Pokemon Sun & Moon
A young trainer has moved away from their home to the islands of Alola and finds them self at the center of a growing threat from another world. As the trainer begins their rite of passage they encounter a mysterious young girl and her equally puzzling companion, cosmog. As the trainer strives to complete the trials of the four islands and compete against the Kahunas that challenge their strength, the world is thrown into chaos. Evil organizations, otherworldly beings, corrupted trainers, and mysterious pokemon await to challenge the would be champion on their road.
- Single player RPG
- Monster catching and battling
- Online battling & trading
33 hours average for the main story, but between all the post-game features, battling, breeding, and online competitions the game can literally be endless.
November 18, 2016
Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo 2DS
Developers: Game Freak
Publishers: The Pokemon Company
Genre: Role-playing game
Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $79.99 Dual Pack, $39.99 New Single
As a diehard fan of the Pokemon games since their original US release, I was both apprehensive and excited to hear Nintendo was officially reformulating the series. As much as I love Pokemon, the routine of a 10-year-old marching off into the wild filled with magical murder beasts to obtain eight badges, beat up a criminal group, and become the champion of their region was getting a little stale. Whenever a formula is revisited or revamped, there’s always a chance the result will stray from what made a series great, driving away the loyal players that serve as its backbone. I withheld judgement, even through leaks and slow announcements, and came into the game with a fresh pair of eyes.
The mainstream story has vague reflections of religion inspired primarily by faith systems and traditions found in Hawaii. There are guardians over each island that are revered as god-like entities, judges of character, and manipulators of the natural elements. The cover legendaries, resembling the sun and moon, respectively, also seem to be figures of special reverence. It’s kept pretty vague, very tame, and doesn’t touch on any doctrine, but it is a prevailing part of the game’s culture and setting.
Beyond that, there are a lot of occultist undertones. For example, one area is haunted by ghost-type Pokemon and, in a situation similar to Fatal Frame, the trainer must capture ghosts on film. There’s an unsettling atmosphere to the area and the implications are rather dark. Even further beyond that, this generation’s Pokedex has stepped up its darker tones in regards to several Pokemon. The entries may very well be the most graphic, dark, and unsettling aspect of Pokemon Sun and Moon, but nothing pushes the game’s rating.
While there is no blood, broken bones, or even bruising shown, the game’s main feature is battling Pokemon against one another. They can be burned and poisoned, or knocked unconscious, and they clearly take blows during combat. It’s all animated in a fashion far less offensive than old Looney Toons commercials, but the violence is front and center, mild as it may be. Later on in the game there is some disturbing imagery of Pokemon who are likely no longer among the living. As a long-time Pokemon player, this startled me. I would say this imagery is a step above Lavender Town, because, in the infamous noble purple city, the deceased Pokemon are already laid to rest.
I have to note, again, that the Pokedex has stepped up in this regard as well. There are some entries that describe Pokemon acting violently towards their trainers, mentions of blood, dismemberment, etc. Typically, the entries are two to four sentences, so there’s no extreme detail, but the small snippets of some Pokemon’s descriptions are unsettling to say the least.
There are some cleverly-inserted internet memes, one being “My body is ready,” but nothing goes beyond that.
Pokemon can breed and reproduce, but the details are never touched on. There are many trainers running around in swimsuits, some more revealing than others, but nothing beyond what you’d see at the local swimming pool.
There is none to mention.
Pokemon, at its core, revolves around friendship and the connection of a trainer to their Pokemon. This has been a common theme throughout the games since the first generation, and with each new installment the focus of the bond seems to grow. In Sun and Moon, this relationship is expanded upon to such a degree that it almost rivals the closeness shown in the buddy system in Heart Gold and Soul Silver. Pokemon are commonly seen interacting with their trainers, walking about with them, offering their backs to carry them across land, sea, and sky, and protecting the residents of their respective islands. It seems that the Pokemon of Alola aren’t only a part of the culture of the islands, but actively engaged in it as well. Some perform alongside their trainers, while others assist the day-to-day lives of the natives. Grimer helps out at the waste disposal plants, Marowak dances in festivals, and a variety of Pokemon lend their special talents to the main trainer of the game. This theme of unity spreads beyond the Pokemon themselves and into the communities built up within the game.
Pokemon Sun and Moon boasts the largest, most engaged cast of NPCs in a Pokemon game. Every character has a distinctive personality and actively engages not only with the main trainer of the game, but also with their world as a whole. The island kahunas are active members in their society, working both as representatives of the trials as well as employed individuals. Some work as artists, some are still students, and others work as researchers. Not only do they play an active role in strengthening their culture and defending their islands, but they also carry the same responsibilities as the common citizen. All around, the theme of unity between man, beast, and the world itself is prevalent in the game.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are the most plot-heavy of the main Pokemon games to date. Up until now, Pokemon plots either lined up with the importance of catching, training, and battling. In Sun and Moon, the plot takes priority, while training, battling, exploring, and collecting are pushed into a close second. In many ways, this works in the game’s favor, but I have to be honest: this is also one of the biggest shortcomings of the games.
