There are few franchises in the gaming world that have the staying power and dedicated fan base that Pokémon has. Other game series may have come and gone, but for twenty years’ gamers young and old have flocked to each new installment of Pokémon. In celebration of its twenty-year legacy, Pokémon Sun and Moon aims to shake up the time-honored formula the series is known for with a more story-driven experience, and a different set of challenges to overcome. At the same time, The Pokémon Company is hoping to reintroduce fans that have not played the games since the days of the Gameboy. Have they succeeded? Let’s take a trip to the sunny Alola region to find out!
In keeping with the tradition that X and Y started, Pokémon Sun and Moon retains the same 3D visual style that was also present in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. The same pros and cons are there. The world of Alola and all the Pokémon you’ll face look great in 3D, but when it comes to double battles, you’ll still see the game slow down as both the 3DS and New 3DS struggle to keep up with the action. That’s not to say that things haven’t improved since the last games, as the new 3D models for your trainer and the citizens of Alola have ditched the “Chibi” style, and now look more properly proportioned. The environments you battle in are lusciously detailed and colorful, and being able to see the trainer you are battling against issue commands on the battlefield definitely adds to the immersion. When it comes right down to it, the graphics feel much more polished than previous entries, and while the occasional slowdown suffered during double battles is disappointing, it’s forgivable.
Visuals aren’t everything though; the music of Sun and Moon definitely does its job well. As you would expect from a game inspired by the tropical islands of Hawaii, the music is upbeat and sunny. The inclusion of redoing classic sounds such as the item get jingle with a ukulele to keep with the theme is also a nice touch. You will definitely be hard pressed to find a song within the game that you’ll dislike, especially with rocking tunes like the Team Skull battle theme to get you pumped.
With solid visuals and music as a foundation, the story completes the package by taking a higher priority this time around, much like the fifth generation’s Black and White versions did. As you journey through the Alola region on your island challenge, you’ll meet a variety of interesting characters. From Hau and his insatiable appetite for malasadas, to the extremely goofy antics of Team Skull, the people within the game that you interact with are there to add variety and color to the story. The characters important to the plot will keep you engaged as you learn about their motives, and the NPC’s you encounter feel more alive and entertaining rather than simply existing to give you basic information. Add in some cut-scenes that expertly use camera angles to make the experience more cinematic, and you have a story that really draws you into the world.
Indeed, an engaging story is nice, but for a series that has followed the same formula for twenty years, the new gameplay style is just as important. When starting your adventure, you quickly learn that Alola is much different from other regions that you have explored in the past. Without a Pokémon League, when children come of age in Alola, they travel across the region taking on island trials rather than facing off in Pokémon gyms. Issued by an island’s captain, the trials are meant to add variety to the gameplay where battling was the sole focus in the series for so long. The trials themselves are rather simple in nature; you may have to collect items or snap photos of Pokémon in order to pass them, but they keep the game from getting monotonous. Each trial ends with a battle against a totem Pokémon, and these foes can be quite a challenge with their beefed-up stats and ability to attack and call an ally Pokémon in a single turn. The two on one battle format is tough, but still fun, and they really make you think critically about what Pokémon you should battle with and what moves they should use. After completing all of an island’s trials, you’ll face off against the Kahuna of that area, and these battles function similarly to the gym battles you know and love.
Besides having the new island trials to face, there are also plenty of new features to experience in Pokémon Sun and Moon. Perhaps the biggest change is the introduction of “Ride Pokémon”. After six generations of games, players are finally free of HM moves, and having to plan their team around them. You can register your most useful Ride Pokémon to a direction on your D-pad, so you can quickly and easily get past obstacles without interrupting the flow of the game. This is a welcome and long overdue mechanic that will hopefully be the norm for future games.
The sixth generation introduced Pokémon-Aime, where you could interact with your Team in order to raise their affection, and both Sun and Moon has made this mode a much more streamlined process with Pokémon Refresh. While you have the option to feed and pet your Pokémon anytime you’d like, you are now able to interact with them immediately after a battle if they are in need of care. Was your partner hit with a water attack? Tap the Y button to go into Refresh and dry them off to make them happy. Was your Pokémon inflicted with poison or paralysis? Now you can enter Refresh and heal it with medicine rather than pulling up your items menu and searching for that antidote or paralyze heal. The process is quick and makes it that much easier to get the benefits of having Pokémon with high affection.
For those interested in online content, the Festival Plaza is an excellent new feature. Much like the Player Search System, the plaza acts as a hub where you can meet up and interact with friends or random players whenever you want. In addition to battling and trading, you can also host or seek out missions. Completing these challenges alone or with friends will net you festival coins, the plaza’s currency. You can use these coins to purchase a variety of useful goods, and the more you level up your plaza by earning coins, the more shops you’ll obtain. The shops can definitely make training your team easier, and it’s definitely worth your time to build your plaza up.
In addition to online battles and trades, for those who would rather fill up the pages of their Pokédex, there is a mode for you. Poké Pelago is an island where the Pokémon stored in your PC go, and where you can harvest more Pokébeans to feed to your team members in Refresh mode. What’s more, you can unlock additional islands with the right amount of stored Pokémon and beans. Additional islands can net you useful items for combat, a field to plant and harvest berries, or even a place to train up your team. You also have a chance to find and befriend Pokémon who visit the island, which is sure to help with completing the Pokédex. Much like the Festival Plaza, this new mode rewards you well for investing time and resources into it.
After six generations of games in the main series spanning over twenty years, Pokémon Sun and Moon feels like a celebration of Pokémon as a whole. As a more story driven experience with new island challenges to face, this latest title mixes up the formula in all the right ways. New features like the Pokéfinder are great nods to fans who have enjoyed other spinoff games in the Pokémon universe, and the Rotomdex adds a whole new level of convenience with its real-time map as you navigate the world of Alola. The on and offline features of the Festival Plaza and Poké Pelago are fun and rewarding to engage in, and the inclusion of Alolan Pokémon with new types is a great way to bring old fans back into the series with their favorites.
While the game may suffer from some slowdown during double battles, and some of the newer Pokémon might be difficult to find at first, these are minor flaws in an otherwise complete and satisfying package. If you’re a fan of Pokémon, or have been looking to get back into the series, you will definitely have a good time here. For those who have made it to the end of the review and are not into Pokémon but still finding themselves intrigued, you just might find something worthwhile here.
Review: Pokemon Sun and Moon (3DS)
The latest installment of the Pokemon franchise shakes things up in all the right ways with brand new challenges and Pokemon. Despite some frame rate issues, there is a ton of content that will make both new and old fans happy to visit the Alola region.