Pokémon Sun & Moon - Review  

Get in the Bag, Nebby!
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ New region shakes up the formula
+ Several long-desired upgrades
+ New user interface is excellent
+ Surprisingly great soundtrack
- Wild Pokémon calling for help gets annoying
- Can't transfer Pokémon from old games yet
Click here for scoring definitions 

   With the Pokémon franchise celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it's fitting that Game Freak has capped the festivities off with what is perhaps the best entry in the beloved series to date. Pokémon Sun & Moon is a culmination of twenty years of game design, an amalgamation of near-perfect series staples, incremental refinements, and with this latest entry, a huge structural shake-up that breathes new life into a series that many feel has been in a rut. While the end result still has a few problems, it is by far the most refreshing Pokémon game we've seen in a long, long time.

   Pokémon Sun & Moon bring trainers to the far-off Alola region, an island chain based off of Hawaii. Having just moved to the region from Kanto, which trainers will recall as being the setting of the first Pokémon game, the youthful protagonist quickly makes new friends — the energetic boy Hau and the timid girl Lillie — as well as new enemies in the form of an incredibly lame hip-hop gang going by the name Team Skull. After being gifted a first Pokémon, trainers are given the opportunity to attempt the island challenge, a series of trials that span all four of Alola's isles.

   The island challenge is the area in which Pokémon Sun & Moon diverges the most from its predecessors. While previous entries have centered on the Pokémon League, tasking trainers to collect gym badges and challenge the Elite Four of their respective regions, the Alola region doesn't have a Pokémon League. Instead, trainers are tasked with completing seven trials along with four grand trials. These trials often have some special task that players must complete, whether it be gathering ingredients, taking pictures, or investigating a mystery. Once the trial is complete, trainers will have to do battle with the Totem Pokémon, a souped-up version of the Pokémon the trial revolved around. Once all the normal trials on an island are completed, trainers can challenge the island's kahuna to a battle as part of the grand trial. Completing it will allow one to move on to the next island.

   As a result of this massive shake-up in story structure, Pokémon Sun & Moon are the most story-centric games in the series since Pokémon Black & White. Right from the very start, the story takes on a much greater importance than is typical for most Pokémon games, and despite the trainer's overarching goal of completing the island challenge, the main story almost always takes precedence. Towards the end of the game it even drives trainers towards the final trials. While the story isn't exactly Shakespeare, it does a great job of keeping the game flowing, and even has a few decent twists and turns throughout, making it rather enjoyable. It's also worth mentioning that the series seems to have returned to some of its harsher, Red & Blue roots. A number of rather dark Pokédex entries, along with frequent passing mentions of the Pokémon food chain, paint a much grimmer, more natural Pokémon world than what we've seen in more recent entries.

Who doesn't love a dapper owl? Who doesn't love a dapper owl?

   Of course, the gameplay at the core of the Pokémon franchise is where the series has always shone the brightest, and Pokémon Sun & Moon are no exception. While the core of the battle system remains largely the same (and for the sake of brevity, I will not go into details), new moves and new Pokémon always shake things up each generation. A few new additions and changes have been made to the formula this time around to make things even more interesting. First on the list are powerful new Z-Moves: similar to Mega Evolutions in Pokémon X & Y, Z-Moves can be used only once per battle, and require that a Pokémon hold a special item. These moves have potentially incredible amounts of power, but suffer from both of the aforementioned drawbacks. A number of old Pokémon from the first generation of games have also received brand new Alolan forms, with new typings and movesets to go along with them.

   One of the best changes, and one that series fans have been asking after for ages, is the removal of hidden machines, or HMs. HMs were once the bane of trainers' existences, requiring Pokémon to waste valuable move slots on permanent, potentially useless moves simply to get around the region. In Alola, however, new riding Pokémon become available, and players can call on them in order to perform the tasks HMs once held dominion over, whether that be surfing across the sea, breaking through rocks, or flying through the skies. The game also introduces a new feature called Poké Pelago, a special island on which trainers' boxed Pokémon can frolic and play. By developing the island, trainers can also use it to train their Pokémon in either levels or EVs, increase their friendship, hunt for rare items, or grow berries. All of these tasks take a set amount of real-world time, and the clock keeps ticking whether you're actively playing the game or not, meaning you can have your boxed Pokémon training or farming for you while you sleep.

   Another major upgrade is to the game's user interface. A ton of new information is available to the player, most notably during battle. Trainers can now instantly access the Pokéball menu instead of going through the bag, and new information icons on items and moves allow players to see a decription of the move's effects before using them. Moves will also say whether or not they will be super effective, effective, not very effective, or have no effect against any Pokémon the trainer has faced before. Finally, trainers can tap on the icon of either their Pokémon or the opposing Pokémon to get a detailed summary of stat changes either has been afflicted with.

Stunning natural locales like this await you in Alola. Stunning natural locales like this await you in Alola.

   Not all changes are for the better, however. One of the more obnoxious new features is the ability for Pokémon to call for help, which they do with irritating frequency. Wild Pokémon all have a chance to call for help at the end of each turn, and that chance increases depending on how low their HP is. And since it's impossible to throw a Pokéball while two Pokémon are on the field, this can make catching new Pokémon far more irritating than in previous generations. However, this feature also allows players to more easily catch shiny Pokémon or Pokémon with hidden abilities, so there is an upside to it. Pokémon Sun & Moon's new online centrepiece, Festival Plaza, is also much more cumbersome than the previous generation's. While all the same functionality is still present, it's not packaged as neatly.

   Visually, Pokémon Sun & Moon are a lot like X & Y, but with a larger focus on natural areas as opposed to cities. That said, the sense of scale is a lot smaller, and while the islands feel a lot more compact than the regions of previous games, it somehow feels larger at the same time, perhaps due to the amount of content packed into it. The audio, however, is the real treat and biggest surprise of Pokémon Sun & Moon. While all Pokémon games recycle and remix many of its core themes, the atmospheric and evironmental music in this installment is fantastic. From the listful harmonica melody of Paniola Town to the peaceful harmonies of Poni Island, Game Freak really stepped up their game in terms of the score.

   The Pokémon franchise is one that has been consistently good throughout its twenty year history, but Pokémon Sun & Moon aren't just good, they're fantastic. With age-old complaints finally rectified, and the formula given a much needed shake-up, Pokémon Sun & Moon join Gold & Silver and Black & White as one of, if not the best, generations in the series. While the main game will likely take most trainers thirty to forty hours to complete, the post-game includes a storyline involving a group of legendary Pokémon called the Ultra Beasts; the ability to catch the four legendary guardians of the region; and the Battle Tree, where trainers can encounter two very familiar faces. Sun & Moon have also boosted the difficulty a bit from the previous generation, though experienced trainers should still find them relatively easy. Unfortunately, at this time the game does not support the Pokémon Bank, so transferring Pokémon from previous games is currently impossible, but this feature is set to go live in January 2017. Consider it a brand new opportunity to once again catch them all.

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