For the purposes of this review I only played Pokémon Sun and did not play Pokémon Moon but they are practically the same game.
Have you wanted to play Pokémon again but you just don’t think they’ve done enough to the formula to justify buying the latest version? Do you want to try making the perfect team but you know that some party members will get bogged down having to learn the dreaded Hidden Machines (HMs)? Do you want something else from the story besides doing all eight gyms and stopping <insert fairly cool bad guy team name here> from getting a mythical Pokémon so they can destroy and rebuild the world yet again? Then this is the Pokémon game for you. This is the Pokémon game that truly changed the formula without changing what is true to the Pokémon franchise’s core.
That may sound like big praise for this game and it is, but I feel like this game deserves it. Pokémon Sun and Moon did a lot to make this game more streamlined than its predecessors while at the same time adding a whole slew of new features into the game. One of the changes is there are no longer HMs. HMs were special moves that you had to teach your Pokémon if you wanted to progress in the game. These moves would do things such as cut down trees or move boulders. This time around all HM related activities are handled by ride-Pokémon which can be summoned wherever you would need to use them. For instance, if there are rocks in your path you can summon a Taurus which is able to run into the rocks and destroy them.
Gyms have been replaced with the island trials. The trials consist of doing different things such as take pictures of certain Pokémon or collecting ingredients for a meal and then fighting a powerful totem Pokémon in a sort of boss fight. Wild Pokémon can now call for assistance when fighting them which can make it easy to find certain kinds of Pokémon. The game has now added super powerful moves called Z-Moves which do massive amounts of damage and is a great way to end a fight right when it starts. Finally, they added a new type of battle called the Battle Royale. In a Battle Royale four trainers with three Pokémon each fight in a free-for-all battle to see who can defeat the most Pokémon without losing all of their own Pokémon. That’s also just a small list of some of the more interesting things added this time around.
This latest iteration really added a lot of things that feel very different from other Pokémon games and they do a good job of introducing them to the player as they progress throughout the story. It makes the beginning a tad bit less boring / repetitive for somebody who has played Pokémon for a long time since there are actually new things to learn in the beginning of the game. The game is also pretty good at the pacing of the story. There was rarely a point in the game that I didn’t have a new trial to attempt. In most cases there was not a very long route you had to transverse in order to reach the next trial site or other important encounter. It helped make it feel like I was always making some kind of progress which was nice. The game also had a very nice mixture of new Pokémon and returning Pokémon. I was rather impressed how the various Pokémon felt like they would actually live in a place like Hawaii.
There are two negatives that I do have to mention that I didn’t find to be that bad but might annoy others. One problem is that the game has a lot of story. Almost every route you go through ends with about 10 minutes of dialogue. Now, as somebody who liked the story this was not bad but I have heard others complaining about that so that might affect you if you want to speed through the game while ignoring all of the story. The second complaint I have seen lodged against this game was the new system that allowed for wild Pokémon to call for assistance during battle. This could really draw out battles and make it impossible to catch a Pokémon until you defeat the ally summoned. I rarely had a problem with this new feature but it did get frustrating a couple of times when trying to catch some Pokémon.
The setting is the Alolan region which is based off of Hawaii. This choice is really reflected in the game with its mixture of the different cultures found in Hawaii as well as some of the local plants and animals. Everywhere you go gives you a distinct tropical island vibe which you haven’t really had before with a Pokémon game. The story starts off with an interesting cutscene of a girl running from some people at some kind of lab with a Pokémon. It then cuts to the player arriving in the Alolan region. You then get introduced to the system of trials they have in this region in place of gyms. Soon afterwards you are introduced to the bad guys of this game. The bad guys go by the name of Team Skull and are all hooligans that are mad that they weren’t strong enough to pass the island trials. Team Skull is one of my highlights of the game. Team Skull has no world-ending goal that they want to accomplish. They are literally just punks. On your first encounter with them you can simply ignore them. Nobody really takes them as a big threat and it can make interacting with them a fun experience. I ended up liking Team Skull more than all of the other recent bad guys we have seen.
You also then start to find out about some kind of “ultra wormhole” that rests above the island. In the past the island has been attacked by creatures from that wormhole only for them to be fought off by the island guardians. You then get involved in an interesting story I did not see coming. I’m not going to talk anymore about it in order to not spoil anything but it had a lot of things happen that I did not see coming and it had an overall good message about family. In addition, the different characters you meet along the way are fairly memorable and I appreciated how the different trial captains and island kahunas actually did more in the story besides just exist to give you a badge.
