Disclaimer: Two games, two reviews! The review below covers Pokémon Moon only. The overall score will be the same for both games.
My journey through the Pokémon world started with Pokémon Yellow, and since my fifth birthday when I got my hands on the game, I’ve been completely enthralled. Pokémon has never failed to lift my spirits and put my mind at ease, giving me exactly what I need at whatever time I need it.
While it was a long, grueling wait, the day finally came and my grubby little fingers were all over those game cards.
From the moment you enter the game, even as early as deciding your player character’s name and gender, Sun & Moon is brimming with energy and personality. Opening up with your character’s move from Kanto to Alola is not only a nice callback to the original games of the franchise, but also a clever way to encourage those who’ve only played the early games to come back to the series. It’s a plot detail that allows the nostalgia and easter eggs to flow naturally into the game, rather than seeming forced, and as someone who hates consistent pandering to a specific crowd, I really appreciated the natural integration.
There’s definitely something a little magical about starting a new adventure 20 years after the first one, and I’ll happily start this review by encouraging any person who’s played Pokémon in their lifetime to pick up Sun or Moon for a new journey. It is absolutely worth your time and money.
Sun & Moon is a rich and exciting new entry in the long-running franchise that fits right in, perhaps even more so than other games in its past. With a dynamic plot, fantastic new game mechanics, and the best graphics on a Pokémon game yet, Sun & Moon is a welcome addition to the Pokémon universe.
One of the most fun parts of playing a Pokémon game, for me anyway, is how personal it feels. I know I speak for myself and for many others when I say that, while they may just be pixels on a screen, my Pokémon are beings that I care for and grow connected to. I want them to like me, and I want to see them grow. Aside from that, the way you play is just as personal; some people like to pick their teams as they go, while others plan them out way in advance. (I generally opt for the latter.) The one thing every Pokémon player can agree on, though, is the importance of their starter Pokémon decision.
I had my heart set on Popplio from day one – that’s because I love me a Water-type. Plenty of others I know had a really hard time deciding, and that’s easily because the Alola region offers three absolutely charming options. What’s so great about the Alola region is that whatever choice you do make, you feel like it was the right one via an intimate ceremony at the beginning of the game. Not only do you have to make a choice, but the Pokémon must choose you back. And once the two of you do, your character gets to pick the small decision up and hold it above their head a la The Lion King. And it’s cute. Very cute.
It’s not long after you choose your starter that you get to start exploring the region and seeing the rest of the new Pokémon for yourself. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll warn you now – there’s not a lot, and The Pokémon Company did itself a disservice in showing off so many pre-release, making the discovery of “new” Pokémon feel even less significant. X & Y had a similar problem, but I’m willing to forgive a little more this time around (and not because of the Alolan Forms, which I’ll get to in a second). Honestly, the game is so enthralling on its own that I hardly noticed the lack of new ‘mons.
The Rotom Dex was something I didn’t feel I was going to like much, but once I had it in the game, it was immediately a welcome addition. Having Rotom living inside the Dex feels completely natural, and almost makes me question why it hasn’t been done before. While its dialogue can get a bit repetitive at times, it’s never long enough to feel intrusive, and it’s always easy to skip right through.
Another welcome addition to the series comes in the form of Poké Ride, which is quite possibly the most convenient tool ever added to any video game. Ever. Gone are the days of HMs and HM slaves (though that didn’t stop me from habitually picking out a Flying-type for my team beforehand), meaning you can tailor your team exactly as you want and have all six of them with you at all times. It’s a massively significant change to the series’ tradition that I hope we see carried over to future games. Plus, it’s really heartwarming to see how closely people and Pokémon bond in this region… even if it requires silly-looking safety gear.
And let’s not forget the Island Trial Challenge! Unlike the Poké Ride or Rotom Dex, this is something that I actually hope doesn’t become regular in future installments. One of my favorite things that comes with a new region is the new Gym Leaders, with their typings, designs, and overall themes. However, with how much culture and personality they gave to the Alola region, I couldn’t have asked for anything but the Island Trials in Sun & Moon. I’ll be the first to admit that it was refreshing to finally stray from the formula we’ve become so accustomed to as a fan base, and if you’re worried about how challenging the games might be because of this change, there’s no need to fear! Or maybe there is, depending on how you look at it. Sun & Moon is actually one of the most challenging Pokémon games we’ve had in awhile, and it doesn’t hesitate to punish you if you’re not keeping your resources and Pokémon in check.
