It has been 20 years since the first Pokemon games, Red and Blue were released and Pokemon took the world by storm. Here we are two decades later with the seventh generation of Pokemon games, Sun and Moon.
Once again, you start your Pokemon journey in a new town outside Hau’oli city, having moved from the Kanto region to the Alola region. You are instantly greeted by the laidback Professor Kukui who formally welcomes you to the new region. Professor Kukui then introduces you to his lab assistant Lillie and later Hau who will be your rival throughout the game. After a brief tutorial of the basic mechanics, Professor Kukui sends you out on an Island Challenge starting with Melemele Island and later onto the other three islands. On your journey you meet many wonderful characters and get to know the region’s inhabitants deeply. One thing that is noticeable is Pokemon Sun and Moon’s emphasis on storytelling and of character development in addition to all the Pokemon and trainer battles. For example, when you first meet Lillie she is quite timid and is often afraid of things in the world she resides in but over time she becomes more confident and open to the ideas of having a journey with other people and their Pokemon. Game Freak and Nintendo have made a real effort in trying to get you to connect with some of the characters in these games which also makes sense with the setting and feel of Alola. Humans and Pokemon in Alola seem to live alongside each other in peaceful harmony. Pokemon are referred to as loving companions or friends rather than just simple monsters to battle with. In fact on each island, there is a guardian deity who protects each of their islands from harm.
However there are characters in the game that are looking to disturb this balance between Pokemon and humans. Along the way we meet Team Skull who are a team of 90’s style era gothic punks who try to cause as much trouble as they can. Personally I feel like they are a fusion of Team Rocket with Team Flare because their grunts are amateurs when it comes to stealing Pokemon and they have a unique fashion sense while attempting it. Team Skull’s grunts talk in hilarious skater punk slang which means you can’t take them too seriously. I wouldn’t call Team Skull evil by any means, in fact Game Freak has taken a different approach with defining the difference between good and evil in their creation of the Aether Foundation. The Aether foundation is introduced as an organisation that aims to cure hurt Pokemon that have been harmed in some way by Team Skull. They even have their own conservation area where Pokemon can recover in a safe environment. However as the game’s story progresses it is clear that the Foundation’s leader has more complicated and sinister plans for this organisation. By the end of the game the leader’s intentions behind these sinister plans are revealed and instead of having a clear distinction between good and evil, there is a lot of room for the player to decide in their own minds what their final judgement of the leader is. I personally love that Game Freak has implemented these story elements into their games as it makes the story more memorable. With this series of Pokemon games comes many new features that make the games stand out from its predecessors.
There are many new features that have been introduced into this series of Pokemon games. You can now catch an additional 80+ Pokemon in the Alola region bringing the total to over 800 for fellow Dex completionists and a lot of them have a distinct tropical feel to them which makes sense because the Alola region is based off Hawaii. In Alola there are also unique Alolan forms of Generation One Pokemon, my favourite would have to be the Alolan Raichu because it just looks so cool surfing on its tail but I do wish they would’ve added a few Alolan forms based off Pokemon from other generations.
The HM slaves of the past are now gone as HM moves are now replaced by special ride Pokemon where you can ride on top of a Lapras or fly on top of a Charizard to fly to places you’ve already visited. This is a welcome addition to the series as you can finally have more versatile movesets and different types of Pokemon as players don’t have to think about leaving room for HMs anymore. The ride Pokemon also have their unique abilities and uses at different points on your adventure.
With Sun and Moon also come two new places that you can access outside the main menu; the Poke Pelago and the Festival Plaza. The Poke Pelago is a fantastic addition to the series and gives you access to a variety of islands that allow you to grow and harvest berries, get access to rare items and evolution stones by searching caves and also getting beans for upgrading the islands and increasing Pokemon affection. The Poke Pelago’s islands work like a mobile game where you start an activity on one of the islands and then you wait a certain amount of time until that activity is done to receive your rewards. The Festival Plaza acts as the main multiplayer hub for the game. You can have a variety of stores in the game that give you access to items that raise your Pokemon’s stats, allow you to change colours of clothes or dye hair and also do activities that raise your Pokemon’s levels. Unfortunately once you get access to the types of stores you want, you cannot upgrade them so you are forced to wait until you bump into someone that has the building that you want which can be a little frustrating. When interacting with other players you can sometimes get some Festival Points which allow you to use the different stores in the Plaza and allow you to get your rank up once you have accrued enough points. A good way to get Festival Points is by participating in the missions or activities that the Plaza sets for you daily.
