you'll start to run at a normal rate. If you start to sprint again before giving yourself enough of a rest, you'll only sprint for a shorter amount of time. Some of your mounts have sprints, but they're mapped to a face button instead of the L-stick.
High cliffs in Pokemon Legends: Arceus mean high potential for fall damage, and if you take a spill from too high up you'll just black out and go back to a camp, the same as if you'd fallen from a rampaging Pokemon. Be careful not to push your luck. Your mounts are vulnerable to fall damage too. And if you're using Braviary, remember that you'll take fall damage if you just toggle it away, so either toggle it back on just before hitting the ground or use the Dive function to land safely.