Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: The PokÃ©mon Company
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 18th, 2016
ESRB: E for Everyone
Note: This review is based on a playthrough of Pokemon Sun, though Pokemon Moon is largely the same game with minor differences, such as its own exclusive Pokemon and the clock being twelve hours ahead.
Many people call me many different things. But â€” without a doubt â€” I am â€œthe PokÃ©mon guyâ€ of my friend circle. My long-running feature articulates my love, minor compulsions, and many criticisms of the series in a way that what Iâ€™m about to write... must concentrate into something much shorter, more concise.
As Iâ€™m sitting down to write this, Iâ€™ve spent over a hundred hours with the game. Iâ€™ve absorbed everything the main story and the plot-driven portions of the post-game have to offer. My Alolan PokÃ©dex is even 100% complete. Itâ€™s probably the furthest Iâ€™ve ever sunk into a game before sitting down to review it, if Iâ€™m being honest. Brevity has never been my strong-suit, in both playing PokÃ©mon and attempting to analyze it. But without further ado, let me say this: Above all, I am very conflicted about Sun & Moon.
The newest games actually have a brand new director behind them, Shigeru Ohmori. A different pair of eyes overseeing all aspects of development is likely one of the key reasons that Alola, the new region... feels like the most refreshing thing to happen to PokÃ©mon since fan-favorites Gold & Silver. Anyone whoâ€™s been playing these games forever will likely sing praises of major and minor adjustments to â€œthe PokÃ©mon formula,â€ as it were. Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™ll start.
Moves called Hidden Machines used to force players who wanted to fully explore the world to build their PokÃ©mon team around them. Want to cut obtrusive bushes that block the way to hidden items? Better raise a Grass Type PokÃ©mon with you that can learn â€œCut,â€ or you wonâ€™t be able to proceed. Want to fast-travel from one town to the next? Put a Flying Type PokÃ©mon and â€œFlyâ€ on your team, lest you be inconvenienced. Sun & Moon finally make HMs obsolete with Riding PokÃ©mon. Folks who want to fast-travel can use their nifty Ride Pager to call up a Charizard on a whim, whoâ€™s happy to take you wherever you need to go. Want to Surf? Eventually youâ€™ll get a Lapras to call on, even if you never put a single Water Type PokÃ©mon on your team.
PokÃ©mon games used to be about collecting eight Gym Badges, then taking on the PokÃ©mon League and becoming the Champion. It was that way from 1996 to 2013 â€” always the same song and dance, no matter where you were or what system you were playing on. Alola introduces something else brand new: the Island Challenge. While this concept serves a very similar purpose to the one Gyms used to... it knocks down the archetypes of four walls and eight people being the biggest trials youâ€™ll ever overcome. Iâ€™ve personally found Gyms to be the biggest reason why each new PokÃ©mon region and game amounted to predictable fodder at best. Their removal meant me approaching Alola itself... and the gameâ€™s story... with unpredictability and wonder.
Instead of conquering gyms, I was doing things like... exploring a haunted shopping mall, taking pictures of Ghost PokÃ©mon with my PokÃ©Finder before they discovered me and challenged me to a battle. Instead of Gym Leaders, the biggest challenge of each Island Trial was its â€œTotem PokÃ©monâ€ â€” a big, burly boss with buffed up stats. This boss could call underlings in what I would soon learn was called an â€œS.O.S. Battle.â€ More on those, which extend far beyond Island Trials, in a bit. After clearing each and every Island Trial of a particular Island I was on... I would take on its â€œkahunaâ€... a leader figure to each island that serves more like a mayor, or a defender of justice, than a mere â€œGym Leader.â€
Riding PokÃ©mon and the Island Trial are the two biggest changes to what longtime fans know. Theyâ€™re what youâ€™ll see in every single review, and probably whatâ€™s on the back of the box (I canâ€™t verify since I went digital). But there are several minor adjustments that Iâ€™ve been waiting for someone, somewhere to implement too. Iâ€™ve already blabbed about the evolved GUI for the length of a full review. I could probably double that with the new things Iâ€™ve learned about it since playing.
