What is there really to say about Pokémon? The craze has continued to soldier on for nearly twenty years, becoming a stalwart of the Nintendo pantheon, and the highest selling role-playing game franchise of all time by a fairly wide margin. How do you rate a game in an ongoing series that already has such goodwill to it? It is really quite hard to critique a game that is ultimately ingrained into the minds of players. We all know the basic formula, and that remains unchanged for the most part. What we do see in Sun and Moon is Game Freak going out of their comfort zone for the first time since Pokémon Black and White, and ushering in many quality of life improvements to the game that gives Sun and Moon a unique charm to them all of their own.
The best changes are actually the smallest changes; the entire region of Alola feels small but you barely notice it in terms of its sheer beauty. The world of Pokémon Sun and Moon is well thought out, with a lot of hidden nooks and crannies to explore. One of the biggest changes comes in the form of taking Sun and Moon off the grid-based design found in the previous games in the series, allowing for full 360-degree movement. Removing HM's and giving access to specific ridable Pokemon is also a long time coming, making traversing the terrain of the Alola region a breeze.
Another small change is the utilization of the day-night system. With Alola being on twelve-hour differences between Sun and Moon, a lot of timed-based additions offer more daily use. One example would be the Poké Pelago, a side-quest area where you can pop in and out daily and use a new currency, Pokébeans, to grow berries, help train your Pokémon, or even hunt for rare treasures and stones. The Poké Pelago is one of the best new additions to the series and is a great way to cultivate riches and raise your Pokémon for the greater metagame.
Other additions are very hit and miss, however, mostly due to the fact that Pokémon Sun and Moon attempts to cater to the post-gameplay, more competitive audience through new mechanics. Some of the new changes in Sun and Moon, are quite good in the post-game but it often hinders the pacing and placement of the in general story line. For example, the concept of the Battle Royals, the four-way fights between trainers, is a good one. It also requires a lot more strategy to get ahead and win a match. The problem is the implementation is designed heavily for post-game, and the game itself struggles to run with massive framerate dips in battle. It becomes too chaotic at times to really be worth playing for long as well, other than grinding it out for items to use post-game.
S.O.S battles are also a good idea in theory, but again best used in a post-game tool more than anything else. Almost all of the Pokémon in the game can call allies to help fight the player, and this can make some battles go on for much longer than you want, especially during the game's storyline. For post-game, the S.O.S is important for training and online battling, replacing the horde encounters found in the previous games which were used for the same reasons.
The biggest changes come from the island challenges replacing gyms. These trials feel like interesting story content but ultimately end up more closely resembling a side mission. Many of the trials are also ridiculously simple, taking a few minutes to complete and lacking any form of real challenge outside of some of the totem battles. The totem fights can be tricky in the early going, but towards the end they pose little threat to the player, leaving much of the challenge of Pokémon Sun and Moon behind.
The story of Sun and Moon is also very mixed. It is not an epic story, but rather a more personal tale with a lot of nice flairs to it. While it is a good change of pace, Sun and Moon has a more cinematic quality to the way it frames its story, and it suffers horribly from pacing. One moment you are focused on your island challenges, the next you get a massive info dump on interdimensional wormholes, which temporarily leads to nothing but a set-up moment for your first encounter with an Ultra Beast two hours later. The villains are also fairly weak, falling short of reaching the lofty heights of what they could have been outside of a few moments between the big bad and members of your party.
In a lot of ways, the personal story is a nice tonal shift for the Pokémon franchise, as saving the world from cataclysmic events does start to wear thin after a while. Still, Game Freak has been able to tell simple stories before with better pacing and more realistic stakes; the Black and White series again comes to mind as the perfect example; a grounded story with shades of world domination, but never losing its pacing or resonance in between. It is somewhat disappointing that the narrative of Sun and Moon falls short due to a lot of simple factors. Even the most interesting revelations are made post-game further the metanarrative introduced in the past few entries in the series, but accessing that point felt like it could have been more fulfilling.
Where Sun and Moon excels is the in general systems of the game. Despite a few problems, the quality of life improvements and minor changes to the formula have added a new dimension to the franchise. It is very similar to the minor facelift updates found in previous Nintendo titles. Take the Legend of Zelda series for example. A Link Between Worlds eschewed a proper order for the dungeon-crawling in favor of a simplified, pay as you go system, while Breath of the Wild is creating the first open-world experience in Zelda and taking it to a whole new level. Super Mario Galaxy was a massive departure to the previous Mario platformers, and the New Super Mario Bros. brought back the classic 2-D formula with a new twist to it.
Nintendo is in a phase of experimentation, attempting to make their old franchises feel new again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the attempt and ability to tweak the formulas of their games at least yields unique experiences for fans to enjoy. Pokémon Sun and Moon has received many feature changes, but it is far from a hard reboot of the franchise. It acknowledges the competitive side of Pokémon more heavily and offers as many avenues as possible for players to train their teams of monsters with ease. For a lot of people, that is already a winning formula.
It is almost impossible to not recommend Pokémon Sun and Moon to people. For whatever flaws it has, the franchise has continued to dazzle for years on end. Each new generation adds more than Pokémon now; it adds an experience that deepens the overall metanarrative of the entire franchise, strengthens the in-game mechanics, and alters how competitive play is done. Pokémon as a franchise can be seen on two levels, one as a casual role-playing experience, the other a passionate eSports title waiting to have its moment in the sun. Increasingly we see the two worlds collide, but the overall product still produces a lot of content for both casual and hardcore fans to enjoy.
This does make it really hard to grade something like Pokémon Sun and Moon because nothing drastic has changed in the franchise. I don’t even think Game Freak would have guessed that twenty years later, the world of Pokémon is a robust, competitive scene that requires players to work together and interact socially to achieve their goals. The core gameplay is there in new forms, the extras to the series are hit or miss, and the overall storyline is sweet but poorly paced- but it’s still an excellent game that will continue the franchise for another twenty years. That is perhaps all you need to know about Pokémon Sun and Moon; it’s an easy sell if you have even the most passing interest in the Pokémon franchise, and will always remain that way regardless of what it does wrong or right.
Pokemon Moon was reviewed on a Nintendo 3DS with a copy provided by the publisher as well as a copy purchased by the reviewer. For a less traditional review of Pokemon Sun and Moon, check out our Review Supplement.
It is almost impossible to not recommend Pokémon Sun and Moon to people. For whatever flaws it has, the franchise continues to dazzle for years on end.
- Improved Quality of Life Features...
- Excellent World...
- Strong Post-Game
- ...Lot's of Framerate issues in Double Battles or More.
- ...Mediocre Storyline Overall.