Last week, the heavily anticipated Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon were released on November 18th. Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon served as the highlight in the year’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of Pokemon. It’s not often that a game with a massive amount of hype delivers but, even with a bazillion pre-release information reveals and trailers, Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon delivered.
Twenty years is a long time for any one thing to exist but Pokemon’s formula has survived throughout. Sun & Moon features the traditional elements of Pokemon as well as the traditional battling format; Pokemon on each side, turn-based, four moves per Pokemon, items, etc. For the most part, the game plays like any other Pokemon game or RPG in general. However, Sun & Moon reinvented the wheel a bit by replacing the traditional Gym format with a new Island Challenge.
Instead of eight gyms across the region where you must defeat the gym leader to earn a badge, the Island Challenge consists of seven Island Trials and four Kahunas. Each of these Island Trials is a bit more unique than the gyms in past games as they ask you to perform different tasks such as picking up hidden items or answering trivia questions to battle the Totem Pokemon of that particular trial. A Totem Pokemon is a much stronger Pokemon than your typical wild Pokemon who can call in the assistance of another wild Pokemon, creating a two on one battle. Once you have conquered all of the Island Trials on a specific island, you battle that Island’s Kahuna, who is the island’s version of a gym leader.
The Island Challenge was a great changeup from the traditional Gym format. While I wish some of them had been a tad more challenging, that could just be twenty years of experience bleeding through as some of them can be incredibly challenging; particularly the ones located on the second island. Game Freak took a big risk in changing up a format that has stood strong for twenty years but the Island Challenge added a fresh concept to a new game in the series that did more than enough to justify the experiment.
Another major change to Sun & Moon was the introduction of Alola forms; Pokemon from previous games that gained a new appearance/typing as a result of living in a different region of the world. Again, these Alola forms served as a way to reinvent the wheel and add some freshness to old elements of the series. When I play a new Pokemon game, a huge part of my excitement is that I get to see and use the new Pokemon and I don’t really care for the old ones too much. However, with Alola forms, all of a sudden some of those old Pokemon became exciting again rather than just another Pokemon. While I wasn’t crazy about all of their new designs, I love all of the new typings. Adding in the concept of natural evolution to Pokemon was a great idea to add a bit of flavor to something old and recreate some interest. Hopefully in the future, we’ll see this concept spread to more than just the first generation of Pokemon.
The best change made in Sun & Moon was the removal of Hidden Machines (HMs) and there’s not even a remotely close second. HMs were the single most annoying element of Pokemon games because nobody wanted a Pokemon on their team that was stuck wasting a moveslot on something like Cut or Rock Smash. The addition of Poke Ride removed HMs by adding a nice little interactive Pokemon mechanic but still included the aspect of HMs without the problems associated with them. It was a brilliant and long desired change to the series.
A new change to wild Pokemon encounters is the ability for the Pokemon to call for help from an ally. While this is a primary feature of Totem Pokemon battles in the Island Trials, just about every wild Pokemon has the ability to do so as well when its health is low. The only thing stopping it from happening is the use of a status condition like paralysis or sleep. On the one hand, this introduces a much more tactical element to the game that involves a little more than brainless muscle memory and it serves as the new method for hunting Shiny Pokemon. On the other hand, it can make catching a Pokemon a hell of a time if you aren’t properly prepared for it. Just playing through the game, this became an annoyance at times.
The removal(ish) of Mega Evolution is my only really major complaint about Sun & Moon’s gameplay elements. While Mega Evolution does still exist, Game Freak did not build onto what they established in generation six. There were no new Mega Evolutions introduced in Sun & Moon and some of the Mega Stones have now been made inaccessible. My personal opinion is that if you introduce a major concept like Mega Evolution, it should be further developed in future games. However, if there is a plan to introduce something like regional forms in new games while releasing new Mega Evolutions in remakes, like the heavily speculated Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remakes that could be next in line, then I would be ok with that. But that remains to be seen. Ultimately, I’m ok with Mega Evolution taking a bit of a back seat now because I felt like it made the main game a bit too easy.
While Mega Evolution was pushed into the postgame elements of the game, we were given Z-moves as the new battle mechanic during the game. Z-moves are a superpowered move that any Pokemon can use and some Pokemon even have unique Z-moves. Like Mega Evolution, only one Z-move can be used per battle so it essentially functions as a tactical strike. I really liked how Z-moves were implemented because, while they’re strong attacks, they weren’t as overpowered as I feared they could be. My only gripe is that I wish more of the higher leveled trainers you battled throughout the game used them against you.
Another mediumish complaint I had was that the game feels much more linear than previous games in the series. Certain areas will be walled off to force you a certain way and there’s a real “you have to go from A to B to get to C” feel to it. While this isn’t a totally new concept in Pokemon games, it’s not used to fraction off later areas of the game; it’s used to fraction off miniscule areas like a particular beach or a particular side of a city. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but it was a tad annoying when I got to a new location and my exploration was cut off for really no reason at all.
The postgame seems to be a major complaint with fans with any Pokemon game. While many fans long for the days of Pokemon Emerald’s Battle Frontier, we often get small little postgame areas like Diamond & Pearl’s Battle Zone or none at all like in Pokemon X & Y. Pokemon Sun & Moon is in the latter group, there is a small area that opens up once you have beaten the game that features the Battle Tree, which is basically just a Battle Tower where you can battle some notable trainers from past games. However, there is a small questline related to the Ultra Beasts, a new kind of monster that you’ll learn about as you play through the story. This Ultra Beast quest line was a bit like Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire’s Delta Episode. The postgame for Sun & Moon is small but the end game of Pokemon is really just online battling and shiny hunting anyway.
