I was decidedly not excited for Pokémon Sun and Moon. I’ve tried to put my finger on what exactly it was that had me feeling so apprehensive…
Maybe it’s because Donald Trump is now a Pokémon.
Maybe it’s because the trend of more and more lazy, silly Pokémon designs are finding their way into games.
Oh come on! This has to be a joke. This cannot be real. Are we serious? Not even the original 151 are safe anymore...
Apart from all that, Pokémon X and Y failed to really wow me. They were decent games, don’t get me wrong, but they just failed to live up to the incredible fifth generation of games. The sixth generation just felt stale to me, and it honestly had me worried that either the series was stagnating or I was just outgrowing it. By the time I fired up my copy of Moon I don’t think I could have had more neutral expectations.
I am happy to report that the game has been pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise. While the opening may be a little too long (I didn’t get my starter until 15 minutes in) everything that follows is perfectly paced and incredibly fun.
Part of the fun this game has to offer comes from the fact that, for the first time in a mainstream Pokémon title, you are not taking on eight gyms on a quest to take on the Elite Four. Instead you are tasked with taking on seven trials across the four islands of Alola which includes taking on each Island’s Kahuna (like a sort of “Chief”) to earn a stamp on your trainer’s passport certifying your Pokémon training prowess.
The trials can include puzzles, (mercifully) short fetch quests, quizzes, and other activities. Each trial ends by engaging the area’s totem Pokémon in battle. These battles can actually be quite tough as the totem Pokémon has major boosts to certain stats, not to mention the fact that it can call on allies to aid it throughout the battle. It’s been a long time since I’ve fought in a main-story Pokémon battle that actually got me sweating (I choose not to specify whether I mean that literally or figuratively) and I must admit it’s nice to feel a bit of a challenge in a Pokémon game again.
Completing the trials earns the player a reward in the shape of Z-Crystals, special elemental hold items that enable Pokémon to perform Z-Moves, ultra-powerful type moves. You can only use one Z-move per battle which means that, at best they serve as a trump card to be played in a tight spot, and at worst they are very cool-looking but ultimately superfluous.
It’s the longstanding superfluous elements that Pokémon Sun and Moon does away with that really set the game apart in my opinion. HMs are gone. No longer will any Pokémon have to bear the yoke of HM Slavery. Bibarels of the world rejoice! In lieu of HMs the game presents the player with a Ride Pager which allows the player to instantly call a Pokémon to aid them in traveling across water, flying between islands, and smashing rocks. The Pokémon riding that was ultimately a novelty in Generation VI is now a fully-realized, valuable component.
Thanks to 3D functionality being limited to a very few moments (mainly during picture taking) the frame-rate issues that plagued X, Y, Alpha Sapphire, and Omega Ruby are completely gone. This combined with the streamlined UI, and improved visuals that include nuanced details like seeing opposing trainers issue commands real-time create the most complete, smooth and satisfying battle experience in a Pokémon title to date. Period.
The Pokémon Amie feature which was introduced in Generation VI is also more smoothly incorporated into the game as Pokémon Refresh. After a particularly trying battle, the option to engage with a Pokémon is presented. Selecting this option allows the player to clean their companion up, feed them some beans, or even cure a Pokémon of status ailments such as poison and paralysis. This more streamlined inclusion has motivated me to, you know, actually show some affection to my Pokémon, which in turn results in some pretty awesome perks such as Pokémon being able to cure themselves of paralysis mid-battle because of the power of love or some junk.
If there is one underwhelming aspect to the game it would have to be Team Skull, a bunch of very insecure youth who would likely get themselves into a lot of trouble were they ever to visit the inner-city of say, Detroit. Joking aside, Team Skull doesn’t strike me as a terribly memorable criminal organization. They are basically little more than a bunch of kids who feel like nobody likes them and they’re on their own. They’re basically like the Newsies, except with hip-hop. And somehow they actually manage to be more annoying than their New York orphaned newspaper salesmen counterparts.
The only saving grace for Team Skull is that they do figure in to greater events during the course of the game’s main plot. Sadly, the plot peters out toward the end making for a predictable, somewhat disappointing climax. Still, the story is by no means terrible and the game’s impeccable gameplay, streamlined pacing and pitch-perfect difficulty scaling more than makes up for whatever missteps the story takes.
The Wrap Up
+ Superflous elements from past games removed
+ The Trials, Alola's answer to gyms
+ Perfect pacing
+ Streamlined UI
+ Pretty engaging story except...
- ...it has a somewhat disappointing climax.
- Team Skull
Pokémon Sun and Moon is the perfect way to celebrate Pokémon’s 20 years. It takes the best aspects from the series, cuts away the outdated and/or cumbersome components to create what has so far been a surprisingly refreshing, fun adventure.