Overall, it’s really hard to say anything bad about the Alola region. Brimming with vibrancy and character, Pokémon’s newest region brings a lot to the table, and it delivers on all of it. I stand by Alola, and will even go as far as saying it’s one of my favorite regions to date.
New home, new goals, new faces
One of the things that X & Y got a lot of flack for was its plot. And for the most part, I’d say that it was justified. However, it’s nice knowing that Sun & Moon aren’t going to have that same problem.
I absolutely loved the story behind these entries. I really don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that even if you think you know how it’s playing out, you probably don’t.
Sun & Moon tells the story of a young trainer who gets their first Pokémon and starts their Island Trial Challenge, which is essentially Alola’s equivalent to the Gym Challenge. However, throughout this challenge, this young trainer will find themselves mixed up in a whole lot of other situations, and I’ve got to give Game Freak credit where credit is due. Sun & Moon are by no means dark games, but they certainly get serious at times, which is a welcome addition to the vibe overall. By the end of the game, I was completely invested, and I’m really hoping others enjoy the plot as much as I did.
And what really, truly makes the plot so dynamic is its characters. I can easily say that Lillie and Gladion are two of my new favorite characters in the entirety of the Pokémon franchise. Especially Lillie. She acts as a sidekick of sorts, but what was refreshing about her was that she wasn’t a trainer, meaning there was no competition with her, even friendly. You relationship wasn’t based on your mutual enjoyment of being a Pokémon trainer – it felt natural and it felt right, and while I had my doubts about her when she was first revealed, I really grew to love her quickly. And Lillie aside, Professor Kukui, Hau, Lusamine, and Guzma are all amazing additions to the Pokémon cast.
I also want to give a quick shoutout to Team Skull, who is now my favorite villainous Pokémon team. Finally we see a return to the petty thief-type team. Instead of these groups with grand, expensive plans, Team Skull seems to be like Team Rocket, but with much more personality. And that’s why I love them so much. Game Freak did a fantastic job developing them, and while their name might be a little confusing, it’s hard to hate anyone that makes you laugh every time you see them.
Battling and Zzz-Moves
Excitingly enough, one of my new favorite regions also brings my new favorite battle system. Sun & Moon’s battling and interface is the most streamlined I’ve ever seen Pokémon and I can confidently say that I never once dreaded a battle that was ahead of me. That is, until the opposing trainer used a Z-Move.
I get it – Z-Moves replaced Mega Evolution and allowed any Pokémon in your team to participate in the fun of the being your trump card. And I can appreciate that. I can even acknowledge that for younger or more inexperienced players, it might be a great way to secure a battle win. But personally, I can’t get behind them. Their 30-second animation is enough to make a battle feel overly-drawn out, and quite honestly, I don’t like that they’ve seemingly “replaced” Gym Badges.
These are more personal nitpicks though, and I can see, overall, why they were added to the game.
Z-Moves aside, the rest of battling in Sun & Moon is incredible. The handy indication of whether or not a move is going to be super effective was something I found myself utilizing a lot, especially with the new Alolan Forms like Meowth or Ratatta, whose types had changed. The ability to see what stat changes have been made, made understanding the battles I was in much easier, and overall it just looks amazing visually. Using the Y button to quick select Poké Balls is another welcome feature.
Instead of horde battles, you’ll find that wild Pokémon can “call for help” and occasionally get the help of an ally Pokémon. While this was something I didn’t mind for the most part, I did find it to get a bit excessive during random wild encounters. As it effectively bars you from catching Pokémon, I had wild encounters go on for upwards of 20 minutes just to try to catch a single Pokémon. “But Pokémon Reviewer,” you might say, “why wouldn’t you just run and find a new Pokémon?” Well, you’re right, I could do that. But I’m stubborn.
These call-for-help battles really weren’t all that big of a deal, but they could feel a bit tedious at times if you had your heart set on a goal during a specific battle. The frame rate did have a tendency to dip a little during these double encounters as well, which isn’t much of complaint in the grand scheme of things, but with the frequency of these 2v1 battles, it could get a little annoying.