As there are a lot of positive aspects to the game, I’ll just get the negative things out of the way; then we’ll chase down all the good stuff.
The biggest problem in the game is, sadly, the main character. In a game that’s plot-heavy, the player should be able to project themselves into their character and relate to them in order to find themselves invested in the plot itself. Any story can be a great one, but if we can’t put ourselves in the head of the main protagonist, it’s difficult to feel invested in the situations they encounter.
The main character can be customized, to an extent. You can choose gender, skin tone, eye color, hair color, and, eventually, you can customize their hairstyle (…sort of), outfit, and accessories. There seems to be a little more variety of customization in Sun and Moon compared to X and Y, the last game that allowed custom trainers, but having a trainer that suits your tastes in appearance is only a small step in the right direction.
I’ll be frank: watching the world fall apart in the game was the hardest thing to take seriously because at no point does my trainer seem even slightly bothered by anything. The trainer can emote (the expressions are programmed in), but you see these emotions only three or four times throughout the game. For 98% of the game, the trainer has this constant, unwavering smile. (Spearows pecking their brains out? It’s okay. They died inside a long time ago.) I know it’s a nitpick, but if your character doesn’t frown, wince, sigh, or laugh, it’s difficult to feel anything for them. The lack of human emotion completely took me out of the experience when the camera panned to show my trainer. He didn’t react at all. He just stood and smiled as things happened around him. This is a huge missed opportunity. No matter how you customize your trainer, the face models are the same regardless of the haircut, clothing, or accessories. The NPCs around your character are crying, laughing, raging, and glaring, and your character stands there smiling into thin air. Just having your trainer react to their world would have helped me overcome my second biggest complaint easily because I would have felt invested.
The second problem? The hand-holding. This game is extremely linear. Most Pokemon games are linear, yes, but they’ll put obstacles in your way that require finding another way around to the next portion of the story, but there was solid balance between plot and exploration time. I felt like I was hitting a cutscene every ten minutes and my poor trainer was being led around by his nose. If I wanted to go fishing, I needed to have a long talk with one of my “rivals,” get taken to see something in town, eat something at the local cafe, talk to another NPC, listen to a legend, see a Pokemon, and then I’d be free to go down to the beach and fish. The game was difficult to play through because it didn’t feel like there was enough breathing room between cutscenes and events. I can appreciate that the world was given more life, but when I’m watching life through the eyes of a trainer who, at all times looks dead inside, with no time to decompress, it’s difficult.
The third problem is more of a nitpick that’s been around since gen three: Nice. Rivals.
I miss the satisfaction of beating a snot-nosed little brat into the dirt. (That’ll teach Gary, right!?) Gold was so much fun to rival. You loved to hate him. Even after you found out about his daddy issues, he was just a little punk. Then, generation three gave us a sick kid to kick around. After that, we were always beating up on our childhood friends, neighbors, and overall nice folks that really sucked the joy of victory from the trainer. I hated fighting my rivals in this game because they were the nicest folk, and I felt like a giant jerk whipping them around constantly. The games sugarcoat it with participation trophy quotes (“Oh well, I had a blast fighting you!”), but it’s just not the same.
And now, on to the good stuff.
Pokemon Sun and Moon does a lot of things right. First, the story is fresh. No longer are you a kid being thrust out into a dangerous world for worthless reasons. (Hey, I love the games as much as anyone, but the formula was getting a little old.) Now, you are a young trainer going through a rite of passage that has been a longstanding tradition in the islands of Alola. You are given a partner Pokemon, but there is a risk involved with even this. If your chosen Pokemon rejects you, your rite of passage is off to a pretty rough start. This doesn’t actually happen in the game, but the implications are there.
Once you have been accepted by your chosen partner, you take part in a series of trials that test your wits and resolve as a trainer. Only after you solve the puzzles or accomplish a given task will the totem Pokemon of that island appear to test your Pokemon partners. This is a cool concept because it’s not just your Pokemon doing all the work. You have to prove yourself just as much as they do. After defeating the totem Pokemon, you can challenge the island’s kahuna for the blessing to move onto the next island. This replaces the eight standard gyms the previous games leaned on.
While gym leaders have progressively become more human through the generations, this is the first game where the leaders of Pokemon challenges are truly fleshed out. They aren’t confined to a building or even their own town or island. They engage with the trainers of the island, teaching them how to work together and with their Pokemon. The trial is one that hones survival instincts of both trainer and Pokemon alike.
