At its core, Pokémon Sun and Moon is still Pokémon. It's rife with changes that I'll address here, but the main prospect of going out, hunting for Pokémon, taking on trainers and conquering a region is still there.
There are two big complaints I always read when it comes to Pokémon games, and I appreciate both of them. First, folks often complain about how these things are the same every time. Sun and Moon represent the biggest changes for the Pokémon series since the transition to 3D. This isn't just one big change like Mega Evolutions, it's several, and not all of them work out.
I honestly applaud Game Freak for doing this. There's a quote out there from Pokémon Director Junichi Masuda. He compares the core formula of the franchise to soccer. This comes from Gamasutra back in 2012, and the quote's stuck with me since then.
"Finding that balance every time is very difficult. But when you think about games, just like playing, for example, soccer and basketball, they're games that have been around for a very long time. The core gameplay of those — the core of how you play basketball and soccer — hasn't really changed. Over the years, there's regulation changes or rule changes to those games, but the core gameplay doesn't really change for those, and that's how we kind of feel about Pokémon as well."
Game Freak aims to change Pokémon without changing the way it works, and the best they've done with that to-date is with Sun and Moon
The other point longtime veterans like to hammer on is the difficulty. The franchise is too easy these days, they say. That remains true with Sun and Moon. You won't be challenged by this game in the same ways you are in other JRPGs. When you are challenged, it's more by annoyances in design than it is particularly tough battles.
There are a few tough spots, sure, but not like the ol' days some of you pine for. I don't mind this. I don't play Pokémon to be challenged. I play it for that faux adventure feeling and the laughs these ridiculous Pocket Monsters give me. Sun and Moon succeed tremendously in those ways. In challenge? Not so much.
Goodbye, Gyms. Hello, Trials.
Gyms are gone in Sun and Moon. Now we have Trials to conquer, each in its own locale with its own themes. Some are boiled down and specific, sort of like Gyms, and some are more general.
You won't earn badges, though you will earn Z-Crystals, and you won't battle rows of trainers for huge experience boosts. Trials are still a strong haven for experience, but not in the way Gyms were.
Trials are spread around the Alola region on each island. They house some particularly strong Pokémon and typically an objective, like defeat a given number in a given area. That's really all there is to them. Sure, there are some puzzle elements to get to these Pokémon, but those are present throughout the game in other areas too.
Trials also feature captains, and each island features a kahuna. Consider these your Gym trainers and Gym leader, sort of.
Mentally coming into Sun and Moon, and I still find myself doing it, I considered Trials to be just the Alolan form of Gyms. That's not the case. Game Freak has decided that, at least for this game, Gyms aren't the way to go at all. And I get that. Gyms have become quite standard over the years, and I can't even tell you how many times I've gotten to a Gym only to find the Leader is off doing something and I can't take it on until they get back.
Any long-time Pokémon fan knows the cliches and generic procedures that come from Gyms. We always yell about changing the game up, and Trials do that.
The Trials are awesome in that they bring on some pretty fun stuff. Seeing, for instance, the "Totem Pokémon" of the first trial is a giant, glowing Raticate is rather hilarious for a long time Pokémon fan. Just look at this guy.
Once you move through the Trial, you'll be able to go back and actually catch the Pokémon that attack you. This is great because the Trial areas sometimes boast strong Pokémon. It's not so great because of a Pokémon's new ability to call for help. The first time this happened to me was in the first Trial, and from there it happens in the Wild as well.
Yes, you'll try to catch that tough Raticate in a Trial. You'll whittle him down to the red in his health pool and he'll call for help. Can you catch the one you've been working on? No, you can only catch the Pokémon when it's alone. So, you'll beat the other Pokémon. Guess what? Raticate calls for help again.
I had one such encounter that lasted 20 minutes. Seriously. It's not too bad if you have a tough Pokémon in your party with an attack that will deal damage to both opposing Pokémon, but it can get super annoying.
Alolan Forms and Z-Moves are great, caring for Pokémon isn't.
A Rattata ain't just a Rattata anymore, folks. He's a goofy looking Pokémon complete with an awesome mustache. Exeggutor might not be a stout palm tree-like shrub; no, now he's a ridiculous blend of a tall palm tree and brontosaurus.
The Alola region includes Alolan Forms of classic Pokémon, and the results vary in quality, but they'll almost always make you laugh.
You have to realize that I've been catching the same Pokémon with new monsters peppered in for like 20 years now. Seeing the old familiars radically changed with Alolan Forms is amazing to me, and the chuckle some of these guys illicit is a large source of the fun I had while discovering Pokémon in Sun and Moon.
Much like the glorious absurdity of Alolan Forms, Pokémon Sun and Moon brings Z-Moves and Z-Crystals to the table. You give the right Z-Crystal to the right Pokémon (like matching Fighting with Fighting, for instance), and that Pokémon will have access to Z-Moves.
These moves are super powerful, and they boast absurd animations that remind me of more classic JRPG summoning sequences. They can only be used once per battle for your entire team, and they are devastating as long as you don't use a move that your opponent is strong against.
