Since 1996, Pokemon has captivated millions of fans from all over the world. It’s hard to talk about video games nowadays, specifically Nintendo’s handheld lineup, without mentioning the Pokemon franchise. Now, 20 years later, Game Freak has developed a brand new adventure filled with new mechanics and a new story. Does Pokemon Sun & Pokemon Moon breathe new life into the series or continue to follow the same, dull, repetitive formula?
Pokemon has homogenized and stagnated since the original releases of Pokemon Red, and Pokemon Blue. Time after time, players traverse the map using a particular set of directions to earn all the Pokemon Gym Badges and then, eventually, defeat the Elite Four in a battle gauntlet. Doing this for over 15 video games is exhausting, and I’m glad Nintendo and Game Freak decided to take Pokemon Sun & Pokemon Moon in a different direction. Players now partake in island trials and challenges, where they are faced with a particular task. Some of these involve puzzles, while others demand that you defeat Pokemon with brute force. Near the end of the trial, the player is challenged by a “Totem” Pokemon. This Pokemon will summon allies to assist it in battle, and usually, has a sharp increase in stats. This refers to the “new life” I mentioned near the beginning of my review, where the player isn’t forced with following the game formula that we’ve been familiar with for the past 20 years. Nintendo took a massive risk at changing the game’s operations, and it paid off. The trials are smooth and refreshing while the Totem Pokemon is (Usually) difficult and challenging, providing an immense feeling of satisfaction once the trial is completed.
It is clear however that the game was intended for newer players. As a veteran of the series myself, I grew exhausted of the game’s intense dialogue and story setup during the first couple hours. During this dialogue, the game showcases everything about Pokemon, from the different strengths and weaknesses of the Pokemon moves, right up to catching a new Pokemon. While it is great information, the game tends to hand-hold the player to the extreme, where I was tempted just to smash “A” until the gameplay started.
If that wasn’t a clear sign of the game’s initial direction, perhaps some freebies will convince you of that. Throughout my experience, I must have received about ten different types of Pokeballs, and a handful of healing items such as revives, potions, and berries. It’s okay that the game rewards the players with items, but it became a bit of a handout session after nearly every conversation ends up with the player receiving helpful items. I get that those new players will feel right at home with Pokemon Sun & Pokemon Moon, but for someone who is familiar with the game’s processes, it makes for a very dull experience, as it feels like the player is rewarded for damn near nothing.
But… That is my only complaint. The game is directed mainly at new players. Besides that, there is still a lot there for veterans of the series. The allure of a whole new adventure not bogged down by the standard Pokemon formula was what initially drew me to Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. While the beginning parts of the game are tiresome, it makes up for it with great storytelling, fun encounters, and thrilling battles. Pokemon Sun & Moon‘s new battle mechanics compliment the game’s style well, such as the introduction of the Z-Moves. After your character performs an associated pose, it syncs with the Pokemon to provide an overwhelming Pokemon move. For example, Fire Pokemon can use what’s called Inferno Overdrive, which creates a massive fire explosion, dealing tremendous damage to the opposing Pokemon.
There are subtle improvements done to improve the experiences beyond their previous versions. Small details, like showing the player which moves are effective against a particular Pokemon they have previously faced-off against, and the introduction of adding Pokemon to your party right after you catch them, instead of having them sent to the Pokemon Box. These small details felt unneeded during my initial playthrough, but as I moved further into the game’s end-story content, I felt like it was almost needed. It grew on me, without making the overall experience feel dumbed down as if the game was rewarding me for doing nothing. There were still plenty of encounters that left me in peril as I fought with my last standing Pokemon, even with these light assists.
As a Pokemon trainer, it is your responsibility to fill up the Pokedex by capturing Pokemon from all over the four islands found within the game. As a secondary task, players are expected to become Island Champion. I say expected because you are reminded of it around near every damn corner. Early in the game, you are introduced to Nebby and Lillie, who happen to play a significant part in the story later on. Internet memes aside, Nebby won’t get in the bag and has a curious nature which leads the Pokemon into a variety of trouble. Eventually, the game’s baddies — Team Skull, arrive and make a muck of things for your adventure. This is where you learn the real power of Nebby and where the impressive cut-scenes begin. I mentioned earlier that the game is heavy with dialogue, but Nintendo does a great job at toning it down a bit when it comes to cut scenes. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching a movie, rather, that the game uses cut scenes to highlight important events found within the game’s story, especially later in the story line when you traverse between dimensions.
With a past gaming website, I spoke about how Pokemon as a series has gotten stale, not changing the formula released 20 years ago. For the first time since Pokemon Yellow, I can say with confidence that Game Freak not only changed the recipe but set up the series for years to come. Providing new battle mechanics, changing the meta, and wrapping it up with a new adventure makes this a better experience all around.
Pokemon Sun & Pokemon Moon are available for the Nintendo 3DS.
Thanks to Nintendo for providing InformedPixel with a copy of the games for review.