Review: Pokémon Sun and Moon
NOTE: I played Pokémon Moon on a New Nintendo 3DS XL for 20 hours. In that time, I beat the story, caught seven Pokémon and messed around with the game's online functionality for a bit. The following review only reflects my time during this playthrough.
When you think about ambitious RPGs, the Pokémon franchise is probably the last that comes to mind. Surprisingly, Pokémon Sun and Moon seek out to change everything we think we know about the popular RPG series. From gameplay, to storytelling, to new a whole new generation of pocket critters, Pokémon Sun and Moon provide a refreshing twist on a series that was starting to really feel dull.
ANIME QUALITY VISUALS
Right off the bat, the game establishes itself as the most beautiful and fully realized world we have ever seen in a Pokémon game. The environments and character movement truly do exist in a 3D environment, and everything from Pokémon to character's facial expressions look fantastic. Sun and Moon relies heavily on cinematic dialogue, and it makes the game feel grand and more important than any other story that has been told previously. Within the first hour you are introduced to a cast of lively characters and events that clearly pave the way for a story to unfold throughout the game's 20 hour adventure.
You get your starter Pokémon, establish your friend group, and receive a Rotom infested Pokédex from a hunky professor that refuses to button his lab coat. Then it is off to begin your journey to become the greatest Pokémon trainer that you can be, or so you think. Like I mentioned before, Sun and Moon are all about bucking the series traditions.
SAY "ALOLA" TO A NEW WAY TO PLAY
The beautiful region of Alola makes for a great place to change up the old formula, and that's exactly what this game does. You aren't going after the age old seven gym badges and an Elite Four victory, instead, this journey requires something a little different. You embark on an adventure to complete all of the Alola region's Island Challenges. Now this may just sound like a rebranding on the gym battle system, and yes there are exactly seven challenges, but this is different. Your goal here is to complete each Island Challenges' specific puzzle task and then take on the Totem Pokémon. The reward is a new Z-Crstal, but more on those later.
Each Island Challenge is distinctly unique and the Trial Captains play a bigger role in the game's story than the usual gym leader does. Whether you're photographing ghost Pokémon, or creating an island recipe, each Island Challenge offers something distinct that made me feel like I was never completing the same goal over and over. Alola's Island Challenges aren't the only new aspect to the game. Pokémon Sun and Moon also drastically change up the way the Elite Four and the end of the game typically runs, but I won't say anymore to spare you of potential spoilers.
Like any Pokémon game, there is a antagonist team that sets out to capture Pokémon for whatever the reason of the day is. In this game, it's Team Skull. These guys and gals are pathetic, and intentionally so. They try and act so cool, and their humiliation adds a nice touch of comic relief that I feel like audiences of all ages will be able to enjoy. Their involvement in the game actually plays a big role in the story. While it isn't uncommon for a Pokémon game's enemy team to play a big role in the third act of the game, Sun and Moon take that concept to new heights.
Team Skull leaders actually become such an integral part of the story that by the end of the game, you know them the way you know the professor and your allies. I really loved how developer Game Freak was able to make every character matter. It made the Alola region feel more connected and lively than any region I've seen before.
NEW LOOK, OLD STYLE
Perhaps one of the greatest features of Pokémon Sun and Moon is the way the game melds the old with the new. For older generations of players that feel connected with the older generations of Pokémon, Sun and Moon offer a great twist. The region of Alola actually shares quite a lot of similarities with the first game's Kanto region. What does this mean for Sun and Moon? Well not only is your character originally from the Kanto region, but the Alola region actually contains a lot of Pokémon (and maybe even people) from the first game.
However, there has been a slight twist on the original 150 monsters. In Sun and Moon, creatures from the Kanto region actually have Alola variants. For example, a Geodude in Alola is different from a Kanto Geodude. In Alola, this Pokémon is a Rock/Electric type rather than a Rock/Ground Pokémon. These kind of changes make it really fun for seasoned fans to jump back into the series and experience the old Pokémon they love, but with a different flavor. Ultimately, it's great fan service, and it makes the world of Pokémon more expansive and dynamic.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
In Pokémon Sun and Moon, Mega Evolutions are gone. They have been replaced with the Z-Ring, a bracelet that holds various crystals that can harness powerful attacks for Pokémon to use. To be completely honest, Z-Powers make the game a breeze. Although they can only be used once per-battle, they work as a "get out of jail free" card for the player. If you ever find yourself in a jam, use your Z-Power, you'll more than likely win the battle. Of course Pokémon is an all-ages game, but I found the Z-Moves to make the game a little insultingly easy. Though that's not to say the game doesn't have its challenges.
I came upon two instances in the game where I needed to step back and reevaluate my party in order to complete a battle. This was the first time in years that a Pokémon game has actually offered a sense of challenge for an older player, like myself. I really appreciate the game's willingness to kick a players but a few times, it makes the victories more satisfying. Still, the game is a breeze overall, but it does offer a few moments of intense gameplay, a welcomed change in my opinion.
Another new mechanic to the game is the inclusion of SOS battles. SOS battles replace X and Y's Horde battles that had no rhyme or reason to them, and allow for an opposing Pokémon to call for a helping hand in battle. If they are successful, and they usually are, you will be taking on the main Pokémon in the battle, along with a weaker sidekick. This addition is nice at first, but it can sometimes cause a never ending loop of defeating one Pokémon, only for the remaining creature to call another helper. The loop can at times go on over and over again, which makes ending battles or catching Pokémon frustrating. It is a cool concept, I just think it could have been implemented a little better.
Perhaps the greatest addition to Pokémon Sun and Moon is the Poké Ride mechanic. Gone is the obtuse and dated HM system, now players have what is essentially Uber but for Pokémon. Rather than having a special power assigned to a Pokémon that cannot be forgotten just to traverse the region, Sun and Moon introduce Poké Ride. Poké Ride is a pager device and throughout the game you'll receive new Pokémon that you can page. These various Pokémon can get you around certain obstructions or bring you to new destinations. For example, call a Charizard to be flown from one part of the map to another. Use Tauros to travel faster, and charge through large objects such as boulders. There are a handful of Pokémon you can call using the Poké Ride pager, and it works wonderfully. The Pokémon that you can summon are not your own Pokémon that you have captured. They are simply there to help trainers get around to where they need to go. It is a wonderful addition that strengthens the relationship between humans and Pokémon.
AN EPIC TALE?
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Pokémon Sun and Moon is the game's story. As mentioned earlier, the game is extremely cinematic, which I enjoyed, though the story is lackluster. I really appreciate the notable amount of work that went into ensuring this game stood out, I just feel like the story played it safe. Yes, Pokémon is geared towards younger audiences, but that doesn't mean the story has to be rudimentary. Animation studios such as Pixar and Disney have been proving for generations that you can tell a good story that appeals to all ages, but as an older player, Sun and Moon's story just doesn't do it for me.
That being said, there is still a lot to admire here. Characters are fun to engage with, and learning more about the people you meet on your adventure is entertaining. The problem is that the dialogue can be very banal, which makes it more difficult to read every word on screen. By the end of the game, I actually found myself becoming frustrated by how cinematic the game was. Whenever I just wanted to progress the game, or get to my next battle, there would be another dialogue sequence that usually didn't do much to progress the story. Too many of the details are over explained, which made lose interest in what I was doing. None of these problems were bad enough to make me not want to play the game, but I think next time Game Freak should trust in their audience a little more by providing a more compelling and less hand holding story experience.
TRADE, BATTLE, AND CATCH 'EM ALL!
Of course there is a whole other side to Pokémon that includes the multiplayer, the trading, and the Pokédex completing. In this regard, Sun and Moon do as good a job as any other Pokémon game to provide a great experience for players. Free for all battles are a nice touch, though they didn't capture my attention enough to get me past a few battles, and often the game's frame rate would slow down with all the on-screen action. With the recent introduction of Pokémon bank, I will say that it has never been easier to get all of your Pokémon in one place. I did not spend a large chunk of time exploring these aspects of the game, but from what I experienced, I would say Sun and Moon do a fine job of keeping the multiplayer and trading aspects of the game alive and well.
Overall Pokémon Sun and Moon are the most ambitious and and interesting Pokémon games I've played in years. The region of Alola is beautiful and so well realized that it really sets itself apart from any other game in the series. Although the story is a little dull, the cinematic nature of the game makes Pokémon feel like a grander RPG. New systems like Poké Ride, Island Challenges, and Z-Moves offer new ways to play for even the most seasoned Pokémon veterans. Finally, the inclusion of fantastic new and thoughtfully redesigned old Pokémon make the universe feel more connected than ever before. If Pokémon hasn't been your game for the past few entries, Sun and Moon might change your mind.