Grant and I finally hopped on the Pokemon Sun and Moon train on Christmas morning. After playing through six of the new Pokemon challenges, I feel like I’m ready to pronounce at least some judgement on what the game does right and wrong. (NOTE: These views do not necessarily reflect VB’s views as a whole. That being said, anyone who disagrees can meet me in the schoolyard, behind the gym at 3pm. Fight. Fight. Fight.)\
Cool new Pokemon
Most Pokemon games try to create the next Pikachu (hi Togepi). I don’t think Sun and Moon have the same kind of standout mascot (unless they’re going for that with the cute and ultimately powerful Cosmog), but there’s still a lot of new faces I’ll be happy to see in later editions.
The game recaptured my love for Pidgeys with the way Pikipek transforms into the tank that is Toucannon. I love the designs for the starters, and I’m actually shocked that the game managed to make a bug Pokemon I want in my party (it’s name is cutiefly, I want to hate it, but I can’t) and Oricorio’s four forms are fun.
There are some designs I’m not in love with–I still can’t decide if the lei Pokemon is lamer than the sandcastle Pokemon and I think it’s stupid that the puppy turns into the hungover goth puppy at night–but it filled in some gaps that I’m surprised haven’t been hit before.
I felt like a bit of a monster beating up a preschooler’s stuffed animal Pokemon, but I was glad that adorable thing exists.
Also, the Alola forms of Pokemon are a cool way for Game Freak designers to put a new spin on old Pokemon fans already love and make them feel unique with new move sets and types that allow them to fill new roles on your team.
Not only did Sun and Moon manage to get rid of the HM system (Grant’s incredibly happy), but they also got rid of obnoxious add-ons like the item finder — which always sounded useful but wasn’t ever actually practical — by basically adding Pokemon Uber. You can call the ride pokemon from most places in the game, and each one adds their own ability (usually stolen from HMs or key-items). You never once have to think about building your team for out of battle usage, which is a huge relief, and in its place you get to ride a majestic snuffly giant yorkshire terrier. I wish the pokerider gear wasn’t quite so dorky, but that’s a small price to pay for a big upgrade in the system.
The game’s approach to minigames is great. The Pokepelago and grooming systems won’t hurt you if you ignore them, but will help you a great deal if you do. Grooming is very similar to the Pokemon-Amie system in X and Y, but it strips away the minigames and weaves it into the post battle order of events (leveling up -> evolution and new moves -> grooming) which makes it feel seamless. Grooming and feeding your pokemon is rewarded with more crits, avoided attacks, and even shaking off status effects without items after a battle.
Pokepelago is a set of islands that unlock after you get the ability to use fly. They encourage you to “catch ‘em all” by opening up new islands based on the number of pokemon in your boxes. The various islands you unlock allow you to pick up more food for your pokemon, grow berries to heal status effects, pick up new items, or even convince wild pokemon to join your team (like that cat that your grandma kept feeding).
Level of Challenge
I have had my starter faint. I have actually had to use the type tips the game mercifully gives you after you collect a pokemon’s pokedex data (no more checking type charts!). After going through X where I spent the entire game waiting to experience any sort of damage (and worrying in the early parts of Sun that it was never going to ramp up), I was glad this game gave us a little more umph in terms of difficulty.
No. Just, no.
Island Challenges, not a huge fan
One of the aspects of Sun and Moon that got the most attention were the fact that they wouldn’t have gyms. Instead, they have totem Pokemon and island champions who you fight to prove your worth. Because approaching these leaders is less differentiated than a leader standing in the middle of a puzzle-tastic, trainer filled gym, the act of approaching a Champion isn’t as exciting — even if there are just as many trainers on the way to meet them as there would be in a traditional gym. For example, one leader has you fight his Marowak, another trainer with one Pokemon, then the totem Pokemon (which is just a stronger version of a standard Pokemon). Even if the gym leader version would just have been fighting that one guy with three Pokemon so the battle was basically the same, it managed to feel lamer by somehow taking up more time and feeling less important.
So. Much. Talking.
My brother warned me that the game plays a little more “like a JRPG” than other Pokemon games. I figured that could be a cool thing (Ni No Kuni is basically Pokemon as a traditional JRPG and it’s an amazing game), but somehow Sun and Moon learned the wrong lessons from its Japanese brethren. It tries for a deep, intricate narrative with interesting characters and new lore, but most of the characters are cardboard. The beginning of the game leads you by the hand between scenes by giving you destination flags that are sometimes as close as twenty feet apart. It gets much better as the game goes on, but I repeatedly found myself wondering when people were going to stop talking so I could actually play some Pokemon.
To sound like an old curmudgeon, back in my day rivals were challenging. They used the starter you were weak against (not strong against) and you had to be careful lest they wipe out your team. Hau is probably one of the weaker competitors in the game, and he’s even weaker when you have to team up with him. Give me a rival who actually rivals me in terms of skill or strength.
I added this at the last minute because I remembered it exists. Just remembering it made me angry. Basically, wild Pokemon, at any point in a battle, can call on “ally Pokemon” (usually another Pokemon of the same type, but not always) to help them and the battle suddenly turns into a two on one fight. I’m not against this in theory, it’s a great way to grind and increases your chance of finding rare and shiny Pokemon.
In practice I want to beat it over the head with a shovel because the way it usually works out is that you’ve got a wild Pokemon down to a sliver of health and you’re about to catch it, when suddenly it calls a friend. Then you have to go through the whole song and dance of knocking that one out (since obviously you can’t throw a Pokeball at one Pokemon while the other one is there. It’ll get jealous I guess?) and then just hope that the almost fainted Pokemon you’re actually trying to catch won’t summon another Pokemon onto the field before you can throw the Pokeball. Wild pokemon can do this as a free action–it doesn’t even take up its turn–and as far as I can tell, there’s no way to stop it.
I like Sun and Moon, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever replay them. They do a great job of integrating some things that I’ve wanted for a long time and some great new features I never thought to ask for and I hope they’re smart enough to bring both sides of that coin into future games. The changes came with some hiccups in the process that weigh the game down, but I’m excited to see them learn from this in the next Pokemon.
What did you think about Sun and Moon? What favorite bits didn’t I mention and what problems irked you most? Also, what’s lamer, the lei or the sandcastle?