Suffice to say: if youâ€™re brand new to PokÃ©mon... and most of what Iâ€™ve been saying sounds like complete gibberish? The game wants to help you. Itâ€™ll tell you how effective a particular move you want to use will be against a foe, once youâ€™ve seen for yourself what type of PokÃ©mon it is. If youâ€™re carrying the maximum six PokÃ©mon you can take with you and catch another... the game will ask you whether you want your new friend to join your party, or be sent off to the PC. It lets you see a full summary of the PokÃ©monâ€™s moves and Nature, as well as the ones currently with you, before you ever leave the capture screen!
Thereâ€™s just so much. Sweeping and small mechanical changes are just half of what makes Alola so refreshing, to me. I loved the characters and â€œworldâ€ more than any other PokÃ©mon game, so far. Hau, your rival... completes every island trial after you do, is brimming with optimism almost to a fault, and deeply cares about PokÃ©mon and the people around him. He reminds me of PokÃ©mon Trainer Red from the Game Boy days. Heâ€™s always happy lagging behind someone more experienced, with a Pikachu no less... but with seemingly great potential, too. Lille is a character whoâ€™s got a bit of mystery around her, and undergoes the most evolution and development in the story.
The PokÃ©mon Professor Kukui, the kahunas and the trial captains, the bad folks (Team Skull), and every other major character in Alola... all help communicate this idea that Alola is a truly unique place in the world of PokÃ©mon. If creating something refreshing and new, that feels welcoming to new and returning players alike, was what Director Ohmori endeavored to do... Iâ€™d say he achieved his goal.
Itâ€™s just a shame that I feel so many compromises were made in the process.
In 2013, PokÃ©mon X&Y introduced players to the Kalos region. With it, the total PokÃ©mon count went from 649 to 721. Of the 721 known PokÃ©mon at the time, 450 of them were available to catch with just PokÃ©mon X or PokÃ©mon Y. Each time you visited a new part of Kalos, you were given a new piece of the â€œRegional PokÃ©dexâ€ that had 150 or so brand new critters to find, to help make up that total. There was never any overlap. You could never really run out of things to catch or evolve, unless you were the compulsive type like me.
And therein lies my biggest problem with Sun & Moon: the Alolan PokÃ©dex is tiny! With these games, the total PokÃ©mon count goes from 721 to 802. The DexNav from PokÃ©mon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire helped catalog the tons of PokÃ©mon you could find in any given area. I suppose that feature was removed in Alola because... there arenâ€™t nearly as many to worry about. In order to make Sun & Moon less intimidating on newcomers, it seems, the total catchable critters in the game is only 300. Thatâ€™s less than the Kalos region, and less than half of the total PokÃ©mon out there.
Alola is a region of four islands. Each island has its own â€œRegional PokÃ©dexâ€, similar to Kalos. This time, though, there is definite overlap. Upon arriving to the gameâ€™s final island... Iâ€™d already completed over 50% of its Regional PokÃ©dex... indicating that Iâ€™d see most of the same critters Iâ€™d already been seeing, over and over again, despite being in a brand new place. Alolaâ€™s environments are refreshing and new... but its fauna doesnâ€™t boast the same qualities. Thereâ€™s not even a â€œNational PokÃ©dex.â€ For the first time in 12 years: the 300 PokÃ©mon currently native to the Alola Region are all that will ever be recorded in your gameâ€™s PokÃ©dex, as far as I can tell. It encourages newcomers to â€œcatch â€˜em allâ€ and be card-carrying PokÃ©mon Masters... by actively ignoring over half of the PokÃ©mon that arenâ€™t in these games.
But see: thatâ€™s just something I personally donâ€™t see eye-to-eye with. The fauna of Alola, and oneâ€™s PokÃ©dex progress, could bounce off a whole lot of you. And thatâ€™s fine. But let me get into properly explaining whatâ€™s so flawed about the concept behind S.O.S. Battles.
After completing the first Island Trial of the game... normal Wild PokÃ©mon can call for help in the same way the Totem PokÃ©mon do. If youâ€™re trying like heck to catch a Pikachu... youâ€™ll have to put off catching him if he calls one of his buddies at the end of your turn. Over and over again, until the â€œhelp doesnâ€™t appearâ€ or it decides not to. I was trying to catch a Cubone... and I had to knock out 16 other Cubones to get to him. Thatâ€™s just cumbersome, no matter how you slice it. I get trying to add an extra layer of challenge to catching PokÃ©mon. But I think S.O.S. Battles take things a little too far sometimes.
Of the 300 PokÃ©mon available to catch in Alola, 39 of them are â€œS.O.S. Battle Exclusive.â€ This means that they only appear in the wild if a friend calls them for help... and their appearance is typically hinged on a 10% or 5% chance, if not lower. That... is how you take â€œa little too farâ€ even farther, to the point where Iâ€™ve relied on trading online to complete my PokÃ©dex more than ever before. Even outside of S.O.S. Battles â€” there are several PokÃ©mon with a 1% encounter rate by normal means. Some evolution items, like Sneaselâ€™s Razor Claw, can only be found being held by Wild PokÃ©mon. You have a 5% chance of encountering a Wild Jangmo-o in a certain place... and said Jangmo-o has a 5% chance of holding onto the Razor Claw you need. Thatâ€™s a problem! Your only solution is to have absolutely incredible luck, or to spend forever having Jangmo-o call for help in an â€œS.O.S. Chainâ€ until one shows up thatâ€™s holding the item.
The concept of a â€œrare PokÃ©monâ€ or â€œrare itemâ€ is taken to absolutely obscene levels in Alola... making most not worth the effort to seek out without online intervention. And hey: if you experience a communication error while trading or battling online, you will be unable to use those features for â€œa whileâ€ â€” anywhere from fifteen minutes to up to 72 hours.
There really is a lot to love about PokÃ©mon Sun & Moon. I didnâ€™t even address some of the other stuff I enjoyed: like how PokÃ© Pelago is going to be worth investing time into for the unique items and rewards it yields, with minimal effort. Trainer customization is back, too; you can style your character in heaps and handfuls of different ways. And the soundtrack, which I consider to be the best theyâ€™ve ever produced, by a long-shot. Thereâ€™s at least one major â€œdislikeâ€ I didnâ€™t get to either... because mentioning the changes to Effort Values and competitive play would keep me here forever.
To most, the Alola Region, and these games, are probably going to be widely hailed as the finest hour for the franchise so far. And Iâ€™d agree with them... but only to a point. I love that Alola is the most refreshing place Iâ€™ve had the pleasure to explore in my twenty-year PokÃ©mon journey. Iâ€™m vexed that handfuls of Sun & Moonâ€™s more obtuse mechanical changes, and artificial means to make â€œrare stuffâ€ all the rarer, make me miss the games that came before.
+ Several long-awaited mechanical changes help to make this the most refreshing, and somewhat unpredictable PokÃ©mon game you'll play so far.
+ The region of Alola is expertly crafted, with a strong sense of individuality and community that extends far beyond the narrative, to even influencing the GUI and altering traditional sound-effects.
+ I didn't run into a single new PokÃ©mon I don't like...and hey, PokÃ©mon you might know, like Raichu, have new appearances and battle styles!
- The Alolan PokÃ©dex is the smallest compendium of creatures since PokÃ©mon Diamond & Pearl, which released almost ten years ago.
- The concept of a "rare PokÃ©mon" or "rare item" has been stretched to levels border-lining the obscene. More than one PokÃ©mon has a 1% encounter rate by normal means, Almost forty others are hidden behind "S.O.S. Battles"
- "S.O.S. Battles" are extremely tedious to work with, outside of the Island Trials. If you want to catch a PokÃ©mon, you'd better be ready to take down 2-6 of its buddies, minimum.
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
The Alola region of PokÃ©mon Sun & Moon is probably the most refreshing place to hit PokÃ©mon games in sixteen years. But some oddball design decisions may make some longtime fans miss how certain things used to be.