Pokémon Sun/Moon Review
December 7, 2016
Filed under A&E
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Although Nintendo has drawn flak over using the same formula over and over for its Pokémon games, the newest additions to the franchise, Pokémon Sun/Moon, have somewhat shaken off the dust of repetition to revitalize the series.
I played Pokémon Moon, and, as some may know, the differences between the two versions are arbitrary in terms of gameplay and story. The only features that differ between the two games are the types of Pokémon found and the day cycle, for which Moon’s is reversed, as night during the game is day in reality. The reversal of the day cycle is perhaps the most annoying difference because it can interfere with gameplay in terms of evolving Pokémon.
The game features the new region of Alola, a chain of four major islands and a few smaller ones. When I first glimpsed the layout of the region, I balked, thinking that traveling between the four islands would be irritating and lengthy. However, I was pleasantly surprised when only one plot-driven ferry ride was needed to cross the water between the islands. The culture of Alola is most likely based off Hawaiian culture, a bold move by Nintendo as this may smack of cultural appropriation to some, but this cultural parallel is nothing new because in Pokémon X/Y, the in-game region of Kalos was obviously French. I do not think Nintendo is trying to teach young gamers about specific cultures and their traditions, but instead, they might be aiming for a more inclusive tone in their games.
While the battle system of Pokémon has not changed besides the addition of a few convenient shortcuts, the most striking changes have been in the eight Gym Leader system. In this game, there are no Gym Leaders. There are instead ‘trials’ that the player must undergo in order to gain Z-crystals, a crystal that allows Pokémon to unleash an ultimate move if the move type matches to the type of the crystal. In these trials, the player usually battles the Totem Pokémon, a bigger, meaner version of an fully evolved Pokémon. Totem Pokémon also make use of the new SOS component in which wild Pokémon can call for help from other Pokémon in the midst of battle, transforming a one-on-one battle into a one-on-two one. These trials can vary from battling wild Pokémon to gathering herbs in order to draw the Totem Pokémon, and they are overseen by captains who function as the trials’ managers and usually battle the player before letting them perform the trial. When all the trials of an island are finished, the island’s kahuna, usually a powerful specialist in a Pokémon type, is then battled for a Z-crystal and the right to progress to the next island, and there is a kahuna for every major island.
Removing Gyms was definitely the biggest change from the Pokémon patent of Gym Leaders, but there are still some remnants of it. For instance, there is still an Elite Four and Champion to confront at the end of the game, but many of the Elite Four are faces that the player has encountered on their island journey, giving them a personal aspect that felt absent from other games. The kahunas are also reminiscent of Gym Leaders because of their specialization in a type; however, their limited number spaces out the battles to prevent it from getting repetitive.
The next biggest change comes from an old annoyance that stems from the very first generation of Pokémon: Hidden Machines, HMs for short, and Pokémon Sun/Moon have completely taken away the need for them with the use of Ride Pokémon. In short, the player uses a Ride Pager to summon a Ride Pokémon in substitute of an HM, and the Ride Pokémon range from a rock-breaking Tauros to a Charizard that wings the player to a chosen location. The HM moves, however, are not missing from the game. By talking or battling certain character, the player can receive TMs that teach HM moves such as Fly, Surf, and Waterfall, and while Nintendo could have avoided this by making HMs able to be overwritten, it is a push in the right direction.
Finally, a Pokémon game would not be the same without a villainous organization trying to steal Pokémon from unsuspecting, innocent people. In Pokémon Sun/Moon, Team Skull is the most apparent threat to Alola’s peace, and they are by far the best of all the evil organizations that Nintendo has created. It is even a stretch to call Team Skull ‘evil’ with their tough and bumble antics and perfect dialogue, and their leader Guzma is the right leader for this group of lovable gruffs. However, Team Skull does not feel as well-oiled or powerful like other truly evil organizations in previous game, and this hits home during the player’s assault on their stronghold, a decrepit, moldering town abandoned long ago. Team Skull also never feels like the main threat of the game with the Aether Foundation, which promotes Pokémon conservation above all, looming over Alola. In the opening cutscene of the game, Aether Foundation employees are seen chasing after side character Lillie with something in her bag, and this made me wary of them whenever the foundation’s employees appeared. As it turns out, Aether Foundation had a dark side to it that the player must root out to save Alola.
Though the plot remains much the same in Pokémon Sun/Moon, Nintendo has made strides forward in terms of altering the formula of Pokémon, and although the trial system will probably not reappear in future generations, I hope that Nintendo gains confidence to revitalize the series as a whole. The current changes are a pleasant departure from the monotonous, and hopefully Nintendo will continue its innovation in one of its most popular series.