Perhaps one of the most anticipated Nintendo 3DS titles of 2016, Pokémon Sun and Moon finally released to the world on November 18 and in Europe on November 23. The titles open the door for the seventh generation of the series, and brings forth some of the most unique gameplay experiences for the mainline titles, taking several giant steps forward for the franchise and providing one of the most memorable experiences to date.
Pokémon Sun and Moon, which garnered millions of pre-orders, puts the (customizable!) player in the Alola region, based on the Hawaiian islands. The Alola region, which consists of four large archipelagos spanning an incredibly diverse landscape, takes out the Pokémon gym battles that have long since presided over the series, in favor of an island challenge that has players taking on trials against Trial Captains and then completing the island’s challenge against a Kahuna in a grand trial.
With regards to the island challenges, it’s such a strong step forward and while battling is a large foundation of the challenges, the way that the challenges are approached is much more novel and innovative, making gym battles pale in comparison. The island challenges could be as intriguing as investigating a disturbance, or as hilarious as the fire volcano challenge in which you observe for differences in dances that take place. The Kahunas and Trial Captains are a great step forward as well, acting as overseers of the island and supplementing the story.
The story for Sun and Moon is the strongest instance of a story to date for the series, as much as it hits you in the face throughout the course of the game with various cutscenes. There’s more cutscenes than ever before. To expand upon this story, there’s a lot more interaction with the diverse cast of characters this time around, and they will appear very frequently along the journey. With characters like Hau, a traveling friend, and Lillie the lab assistant, each character undergoes their own individual character arcs that reaches their own very strong conclusions. Even the cast of supporting characters like Professor Kukui or the various members of Team Skull and the Aether Foundation was enjoyable to interact with, albeit sometimes predictable. It was a much stronger story experience compared to the lackadaisical presentation from Pokémon X and Y. There were some twists that came as a bit of a surprise to me when I went through it, and that’s something that’s a great step for Pokémon. While Sun and Moon are still rather contained, on-the-rails experiences, there are still ways to go off the beaten path and explore the diversity that Alola has to offer.
Battling, the core staple of the franchise, has been much more streamlined and accessible to newer audiences, while maintaining its competitive edge for veterans. The battle menu has been redone completely with much more vibrant colors, and provides much more useful information on the bottom screen such as Pokémon typing against opponents, or the helpful hints that tell which moves would be more effective for those who don’t know the full type charts yet. Even the background of the battles have become much more diverse to suit the environment, with small touches like the Trainers being added in battle to create a much more personal experience. The most important addition, though, is the addition of the Z-Move, a more powerful attack that changes depending on the type of Z-stone the player equips to the Pokémon. The move, usable once per game, often changed the landscape of a battle, though not quite as severely as the Mega Evolution mechanic from Pokémon X and Y. It’s a cool mechanic, but one that wears thin with repeated usage as the animation cannot be skipped even with animations turned off. Players are encouraged to use the moves wisely, as it can only be used once per battle and comes with its own checks and balances; players who fight against each other can switch their Pokémon in accordingly to countermand the special attack.
The best changes, though, are the incremental changes. Gone is the Hidden Machine (HM) system that required players to keep an HM slave in the party during the travels. This has been replaced with the Ride Pager – a series of Pokémon that could be used for a multitude of purposes. The Ride Pager was experimented upon with briefly in Pokémon X and Y, which let players ride Gogoats around local areas. That concept has been applied globally in Sun and Moon, with Pokémon that allow for land and sea travel at any time. Customization returns, and provides a distinct variety of outfits for the male and female players to suit the warmer Alolan climate. Raising Pokémon has become much more streamlined with new means to train internal values (IVs) and the external values (EVs). There are now more means to make the creatures more competitive, albeit the majority of the Pokémon that people have been training are more than likely resting in the Pokémon Bank application, which does not deploy until early 2017.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are the strongest entries in the franchise to date. After following a tried and true formula for two decades, Game Freak finally went off of the path and delivered a truly enjoyable experience that pulls in both veterans and newcomers alike. With a promising soundtrack and a much funner challenge going through the story, coupled with many different Easter eggs and callbacks to previous games, tropes, and memes, this is the most modernized Pokémon game yet, and a worthy entry in the Nintendo 3DS’s library.