Review: Pokemon Sun and Moon
Even in its best years, Pokémon has never been as popular as 2016, marking the 20th anniversary years of the series. While Pokémon Go stormed the mobile gaming scene (for a short while at least), those who remained faithful to the “true” franchise were eagerly waiting for the new iterations: Pokémon Sun and Moon for the Nintendo 3DS. For my part, what I wanted for the franchise was that a wind of freshness, and not just a new generation of Pokémon, and I will start this review by simply saying: mission accomplished for Game Freak and The Pokémon Company.
Pokémon Sun and Moon tells your story as a soon-to-be Pokémon trainer, which recently moved to the Alola region, a world directly inspired by Hawaii in terms of visual and mood. Our character and his mother decided to leave Kanto for new opportunities in one of the four Kahuna Island, where we meet Professor Kukui, who like a perfect Hawaiian themed character starts calling you Cousin and will be your main guide in this Pokémon adventure. On your way to meet the Kahuna of the island (sort of wise man or shaman in Hawaiian culture) and get your first Pokémon, our hero will meet a curious young girl who immediately catches his attention and decides to follow (kinky?). He discovers that the young girl’s Pokémon is harassed by a horde of Spearow, so runs to its help, but finds himself falling to death because a bridge yield. Fortunately, a mysterious Pokémon catches us in the air, and saves us and the young girl’s partner. On your way back to town, Kukui introduces us to the girl who is his assistant Lillie, and alongside the Kahuna’s son Hau, our hero will complete a variety of trials across all islands on his way to become a Pokémon Master.
From within the first couple of minutes of play, Pokémon Sun and Moon will feel very different from the previous chapter in the series on several points. Already mentioned numerous times above, this new region is divided into four islands, which are all unique in their ways, with completely different settings, flora and of course Pokémon to catch. Our hero will get to visits all sorts of typical island paradise settings such as lush mountains, sandy beaches and so on, but also discover this culture that is so different from the stereotypical Caucasian cities and regions in previous Pokémon games (especially Pokémon X and Y’s take on France and Paris). It’s so refreshing but is not the only thing that changed for the better.
The craziest and riskiest change that Game Freaks did was the last thing I expected: the Pokémon Gyms. You see, instead of going through the same pattern of as previous Pokémon games of going from one town to another, passing through dungeons filled with Zubats, and beating 8 Pokémon Gyms to get access to the Pokémon League, the developers have completely shuffled things around, and introduce a more diverse and overall fun challenge with Island Trials. Instead of being an area where you need to defeat couple of trainers to reach a Gym leader, you must deal with secondary tasks like finding such as finding ingredients to create a dish which will attract a rare Pokémon. There is therefore a certain number of trials to be done on each island and to conclude things, you’ll have to fight against one of the island’s Kahuna.
The second refreshed thing is on top of brand new Pokémons, Alola’s tropical and island lifestyle has even helped some previously known Pokémon to adapt to it. While some Pokémon Alola forms are more successful than other (such as Alola Raichu), the change can be noticed by a simple change of color like Meowth now purplish, while others are entirely different like Dugtrio having blond hair, or Exeggutor whose trunk is now like a palm tree. On top of the cosmetic changes, Alola versions of these Pokémons have also changed types (or gained another type), such as Vulpix (and its evolution Ninetales) now turned into an Ice Pokémon, or Geodude (and its two evolution) now gaining the Electric type on top of Rock. In short, for a fan of the franchise who has always liked the first Pokémon generation, these changes are greatly appreciated. I felt much more familiar with the creatures of Alola thanks to that, and the new generation Pokémon designs are mostly successful and original.
Other than adding new features, Pokémon Sun and Moon also erased several elements that were starting to become annoying in the series. But first, I wanted to start talking about the many novelties in the fighting/combat mechanics introduced in this new generation. Even though the principle is the same, Pokémon Sun and Moon puts aside the Mega evolutions (introduced in Pokémon X & Y), for the benefit of something called Z-Powers, a sort crystal to equip, that allows the Pokémon to unlock a powerful attack (usable once per battle). Each Z-Power is linked to each type of Pokémon, and thus will unlock each of the 18 hidden attacks. Even if the game always imposes a long cinematic like the mega transformation, I find it more enjoyable as it almost acts like the summoning attacks in the Final Fantasy series.
