In what could be titled the Year of Pokémon, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are somewhat odd releases. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the worldwide brand, The Pokémon Company has been luring in since lapsed and new fans with re-releases of the original games, free streaming of nostalgic Pokémon movies, a mobile game that started a worldwide craze. However, both Pokémon Sun/Moon seem to push an opposite message, offering the most experimental Pokémon title yet.
Announced February 27, 2016 for the Nintendo 3DS, Pokemon trainers are tasked with exploring the islands of Alola to “Catch ’em all.” Travelling from island to island, players will take on trainers, capture new and old generations of Pokemon (as well as bizarre regional variants), and take on an international crime force. Sounds familiar, right?
While all of the main themes are present between Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon as compared to their other main games, the atmosphere feels completely different. Everything about the Alola region feels atypically laid-back. Perhaps a side effect of the island environment, the game lacks the sense of urgency or drive that many other games have — notably the plot-heavy Pokémon Black and Pokémon White. The international terror group plaguing the islands, Team Skull, generally seem more incompetent than even Team Rocket standards, keeping everything light-hearted.
But that isn’t a bad thing. The laid-back atmosphere works in the games’ advantage, creating one of the more accessible Pokémon games in recent memory. Also, for those new to the series, the game is heavily tutorialized in typical Nintendo fashion — expect to spend the first 30 minutes to an hour learning what a Pokemon is.
Besides the atmosphere and the rather-inspired generation of Pokemon, multiple changes have been added to the formula that significantly shake up gameplay. The modifications include a complete re-working of the Pokemon Gym system, an enhanced Pokedex, new battle schemes, Poke Rides, Hyper Training, and Z-Moves. The result, as mentioned above, make Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon feel like the most experimental titles in the series, to date.
One of the more successful changes is the reworking of the Gym system, which is now the Island Challenge. Instead of fighting a series of trainers to face off with a Gym Leader, players are now tasked with travelling the islands and taking on a variety of trials. For those who played the demo, you have seen tidbits of what a trial can look like — travelling through a cave and battling stronger-than-usual Pokémon.
After finishing the trial, players will be confronted with a Totem Pokemon — supersized versions of regular Pokemon. These Totem Pokemon normally come with a modified stat (increased attack, defense, etc.) and likely call other weaker Pokemon to its aid throughout battle. Once a trainer takes down the Totem Pokemon in all trials on an island, you are faced with the final chalenge — defeating the Island Kahuna in a grand trial. This plays out like a normal gym leader battle.
While the change to the system is the most dramatic regular-Pokémon players have seen since the original games, the change offers an interesting new dynamic that will please people tired from 20 years of repetition. The new dynamic is not only unobtrusive, but kept me interested in progressing to see what the next trial would be.
With that said, the changes are ones that are more fun as temporary measures — it is fun, but something I hope wouldn’t take over the traditional format in the next round of Pokémon titles. The new system is more of an escape, a relaxing adventure away from a tried-and-true formula that is as rewarding as ever.
Other changes added to the game are also welcome — I love the addition of Alolan forms, interesting variations of Pokemon I’ve seen all my life. Poke Rides, the current replacement for bicycles, helped alleviate the need for an HM slave.
Of course, not all of the changes are hits and ultimately end up feeling gimmicky. For instance, Z-Moves — while adding variety to your team — don’t seem to add a ton of value overall. In each battle, players can use a Z-Move equipped to specific Pokémon, letting loose an extra-powerful attack. And while getting more than the typical four abilities is welcome in my book, the moves rarely were my first choice simply because of how long it took for the animation to play out.
There are a few components missing from previous games that I would have loved to see. While I didn’t mind the laid-back attitude the game employs, I would have loved to see plotline more focused to core players like Pokémon Black and Pokémon White. Not only that, but I desperately miss rivals that I would love to hate. As much as the new rival Hau adds some comic relief here and there, he is no Gary Oak.
Finally, there are some components from other JRPGs — most recently World of Final Fantasy — that I would like to see implemented in future games. The Pokémon series is known for their oppressively-high random encounters, which I frankly don’t mind. However, other games with similar, derivative formulas have made the move to add fast-forwarding through battles to significantly cut down the grinding feel.
Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are both fantastic additions to the series’ 20th anniversary.
Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are both fantastic additions to the series’ 20th anniversary. With an inspired new generation of Pokémon and a ton of variation, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are the freshest take on a tried-and-true series. However, just like a vacation, most changes are ones I hope are temporary — I’ll be happy to return to the formula again next year.