Review by Mike Malpiedi
“It is when the balance of old and new is just right that you can create something truly original.” Hala, Kahuna of Memelee Island
Hala honestly could not have said it better. This bulky, Tauros riding, fighting Pokemon specialist is the first kahuna you will face during your island challenge. He is also the first of many colorful characters and Pokemon you will meet in this new story that exemplify exactly what Hala is talking about. Pokemon Sun & Moon, while not making the same innovation leaps as X & Y did from Black & White, brings an experience that is fresh and polished, but still well-rooted in the legacy of the Pokemon series that millions across the world now know and love.
This time around players get to explore the tropical diversity of the Alola region which is made up of four separate islands (five if you count Aether Paradise): Melemele Island, Akala Island, Ula’ula Island, and Poni Island. Each island contains its own ecosystem full of various Pokemon from across all generations, including Alolan forms of a few generation one Pokemon such as Vulpix and Geodude.
Along with adopting the island setting, Sun & Moon decide to turn the traditional Pokemon game on its head by introducing the Island Challenge. The Island Challenge is how you, as the player, follow this particular Pokemon story as opposed to the tired and true collect the eight gym badges and beat the establish Elite Four story-line. The Island Challenge is a traditional and cultural test of skill that the people of Alola have adopted over the years and, while it may not be the sort of challenge players are use to, it still embodies what the Pokemon series is all about: finding exotic places, capturing new Pokemon, and having battles you won’t soon forget.
And with that being said, lets get into the review shall we?
I figure we should tackle all of the battle and game-play elements first since I know most of you, like myself, keep coming back to Pokemon in order to make that perfect and unbeatable team to crush anyone who comes your way. Well, let me say that after spending a little over 40+ hours with Pokemon Moon I found that the variety of Pokemon available and the battle system have never been better. As I was saying in the beginning of this review, Pokemon Sun & Moon still exemplify what makes the Pokemon series so great and at this point Game Freak and The Pokemon Company have perfected the Pokemon game-play formula.
From the get-go you are able to access a wide variety of Pokemon outside of just the normal starter flying, bug, and normal type Pokemon. In fact, there are so many cool Pokemon like Rockruff and Fomantis to catch at the beginning of the game that there isn’t any point in bothering to catch a Yungoos or a Caterpie. The Alolan forms of generation one Pokemon are genuinely and surprisingly great too, even if some are as goofy looking as can be (Yes Alola Persian, I’m looking at you…). Alola Marowak and Sandslash quickly worked their way into my heart and made me appreciate the dedication that the game has to its island setting. I honestly hope that using a region’s ecology to influence the Pokemon inhabiting is an aspect that the developers bring back to the next pair of games.
I also feel that Pokemon Sun & Moon have some of the strongest starters for a Pokemon game that I have seen in the years that I have been playing. You honestly cannot go wrong with either Rowlet, Popplio, or Litten as your starter since all three become crazy badass Pokemon in their own right by the end of the game. I, personally, chose Popplio since I have always been akin to water types and because the little sea lion got so much flake when it was first revealed (which I don’t understand because Popplio is adorable!). Now I have a beautiful and deadly Primarina who has a devastating special attack stat, but the same can be said about the stats of Incineroar and Decidueye.
Anyway you look at it, Pokemon Sun & Moon set you up on the right foot to become the Pokemon Master you have always dreamed of becoming by giving you access to a great range of Pokemon both old and new. Outside of just the vast array of Pokemon at your disposal, Game Freak and the Pokemon Company have refined the core game-play of capturing and battling Pokemon in a number of refreshing and satisfying ways.
One of the biggest changes is that HMs have finally been removed from the game. Say good-bye to the days of carrying around a situational, slot-wasting HM Pokemon and say hello to Poke Ride Gear! Instead of forcing players to give up one of their six slots to a Pokemon specifically breed to take on HM moves, players can now summon various Pokemon, such as Tauros and Lapras, at will to help traverse different landscapes. Some rocks blocking your path? Call Tauros and smash right through. Need to quickly get to a certain town? Charizard has got you covered. All you need to do is press “Y” and select the Poke Ride Pokemon that you need. You will gain access to each of the seven Poke Ride Pokemon as you journey through the games story. Without the need for HMs, you can focus on building a truly well-rounded and battle-ready team.
Speaking of battles, the Pokemon battles in Sun & Moon have never been more fluid. The fluidity is all thanks to the improved interface the games utilize during battle. The move selection screen provides a plethora of information now that is useful to both veterans and newcomers to the Pokemon series. The colorful selection screen can give you the information about a specific move and its effectiveness against certain types of Pokemon on the fly. This comes in handy as whether you are a newcomer learning all of the different Pokemon types or a series veteran getting a handle on Sun and Moon’s new Pokemon offerings. I’ve been playing Pokemon since the originals, and I know my types well, but every so often it was helpful to have that hint when something wasn’t effective against a Pokemon I was a battling (especially Ghost-types).