The other good fix is the way the UI was changed. Instead of relying on opening so many different menu pages to access the Pokédex, maps, and other details, everything has been merged in one single system. The Pokédex is now an intelligent machine, fused with the Pokémon Rotom, giving him a unique personality, but also gain new options. In addition to the typical Pokédex functionalities, it can give you instant directions to your next story mode objective on the map (shown on the touch screen of your Nintendo 3DS), tell us which attack will be effective (if you have met your opponent at least once before), gives you some tips and tricks, and more. Thus, it becomes easier to know what to do during the fight which is very appreciated for newcomers with the many additions of types of Pokémon over the years, as well as the amount of Pokémon now reaching 800. Veterans though like myself might not like this addition, as it removes the fact of having to rely on your own knowledge of Pokémon and their types to succeed.
But the biggest correction brought by the developers is undoubtedly the key moves that are indispensable for you to progress in the game such as Surf. These moves were introduced in the first Pokémon series, given as annoying Hidden Machines (or HMs for short) which need to be learned by your Pokémon roster, as one of their four limited moves. So instead of having to teach “Fly” to fly to a different location, or “Surf” to swim on water area, Pokémon Sun and Moon gives us a new system that calls upon Pokémon mounts, which will help us do all that without using HMs. From the very beginning, we are given access to a Tauros mount which can charge through rocks, soon after a Lapras to travel on water and even a Charizard to fly from one island to another.
Pokémon Sun and Moon also offers the best story so far. in the series, with even a different one for each version. Not only the many plots are fun, but the game also tells an interesting story of the mysterious Lillie, her curious Pokémon, and the evil Team Skull, which opens a much larger tale that culminates with several unexpected revelations as well as a good ending. The great majority of the characters are very engaging thanks to their amusing personalities, and the shorter amount makes it easier to get emotionally attached to.
When it comes to all the extra modes, there’s been a plethora of new additions, and the one I particularly liked was the Battle Royale Dome, where four opponents can now compete at the same time. It’s very strategic and I found the whole thing very refreshing than just the recently added dual battles. Your Pokémon can also be taken care of after a difficult fight by brushing or drying them for example, which improves your relationship with it, but also fix some issues like poison and paralysis status. There is also the Poké Pelago which is an island on which all Pokémon in the world can visit, but also acts as a treasure hunt meta-game, and a sort of fun place to store all your caught creatures instead of just hiding them in a PC box.
On the graphical side, Pokémon Sun and Moon stands out from the rest of the franchise by completely changing the perspective, with now adults, teenagers and young kids looking all different in size as NPCs, but also massive changes when it comes to the environment and even camera angle. The game has quietly moved away from a sort of isometric perspective to the almost a third person view which allows us to appreciate the beautiful scenery of the Islands. The tall grass look more lush, the water feels alive and even the textures in caves are more realistic, helping with the immersion.
While It took me around 20-25 hours to complete the main adventure of Pokémon Sun (while my colleague is going through Pokémon Moon), I will need more than that to complete my Pokédex and capture all the Legendary Pokémon in the game. After replaying a bit of Pokémon X as well as Pokémon Alpha Sapphire last month, I realized how fresh Pokémon Sun and Moon is with its many new concepts, its mix of new and old Pokémon as well as the deeper strategic side. You see, whenever I plunge into a new Pokémon adventure, I’m afraid of get bored by the end as I get closer to the Pokémon League, but with Pokémon Sun and Moon, it never was the case. Sure, I quickly devoured the adventure but now two weeks in, I’m always getting back on the hunt when I have the time.
Pokémon Sun and Moon was reviewed using a Nintendo 3DS downloadable code of the game provided by Nintendo. The comparison with Pokémon Moon has been made based on colleague’s experience with his own version of the game. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Improvement of game mechanics
• Trials and Kahunas
• The refreshing Alola region
• The game feels renewed with new graphics and engine
• Alola Pokemons
• Too many instances of being dragged by the hand
• Where's the 3D effect on a Nintendo 3DS game?
• Getting a bit too easy for my liking
• Some of the new Pokemons are a turning more into Digimon