Something that did surprise me with this game was all the connections it had to the previous games. I was expecting some more connections to the Johto region because of the inclusion of the regional variants of some of the Johto Pokémon but there were others that were a big shock. I also found some of these inclusions lackluster since they just show up, say something, and then leave. I was hoping that some of the people would do a little more than just be a cameo. I was surprised by the large amount of postgame content this game had. Not only did this game have the now standard Battle <insert word here> place with the Battle Tree it also had another little mini story that finished wrapping up some of the loose ends. The game also let you go back and do things with the different trial captains as well as let you challenge opponents seeking to dethrone you as the champion of the region.
I really enjoyed the new Battle Royale that was added this generation. The Battle Royale is a fun and chaotic 4 person free-for-all battle. In this mode, the battle is over when a player has had all of their Pokémon defeated. At that time, the person who defeated the most Pokémon wins. I find this mode really fun since everybody is trying to win. An opponent will stop attacking you if by attacking you they will end the battle and cause somebody else to win. It gives you a fun moment to strategize to try and defeat enough people to make it so that you will win once the battle is over. It’s really satisfying to execute a plan to defeat the opponent in second place at the same time as the person in first is defeated in order to make yourself, who is in third, win when the battle is over. Finally, I am surprised at how difficult this game could feel. It wasn’t that hard but, as a player that was pretty overleveled for most of the game, I was surprised by how challenging the fights could still be even to me. This probably is not a problem for many players but it is one I could see some facing if they want to speed through the story.
The graphics in this game are pretty good. It was definitely an improvement over the previous Pokémon games. The game has been moved fully to 3D with the models and it now allows you to move freely. This is very nice but I did occasionally run into instances where I got stuck because what I had to traverse would not have been possible in previous games. In addition, while it was appreciated that the different trainers you fought had models that were 3D it did look weird sometimes after battle how the camera circled around them though it was also very welcomed how there were different models for the different type of trainers. It was nice to have different looking hikers and swimmers to battle. Another thing the game did rather well was the audio. The different sounds of the Pokémon were clear and distinct as well as the music being nice and catchy. I also have to commend them for making the music sound like something you would hear on an island.
The controls in this game are pretty standard as far as the Pokémon series is concerned. The battle menu went through another overhaul and changed its layout in order to better present the player with the different effects in battle such as weather and stat changes. It was really nice to be able to see this especially with the totem Pokémon battles so you can see what buff they got to their stats. It was also easy to still navigate the world with the free movement. The game also ran okay. I had no crashes but I did suffer lag in some of the battles with multiple Pokémon or different graphic effects such as the aura of the totem Pokémon. I should note that I did play this game on the original 3DS that was released back in the day so that could be the cause of the lag but it is something that might affect other people out there that get it.
On the moral content of the game Pokémon Sun and Moon do pretty well. You do have your standard thing about having animals fight each other but that has been present since the first Pokémon game. Also, this game highly emphasizes having players take care of their Pokémon. The language in the game was fairly clean although there were a couple of jokes that are childish or seemed to be a little bit dirty in nature. There are some really underdressed female characters in the game. Most were your standard swimmers in bikinis but there were a couple of characters in really short shorts and some low-cut tops. You also had a bunch of shirtless men. I’m pretty sure besides that labcoat the professor doesn’t own any other tops. The game also has a fair bit of discussion about local beliefs and customs. Some of the dialogue makes it seem like some of the people worship the island guardians with them throwing parties for them and hosting all sorts of contests for them. There is also the existence of the various ghost Pokémon and some of the different, more magical based powers of some of the different Pokémon. Also, another weird thing the game does is allow you to get into other people’s beds. Now, that might not be that weird but it then goes through an explanation of what the bed smells like. That did, to me, feel a little bit weird.
I will give the game credit for its message. I won’t go into much detail in order to not spoil any of the plot but it has to do with the value of family and talks a little about messing with things you should not mess with which is nice. One more thing that should be mentioned with any Pokémon game is that while the game does feature stuff about evolution it does not deal with any sort of scientific evolution. Everything that evolves in this game just changes forms as they grow like each stage is a stage in the life of a frog.
Overall I really enjoyed this game. I have been a fan of the Pokémon series for most of its lifespan but this game was a nice treat. If anybody out there is even remotely interested in Pokémon but got bored because you felt like it was the same thing again and again I’d say they made this just for you. This game is enough of a change to make it feel like something truly different without having to change everything up. It has really made me look forward to the next installment since I now do not know what to expect from the next game after all the changes made in this one. This game was a real nice change of pace. It was also a pretty solid game that is pretty decent morally speaking. I feel like it is an easy game to recommend to anybody with an interest in the series.
- Paul Barnard (Betuor)