This time around there is also the introduction of Z-Moves which are super-powered special moves that Pokemon can utilize when holding a Z-Crystal. Z-Crystals are what you will receive at the end of each trial throughout the story-line instead of badges or by exploring the various areas of the Alola Islands. These crystals are either designated to a certain Pokemon or Pokemon-type such as the Firium or Snoralium crytals (one made for fire-types and the other tailor-made for Snorlax). These Z-Moves can be used by one Pokemon only once per battle and need to consume one PP from one of the Pokemon’s moves that corresponds to the Z-Crystals type. For example, in order to use a water Z-Move a Pokemon must know at least one water move, so once selected it will consume one PP of the specified water-move. These Z-Moves are much more cinematic than regular Pokemon moves and are a testament to the series’ visual progression.
By the end of the main story-line I actual found the Z-Crystals to be a much more interesting game-play mechanic than the previously introduced Mega Evolutions. I felt that the Z-Moves make more sense in terms of how trainers unlock hidden power within their Pokemon. I preferred seeing Primarina pull-off her powerful, Spirit Bomb-esque Oceanic Operetta than seeing Blastoise turn into a slightly goofier version of himself with some boosted stats.
As for connecting with your Pokemon, Sun & Moon completely revitalized the Pokemon Amie feature from the previous Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby. The feature is now Pokemon Refresh and it comes with some significant influences to Pokemon battling. First off, you can now use Pokemon Refresh to cure status effects such as poison and paralysis after battle. The new feature lets you dust off your Pokemon’s aches and pains, so that they feel fresh and ready to take on the next challenger. By treating, loving, and feeding your Pokemon you can also increase its overall effective in battle.
On more than one occasion did my established relationship to my Pokemon effect the outcome of a battle. For example, a devastating move is dealt out by an opposing Pokemon, but my Magnezone holds onto a sliver of health as hearts pop up above his head and the message “Magnezone held out so you wouldn’t be sad” appears on the screen below. You will find moments like these are plentiful as you bond more and more with your Pokemon along your journey. They will avoid moves frequently, get more critical hits, and outlast powerful blows all because it loves being your Pokemon and the connection that it has with you. The higher your Pokemon’s affection for you, the higher the bonus it will receive in combat, so I highly recommend utilizing Pokemon Refresh after almost every battle to ensure the best possible bonuses.
There have also been some solid updates to capturing Pokemon as well such as only having to press “Y” during a battle to bring up your Pokeball Pocket. Now instead of searching your entire bag for Pokeballs, you can simple press one button and find each of the different types of Pokeballs you are carrying. You have more options to choose from when after capturing a Pokemon as well. Instead of it going start to your box when you have a full party, you can choose to swap it out with one of your current party Pokemon, check out its stats, or send it to the PC box per usual. This is a small change, but one that is welcome and begs the question why wasn’t this a feature in the first place?
And lastly on the game-play front I’d like to talk about legendary Pokemon which Sun & Moon feature plenty of. Mainly I’d like to talk about the newly introduced Ultra Beasts. Now there is a lot about the Ultra Beasts story and their involvement in Sun and Moon that I will save for the next section, but here I’d like to talk about them as effective assets to the experience of Sun & Moon. What I feel overall about the new Ultra Beasts is that they don’t feel rare enough or difficult enough to catch to warrant them feeling legendary whatsoever.
Now what I mean by that is later in the game, once you have finished the Island Challenge, you will be able to start catching the Ultra Beasts through a series of side-quests. There are multiples of most of the beasts except Guzzlord, Necrozma, and Nihilego, which I am assuming is to make it easier to trade online for the ones that are exclusive Sun and vice versa, but allowing for multiples of each takes away from their rarity. How you go about catching them doesn’t feel all that special or challenging either. You are told where the specified Ultra Beast will be and how many there are then you run off to search that area’s wild grasses until you have encountered and captured each beast. I don’t know about others, but in my experience of catching the Ultra Beasts it only took me one beast ball to catch each one except for Celesteela which took two. That is surprisingly few Pokeballs to use for Pokemon that are herald as being deadly strong throughout the course of the game. Thankfully the Tapus are a bit more challenging, but not by much. It is a minor critic, but I miss the challenge of having to explore a whole new area to find a powerful Pokemon and be tested by its strength.
And now that we are bringing up the game’s story…
With Pokemon Sun & Moon, more time is definitely dedicated to giving the latest Pokemon entries a much more cinematic and dynamic approach to storytelling. While at times it feels that the game is forcing you to the next story point as opposed to letting you explore more of the islands, I appreciated the game’s more focused approach to giving the full story of a region and its inhabitants. Through the use of the Island Challenge instead of the traditional gyms, Sun & Moon allow the region of allow to be as much of a character in the game as anyone else. Each trial encounter not only introduces you to the fun and vibrant captains and Kahunas of Alola, but also each islands’ culture and way of life. Akala Island contains the trials of fire, water, grass, and rock which are the essential elements of life, thus its people celebrate life and Tapu Lele, the Alola guardian of Life.
