by Emily Reuben
The Pokémon franchise has experienced significant growth in the past few years. The release of Pokémon X and Y signified the series’ leap into 3D, essentially reinventing the 20-year-old formula. To boot, the series has been brought into the public eye thanks to the runaway success of Pokémon GO. Pokémon Sun and Moon continues to expand on the series mechanics and style in a new, refreshing manner while managing to appeal to both veteran players and newcomers alike.
New monsters, new adventures
… some old faces bring new twists to both the aesthetics and strategy of the game in the way of Alolan forms.
The two most exciting aspect of any new Pokémon games are the new Pokémon and the new region. The Alola region is unique in that it is separated into four islands. Each of these islands are diverse in their appearance and offer varied environments, such as deserts or mountains, keeping the visuals from becoming tired or repetitive. New life is added to these virtual environments with the addition of Pokémon cries as the player explores and images of wild Pokémon inhabiting the area. Overall, Sun and Moon do an excellent job in making Alola come to life.
Various new Pokémon have been added to compliment the Alola region. Sadly, the player will encounter Pokémon from past generations more often than not, making it difficult to assemble a balanced team consisting of new creatures. However, some old faces bring new twists to both the aesthetics and strategy of the game in the way of Alolan forms. These Alolan forms grant old Pokémon new typing and abilities, further developing the competitive aspect within the game.
Cutscenes, cutscenes and more cutscenes
Upon first booting up the game, it is clear that Sun and Moon are far different than any previous Pokémon game. The Alolan region operates on a tradition known as The Island Trials, which replaces the Gym Challenges used in past Pokémon games. These trials require the player to challenge multiple captains across the Alolan islands and eventually defeat each island’s Kahuna, which acts similarly to a gym leader. These challenges are similar enough to keep long-time players invested, but also offer a refreshing new challenge.
Another significant change is one that many players may find grating. Veterans of the franchise may be annoyed by the amount and frequency of cut scenes intertwined within the gameplay. Initially, these cut scenes are charming and offer more character development than any other Pokémon game in the past. However, as the game progresses it becomes apparent that exploration has taken a backseat to these cut scenes in favor of story development. While the addition of a more fleshed out storyline is appreciated, I found myself rapidly skipping past dialogue in an attempt to simply continue playing the game. In the case of Sun and Moon¸ the story hinders the player’s experience to individually explore the region and make progress. These scenes not only interrupt gameplay, they also guide the player through the game, making this the easiest Pokémon game to date.
While some players may appreciate the redoubled focus on building a narrative, events in Pokémon Sun and Moon often feel like they are happening around the player as opposed to being influenced by the player. At several points during the story, the player feels less like an actor, and more like a spectator. Previous entries in the series emphasize the player as an active protagonist, but in this case, the player’s role in the main narrative too often takes a backseat to other supporting characters.
Face lift for a 20 year-old battle system
… the player can easily end up in a seemingly endless loop of knocking out opponents while trying to isolate their desired Pokémon.
The introduction of Z-Moves adds more diversity to Pokémon battles and makes for some very interesting animations. However, outside of using them to witness the new animations, there was never a point in the game where I needed them to defeat an opponent. Even in battles against trainers who could harness Z-Moves, I never had any difficulty defeating them without using them myself. More importantly, the animations quickly become stale once you’ve seen them a few times, and there is no way of skipping them. Essentially, while Z-Moves make for some interesting new gameplay, reusing them becomes more tedious than fun.
Replacing horde battles is the ability of wild Pokémon to call for help during a battle. A wild Pokémon can call another Pokémon to fight alongside it, making the battle two against one. While this is a handy mechanic for leveling up a party, it can become quite annoying when a Pokémon continuously calls for help after their previous assistance has been defeated. This plays a significant role in the battle experience when the player is trying to catch a Pokémon, as only one opposing foe can remain in order to attempt a capture. That little quirk can make catching certain Pokémon extremely tedious, as the player can easily end up in a seemingly endless loop of knocking out opponents while trying to isolate their desired Pokémon.
