Pokemon Sun and Moon Review

Pokemon Sun and Moon Review

What with the excitement surrounding Pokemon GO, you’d think more people would be all over the new Pokemon Sun and Moon games. The new games have done well enough, though Pokemon Sun and Moon haven’t performed quite as well as X/Y did, even though PoGo’s global presence probably helped bring the franchise out to people who hadn’t experienced past games, as Sun/Moon helped sell the aging 3DS consoles franchise. That being said, I also decided to join the party by purchasing a copy of Pokemon Moon for my 3DS, albeit a bit late. I was surprised by a few new additions to the game, but disappointed in others.

The Staples

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The Pokemon series, in general, is a product of its time, and maybe core audience. It is a reasonably long RPG adventure with a thin story and accessible mechanics for casual players, but also a huge grindfest filled with multiple background formulas that make accessing the endgame a huge headache even before actual skill comes into play.

That’s not terrible, but considering how prepared the audience should have been to buy the series, I think, at this point, Nintendo needs to update some core systems. It may help young children who don’t have a lot of pocket money, but admittedly that audience can also often be given access to free to play games. With so many gaming options available these days, Pokemon’s long grind may hinder it from becoming bigger (though it’s admittedly quite large already). The series has fought to make itself more accessible, but the amount of time it may take to raise a single competitive level Pokemon is more about calculated dice rolls thrown into a time-sink than it is skill, and that’s before the actual training aspect comes into play.

And Nintendo knows this. Like previous games, certain parts of the game have become more streamlined. Breeding is no longer tied to the daycare center, making it a little easier to breed Pokemon with ideal movesets. HMs that granted world abilities, such as transportation or interacting with objects, have been converted into the more visceral Poke Ride system, allowing players to ride separate Pokemon from their team mates. No longer do you need to worry about having Pokemon with Waterfall, Strength, Fly or other moves of dubious value on your team.

For collectors, the new Pokedex shows hints at what other Pokemon are related to the one you’ve caught or evolved, so players unfamiliar with the myriad of Eevees will see 8 question mark icons around the fox and realize just how versatile the little guy is.

Pokemon you know also reveal their strengths and weaknesses now, so you don’t exactly have to worry about knowing all the types. For example, if facing a Pidgey, Ground-based moves will say “No effect” near them so you know not to use them, while “Super Effective” will pop up next to Electric moves. Of course, the game doesn’t hint at quad weaknesses or strengths, but it’s enough that new players like our very own, and new, Pokemon trainer Hannah Richardson-Lewis shouldn’t have to struggle too much.

Out With the Old

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However, one thing that always bothers me with new Pokemon games is the loss of features. I understand that this is so each game has its own “flavor,” but losing features always feels like a disappointment. I think it’s one of the biggest reasons fans still clamor for a proper MMO, and no, PoGo doesn’t count.

Some features, like gyms and an antagonistic rival, are staples left behind, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about systems that make the game a virtual world rather than just, well, a game. For example, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire introduced ambient Pokemon that you couldn’t catch, but would leave footprints in the sand and fly away if you got near them. You could sometimes see Pokemon shadows and sneak up on them. You made secret bases (think housing) in the physical world that, via the Nintendo 3DS Streetpass feature, could be shared with others. Oh, and the continuation of O Powers to help boost other players’ catch rate, egg hatching, and other stats when they are playing online.

All that was lost in the new games. Maybe the O Power boosts were baked into the game innately, or the social functions are being tackled in ways that Nintendo prefers. Perhaps there are other immersive qualities the developers thought could replace the previous environmental ambiance and sneaking abilities. And for some reason, there is absolutely no Miiverse support that allows you to share in-game pictures on Nintendo’s official social network, something I’ve yet to encounter in a modern Nintendo game. I’m not sure why this happened, but these losses are certainly felt.

In With the New

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For all that was taken out, though, the new additions make this quite a unique feeling Pokemon game. If the change to HMs via the riding system intrigued your sense of immersion, know that it’s just the start.

Sun and Moon’s Hawaiian theme is pretty palpable. I know other games have had other themes (Kanto, Kansai, Arizona), but few hit me as hard as this one. Admittedly, I skipped generations 4 and 5 completely, so keep that in mind, however, I’ve also extensively visited or lived in most of the real-life locations that influenced these games.

There are a few factors I’ve narrowed down. First, the weather is more visually unique. Tropical islands feel far more exotic to me, and population wise, most people don’t live on them. The vocals included in the game’s music from the start are so joyous that even a cynic like me can’t help but smile. Finally, like most stereotypical islanders, the NPCs are very laid back. Your rival loves battling for the sake of battling, not winning, and often gives you items. He shares his love of food with you. Everyone around you emphasizes harmony in ways that have felt forced in so many past Pokemon games but is so very, very natural in the new Alola setting. When you choose your starter Pokemon and it chooses you back, it’s cheesy, but felt more realistic than when other games and movies try to do the same.