Even though the story may feel more linear and streamlined, it is filled with so much character and wonder that you cannot help but forge on to the next bit of adventure. The trials themselves are nicely varied and have you tackling all sorts of mini-quests like battling certain types of Pokemon or using the new Poke Finder feature to take photos of creepy Ghost Pokemon.
Since there are only seven trials and four grand trials, it is easy to keep each more individualized based on the type of Pokemon the trial is centered around. This keeps each trial experience fresh and allows the grand trials to serve as the more gym-like battle experience. For those worried there might be a lack of battling with the introduction of the trials, fear not. Battles are plentiful within each trial since all of them conclude with a battle against the Totem Pokemon. Each Totem Pokemon is a buffed version of one of the newer Alola Pokemon and will call ally Pokemon to help them in battle. The Totem Pokemon should not be underestimated by any means as they pose a solid challenge to even more experienced trainers.
What is really interesting about Sun & Moon‘s story is how you have less rivals, but more friends that are traveling with you in search of their own strength and purpose. In many ways, Pokemon Sun & Moon‘s story is about finding the strength to move forward and face the unknown while never forgetting your roots. Both Hau and Lillie, characters new to the Pokemon series, are by your side for almost the entire journey; along with a few other characters here and there like Professor Kukui. Each character is one there own journey of self-exploration and these individual stories will crossover into your quest throughout the 35+ hour story. Thankfully, each new character that is introduce is more intriguing and engaging than the last.
The only part of the story that weakens its more intimate, inspiring, and exciting elements is Team Skull. Team Skull and its minions are pretty lame antagonists and even the game treats them as such. They are all hip-hop gangsta wannabes with serious self-esteem issues that seem to try to steal Pokemon just for fun because it makes them feel like pirates? Yeah… It’s kind of bizarre and a bit off-putting in comparison to the rest of the overarching story. It would have been nice if they were more intimidating like say… Pirates. It may have been a bit more cliche that way, but at least then it would have potentially meshed better with the more mature elements brought forth by the Aether Foundation later in the game.
The other aspect of the story that feels weaker is the Ultra Beasts. Not enough time is given within the story to truly give these new creatures justice. The main story-line only focuses on one of the Ultra Beasts in particular and it is not necessarily the most interesting one. You are able to go after the Ultra Beasts once the main story is complete and you are the Champion of Alola, but there really isn’t much story given to each as you seek them out. The choice to utilize these types of new monsters and not give them a stronger backstory seems like a missed opportunity. Fortunately, most of the Ultra Beasts seem like really cool additions to any Pokemon team based on their types and designs.
Lastly, I enjoyed Sun & Moon‘s Pokemon League the most out of any Pokemon game thus far. I appreciated the fact that it is something new being introduced to Alola so you get to see it be built up by some of the characters you meet throughout the story. The new Elite Four possess a great variety of Pokemon in terms of type combinations and abilities. These Alola Masters are nothing to scoff at, so make sure you are prepared by the end game! It is also nice to see that this time around instead of facing the same champion at the end of the Elite Four, you now have to face a new challenger and defend your title as champion of Alola. Challengers will be trainers that you will meet throughout the game who are now eyeing that shiny new title and will put you to the test.
And finally I’d like to touch on the game’s…
Pokemon Sun & Moon are without a doubt the best looking Pokemon games to be released in quite some time. I often felt at times like I was playing a miniature version of the anime series. Everything from the trainers to the Pokemon look vibrant, alive, and dynamic. This is honestly how I envisioned Pokemon looking in my head when I was playing Red, Blue, & Yellow back in the 90s. And while there are still some goofy looking Pokemon this generation (still looking at you Alola Persian!), the majority of the new additions look great and have fantastic type combinations like the fire and poison Pokemon Salazzle. This is the first generation to come along in a while that I feel like I need to catch every single one and fill up my Pokedex. Only time will tell if I can pull it off!
Pokemon is back and once again it is better than ever. Pokemon Sun & Moon are the perfect entry point for newcomers to the series and also serve as a much needed change of pace for series veterans. With a new region bursting to the brim with character, cool new Pokemon, and dynamic challenges, you will find no shortage of wonder and excitement along you new Pokemon journey. Pokemon Sun & Moon come equipped with enough nostalgia to give us footing into a whole new era of Pokemon. I have no qualms in saying that Sun & Moon have found there place near the top of my list of best Pokemon games. With the success of the new Island Challenge and various features, expect Pokemon to become a much more diverse and polished experience in the years to come.