Pokemon Go did a good job of kickstarting another frenzy surrounding the twenty year old franchise. However, while tens of millions of people pulled out their phones to catch Pokemon, the die hard fans knew that something even better was coming later in the year. Pokemon Sun and Moon promised not only the same fun that players have had for years, they also showed that Game Freak was listening, and was ready to change the core formula in a few key ways. With months of lead up to this release, we saw most of these changes first hand, so the actual launch was more about confirming that the whole thing came together in a nice, neat package. Not only did it do this, it even found ways to exceed the already high expectations, though some small sticking points hold Sun and Moon back from “greatest of all time” status.
Pokemon games aren’t really known for their story. Longtime fans might hate me for saying that, and sure, there have been some memorable narratives along the way. Overall though, the series presents a simple story that serves to direct the player and give them something to do while they frantically try to catch them all. This is true once again in Pokemon Sun and Moon, though the more lighthearted plot plays better with the series’ roots.
You play as a newly arrived resident of the Alola region, on Melemele Island to be specific. As you are of the prime age of eleven, you almost immediately set out on a Pokemon adventure. Instead of defeating gyms and collecting badges, this time you have a series of trials ahead of you. While each does focus on fighting Pokemon at some point, usually of a specific type, the feel of these trials is quite different in a number of ways. Some have you exploring an area looking for certain Pokemon, others are more humorous challenges.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are a fantastic new addition to the storied franchise.
On your way to complete these many trials you will run across Team Skull. What might appear at first to be an odd and annoying group of enemies will quickly become a favorite for most. Team Skull is simply hilarious at many points throughout the story, and they don’t really serve as a fully nefarious foe, giving the game a more laid back feel than its many predecessors. There are other factions, including the Aether Foundation, who has a very interesting part to play in the overall narrative later on as it gets a bit more serious while still retaining the fun vibe.
What makes the story really sing is the overall writing quality on display here. Pokemon Sun and Moon don’t take themselves too seriously. Enemies will crack jokes, and the fourth wall is broken on multiple occasions. The Pokemon series has always been pretty fun and lighthearted, but these entries really play off of that to a fantastic new degree.
In a similar fashion, the gameplay sticks to the usual series formula, while making just the right sorts of tweaks. Whether the Pokemon formula has grown tired for you or not, it’s clear that it needed a few refreshes here and there, and Sun and Moon do an admirable job in accomplishing this. Though less experienced players might not be able to explain what exactly has been changed, the changes are certainly there, and they are almost universally for the better.
These include a ton of what has been termed “quality of life” changes, which are small things that make a difference in how players are able to interact with the game. For example: you no longer need to have an HM slave with you at all times, as those abilities are now relegated to extra Pokemon that you can call whenever necessary. Moves are marked as Effective, Super Effective, etc. against enemies that you’ve beaten before. And you have a quest marker, directing you toward the next main mission spot, though a more comprehensive quest log is still missing, allowing side missions to be forgotten. All of these are fantastic changes and additions, and there are more hidden away in the complicated mechanics that have formed the Pokemon series.
Still, this is where Sun and Moon do falter just a bit, mostly in the way they don’t improve or even carry over past features. There’s been a long running theory that Game Freak is afraid of making a perfect Pokemon game; one where every feature fans want is included. Whether this is true or not, Sun and Moon fit the idea with the exclusion of past features such as DexNav and the Friend Safari. Sure, there are replacements for these in some ways, such as the SOS battles allowing for higher odds of IV perfection and Shiny Pokemon, but the game would be better if it had everything in one tidy package, rather than losing one feature in favor of another that many will feel is worse.
Mega Evolution seems to sit somewhere in between being forgotten and fully supported. There are no new Mega Evolutions present in Sun and Moon, making it seem like Game Freak wanted to avoid them. In their place is the Z-Move mechanic, which instead gives players a once-per-battle move that usually deals more damage or gives an extra boost to the player, as long as the Pokemon has the right Z Crystal in its hand. These offer interesting new strategic elements that will likely have large implications in competitive circles. In the campaign it isn’t as big of a change though, as most enemy trainers will have just a few Pokemon to battle. This means you usually will just fire off the Z-Move that does the most damage without worrying about the ramifications of later fights.
Horde battles were also lost in the shift to Sun and Moon, and while their loss isn’t mourned that much, they point to the fact that these games are pushing the 3DS to its limits. Pokemon Sun and Moon look great, though they’re still very simplistic in their art and graphical styling. And the many complex systems at play here are obviously straining the five year old handheld. Playing on a New Nintendo 3DS will give players some framerate drops in double battles and in more intense scenarios, and playing on an original 3DS will only exacerbate these problems. Luckily these can be overlooked for the myriad other improvements that these games offer.
This includes the new Pokemon for this brand new generation. As someone who took some breaks between Red & Blue and Sun & Moon, there are entire generations worth of Pokemon that I feel are quite forgetful. This is not true here, with a few that are not only part of my team, but among my favorite out of the near 800 available throughout all of the games. They certainly aren’t all winners, but there are enough good new Pokemon here to keep players from feeling like the seventh generation can be skipped.
Finally, a surprising thing was seeing how difficult Pokemon Sun and Moon are. This isn’t to say the game is a true challenge, as it is still aimed squarely at a younger audience. With that said though, trainers are much smarter in how they battle the player, and some of the Trials offered up a real challenge, if you hadn’t doe much grinding beforehand. The game does still hold your hand though, and series veterans will find a frustrating first hour or two where the very basics get described to them. Hopefully future entries learn from this and offer a way to skip right to the meat of the game.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are a fantastic new addition to the storied franchise. They make improvements in a ton of key areas, shaping the experience so that it is more fun, less frustrating, and just overall more enjoyable. The new mechanics, such as Z-Moves, range from good to great, but the lack of some older features might annoy a few players. There are alternatives though, so this is still a top notch entry, even for longtime fans. New players shouldn’t even wonder, they should just go buy this game today.