These Z-Moves lay complete waste to normal, wild Pokémon. Other marquee match-ups against trainers could involve Z-Moves, though, and that levels the playing field quite a bit.
Despite some confusion out there, Z-Moves don't replace Mega Evolutions. That's still present in this game, though less of a focus is placed on it than before. As much as I liked Mega Evolutions when they first showed up, I'm ready to move on and feel that Z-Moves are the perfect compromise. Instead, we have layers upon layers of upper limits for Pokémon, making this series feel more like Dragon Ball Z and less like tactical Rock, Paper, Scissors.
I know a lot of you welcome the complications like Mega Evolution, but I just feel it takes away from the purity of that standard Pokémon battle. It feels unnecessary, and Z-Moves only further that feeling with how much better they are.
One new mechanic is the "Care" feature. After each battle as the experience and dialogue rolls, you'll have the option to press Y or tap the Care button on the touchscreen. Doing so will open the care menu.
There, you'll have a shot of the Pokémon you just used in battle. If they were hit with something that affects their status, like Sand Attack or Paralysis, you'll open the care drawer and dab them with a cotton swab, dry them off with a blow dryer our brush out dirt with a brush. You'll then have the ability to pet them or feed them Masaladas, candy in Sun and Moon.
You can do this with any of the six Pokémon on your team.
It's annoying because it adds time to each battle, thus padding the length of the game. It's useful, though, as it basically eliminates the need to find or buy meds to rid status effects. You'll also make Pokémon more affectionate to you using the Care feature, and that will make them tougher in battle.
The Care stuff was something I did out of necessity, not desire, despite the NPCs telling me how gosh darn cute the Pokémon were. This feels more like a chore than a feature. It can be totally ignored, but once you hear that Pokémon who are "Cared" for will actually do better in battle, it feels like a necessary evil. I wound up using it less and less as the game moved on, dropping it as an addition I really didn't like at all.
The look and feel of discovery
While the world does look, I suppose, more modern than more sprite-based Pokémon games, I'm not convinced that's a good thing. I miss the high-polished nature of classic sprites. The 3D look is fine, but it also shows the limits of the Nintendo 3DS.
There's a fixed camera in this game. Regardless of whether or not you have a New Nintendo 3DS with a circle nub on the right, you won't be able to swivel the camera around in this 3D world. Instead, you'll rely on the game's camera. Normally, it's perfectly fine; but, it does highlight areas that are closed to traversal when it looks like they should be open.
Look here, for instance (sorry for the smudge). This area of the game is off limits. I can't walk any further. And yet, the camera angle and new 3D design suggest I should be able to walk straight down this path to, perhaps, a ball on the ground or an NPC. No such luck.
Then there's the map on your new Pokédex. It moves when you move, and it even features an objective flag (which, as far as I can remember is a first for this series). However, it isn't specific about buildings or precise locations. Again, early on, I ran into a problem where I was told to head to a non-objective area with powerful Pokémon. I was told it was near a specific building, and the map only showed me the general region that held that building. It was up to me to canvas it in person. I couldn't even drop my own waypoint to get there.
It's 2016, let's get a better map system, right?
Through play, your Pokédex will learn other Pokémon's weaknesses. Interestingly, that learning actually applies to the game's UI. You'll actually see which moves are effective, super effective and so on once you try them out on any given Pokémon.
Another of the new convenience-focused tweaks is what happens when you catch a new Pokémon. Yes, just like the recent games, catching a Pokémon yields experience. Even further, once you move through Pokédex registry screens, you'll have the option to either send your new buddy to the standard Box or actually add them to your Party while swapping out a Pokémon you don't want.
This cuts down on the need to find a Pokémon center every time you find an awesome Pokémon with a full party on your hands, and I love this addition.
On the flip side, one of my favorite recent convenience additions is gone. Up until the most recent entry, the recent design of Pokémon has included a Pokédex that features a nice tool on the map. When you enter a region, you can see shadows of the Pokémon you haven't caught yet. Once you catch all the Pokémon in a given space, a crown shows up.
That feature, as far as I can tell, is completely gone. I liked the ability to see if I should keep hunting or move on, and its absence is glaring in Sun and Moon.
Pokémon Sun and Moon hosts welcome changes and annoying tweaks, though it's an adventure I loved having.
Like a lot of you, I'm all in on Pokémon. It's a series I grew up with, through the games, show and card game. It's a series my kid likes. I'm not going anywhere.
With that said, I welcome the big changes that Game Freak's made. Not all of them are perfect, and some design decisions are more irksome than fun, but I respect that they recognize the formula needed some changes.
This feels like a new adventure through and through, and that I absolutely loved. The new Pokémon are a great mix of goofy and awesome, and the Alolan stuff is wonderful.
For Pokémon fans, this new entry is awesome. I think Pokémon GO players taking their first dip into the real thing with Sun and Moon might find this one a bit too ridiculous, but I hope they give it a fair shot.
Disclaimer: We received copies of Pokémon Sun and Moon from Nintendo for this review.
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