Pokemon Sun and Moon
The next generation of Pokemon has arrived with Sun and Moon, bringing in more monsters to catch, a new region to explore, and some interesting new gameplay additions. Are the changes worth it, or do they come off as more of the same within the franchise? Come inside to check out my review!
As they've always done, since the series first started in 1996, two versions of the Pokemon game launched simultaneous. While they share much of the same story elements, some changes (mostly concerning the creatures you'll encounter) are apparent. Due to their similarities, I'm lumping both games into the same review, though the primary version I played was Moon. Okay, with that out of the way...let's dive in!
A New Journey
My love of the Pokemon franchise has been well-documented here on the site, and over the years I've discussed the many ways in which I wished to see the primary games grow. One of the biggest complaints fans, even die-hard ones, have had in the last couple decades, is the general "sameness" of each iteration.
Game Freak finally moved the Pokemon franchise (the "main" RPG entries anyway) into the realm of three dimensions and polygons over sprites with the launch of Pokemon X & Y in 2014. While it was a big step, it still felt like a graphical overlay as so much of those games still played out like a top-down/slanted viewpoint. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire refined things further and added some new elements, but Sun and Moon really feels like the point where they've hit their stride.
Having a couple games to tune up the use of the new perspective, Sun and Moon feels like exactly what we've always wanted out of a 3D Pokemon game. The graphics are solid, making good use of the cartoony aesthetic and able to stand on par with just about any other modern type RPG released on the 3DS. In a lot of ways, Sun and Moon feels and looks like an entirely different game aside from a primary Pokemon entry.
A Fully Realized World
Generally speaking, different seems to be the norm for Sun/Moon, and I mean that in a good way. While the Pokemon franchise has always been an RPG at its core, Sun and Moon feel like the most realized version of this idea. Normally when I fire up a new Pokemon game, it feels like I’m playing a Pokemon game. They all have a similar feel to them, distinct from other RPGs, letting you know exactly what you’re in for. While the initial setup (picking your character/name, etc.) is the same, starting up Sun/Moon felt entirely different. It kicked things off with an actual story and characters that felt like more than a couple dialog boxes moving you on to the next thing.
In this way, Pokemon Sun and Moon really stands out from the other games in the long running franchise. More so than ever before, Moon sucked me into the WORLD of Pokemon engaging me first in its characters and story before I even made it to the iconic gameplay that’s so addictive.
The story starts you off as a newcomer to the Alola region, moving from Kanto, with your mom. Things unfold that send you off on an adventure much like the other games, but the way in which it’s handled feels smoother and more natural. Seriously, it actually takes quite a bit of time before you even choose your starting Pokemon, encountering many characters and story points to get to that point. Even when you get your starter there’s more exploration and discovery to go around (a day actually passes) before diving into the game proper. While I’ve seen some complain about the slower start to this game compared to others, it’s very much to the benefit of the overall game experience.
More than just getting me involved with the characters more thoroughly from the start, every other aspect of the game seems geared towards immersing you in the world unlike ever before. The towns are populated with characters more thoroughly than before, but it’s not just them that make the world feel alive, it’s the Pokemon walking around as well.
Having Pokemon out of their containment and about in the towns is nothing new, but how they move about and how the NPCs react to them makes all the difference. They block roads, carry owners, act like regular pets, and even supply food (yeah, it’s jarring at first). The casual way other characters talk about their Pokemon and the things they do with them, makes the world feel alive. Hell, your Pokedex this time around is powered by a Pokemon, who talks to you actively throughout your journey.
This encouraged me to do far more exploring than normal, and take part in some of the extraneous aspects of the game. I never much cared for the other Pokemon mini-games (pageants and stores), always looking at them as distractions slowing me down from the primary quest. This time around with Moon, I actively sought out new things to do on each island. Because the world felt more fleshed out, I found myself more willing to slow down and take in all the game had to offer.
Same Addictive Gameplay, New Tricks
On top of looking more visually impressive and being more immersive overall, the next iteration of Pokemon makes the biggest changes to the gameplay than ever before. Don’t get me wrong, the basics of fighting and collection pocket monsters (the simple formula that’s proven ridiculously addictive) remain a key aspect of the game. How they’re implemented has been changed just a little bit, along with other big twists on gameplay staples.
