Pokémon, one of my favourite franchises in existence, is a game series that has been around since 1996 (1998 for the western world), where it first hit shelves in the form of Red, Blue and Green version on the Gameboy Color. Since then, it’s been a huge selling point for Nintendo handhelds, with it supporting just about every iteration of handhelds Nintendo have released to-date. My personal favourite is Generation 2, Silver/Gold/Crystal. This is where I first started playing and this period naturally holds my fondest memories. Ever since then I have been addicted, playing every generation of Pokémon, even going back and playing Gen 1. The last new mainline game was Pokémon X & Y, which was a huge leap, featuring a new engine, vastly improved movement freedom, plus the introduction of fairy types and mega evolutions. Personally, I welcomed all these changes, but Gen 6 was definitely my least favourite of them all. Regardless, the minute Pokémon Sun and Moon were announced, I got all giddy and eagerly preordered both versions of the new generation (yeah… I’m that guy). What I got was, well… unexpected.
Pokémon Sun and Moon is set in the far off region of Alola. The land is split up into four isles, with an extra man-made isle, and is designed to have a cultural feel similar to that of Polynesia. People are happy and the environment is gorgeous, it definitely feels like an entirely new region, and might I add a cut above the rest. The four separate islands create variety and diversity, with there being different forms for older Pokémon, and even different forms of new Pokémon which are found in the different islands. The series that is so commonly known for adopting the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality has achieved something more than just a reskin. Sure, the game adopts the gameplay similar to that of its predecessors, but there are facets where it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the others. For starters, TPC (The Pokémon Company) have really started to flesh out their stories and add depth to them. While on the surface, it may seem like nothing has changed (i.e bad team wants to do something very bad, you come in, a noob trainer, and show them what for), but for once the plot has a certain sense of mystery to it. They have also begun playing around with the idea that Pokémon aren’t just replacement for animals in the Pokémon world.
Another cool thing to note about Pokémon Sun and Moon is that the game does not feature any form of gyms. Instead, you have the Island Challenge. This serves as a replacement and is a little unconventional compared to what you’re used to. The island challenge encompasses all of the trials that you go through, so realistically, the trials are the real replacements for the gym. Here is where you’re encouraged to pursue things a little differently. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to battle a strong Pokémon, but you don’t have those annoying trainers. The only time you have to battle an actual trainer is when you battle the Kahuna, aka the top dog of each island. These guys are capable of whooping you, but they’re also not incredibly difficult. Almost like glass cannons. Regardless, these trials and grand trials (battling the Kahunas) are a nice break from the regular formula and can be quite creative.
Visually speaking, not too much has changed since ORAS (Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire). One of my biggest commendations with ORAS was the fact that, for a 3DS game, they made the water look absolutely gorgeous (although there is too much of it – 7.8). The ocean is a deep blue and is impressively detailed. Shoreside water becomes clear, but retains its beauty. While the engine is the same, the art direction is where Sun and Moon shines. Each island feels like an entirely new mini-region, with one of the four islands being craggy and dry, while another is very tropical and coastal. The variety and contrast between the isles helps every island feel like its own important section to the region. Every little detail and nook and cranny is placed where it should be, and areas flow beautifully. The Pokémon Company have done an impeccable job at creating environments which define the islands individually.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’d know that I’m a huge sucker for good music and sound design. Pokémon Sun and Moon does not disappoint in this regard. The games feature an entirely new array of sounds and music, with some throwbacks to older scores. The music is well written and fits the tone perfectly, TPC really have a knack at setting a welcoming atmosphere, while also being able to create tense and unnerving moments when the plot thickens with the assistance of music. What’s really astonishing is the game features footstep sounds one hundred percent of the time. This is something new to the series, as beforehand only sometimes did you have footstep sounds. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, it surprisingly makes the game a lot more immersive. You can actually gauge a feeling of the environments because you feel like your character is actually a part of the world, instead of an emotionless, walking robot. Sound design is as good as ever and it pleases me to know that Pokémon continues to provide stellar and memorable sounds.
While I thoroughly loved playing this new generation of Pokémon, it definitely was not without its faults. For starters, there is the obligatory tutorial stage of the Pokémon game. While I’m usually fine with them, the tutorial stage for this generation just takes forever. It’s easily one of the longest tutorial stages I have ever seen in Pokémon and it is a little frustrating. Mind you, in this stage you get to meet your starter Pokémon in the cutest way possible, so not all is bad, but it’s still frustrating how slow it is. The other main issue is that on the older 3DSs at least, the framerate goes through constant dips. In the previous titles, the dips only really occurred when using the 3D capabilities during Pokémon battles, but in Sun and Moon 3D is mainly shut off aside from some little gimmicky features. Regardless, the framerate dips in both Pokémon battles and in the overworld. It’s sad to see this because framerate issues aren’t a problem I’m used on the 3DS, let alone such prevalent ones. At this point, TPC could give FromSoftware or Dambuster Studios a run for their money when it comes to bad frames.
Pokémon Sun and Moon is a superb entry to the series in the year of its 20-year anniversary. With its fleshed-out story, fantastic region, good visuals, and great music and sound design, the game is easily one of this year’s better releases. Even with its framerate issues and ludicrously long and slow tutorial stage, I would still wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone who owns Nintendo’s handheld current handheld platforms. Good luck trying to catch them all though, not even I have the willpower nor the time to attempt that.
Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS