Reviews

Pokémon Sun and Moon

I was in secondary school when Pokémon Red/Blue released here in the UK. And while that might show my age somewhat, it also goes to show that I’ve been a fan of the Pokémon franchise for a LONG time. Every few years or so since then there have been more and more “Generations” of Pokémon games being released.

Pokémon Sun and Moon sees The Pokémon Company and Nintendo usher in a Seventh Generation of Pokémon Games and boy was I excited for their release!

Both sets of the Sixth Generation of Pokémon games, X and Y and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, saw me put 300+ hours of play time into each game. So it is safe to say I’m a big Pokémon game fan.

With the modern generation of “Internet Life” there were spoilers a plenty for Sun and Moon leading up to the release date. While some snapshot pictures on social media were unavoidable, I tried my best to at least avoid any and all story spoilers, as the trailers and various bits of official Pokémon news certainly hinted that Sun and Moon might be taking a slightly different approach to the usually very formulaic approach to the Pokémon games’ story.

Having a change in the story formula was quite an exciting prospect, while the games have improved their stories throughout the generations; for the most part you knew what to expect: you would pick your starter, earn gym badges, and battle the elite four while also toppling the bad guys’ organisation in the process. A change from that was welcome!

And at first it did seem to be a bit of a change from that formula, but not a huge change if I’m being honest. The Alolan region, in which these games are set, is split into 4 main islands and a few separate island areas. Each island had a number of trials you must challenge, which end in you fighting a “Totem” Pokémon before being announced the winner. Apart from a few these mostly handle very similarly to Gyms from previous generations, except with a more natural setting and instead of a Gym Leader’s team, you fight one super powered Pokémon at the end. And after clearing an islands trials, you go on to battle the Kahuna which is much more akin to battle a Gym Leader before being sent onto the next island.

So while in essence it might seem very similar to the old Gym system, it actually IS a tad different, and it is refreshingly different enough I feel. Totem Pokémon actually seemed a bit harder than Gym Leader battles often were. The combination of their increased stats, holding items and calling in ally Pokémon made some of them, not hard, but trickier than you might have expected them to be. I played through with a fairly balanced team, and there was only one Totem Pokémon I defeated in one hit – and that was with a 4 times super effective special attack on a physically defensive Pokémon whose Totem Form boosted their physical defense.

The new Trial system felt both different and similar enough when compared to the classic Gym system that it was fairly safe. They weren’t likely to upset anyone who really wanted the games to stick to the age old formula, yet also made them subtly different enough that they did feel a bit new. Heck, even letting the Totem Pokémon hold items was a nice little change I thought.

Story wise I thought that Sun and Moon showed yet more improvements in their story telling. While they’re hardly going to rival the level of story in your AAA RPGs such as the Witcher and Final Fantasy, it’s important to remember the Pokémon games are designed for a much younger audience, even if their main buyers turn out to be adults in their late twenties/early thirties…

The story involved some nice little plot twists, progression, comedy moments as well as the ever classic Pokémon “moral” story aspects. And after recently replaying the 3DS port of Pokémon Yellow, it’s pretty awesome to see how far the Pokémon story telling has come along throughout the years.

Graphics wise it is quite similar to the Sixth Generation Pokémon games, while they’ve changed to more realistically proportioned people from the slightly “Chibi-er” models that X and Y used, the overall level of graphical fidelity is about the same. But they couldn’t have changed much without restricting the new games to the “New 3DS” consoles, which would’ve been fairly bad move marketing wise!

My only complaint about the graphics side of things with Sun and Moon is that they REALLY needed to give the story characters better facial expressions. There has been a meme going around that is scarily accurate:

And it’s true, and even without it being pointed out, it became very noticeable by the second island that no matter what is happening your player character just looks psychotic most of the time. It became almost annoying towards the end, that there was all these calamities and yet you just stared blankly with a weird grin…

Everyone plays Pokémon for different reasons, or rather, people continue to play Pokémon after they finish the main story for different reasons. While some will aim to “Catch ‘em All”, others take to battle spot to battle it out, others will do more casual battling with friends and passers-by. Some will train for official Pokémon VGC tournaments and others, like myself, will enjoy the challenge of breeding “perfect” Pokémon.

