- Publisher: The Pokemon Company
- Developer: Game Freak
- Platforms: Nintendo DS
- Playtime: Thirty-Seven Hours
- Acquisition: Bought by Reviewer
Pokemon Sun and Moon is the seventh main generation title in Game Freak’s Pokemon series. This time around the setting is that of a series of Island’s called Alola. Meant to imitate the feel of the Hawaiian islands, players are thrown into a lush ecosystem where they attempt to conquer the Island Challenge.
Players can catch and train 81 newly introduced Alolan Pokemon as well as obtain past Pokemon in Alolan forms. Trainers will also meet interesting allies on their way to complete the Island Challenge, and dangerous enemies such as Team Skull. Sun and Moon manage to boast one of the most depth-filled stories in a Pokemon games; as well as feature, even more, ways for competitive fans to bolster their roster.
Life on The Islands
Pokemon Sun and Moon opens with an introduction to the Island Challenge with Professor Kukui, Hau, and other islanders. As the introduction progresses the player is introduced to Lillie who has obtained the mysterious Pokemon Cosmog. Lillie is inspired by the player’s acts and hopes that they can help her learn more about Cosmog and protect it from Team Skull. After this rather long introduction, the player is set on their quest to take on the island’s trials.
The main adventure of Sun and Moon follows somewhat of a formula. Players will find themselves exploring a short section of an island in which new Pokemon are introduced. This is followed by a bit of story or character development. Though this does serve to interrupt the pace, it usually is offset by an introduction of new game mechanics. While exploring the islands players receive tasks from the captain of each island. This usually consists of having to solve a puzzle and then do battle with a Totem Pokemon.
Besides the trials in the Island Challenge; the main driving force of the game is the interaction with the Aether Foundation and Team Skull. The Aether Foundation is a Pokemon conservation group that play a major role in the progression of the story. These events take place somewhat separately from the trials and serve to develop the island’s lore and characters. It’s the Aether Foundation, Team Skull, and the Island Challenges that players can reach the climax of the game.
In With The New
Sun and Moon introduces a wide array of new mechanics that pulls the Pokemon series in exciting new directions. The most significant of these is the removal of Hidden Machines. These HM’s would require that a Pokemon learns specific moves in order to progress through the story or access areas of the game. HM’s have been replaced entirely in service of the new Ride Pager mechanic. This makes it so that no longer will players have to teach their Pokemon moves in order to break boulders or fly. Instead, players will earn Pokemon that will accomplish these tasks for you. This is probably the best addition in all of Sun and Moon.
The benefit comes from the fact that it’s just so fun to ride these critters around. Even doing the longest treks are fun when riding a Taurus or surfing on a Lapras in a way that has never been in a Pokemon game. It also allows players to fully customize their six Pokemon slots without the need of an HM slave. There is a bit of a drawback as none of the Pokemon in the Rider Pager are owned by the player, as well as none of the Pokemon in your possession are ride-able. Despite this, it cannot be overstated how useful this is and how much it furthers the experience of the game.
Another big addition is the inclusion of Z-moves. These are attacks that are type and/or Pokemon specific and serve as super attacks used by having Z-stones. The Z-moves feature the most intense visuals and are generally pretty magnificent whenever one is used. They’re nice not only because they are powerful and make the fights more cinematic and engaging, but they also provide a way of equipping items to Pokemon that are fairly obvious for new players.
Most of these moves are also usable on any or all Pokemon, meaning favorite characters will be able to unleash one of these super attacks on enemies. In addition, Z-moves play a thematic role as you seek to unlock the stones from trials. This makes them an infinitely more engaging milestone than badges.
Some Rough Terrain
A major drawback of Sun and Moon can come from the platform a player experiences it on. On the New 3DS Pokemon Sun and Moon runs optimally and experiences no major frame rate drops. When played on older DS platforms, Sun and Moon suffers from significant lag. This commonly occurs when two or more Pokemon are on screen at the same time.
There is also a bit of frame rate drop during many of the Z-moves. Although, it’s hard to say how much of this will really affect gameplay as Pokemon inherently isn’t a game that is too reliant on a smooth frame rate. However, these tech issues can really break the immersion and serve as an annoyance for players in general.
One of the biggest issues with Sun and Moon is its routes. The routes in Sun and Moon where most of the wild encounters take place are fairly small. They feel cramped and many times seem uneventful as anything more than hallways to the next cutscenes. The bushes in Sun and Moon are also smaller than others in the Pokemon Series. As a result, there’s a larger encounter rate within the game. This can make the bushes seem almost guaranteed a battle.
