Pokemon is a franchise that hasn’t seen much change over the years. The concept has stayed the same throughout, with very minor changes in terms of gameplay. The narratives have somewhat evolved, and the combat has been updated with a few new features. But overall, the experience has remained largely the same. And while there are people that criticize it for staying the same, there are also people that adore that formula. In my own opinion, the series has been getting stale, at least until the release of X & Y. Those two games finally represented a huge technical and graphical leap forward, realizing the world of Pokemon in glorious 3D. They built upon those visuals in the remakes of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, and introduced a far more captivating narrative. Thing is, the recent releases have all been building towards something. Black & White tried shifting the tried-and-true tone of the games, presenting a darker, grittier story. It was cool, but not everyone liked that. X & Y upped the visuals, and finally brought the world of Pokemon into the 3D space. Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire improved upon everything that X & Y did, and provided a more in-depth and intriguing narrative. It felt like the most complete game at that point. But after all that, we now have Pokemon Sun & Moon. And these games feel like the true result of all of Game Freak’s labor. It’s all built up to this, and these games are absolutely fantastic.
Pokemon Sun & Moon manage to work well as a return to form for Pokemon veterans, as well as a perfect introduction to newcomers. Your character, a boy or girl of your choosing, moves from Kanto (the region from the original Pokemon games) to the new region of Alola, which is based off of Hawaii. This is a cool decision because it perfectly tugs at your nostalgic heartstrings. And if you’re a new player, this is great for you too. The game wants to let you know how far the world of Pokemon has gone, regardless of if you’ve ever played or not. The Alola region is beautifully realized, and it truly feels alive. Whereas Pokemon in previous games might have felt a bit awkward or stale, this game successfully creates a world in which Pokemon truly coexist with humans. You’ll see people outside playing with their Pikachus and Rockruffs, and you’ll see Machamps aiding construction workers and helping you move your boxes into your new house. People have Pokemon as pets, partners, and friends. And seeing these things take place will truly warm your heart. Because really, that’s what is at the core of this game. Pokemon has always been about adventure, friendship, and courage. And to have a world as vibrant and beautiful as this one, it really drives that theme home.
The game also takes full advantage of the new Hawaiian-themed region. The region isn’t one cohesive chunk like in previous Pokemon games; it’s comprised of four islands. And if you’re familiar with Pokemon gyms, those are finally gone. For the uninformed, previous Pokemon games consisted of you, a young trainer, catching Pokemon and taking on all 7 Pokemon gyms. Pokemon gyms are places where you battle gym leaders to gain badges and earn the right to eventually battle the Pokemon League, which will in turn have you finish the game as the region’s new Pokemon champion. Every single game has had Pokemon gyms, and the developer’s decision to remove them is indicative of the way the series is trying to reinvent itself. Now, there are four islands with different “kahunas.” Kahunas are essentially Pokemon trainers, but there are Totem Pokemon to defeat at each island trial, which are pretty much just more souped up versions of standard Pokemon. It’s a very welcome change though. It doesn’t feel out-of-place within the context of the world, as Pokemon gyms definitely would. There are new versions of classic Pokemon as well, designed to breathe new life into an old franchise. These are called Alola versions. And the logic behind these new forms, is that Pokemon adapt to the climate in the Alola region. It introduces new type combinations of classic Pokemon, and is an awesome and intelligent way to breathe some fresh air into Pokemon we know and love. Raichu is now Psychic and Electric, Rattata is now a Dark type, and Vulpix is now an Ice type instead of a Fire type. The team definitely had fun with some of these designs too. They aren’t all winners, but there are some great stylistic choices, like turning Exeggutor into a palm tree, and giving Diglett and Dugtrio long, blonde hair. There are also some really awesome designs for new Pokemon; you’ll see stuff ranging from haunted sandcastles, to Pokemon that disguise themselves as others. There’s a lot to love in terms of the game’s aesthetic; it totally nails it.
The game is also legitimately funny. It seems they’ve decided to go back and take another go at establishing the tone of Pokemon games; and they got it. It’s got smart and witty writing, and presents one of the intentionally lamest Pokemon villains. But it also provides some great social commentary when it comes to most of it, and while the game jokes around when it wants to, it knows when to take itself seriously and have you care for the characters.
Pokemon battles also look better than ever. Attack animations are way more dynamic than ever before, and you can see the Pokemon trainers take part in the battle as well. Pokemon react to being hit, and there are new factors that encourage you to play with and care for your team. There’s a new feature called Pokemon Refresh, where you can pet your Pokemon, feed them treats, and even talk to them by name. This will boost their love and affection for you, and in turn, they will perform better in battle. This is a really cool addition to the game; I’ve had Pokemon endure extra hits from not wanting to disappoint me, and I’ve had Pokemon shake off status ailments. It provides a good incentive for you to keep playing, and pick out a team that you really love. In previous games, there were special Pokemon moves called HMs, that you could teach your Pokemon to use outside of battle, to help you traverse the real world. Now, HMs no longer exist. You can call Pokemon whenever you like (after completing certain milestones), to fly you to another region, help you swim over an ocean, or crush through rocks. This is great because it doesn’t require you to design your Pokemon team around having a Pokemon that you’re only keeping around because of its HM abilities. This was a huge problem in previous games, and it’s good to see that it’s been taken care of.
There’s also a feature called Poke Pelago, which is a sort of playing area for the Pokemon in your boxes. It aids in helping you bring bonds and happiness to your Pokemon, and helps you acquire Poke Beans, which you can use in Pokemon Refresh. It’s little more than a glorified mini-game, but it’s still nice to see Game Freak cram all they can into this game, to satisfy all kinds of players.
The game isn’t perfect though. With a bunch of great new additions, come a few new annoyances. The most prominent problem though, is one that is cool in theory but executed quite poorly. When you’re battling a wild Pokemon and it is close to defeat, it can call for help, turning the battle into a 1-v-2 battle. It’s an awesome idea, but extremely frustrating considering the fact that when wild Pokemon call for help, it doesn’t seem to count as a turn. I’ve been stuck in situations where I’m close to defeating a wild Pokemon, he calls for help, and then both Pokemon go to attack me; in ONE TURN. This is ridiculous, and really offsets the playing field. Also, you can’t throw a Pokeball to catch a Pokemon when you’re fighting two of them. I’ve even defeated a wild Pokemon, just to have one respawn in the same turn. Because of this, I’ve been stuck in several battles, lasting upwards of an hour. It results in a lot of wasted time, and a lot of frustration.
But for the most part, Pokemon Sun & Moon is positively wonderful, and marks a great new direction for future games in the franchise. If you haven’t played a Pokemon game in a few years, definitely pick this one up. It has enough new additions to really make you giddy with the realization of how far this series has come. And if you’re a newcomer, this is still perfect for you. It’s a fantastic amalgamation of the best of the series, both old and new. I’ve been playing for a month now, and I show no signs of stopping. Encourage your friends to get it too. Competition has always been at the core of the series, both in-game and out-of-game. And discussing Pokemon with your best friends is some of the most fun you’ll ever have.
Pokemon Sun & Moon Gets a 4/5
- Approachable For Veterans And Newcomers
- New, Vibrant World
- Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously
- Some Battle Mechanics Are Tiresome
- Framerate Can Stutter at Some Graphically Intensive Parts
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