As it might be obvious, the new tone actually impacts the story. Some things bother me (like one female character seeming to represent mainland imperialism in some ways), but foreshadowing is done a bit better. For example, we’re used to Pokemon jumping out and attacking players. However, before a certain event, one townsperson talks about Pokemon jumping out of tall grass to help people. It’s easy to dismiss, but it happens soon after, veteran trainers might feel pleasantly surprised about the twist. Hau’s use of “chicken skin” for goose bumps may stand out to most English speakers, but brings the local language to life. In fact, language and culture are features that I’m quite happy with.

Past games often have their own “flavor,” but they feel forced. Some cultural notes, especially Japanese ones (or if you’re playing in Japanese, American ones) slip in. However, Alola’s feel seamless. As there’s so much mixing, it’s no wonder that some of the “Festival Plaza” missions are language themed, though they are a bit simple.

The Plaza itself is a very small area with fair-like booths offering services from dyes to stat-training. You can host games that give little rewards primarily for growing your plaza, so it’s mostly a separate aspect of the game, much like the new Poke Pelago. Both are separate town like areas to customize, but they provide a reasonable addition/distraction from the main game. The new QR scanner helps people fill out their ‘dex a bit, but it feels a bit troublesome, as I feel I need to be home to pull out QR codes I barely care about for the sole purpose of scanning to find a daily rare Pokemon, like previous generations’ starters.

Horde battles, introduced in X/Y, are back, but they’re not a separate thing. Any and all wild Pokemon can call for help, making battles much more exciting. Since nearly every zone aside from caves has a nearby Pokemon Center, and because you get a Flying Charizard fairly early in the game, the additional challenge is quite welcoming.

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After battling, you can now “care” for Pokemon with the new Refresh system. It’s more than just petting and feeding Pokemon, as it allows you to cure statuses like Poison and Paralysis without using your consumables. Wiping off dirt or drying off Pokemon is cute, and while it mechanically also helps with the “bonding” system, it calls attention to animal care that previous games neglect, especially since, well, the game is still mostly about a cute bloodsport.

And that’s important. Despite the atmosphere, the game can get dark. Pokemon praying on each other, mutilating Pokemon to consume their valuable parts… even Disarming Voice does emotional damage! In a way, though, I feel this appeals to me more as an adult, and helps make the game feel more relevant. I wouldn’t feel like kids playing the game are into escapism as much, as it highlights very real problems actual animals face.

There’s also the new versions of old Pokemon. Dark type Meowth and Grass/Dragon type Exegguter are interesting spins on old ‘mon that bring a certain amount of freshness Generation 1 players like myself love to see. Z-moves feel a bit gimmicky, like Mega-Evolution. The “dance” the character does should be something we the player participate in more but, eh, it’s visually interesting.

Overall, there’s a lot of personality bursting out from the game. Yes, there’s still some childishness and unscientific claims, but we’ve got a happily married professor with a working wife who is at least his peer, and probably in a more academic space than him. We have a call for protecting life from an in-game organization weighted in a plot that discusses loss. We have sightseers doing selfies and a huge too-cheap-to-be-true shopping center that makes the game feel more modern and relevant more than previous games. While I may be struggling with the game due to lack of meatspace friends to enjoy it with, the actual product is highly immersive.

 

Ratings

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Gameplay: 8

The game feels much more accessible than previous games, and it’s been addictive enough for the past twenty years. That being said, in this day and age, I worry the grind might actually take away from the experience. Having a more accessible end game would help kids bombarded by other games/media to get into certain mechanics and competitive gameplay more easily, rather than having the game be largely a time sink that may be better experienced via emulators focused on combat.

Innovation: 5

On the one hand, the Poke Ride system is great compared to the older games. The way to interact with your Pokemon between battles is better compared to older games. Even the challenges posed instead of the gyms are better the previous games. It’s the overall comparison to previous games, however, that makes these feel innovative. There are lessons perhaps learned from other games but heck, figuring out how to trade online with Hannah and my Miitomo buddy Sarah wasn’t exactly intuitive.

Learning Curve: 8

On average, I feel like Pokemon is probably a 6/10 for its learning curve. It’s very rarely an intuitive game (Dragons tend to breathe fire but are weak to Ice attacks?!). It requires a lot of learning and/or cheat sheets, even for casual play. It’s certainly fun, but a lot of systems don’t make a lot of sense. Sun and Moon, however, fixes those with more onscreen hints and better, light-handed tutorials.

Graphics/Sound: 8

Again, this is an area I rarely care about deeply, especially for a portable game. That being said, the sound alone is where most of this score is coming from. The music adds a lot to the feel, but there is a lot of random ambient Pokemon-sounds that really help build the mood. I just wish they were, say, hints about where a Pokemon might be located.

Value for Money: 10

Pokemon games can last you a looong time. Between different kinds of battling, breeding, and training, there is a lot you can do. While free to play games can sometimes offer similar systems, I don’t feel nickle-and-dimed for playing Pokemon Sun and Moon at my own pace.

Overall: 8/10

 

Pros/Cons

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+Dripping with immersion
+More streamlined than previous generations
+Most accessible Pokemon generation yet

-Still grindy
-Previous generation features were cut and not wholly made up for

 

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