In conjunction, there is a bit of an issue with the hitboxes making encounters appear at the very end of bushes. This just generally makes the bushes feel weird in Sun and Moon as opposed to other games in the series. Luckily it seems the developers knew this and introduced other ways for wild battles to happen that feel a lot more natural.
This can make the bushes seem almost guaranteed a battle. In conjunction, there is a bit of an issue with the hitboxes making encounters appear at the very end of bushes. This just generally makes the bushes feel weird in Sun and Moon as opposed to other games in the series. Luckily it seems the developers knew this and introduced other ways for wild battles to happen that feel a lot more natural.
Filled With Life
Sun and Moon places a noticeable emphasis on its cast of characters. Professor Kukui, unlike professors of past games, really helps to serve the narrative both as a friend and resource. Lillie at first seems to only be in the game as a source of plot movement, but slowly becomes likable with a complete character arc. Hau and other members of the cast are less significant in their presentation, though many still bolster significant development and range of emotions. There is a point in the story in which a regular hiker shares the spotlight with other cast members and does so to hilarious effect.
This emphasis on the character and emotional value of the game serve to make Pokemon Sun and Moon one of the best games in the series in regards to world building. Much of the scenery seems lived in and surrounded in life. This is further aided by the amount of personal character building and customizing that is available. Besides the usual nicknames and avatars; Sun and Moon offer much more ways for players to make their experience unique.
A Worthy Companion
Players this time around are able to show affection and engage their Pokemon in a way that is much more homely than games in the past. This serves to “humanize” the Pokemon, upgrading them from the death machines many have come to see them as. There is also the introduction of the Rotom Pokedex, which serves as a companion and assistant on your adventure.
The Rotom Dex features more themed entries for Pokemon than those seen in earlier games which make it a great addition. At times the Rotom Dex is also slightly creepy since it’s an animal/electronic hybrid. Nonetheless, many times Rotom’s text can be rather endearing and nostalgic of characters like Na’Vi from the Legend of Zelda.
A Family of Pokemon
Another addition that serves the player in creating a unique experience is the Pokemon Pelago. Appearing about halfway through the story, the Poke Pelago serves as a sort of “Farmville” for players. In it, players can create islands that serve to pamper and put their Pokemon to work. Creating an internal ecosystem of the players very own Pokemon. This feeling of making the owned Pokemon feel personal even extends to battling as Pokemon that are most friendly to you will pose advantages over others.
Playing through the game there is a deep connection with the world that extends beyond the average Pokemon affair. Many of the characters are more impressionable and the air of happy permeates everything in the game. Even the more serious characters and plots are delivered in a way that never erodes the game’s sense of optimism and companionship.
The treatment of characters like Team Skull and Gladion tell the player that adventuring and optimism are virtuous qualities; and that their opposites are the source of people’s woes and troubles. The outcome of the Aether Foundation shows the importance of companionship, somewhat ironically undercutting the way many players have played Pokemon in the past. All of these themes serve the game, and, more importantly, Pokemon really well since they motivate the player to become a better trainer.
The game ends somewhat unsatisfying, however, it seems that this may have been intentional in the design. It could be argued that the endgame serves as a follow up to the themes of adventuring. The amount of content that follows the main story is pretty vast though. There are plenty of things to do that will further both players who enjoy competitive play and following the story.
A Different Direction
It is notable that Sun and Moon in many ways play as a companion piece to Pokemon X and Y. Sun and Moon rely much more on the emotional and story aspects of Pokemon rather than the competitive. This plays opposite to X/Y which preferred to further the competitive Meta and push the battling aspects.
Sun and Moon don’t fulfill the level of competitive investment but takes most of the necessary notes. There is also less of an emphasis on exploring than in X/Y, even though the Island’s feel full, they still feel rather small. In addition, the emphasis on story development interrupts the personal adventure in service of the story very often, once again playing opposite to X/Y. In total, this can make Sun and Moon feel very linear as a game.
An Alolan Wild Roller Coaster Ride
Pokemon Sun and Moon might be the most well-rounded entry in the series since Silver and Gold. It succeeds on an emotional and story level, it succeeds as a competitive game, and it succeeds in this while being hella fun. The characters in introduces and the story it tells it surely one of the best in the series; and the gameplay it provides is one of the most diverse in the series. No matter the Pokemon experience you hope to find; Sun and Moon will hit it while putting a smile on your face.