Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Release Date: November 18th, 2016
Editor’s Note: Pokémon Sun & Moon do not feature the ability to take in-game screenshots. Images in the article consist of official images that are representative of the product.
Pokémon’s staying power has been somewhat extraordinary. After 20 years, what better way to celebrate than with a brand-new generation! With some dramatic-looking changes, the new Pokémon games appeared to be shaking up an otherwise old formula. Are the shake-ups worth it? Or does it do too much and alienate its audience? In short, Sun & Moon’s changes are well worth the endeavor!
Pokémon Sun & Moon start off as expected; you and your mother move from Kanto to Alola, you get your starter Pokémon and set out on to conquer 8 Gyms―er, I mean the 7 Trials in Alola’s Island Challenge.
Of course, you come to face your friends, your rivals, and the villain team as well as capture the mascot Legendary on your journey. It sounds like I’m droning on about the game like it’s another stop on the Pokémon gravy train, but there’s a lot more to it than what’s on the surface.
If it wasn’t for one single character joining you on this journey, I would have written off Sun & Moon’s story. That person is Lillie. Her side story and growth as a character is the most compelling storytelling I’ve seen since Black & White. The opening cutscene of the game establishes that she’s on the run, trying to protect the mysterious Pokémon she calls Nebby. She, like many characters, started out one-dimensional (in her case, she doesn’t like Pokémon battles).
However, the plot surrounding this mysterious Pokémon and the villainous motives to try and capture it makes up for any deficiencies the general story of adventure may have. With Lillie’s involvement included, the story of Sun & Moon is easily the best I’ve seen on the mainline games to date!
Lillie isn’t the only character that makes this game. In fact, pretty much everyone has an aspect of their design, personality, or writing that I like. Hau is probably my least favorite, but his naive optimism makes him endearing. As far as villain teams go, Team Skull is the best in a good while. Bucking the world-domination trend that previous teams had been building up to, Team Skull is just a bunch of juvenile gangsters who try (and fail) to cause trouble and steal Pokémon.
There are details on the Alola region and its inhabitants that I’d rather have you guys check out as you play, But it’s safe to say that Sun & Moon is not lacking in its story and characters. A lot of this may have to do with its revamped presentation.
Ditching the chibi character designs, Sun & Moon have improved character models across the board. This gives cutscenes much needed visual fidelity. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw characters animate and have expressions in a Pokémon game! Seeing their Pokémon in the world beside them also helps it to feel like Pokémon don’t just live in tall grass and caves.
This is also extrapolated to the world design. Removing grid-based movement for a fully 3D world makes the Alola region feel alive. Buildings and cities are naturally laid out and fit each island instead of feeling shoehorned in. Each of the islands have their own atmosphere as well, with Ula’Ula’ and Akala Islands being the standouts.
Your objectives are still ultimately linear, but your level of freedom on its branching paths is a refreshing change I haven’t seen since the Sinnoh region in Platinum. Unfortunately, not every area is fully fleshed out. It feels like a sizeable chunk was cut out of the Volcano Park on Akala Island when entering a cave teleports you to the peak.
The music and audio design is also as good as expected of the mainline titles. The score is really starting to embrace the other composition styles introduced in X & Y. That said, its substantial peaks still don’t quite measure up as a whole to Black & White as my favorite Pokémon soundtrack.
With all of these extra improvements, I’m surprised that Sun & Moon still runs as well as it does in the overworld. That same can’t be said when battling. The 3DS’s 3D viewing features has been disabled for the entirety of the game (at least on the OG 3DS), but that still doesn’t prevent battles from chugging. 1v1 battles and even some double battles work fine. If there are any added effects like weather and auras for Totem Pokémon, forget it! The slowdown wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the input delay messing up your moves. This is probably my biggest of the two gripes I have with Sun & Moon. I can’t say if it’s the same on the New 3DS, but it’s safe to assume.
I teased Sun & Moon’s Island Challenge before by comparing it to your average Pokémon League, but it really is a substantial change. This breaks ups the rather tired 8 Gym formula and replaces it with 7 Trials.