Sleek menus make for solid gameplay
The most notable and welcome addition to Sun and Moon is the improved interface. The menu screen manages to included multiple extensions without feeling cluttered or overwhelming. The change I found to be the most useful is the implementation of type advantages and weaknesses in battle. While experienced players are most likely familiar with the various move types and their effectiveness in a given situation, new players will be able to jump right in without becoming overwhelmed. For players already accumulated to Pokémon’s battle mechanics, this change minimizes the chance of mistakes in battle that even the most seasoned of players are prone to.
Smaller changes such as shortcuts to previously used items in battle make the overall experience much more fluid and user-friendly. Outside of battles, the general menu screen continues the trend of easy accessibility, allowing the player to access various features such as online interactions, items, or the new Pokémon Refresh with ease.
Pokémon finally masters 3D
Sun and Moon is far more visually attractive than the previous entries in the Pokémon series. As mentioned previously, Pokémon X and Y was the series’ first exploration into full-blown 3D, so players excused many of the graphical complaints. Unlike X and Y¸ Sun and Moon seem more accustomed to the realm of 3D. The Alolan region looks absolutely stunning and manages to feel much bigger than the preceding generation. Another notable change is the character design. Instead of the “chibi” look utilized in X and Y¸ the player and all of the featured characters are more proportionally correct, as well as more appealing to the eye.
While the visuals are to be complimented, smaller graphical errors have carried over from X and Y that should have been fixed. The biggest example can be seen in any battle with more than two Pokémon. The amount of lag experienced is a bit perplexing, seeing as horde battles (where much of the lag previously occurred) have not been carried over from X and Y. In Sun and Moon’s case, this lag occurs in double battles, which are far more common than horde battles were in X and Y. The lag really slows the pace of battles and manages to dampen the excitement, especially during battles against Totem Pokémon. Though it should be noted that this may be because of uneven support across the original 3Ds and the New 3Ds XL hardware platforms.
Not enough challenge; too much hand holding
….streamlined features answer long standing problems with the franchise….
I stated previously that Sun and Moon are by far the easiest games in the Pokémon series to date. This is largely due to the guide featured on the map that shows the player exactly where to go to progress through the game. There is little room for error here, as it is nearly impossible to become lost or confused. Aside from the new map, several other factors come together to make progressing through the story a breeze.
After almost every cut scene, the player’s Pokémon are healed to full health. Because these cut scenes happen so often, it is very rare that a Pokémon center needs to be visited outside of first accessing a new town, or healing items used. This makes boss battles extremely manageable, seeing as how the player is always given a chance to recover beforehand. Similarly, any negative status effects are easily remedied outside of battle through Pokémon Refresh, nearly eliminating the need to purchase status healing items.
Returning from the past generation is the Exp. Share, an item that allows all Pokémon in the player’s team to gain experience after a battle. This item allows for multiple Pokémon to gain experience at once without switching Pokémon during battle. While this is great for speedy playthroughs, the Exp. Share is just another tool that holds the player’s hand in an already easy game. The Exp. Share can be turned off at any time, making the game slightly more difficult, but its mere existence is a testament to the low-level difficulty the Pokémon series has begun to favor. Even without using the Exp. Share, there is little in the way of challenge during the main story for longtime players of the series.
One long-time fans will rejoice at is the elimination of HMs, or Hidden Machines. In the past, HMs have required players to replace more effective moves with HM moves in order to bypass physical barriers strewn throughout the games. Sun and Moon instead have various Pokémon that can be called upon at anytime to eliminate obstacles in the overworld. While this is a feature that has been long awaited, players no longer have to strategize around making room for HMs and are free to use the moves that work best for their respective teams without consequence.
All of these factors combine to create a game with little in the way of challenge for experienced players. The streamlined features answer long standing problems with the franchise, but little is added to keep the challenge intact. Newcomers may have a bit of difficulty grasping the basics, but with all of the in-game help included, the learning curve has been greatly flattened.
The Alolan region is full of inventive new Pokémon and gorgeous new environments that are genuinely fun to explore. Many new features and updates keep the Pokémon formula fresh. However, while this game may be the most welcoming to newcomers of the series or those who have not played a Pokémon game in years, veteran gamers will still have to look to the post game and competitive online-play to prove they are the very best, like no one ever was.
Pokémon Sun and Moon
+Tons of new Pokémon
+More intuitive battle system
+Beautiful 3D graphics
-Tedious cut scenes