Pokémon Sun and Moon (2016)

Pokémon Sun and Moon are the most recent addition to the famous franchise. Sun and Moon take the player to the tropical islands of Alola which was a refreshing experience. As a whole, these games make some big changes to the series that I believe were desperately needed. The past couple of years the series has been getting stale; Pokémon has recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary and in twenty years the games have remained the same. Of course there has been some nice changes over the years, but the basic formula has been the same. Sun and Moon do a great job of breaking the stagnation and in my opinion they are the best Pokémon games in awhile.

The innovation is apparent from the start of the game as the region of Alola is a chain of tropical islands, which is radically different than any of the other six regions. Instead of Pokémon gyms and collecting badges, the player must complete various trials. These trials can be anything from searching for hidden items, playing spot the difference, or listening for a specific sound. The only similarity in these trials are the Totem Pokémon which are exceptionally powerful Pokémon that the player must battle. There is also a Kahuna on every island, a trainer chosen by the guardian deities of the islands, that the player interacts with and eventually has to battle. Another big innovation was the addition of regional variants of different Pokémon. These are variations of classic Pokémon with changed types, abilities, and appearance. I believe this was a very clever idea as it allowed Game Freak to make some tweaks to some older Pokémon to make them stronger and more appealing to use. It also added some great variety and it was interesting to see how different Pokémon adapted to Alola. Outside of regional variants, most of the new Pokémon introduced were also well designed and had some new abilities to play around with. The change of format in the games was a huge step forward and it allowed for a lot more creativity and variety.

When it comes to variety, I believe that the Pokémon series is held back by its desire to keep using the same couple of Pokémon in every scenario and game. This is by far my biggest gripe with the series and this game as a whole. It is incredibly frustrating that there are over 800 Pokémon in total and yet every game is plagued by the same couple of species. Every ocean is overflowing with Magikarp, and every cave is filled with mostly Zubat. This has being going on for years and I would really appreciate seeing some other Pokémon. I am fine with the occasional appearance of Pokémon from Generation I, but as a long time player of the series it gets extremely tiring and boring to see the same couple of Pokémon all the time. I would just like to see more Pokémon from Generations II-VII. There are also a couple of minor issues that I had with this game. The first being that frame rate does tend to drop when in chaotic battles. There is also the issue of strange move-set and evolution complications that were probably unintended by the developers. For example Kadabra does not learn a damaging move until level 28. Or the fact that many species of Pokémon do not have the ability to evolve until right before the end of the game. There were also a couple of big level spikes at the end of the game, going straight from a level 45 Totem Pokémon to a trainer with five level 50 Pokémon is kind of strange. The tutorial was also a bit lengthy and could have been slimmed down a bit. Lastly, leveling up Pokémon in the post-game is a painful process. Overall I feel most of these issues were pretty small but they do add up and hurt the quality of the game a little bit.

I cannot talk about Sun and Moon without mentioning the story quality. The past couple of generations Pokémon has had a larger focus on the story than it has in the past. I was not a huge fan of this approach in Generations V and VI as I just did not care much about the stories being presented. In Sun and Moon I believe this narrative-heavy approach was executed much better than it was in the past. This is mostly due to the constant interaction with the games characters and their lively dialogue. Characters such as Kukui, Hau, and Lillie are actually memorable and likable. Even the supporting and side characters were great; the hilarity of Team Skull and their ridiculous antics were certainly a welcome addition to the game. While I did enjoy more interaction with the characters, it did have a drawback. I felt a little overwhelmed and occasionally frustrated with how often my adventure was put to a halt to read some dialogue. There just was not enough time in between these story interactions and it made the game just feel slow.

There were a number of small changes in Sun and Moon that improved the experience. The new Pokédex made it easy to use the map and see where to catch different Pokémon. The battle interface was also greatly improved as it allowed the player to see more detail for each move. Poké Pelago was nice addition that made it easier to grow berries, collect items, and hatch eggs. It also lets the player interact with Pokémon that they have caught but are not currently using. The game also had a fairly good difficulty level; I turned the Exp. Share off and the game provided a couple of decently challenging battles. The PC storage system was also streamlined and made a lot simpler to navigate. One of my favorite changes was the disposal of Hidden Machines and their obnoxious existence. Overall these small changes really improved the game and I hope they keep these features in future generations.

Pokémon Sun and Moon brought some desperately needed innovation to the otherwise stagnant series and it was really a refreshing experience. There were some issues like lack of generational variety, the overall slow pace, as well as a couple of minor issues, but it is much more important to me that the series finally took a step out of its comfort zone and attempted to create a new experience. I am going to give Pokémon Sun and Moon a 8.5/10 as it breathed new life into the series. The region of Alola was unique and enjoyable and it felt like a breath of fresh air after years of stale and repetitive games. Sun and Moon for me are the best Pokémon games in years.

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