So, while reviewing the story is all well and good, the game’s longer term success will depend on if its “end game” will keep players coming back. New Pokémon Generations tend to also introduce new game and battle mechanics. The Sixth Generation brought in Mega Evolutions and Fairy typing, but the main focus for the new Seventh Generation is “Z-Crystals” and “Z-Moves”. You can give one of your Pokémon a type or Pokémon specific “Z-Crystal” to hold, which allows your Pokémon to use a powered up “Z-Move” once per battle.

Attacking and Pokémon Specific Z-Moves all have crazy cool animations, even if the Ginyu Force style character posing is lame and do heaps of damage! Status Z-Moves get a bit more interesting as they often add extra buffs to the move. So for example, Z-Rest also clears any debuffs your Pokémon has, while Z-Curse increases your attack by an extra stage while also healing your Pokémon.

These add a bit more variety than Mega Evolution did, in my opinion. Most Sixth Generation teams would likely only have one Pokémon capable of Mega Evolution, and a few of them were so powerful they were ALWAYS being used (I’m looking at you Mega-Kangaskhan!). So, at the team preview stage you knew what you had to plan around. Z-Crystals add a bit more of a dynamic feel, as almost any Pokémon could be holding it, and especially for dual type Pokémon it could be an attack for either of their types. Especially at this early stage of the competitive meta-game where people are experimenting to find what works best for them.

My only quibble with Z-Moves is that unlike Mega Evolutions, they don’t seem to shorten the posing animation. With Mega Evolutions, you would either get the full animation of the Power Rangers character pose, the dual glowing effect and then the Mega Evolved Pokémon popping out, or just the glow and Pokémon popping out. Z-Moves always seem to do the Ginyu Force posing, and its lame. You can shorten the battle animations, but that gets rid of ALL animations, which I don’t want.

Another key feature with regards to battling is the ruleset in place. Similar to when X and Y released, Sun and Moon are limiting trainers to only using Pokémon from the Alolan Pokédex. With VGC Rules also not allowing Mega Stones. This actually works well, as it restricts the use of legendary Pokémon, which was always a bug I had, which in turn allows far more freedom to play a wider variety of Pokémon within the format. Combined with Z-Crystals being able to make any Pokémon a powerhouse in battle, I feel the format could evolve into a much wider set of Pokémon being used rather than just “The Best Team” and “The Team That Counters The Best Team” – which often shared Pokémon between them. Though the Tapu’s and UltraBeasts will still see a lot of prevalent use, I feel they’re far less mandatory than certain legendary Pokémon and Mega-Pokémon have been in previous generations.

With the launch of Sun and Moon restricting the Pokébank until the new year, initially “Catching ‘em All” is only for the Alolan Pokédex. Which is a far less daunting task when you only have to catch a few hundred Pokémon rather than over 800. It also means that Pokémon Breeding is as important as ever, as people cannot just import their old Pokémon. However, as an avid Pokémon breeder, I do feel the Breeding process has taken a step back since ORAS. It was always one of my main concerns leading up to Sun and Moon’s release “How will they improve the breeding”. And they didn’t really. They took it back to X and Y, with the “breeding path” being a straight line, rather than the beautiful endless circle that ORAS had. Combined with not being able to use the d-pad for movement any more you must just hold the joystick still. Which isn’t the end of the world, it’s just inconvenient. And with so many other features being streamlined for more convenience, it was the only disappointing step backwards in the game for me.
It is also worth mentioning that the “Yellow” or “Crystal” to Sun and Moon is rumoured to be on the new Nintendo Switch. Depending how Nintendo and The Pokémon Company handle this, providing it is true, could be a wonderful thing indeed. Fans of the series have been crying out for a home console version of the RPG games forever! And if this is done putting the full power of the Nintendo Switch into it then it could be glorious to behold, however if it is just a 3DS “Port” onto the much more powerful console, I’d probably be a bit disappointed – if that were the case hopefully they still released the third version on the 3DS as well. But I’ve definitely got my fingers crossed for an incredibly pretty Pokémon game on the Switch!

Overall, I’m very impressed with Sun and Moon, from a great story to great battle mechanics which could really widen the Pokémon being used competitively I definitely see this being another Pokémon game that I’ll sink several hundred hours into. And I also plan to take a bit of a step from just breeding “perfect” Pokémon to actually using them competitively, hopefully making my way to some of the VGC events around the country. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there!

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