Now, I wouldn’t say that Sun & Moon is difficult but it is certainly a bit more challenging than past games. Some trainers will anticipate your moves and make switches mid-battle or will use moves like Spikes or Stealth Rocks to punish your switching. These kinds of tactics from the AI are great because they add more strategic thought to a casual playthrough, as opposed to just bashing everyone’s face in. Even the Totem Pokemon can be a real challenge if you make a mistake, aren’t properly prepared or if you have a bit of bad luck. And if you want to massively overlevel your Pokemon and plow through the game, you can do that too.
While I will beg for a proper difficulty setting in Pokemon until I’m blue in the face, there are some things you can do to make the games a bit more challenging. A small change I like to do that adds some challenge is simply change the Battle Style in the options to Set, preventing you from changing out your Pokemon when you defeat your opponent’s Pokemon. Obviously, you can also implement different rule sets to play by like a Nuzlocke to challenge yourself in different ways.
It’s not often that we talk about story when it comes to Pokemon games, but Sun & Moon absolutely had one worth talking about. The story goes to some pretty dark places this time around and we see some of these darker elements involved in the story both directly and indirectly. Sun & Moon offers the series’ most compelling storyline since Pokemon Black & White and Pokemon Black 2 & White 2, and I would argue that it’s the series’ best.
The level of character development is a huge part of what makes Sun & Moon’s story as good as it is. Hau, your friend from the beginning of the game, doesn’t really try to be a rival and it makes him a much more compelling and likable character as opposed to the group of friends in XY. He doesn’t serve a useless role as an “I want to be better than you” character. Lillie, Professor Kukui’s assistant, is veiled in a shroud of mystery for most of the game and undergoes an incredible amount of development from the time you’re introduced to her to the end of the game. While I originally thought they were ridiculous, Team Skull emerged as my favorite enemy team from any Pokemon game by the end of the game as they never failed to disappoint me. Even the Aether Foundation was a pretty interesting group involved with the story and while some things were predictable, others were a tad bit surprising. Each character involved in the story will play a relevant role and you will eventually discover how all of these characters who are seemingly detached from each other are involved in the ultimate story arc.
I don’t think that I’m going too far out on a limb when I say that this is the most immersive Pokemon game yet. The Alola region, based on Hawaii, is absolutely beautiful. From volcanoes and palm trees to tourists and beaches, Sun & Moon makes it feel like you’ve been dropped right into a vacation hot spot.
A majority of the new Pokemon and Alola forms of old Pokemon look like what you would expect to see in a tropical region. As you play through the game, you’ll even hear their cries in the background as you roam across the region. Combine the natural cries of Pokemon with the beautiful music throughout the game and it makes you feel thoroughly immersed in the Alola region. Other small little things like the battle environment reflecting the area you’re in and the trainers standing in the background of the battle add to the overall immersion of the game.
I just touched on it a bit, but the sound is great. The sound of Pokemon cries in the wild as you explore the Alola region is a great touch but the music is phenomenal. I could literally sit here all day and give you links to the best pieces of music in this game. The music is usually a strength of any Pokemon game and it’s no different in Sun & Moon. Here’s just one example of the kind of music you’ll hear throughout the game.
Sun & Moon looks great with some slight improvements from Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. Game Freak eliminated the 3D elements of the game from everything except for Pokemon Refresh, the new version of Pokemon Amie. I found the 3D from XY and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire to be headache inducing so I never used them anyway and their removal helped improved the frame rate from the prior 3DS games in the series.
You don’t often think about performance when it comes to Pokemon but it does come into play with Sun & Moon. While the games are playable on any version of the Nintendo 3DS, there is a significant difference between older models and newer models. Sun & Moon run significantly better on the New Nintendo 3DS as opposed to older models. Older models of the 3DS start the game up significantly slower and contain a bit of a frame rate lag, particularly in double and Totem battles. It’s still playable on older versions of the console, but it’s something you should take into consideration when purchasing a Nintendo 3DS.
As usual, the controls are fairly standard for a Pokemon game. The analog movement with the circle pad has been updated from Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire and directional movement has been completely removed. I found the mix between analog and directional movement in XY to be frustrating so I’m glad to see that the series has fully committed to analog movement.
Pokemon always has tremendous replayability. You can play through the game with a number of different challenges or just with different combinations of Pokemon that you had never used before. When you’ve beaten the game, you can complete the Pokedex, breed and train a team for competitive play or go on hunts for rare Shiny Pokemon. There aren’t many games that maximize replayability like Pokemon has throughout its twenty year history.
Sun & Moon is a brilliant entry to the Pokemon series and as a long time fan, I couldn’t be happier. I loved playing through this game and there wasn’t a single moment where I didn’t enjoy myself. I even played through this game much slower than any previous Pokemon game, trying to catch and use as many different Pokemon as possible. Sun & Moon does enough to add freshness to the series while still maintaining that traditional feel of a Pokemon game. I would absolutely recommend Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon to anyone with an interest in gaming; new and old fans alike. At only $40, it’s a tremendous value game and you will one billion percent get your money’s worth.