Trials are essentially different tasks you complete as you battle Pokémon. These can include things like beating a certain number of Pokémon, searching for hidden items, or using the in-game camera to track Pokémon. Not every island has the same number of Trials, which helps to keep things fresh on the journey. These are capped off with a battle against the specially-trained Totem Pokémon.
These are the best things to happen to Pokémon games since the physical-special split on moves. It weird to picture a Pokémon game with actual boss battles, but that’s what Totem Pokémon are. Being able to call in another Pokémon and getting boosts to their stats gives them the RPG challenge of figuring out its strategy and overcoming it.
Completing Trials net you Z-Crystals; type-specific items that turn a Pokémon’s attack into a one-use super move in battle. Each island’s Trials are capped off with a fight against the Kahuna, the strongest trainer and the guardian deity’s chosen leader. As for what’s beyond that, you’ll just have to see for yourself!
A lot of the other gameplay design remains unchanged from X & Y (besides the absence of Horde Battles and Super Training). However, Sun & Moon have a slew of quality-of-life improvements that I’d like to point out before its game-specific features.
Pokémon-Amie has been revamped as Pokémon Refresh. With Refresh, raising affection is much faster than before and isn’t hampered down with having to play minigames. Being able to groom your Pokémon helps raises this instead and can also cure status ailments.
Hidden Machines (HMs) are gone! Ride Pokémon replace these, so you get functions like Surf, Strength, Rock Smash, and Fly without needing to drag along an “HM Slave”. The first Ride Pokémon, Tauros, also replaces the need for a bicycle with its much faster charge.
Other changes are smaller, but no less significant. Daycares are now just for breeding and no longer let Pokémon gain experience, level up, or learn new moves. Booting up the PC brings you straight to the Box instead of having to choose to deposit or organize. Catching locations have been narrowed down to specific patches of grass instead of just the route number or cave location.
As for what’s new, Sun & Moon has some appreciated additions. Player customization returns from X & Y with some new clothing options (including removing your hat). Clothes can also be dyed in the Festival Plaza. The Festival Plaza is also where the online functions of Sun & Moon reside. You can battle and trade here, as well as purchase rare and unique items with Festival Coins. Poké Pelago lets you interact with the Pokémon in your PC. You can harvest Pokémon Refresh’s Poké Beans, catch visiting Pokémon, and train up EVs.
For a somewhat flawed new mechanic, the SOS System fits that bill. There’s a chance that a wild Pokémon will call for help, turning an encounter into a double battle much like Totem Pokémon. You can chain these by KOing one and letting the other call for help.
SOS Pokémon can be rarer, have more EVs, have hidden abilities or have special moves. This becomes very useful when needing to grind or raise a certain stat’s EVs. However, when you’re not striving for these SOS battles are a pain.
It’s very easy for these to trigger, even if you don’t want them to. Because other Pokémon can be called at the end of the same turn one was KOed, it’s very easy to get stuck. This happened to me on my second run against some Zubat, in which I got stuck for about 15 minutes because I couldn’t run away and I didn’t want my Pokémon to faint. It’s clearly not an intention of the design, but random factors like that can put a damper on an otherwise cool mechanic.
Lastly, what would a new Pokémon generation be without some new monsters to catch? Sun & Moon has some of my favorite designs of Pokémon so far. Like X & Y, the focus on quality over quantity makes for some instant favorites. The Alolan variants also add some much needed refreshes to Kanto Pokémon.
That said, the seventh generation has the lowest new Pokémon added in a generation in the history of the series. While this may be a disappointment for some, the full Alolan Pokédex is still robust and you’ll still find plenty of your favorites to catch and travel with.
Pokémon Sun & Moon do more than just refresh the series. The story and presentation could just as easily work in a game with those traditional mechanics. However, these changes help to exemplify just how much different these games are. There’s a lot of dancing around spoilers in this review, but I feel that it is essential to fully enjoy what the game has to offer. It still feels like hyperbole, but despite my few complaints Pokémon Sun & Moon are easily the best Pokémon games yet!