Another huge perk is the fact that HMs are now a thing of the past. No more HM slaves. No more using up a perfectly good move slot so you can cut a bush and go to the next town. Now you can ride on Pokemon who can naturally achieve what HMs have forced us to endure for years. Need to fly somewhere? Hop on a Charizard. Need to get through a rocky obstacle? A Tauros will smash it out of the path. These new gameplay gimmicks offer the freedom that Pokemon players have wanted for quite some time.
The plot is a little involved, but it’s endearing. Like I said before: I found myself struggling to really engage emotionally. If anything, I felt more for one of my rivals than myself because of his backstory and animated reactions. The side characters were fleshed out to the point that they took the spotlight. At times, the plot felt a little crowded, while at others it flowed very well. I’ll be honest: the plot with the ”ultra beasts” is one of my least favorites. The idea of a Pokemon journey being a rite of passage rather than a sport, however, is fantastic, and I found myself invested in that aspect. The personal story of one of your companions and another character you meet fairly early on is also compelling, even if it brushes against the ultra beast plot quite a bit. Overall, the plot takes a lot of risks, and while there are elements working against it, in the end it’s still an enjoyable story.
Battles are pretty much the same thing they’ve always been. New moves, abilities, and field conditions have been added, as well as new battle styles and encounter mechanics. For example: now trainers can participate in a four-way battle royale, and wild Pokemon will call for aid, attracting more Pokemon to support them. These little things that spice up the old formulae go a long way.
Visually, the game is fantastic. It’s stripped away the 3D, but I can’t say it affected the gameplay for me. The trainers look more mature, with movements that feel natural. The battles have been polished up so that both the Pokemon and their trainers are shown on-screen reacting to battle and issuing commands. The attack animations have been given a facelift, and the new Z-moves are fun and thrilling to watch. The trainer does a small dance behind their Pokemon partner, which inspires the Pokemon to unleash a special attack. Small tweaks like these help to highlight the bond between trainer and Pokemon and it makes battles far more fun to watch, rather than to button mash through.
The environments are fantastic. The tropical setting against a sunny or starlit sky is beautiful, and the game developers pull out all the stops to make the world come alive in this way. There are vast forests, high mountains, massive canyons, deep caves–you name it. Ironically, the only environments I felt were lacking were those on the water. Red and Blue, for example, had huge ocean areas to surf across in order to reach Cinnabar or Seafoam islands, and Ruby and Sapphire had under-water diving. Sun and Moon has little lagoons. This is especially disappointing because you have surfing Pokemon to explore the waters with.
I found myself exploring Pokemon Centers, breaking and entering into NPC houses just to see how they decorated, and walking through areas just marveling at how everything was laid out. It’s well worth visiting areas both day and night to see how they transform. I even went out of my way to play during dawn and dusk to see how the skies were handled. The environments are just visually stunning overall.
The music is wonderful as well. The Hawaiian inspiration runs so thick through every track and sound that it really adds to the cultural flavor of the game. The battle themes are tailored to the type of trainer you’re fighting. The wild encounter songs are still playful, but aren’t hard to listen to. There were some areas that, frankly, I would grind in just to listen to the music. The Poni Canyon and desert themes are two of my personal favorites. Old favorites return from previous games too, including one of my all-time favorite trainer battle themes, Colress’ theme, Red and Blue’s theme, and, the most epic of all battle themes, the Champion’s battle theme. The composers really stepped it up, and their efforts breathe life into the game. The soundtrack is worth at least one listen all on its own.
Overall, Pokemon Sun and Moon is a mixed bag. There are some problems with the game that trip it up pretty badly. I can’t say it’s my favorite of all time, but it’s up there with the greats. There’s a lot of heart involved–love to the fan base, and new elements that the Pokemon company took risks in introducing. The Pokemon formula is familiar and loved, but it was in need of a change. Sun and Moon has much to offer both new players and series veterans. The post-game is a blast, the main story is great, even if it gets a little cluttered at times, and the game mechanics keep battle enthusiasts on their toes while staying accessible to new players.
Part of the excitement of Sun and Moon comes from exploring all the new content. I wouldn’t dare rob any player of the experience. For all its ups and downs, it’s a solid game and a worthy addition to the Pokemon franchise.
+ Story is fresh, carrying the spirit of previous games, while venturing from the formula
+ Visually stunning
+ New Pokemon, as well as new forms of old favorites to discover
+ Side characters are amazingly written, colorful, and fascinating
+ Battles are fun, with new mechanics and features that make even grinding enjoyable
+ Music is fantastic
+ New Pokemon designs are actually very solid
+ Expansive post-game that you can sink hundreds of hours into
+ Trainer customization is back!
+ HMs ARE DEAD!!!
- Cluttered plot doesn't give you time to enjoy the exploring and capturing
- Trainer never emotes
- Some new designs are... odd.
- Still beating up nice people instead of bratty rivals. BOO.
- Fishing is limited and irritating