Are Pokémon Legends Arceus’ “Bad Graphics” A Problem?

Pokémon Legends: Arceus' graphics have divided the fanbase, but are they really that big of a deal?

Pokemon Legends Arceus
Photo: Nintendo

Pokémon Legends: Arceus should be one of the biggest Switch titles of the year, but the game’s graphics have already upset some fans and left many others with a bad first impression that has them wondering if the game is really going to be worth $60.

While the Pokémon series’ graphics have certainly evolved over the years (especially in recent installments that have slowly pivoted the game towards true 3D), the franchise isn’t exactly known for its benchmark visuals. The series’ art design is arguably a big part of the reason why it is so famous (more on that later), but you don’t exactly play a new Pokémon game because you’re looking for the absolute best graphics gaming has to offer.

Still, some fans hoped that the decision to finally start releasing “main” Pokémon games on a console would inspire Game Freak to raise the bar a bit and start developing Pokémon titles that take advantage of the power of the Switch hardware (relative to Nintendo handhelds) and look a little more “modern.” Unfortunately, Pokémon Sword and Shield didn’t exactly meet those expectations, and everything we’ve seen of Pokémon Legends: Arceus so far (including official media and footage from the leaked version of the game) makes it pretty clear that it won’t be on many shortlists of the year’s best-looking games. Screenshots of the game can be deceiving, but this recent gameplay preview does a pretty nice job of capturing what Arceus looks like in “real-time:”

So it’s clear that Arceus isn’t meant to compete with the absolute best-looking games out there, but the big questions at the moment are whether or not Arceus‘ really has “bad graphics” and if the game’s graphics actually matter all that much in the first place.

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Now, the quality of Arceus‘ graphics is obviously a difficult subject to talk about with absolute authority given that it’s ultimately a subjective topic in a lot of ways. It’s obvious that Arceus isn’t going to be as technically demanding as something like the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls, but you’re not alone if you’re at least a little surprised that there’s an argument to be had about whether the game even looks as “good” as early Switch titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (much less the console’s best-looking recent games).

That’s where this discussion really gets interesting (and certainly more heated). While previous Pokémon games have relied more on their artistic style than raw technical impressiveness, the line between those concepts is a little thinner in Arceus. It’s easy to praise certain visual aspects of the game’s ancient world design, but it’s a bit tougher to argue that the title’s muddied textures, flat landscapes, and plain characters were meant to compliment that artistic style.

There’s also the matter of the game’s technical performance. While leaked copies of Arceus reportedly ran fairly poorly, people were waiting for players to get their hands on the retail version of the game before jumping to any conclusions. Now, though, even the game’s most positive early reviews point out that the title often suffers from noticeable framerate drops that (sadly) aren’t uncommon for a Pokémon game but do feel a little surprising in this context. For a game that doesn’t try to push the Switch to its limits, it’s a little surprising to hear that Arceus sometimes struggles to offer consistent 30 FPS performance.

Some of those technical problems are noteworthy on their own, but it’s when you take them into consideration alongside the growing expectations for developer Game Freak to start making console Pokémon games that feel like they’re really utilizing the full technical advantages of the Switch hardware that you kind of start to see why this particular discussion about a game’s graphics is an even bigger lighting rod than usual.

So are the game’s “bad graphics” a big deal? You’re obviously going to need to answer that question for yourself (especially if you’re thinking of buying the game), but I’ve certainly usually leaned towards the side of “graphics are not the most important thing about a game” in the past. Great graphics can’t really save a bad game, but a great game doesn’t need great graphics. There’s going to be a lot to say about Arceus as a complete experience in the coming days, weeks, and months, but with most early impressions indicating that the title is, at the very least, an enjoyable, often bold, and fairly substantial entry into the Pokémon franchise, I do think that the game ultimately won’t be reduced to the quality of its visuals.

However, there is something to be said about the importance of Arceus‘ graphics and performance both in terms of this franchise’s history and the fact that more people are starting to ask what they’re really getting when they spend $60 (or more) on a modern Triple-A game. Maybe Arceus isn’t quite the breaking point in that debate, but there does seem to be something to this discussion that goes beyond “graphics snobs” prioritizing looks above all else.

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How much do Pokémon Legends: Arceus‘ graphics matter to you? Let us know in the comments below.