For one, there are no more “gyms” in which to battle. Instead, in order to go to the Elite Four, you have to complete the island challenges on each of the four islands. Once you complete them (some are goofy, some are difficult, some are tedious), you’ll face off with the island’s Kahuna. Beating them won’t net you any badges, but instead some Z-stones that allow you to unlock ultra powerful moves in battles.
Wild Pokemon encounters still work largely the same as they always have, but this time around, the critters have the ability to “call for help”, where another Pokemon shows up to assist, turning things into a 2-on-1 battle. These calls don’t always result in help, adding in an extra layer of tension to a battle, as there’s no telling if another creature will show up. It’s similar to previous entries “swarm” battles, but FAR less tedious and much more manageable.
HMs (Hidden Machines) which have been a part of the series since Red and Blue are no more. These special moves trainers had to teach Pokemon were essential to progressing in the story, and the source of much frustration. Not only did you have to FIND the damn things, but had to make sure a monster in your party could use them at all times. The end result was usually a “HM Slave” Pokemon, whose sole purpose on your team was to unblock the path, rarely participating in battles.
Sun/Moon does away with this cleverly, by giving the tasks over to actual Pokemon who make sense in those kinds of roles. Ocean dwelling Pokemon already know how to ‘surf’ and move across water, and big quadrupedal creatures can charge through boulders and such. Sure, some of the previous HMs have been repurposed into TMs this time around, but on the whole, the old way of moving about the world is gone. From a gameplay standpoint it’s a nice way to change things up and give players more freedom. From a story standpoint, having Pokemon take over those aspects is just another way in which it feels like a real world in which things would happen even without your input.
The Tamagotchi like feature that originally debuted in X & Y once again makes a return, wherein you take care of your creatures by feeding and grooming them. While it’s something I largely ignored before, doing so has more benefits this time around. Caring for your Pokemon after battles can actually cure status ailments (paralysis, poison, etc.) without having to use any items from your inventory. Doing so also improves the “happiness” level, which seems more crucial to evolving Pokemon this time around than ever.
Some of the changes feel like vast departures for the franchise from what we expect, but they’re really just twists on what’s been done in the past. It’s an excellent way to move the franchise forward in some necessary dways, while still keeping the core experience intact. These changes needed to be made and I’m glad to see it finally happen.
Some of the things I happened to like most in the game, also happen to be the things I've heard some complain about. As such, it's tough to say what others won't like. Generally speaking, Pokemon Sun and Moon is an easier game than some would like. Having recently gone back and played Pokemon Yellow, it's crazier how much easier the newer generations have been. Many complained about things getting easier in the franchise with Pokemon X & Y which brought in the ability to earn experience points even while catching a Pokemon, and the EXP Share item that grants points to your ENTIRE team.
These things return in Sun and Moon, along with a couple other minor things which do make the experience seem a little easier this time around. I mean, hell, the game starts you out with about $35,000 to spend and the first PokeCenter, which is stocked with a ridiculous amount of things you need (including Repels and Escape Ropes right off the bat). I loaded myself up. Between the healthy dose of supplies and the "care" feature for Pokemon, there was very little struggle to make it through various routes.
I clearly remember the early days of Pokemon and wondering whether or not I'd make it to the next PokeCenter, or if all of my critters would faint and I'd have to start over. So yeah, in that regard, Sun and Moon is a lot easier and much of that tension was gone. Frankly though, it doesn't really bug me as much as it seems to for other long-time fans. Pokemon is one of those games where I get the most fun out of exploring and discovering, much like in a Harvest Moon style game. It's not about the difficulty, but the overall experience.
That said, my only real gripe with the game is the villainous Team Skull. They're just kinda...blah. Each encounter with them felt tedious as their animated dancing/trash talking seemed to drag on and on. Not to mention they was just lame. Their organization seemed largely comprised of whiners with a common interest, rather than a devious entity like Team Rocket or even Team Flare. Then again, it's a game designed for kiddos, so perhaps I'm looking into more than necessary.
A Great Entry for Newcomers and Old Fans Alike
The bottomline on Pokemon Sun and Moon is pretty easy; it's a great new game in the franchise with some seriously progressive steps forward. Fans who've grown tired of the repetition for "catching them all" over the years should definitely give this one a try. Many of the mechanics have been tweaked and updated, all without losing the aspects that make them great and addictive. If you're new to the franchise, it makes the case for a solid RPG with fun mechanics that's hard to put down. If this is the future Pokemon is heading for, I'm totally on board with it.