Lastly, the Battle Royal is a fun side-addition that lets you battle with three other people. I was happy to see that it’s only required you do it once in-game, but I’m also excited to try this mode more extensively with my friends. It’s a very interesting and new take on Pokémon battles that requires you to strategize in a way you may never have before, but a part of me wishes it was a last-man-standing type of battle rather than a point battle. As for its longevity, I don’t see it as being something that we’ll see become a staple.
Connect with friends, human or ‘mon
Pokémon Amie has made a return as Pokémon Refresh, which is somehow both simplified and improved. While you still get to feed and pet your beloved Pokémon, you get to also clean, brush, and take care of them, as well as help them heal up from any status conditions, saving you berries and items for in-battle. Prompts at the end of a battle allow you to enter straight from the victory screen, making giving your Pokémon some extra love quite easy, and I found myself really enjoying Refresh, even more so than Amie, which I used fairly often in X & Y.
And for those Pokémon in your PC that aren’t getting the same love, the Poké Pelago let’s you feel like everyone’s included and doing something. It’s not a particularly interactive feature, but it’s something that’s worth checking in on every once in awhile. Just as Ricky said in his review of Sun, I’ll welcome any new way to interact with all my Pokémon.
Those who enjoyed Join Avenue will get a kick out of the Festival Plaza, a new feature that harkens back to the revolutionary feature from Black & White. Fulfill other trainers’ requests to earn Festival Coins, allowing you to grow your Plaza – which is in essence a personal hub. This is also the place where you’ll find all the internet-based features, so you’l probably find yourself here quite a bit.
However, if you’re looking for a quick way to trade or battle, the menu’s Quick Link is weirdly enough one of my favorite new things about Sun & Moon. At one point during my brother’s adventure, he found himself against a Kahuna that all his Pokémon were weak against. Using Quick Link, I traded him one of my Pokémon for a little help, he beat the Kahuna, and we traded back, all in a matter of about ten minutes. Quick Link streamlines the process of local connectivity so well, I actually had to remind myself to make special note of it in this review.
Worship the Moon!
I had no immediate preference to either Sun or Moon when they were first announced. I loved both legendaries, and ultimately knew I would get both versions, but I knew I had to make a decision about which version would be my main version. The decision was made for me when my brother chose Sun, but I was perfectly happy playing through Moon. I had completely forgotten about the automatic time difference between the two games until I realized that while my brother’s opening sequences took place while the sun was rising, mine were after it had already set. I’ll be honest – this time distinction doesn’t make much of a difference gameplay-wise, but it’s a fun extra thing to differentiate the two games. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying playing at “night” so often, as I spent most of my in-game time in other Pokémon games during the daytime.
While I was disappointed to find out that Alolan Vulpix was Sun-exclusive, Moon has a whole host of great exclusive Pokémon, such as Alolan Sandshrew, Oranguru and Drampa. There are also a couple Ultra Beasts exclusive to either Sun or Moon, and while I won’t give away which ones, it’s definitely something to keep in mind (and potentially look up) if you’re torn.
The sun rises
I can honestly say that I haven’t had as much fun with a Pokémon game as I have with Sun & Moon in a long, long time. It’s a standout addition, not only in the 3DS roster but within the Pokémon series as a whole, and if I haven’t convinced you of that yet, then I urge you to buy the game and experience it for yourself.
I think it wasn’t uncommon for longtime Pokémon fans to fear for the franchise’s future. While Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were fun, they felt hollow after playing them. However, Sun & Moon have made up for that previous empty feeling, practically screaming at me for doubting my favorite franchise for even a moment. They are a beautiful tribute to the 20th Anniversary of Pokémon, while also being an incredible step forward into the future, and they already have me excited for what’s next.
I cannot praise this game enough, I really can’t. An engaging plot, characters I pray we see again, and overall improvements to the already existing Pokémon formula had me grinning from ear to ear for the 50+ hours I’ve already invested into the game.
I can’t even begin to explain what this game has done for me in the past year since it’s been announced, and what the series as a whole has done for me throughout my life, but I can only hope that this is a sign of what’s to come.
Want to see what we think about Pokémon Sun? Check out our review dedicated to Sun here!
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System: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: November 18, 2016
Categories: Action, Role-playing game
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Developer: Game Freak