If I had to estimate, Pokémon is probably the video game series I’ve spent the most hours with in my entire life. From the moment I picked Bulbasaur all the way back on my 11th birthday in 1999 I knew I’d found the perfect game for me. The Pokémon series was the first RPGs I’d ever played and it’s a great introduction to the genre. The cartoon that had also started that year was also my first real exposure to anime, save for some badly dubbed 80s cartoons I may have seen. All of this combined into a perfect pokéstorm of new and exciting things and I’ve been on board ever since.
Moon and its counterpart Sun are the latest instalment in the main Pokémon series and while it does mark a bit of a departure to the Pokémon formula there’s still some familiar aspects to keep older fans interested.
I only played Pokémon Moon but Sun is effectively the same game just with a few version exclusive Pokémon and minor changes.
You start off the game in pretty much the same way you always do. A nameless aspiring Pokémon trainer that moves to a new island/country with their mother. In this case you’re a new arrival in the Alola region which is basically Hawaii. Here you befriend the local professor who gives you your first Pokémon and sets up your whole journey. Your main goal is to collect and train a team of pocket monsters that are strong enough to defeat all rivals and help you eventually become the Pokémon League Champion. You do this by finding wild Pokémon in the plentiful tall grass and water of the Alolan region. Once you find a monster you like the look of you can catch it in a Pokéball then it becomes part of your team. You can then send it back out into battle to level up and eventually evolve into a stronger monster.
Right away I noticed some improvements from the older games in the presentation of the story moments. The camera angles and character animations are much more lively and charming than any of the previous games. The world overall feels a lot more alive. When you walk down a path you’ll hear the cries of Pokémon in the area, the various towns people will mill around instead of being motionless statues and sometimes Pokémon will randomly swoop down from the sky or jump out of a bush to battle you. All of this just really goes to show how far they’ve come since those early Gameboy days, it’s even a vast improvement from 2013’s X and Y games. All of these improvements to the world do have a cost though. I experienced a lot of slow down in any battle with more than 2 pokemon, in busy areas of the cities or when big special attacks were used. You can tell this game is really pushing the 3DS to its limits. Supposedly some of these issues can be mitigated by having one of the New Nintendo 3DS’s but I’m still rocking the 4 year old 3DS XL so I can’t personally confirm that.
Speaking of special attacks that’s one of Sun/Moon’s new additions. Throughout your journey you’ll be faced with island challenges which take the place of the classic Pokémon gyms we’ve seen in other games. These challenges are quite different because instead of battling a gym leader at the end you’re attacked by an extra strong wild Totem Pokémon. At the start of the battle the Totem pokemon gets a beneficial stat boost and he can also call in some ally Pokémon making it a 2 on 1 fight. These battles became a refreshing challenge as the game went on because in previous games I’ve always felt pretty overpowered throughout. Once you defeat this boss you’re given a Z-Crystal which can power up a specific type of move letting you unleash a super attack once per battle. These Z-Attacks are pretty spectacular to watch (they’re almost as epic as a Final Fantasy summon) and can often let you easily take out a threat before they do any damage to your team.
As with any good Pokémon game there is always a team of evil doers who try to thwart your progress at every turn and Sun/Moon introduces Team Skull. Normally these bad guy teams are pretty forgettable but Team Skull are beyond charming, they’re just so dumb and pathetic you can’t help but root for them.
They’re basically the Pokémon world equivalent of Juggalos only a lot less gross. All of their lines of dialogue are spoken in rhyme and their appearance is always signalled by a goofy rap beat music track. The way they convey so much personality without any voice acting is a joy to experience and it’s head and shoulders above anything else in the series. There is a much bigger focus on story and characters in this game. It all flows together quite well too, you always know what you’re doing and very rarely stuck wondering where you need to go next. There are some fun twists and turns along the way but overall it felt like there was a bit too much of an anime influence and there were a lot of moments where things got a bit to ridiculous to take seriously.
Pokémon Sun/Moon are huge games and when you lay it all out it can seem a bit daunting especially now that we’re up to a total of 802 Pokémon as of this release. The amazing thing is that Pokémon games can be played at almost any level of complexity. You could really dig into the minutia and weigh up all the strengths and weaknesses of your Pokémon in every battle or you could probably just over level your starter Pokémon so that it outclasses everything you battle and ignore strategy altogether. It offers something to people of all skill levels which is probably why it’s been one of Nintendo’s most successful and enduring franchises. Whether you’re a returning Pokémon Super Nerd or a new fan brought in after the phenomenon of Pokémon GO I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to enjoy.