Throughout your journey you also get access to photospots where you can take photos ala Pokemon Snap style and save them on your SD card. This is a nice addition to the series but I would’ve liked to see more rewards from participating in taking photos such as increased access to certain types of rarer Poke Balls such as the Friend Ball to make it more worthwhile to stop playing through the game to do this activity.
Another interesting addition is the daytime and nighttime mode reintroduced in this game from previous generations. They work exactly like in previous games but with a slight twist depending on what version of the game you have. In Sun, the day and night cycles are normal but in Moon the cycles are reversed with it being dark in game in the morning and daylight in the night time. The differing day and night cycles in Pokemon Moon can be advantageous for those who work odd hours to evolve Pokemon or catch Pokemon that are only available at night. There is also a new wild Pokemon mechanic called SOS battles where wild Pokemon can call for allies in battle which can be both rewarding and frustrating depending on what you are trying to do. Some Pokemon are only available through this method which can lead to a bit of frustration.
For those players looking for a challenge there is the Battle Royale which is a refreshing battle mode where four Pokemon trainers all send their Pokemon out at the same time and have a free-for-all style battle. While this mode is frustrating at first, once you try it a few times you get the hang of it. The aim of the game here is to try and knock out as many Pokemon as possible while trying to not get all three of your Pokemon knocked out. Once a player’s three Pokemon have been knocked out the round ends.
On that note of battling, you get access to Z-moves which is a brand new battle mechanic. Z-moves are basically ultimate attacks that your Pokemon can use which can be useful in a pinch. Each Z-move has a unique pose and animation that goes along with it which are also pretty cool to watch. The most anticipated feature of all however is Hyper Training which finally allows you to manipulate your Pokemon’s IVs when they reach Level 100 through bottle caps. While this is a superficial boost and doesn’t affect breeding it is helpful for rarer Pokemon such as Legendary Pokemon or Event Pokemon so that you don’t have to soft reset for ages trying to get the perfect legendary. There are also many changes that have been made to this new generation of Pokemon games that leave a lasting impression.
In previous Pokemon games, you would battle your way through eight Pokemon gyms and defeat the champion at the end. However in these Pokemon games, you go on an Island Challenge instead. Instead of collecting badges, you set out on Island trials where you go up against Totem Pokemon which are buffed up versions of wild Pokemon in the game. While this may seem to not present much of a challenge at first, with the addition of Pokemon being able to call other Pokemon to assist them it turns into a three-on-one battle which means that you will have to employ some sort of strategy other than brute force to beat some of these Totem Pokemon. After you battle the Totem Pokemon you end up battling some of the captains and then the Kahunas of each island after you have completed all the available trials on the island and then finally onto the Alola Pokemon League and Champion. As a reward for beating the trials you get access to Z-crystals which allow you to perform Z-moves once in each Pokemon battle. With six generations of games behind this franchise, I’m happy that they finally decided to try something new, as the whole gym battle mechanic was starting to get a little stale. Whether Game Freak decides to go back to the gyms in the next series of games or tries something else entirely is anyone’s guess, for me I hope it’s the latter because I feel like the Island trials would only be suitable in the Alola region as it ties in nicely to the peace and harmony aesthetic and being closer to your Pokemon as companions. On top of the challenging battles with the Totem Pokemon, the battles with the Kahunas are particularly challenging as they each have a varied team to battle with and make use of Pokemons’ abilities as well as employing the use of HP and status healing items. While you can use the Exp. Share to level up your Pokemon equally, I would highly recommend against using it as the game forces you to think of your team as a whole rather than just using a starter Pokemon. It is not just the Captain and Kahuna battles that are difficult, even regular trainers are harder to beat in some instances. It seems that in these latest installments of the Pokemon franchise that they have significantly ramped up the difficulty of the Pokemon battles which they desperately needed to do in my opinion after Pokemon X and Y. This is a welcome change to the series and I haven’t had this much of a challenge since Pokemon Yellow. Another welcome change is to the battle interface which is easier to interact with than ever.
As I mentioned in my first impressions post a few months back, the battle interface now shows you how many stages of stats you have increased or reduced on your Pokemon or the opposing Pokemon which is a fantastic way to keep track of your Pokemon’s stats in battle. For stat increasing moves like Defense Curl or Swords Dance, you will see red arrows indicating that the corresponding stats have been raised and blue arrows for stats that have been decreased. On top of this, you can also keep track of weather, ability and move effects as well which can help you plan your strategy more efficiently. Perhaps the most useful thing of all is that now after you have defeated a Pokemon once in battle you will see prompts above your Pokemon’s moves telling you whether that move will be effective against certain Pokemon or not. For players who have played these games since the beginning it might not be a noticeable update but for newer players and players like me who have trouble with obscure type-matchups (Bug VS Rock for example), it can mean the difference between winning and losing a match.
Lastly the Pokemon Amie feature introduced in X and Y has been vastly improved with Pokemon Refresh. In Pokemon Refresh you can feed, pat and clean your Pokemon before and after battles to raise their affection level. Taking the time to raise your Pokemon’s affection level will grant you a variety of positive effects in battle including your Pokemon healing its own status conditions, getting an additional amount of exp points at the end of a battle and potentially dodging Pokemon attacks. These benefits are only available when you are going up against the NPCs in your game and thankfully do not work in competitive play as this would make player battles unbalanced and unfair. However there have been some changes made that haven’t been so good.
One removed feature that is frustrating is the lack of being able to rematch trainers and the removal of a Battle Maison-like building which in X and Y was the prime location to train new Pokemon up for your team. While the Battle Buffet can be useful, it is limited in that you can only participate there once a day. The removal of these two things makes it very hard to train your Pokemon up as you are forced to rely on battling wild Pokemon or rematching the Elite Four at the end. They could’ve reintroduced the VS Seeker or the PokeNAV system from Ruby and Sapphire in some way to assist trainers with leveling up their Pokemon. Overall the decision to remove this feature makes training Pokemon very tedious.
Throughout the main part of the game there is also no Mega Evolution at all which has been a very popular battle mechanic that players have enjoyed since the introduction of X and Y. While you do get access to it at the end of the game you only get one Mega Stone and the rest of them are only available to purchase with Battle Points and not all of the currently existing Mega Stones are available so you only get a small selection which is frustrating for those who want to Mega Evolve their favourite Pokemon when battling other players. While playing with friends locally is easy through Quick Link, playing with friends online can be a bit tedious to work out as you have to navigate through different menus to find your friends in the first place at the Festival Plaza as the PSS system introduced in X and Y has been removed.
However for many competitive battlers out there, the most frustrating feature that has been changed is the EV training methods. In Pokemon X and Y, obtaining EVS for your Pokemon was quick and easy through Super Training or via horde battles. Both of these features have unfortunately been removed and been replaced with the Poke Pelago Evelup island and the specific stores in the Festival Plaza used to raise your Pokemon EVs which is often a slow process. While you can EV train through SOS chaining, you can accidentally kill the wrong Pokemon or the Pokemon calling for help will summon a Pokemon that you don’t want to kill, effectively ending your chain.
Game features put aside, the game looks absolutely beautiful. The Alola region is brought to life with many vibrant colours and a colourful soundtrack with tropical island themes. Alola is heavily influenced by Hawaii with its relaxed lifestyle, palm trees and beachside towns. The region itself is also divided up into four islands that have their own landmarks and special structures. One little gripe I do have is that we weren’t able to have any control over the camera angles. It would’ve been nice to have an in-game camera that rotated 360 degrees so that you could really appreciate the wonders of the Alola region. In Pokemon battles you can also now see the trainer you are facing which is a subtle addition to the game’s engine but a good one. Single battles run pretty smoothly but on older models of the Nintendo 3DS you can experience severe drops in frame-rate when participating in double battles which can cause the game to lag significantly which is a little frustrating. This was probably an oversight made when programming this game because of the New Nintendo 3DS.
Overall, Pokemon Sun and Moon bring a lot of new things to the successful Pokemon franchise and in a lot of ways breathe new life into the 20 year old franchise with a combination of new battle mechanics, interface changes and a beautifully told story. It was a pleasure making my journey through the Alola region and this game was the first one in years where the characters in it had a significant impact on me. If you haven’t played this game already, I highly recommend it.