Welcome to the Alola Region!
For those of you that know anything about me, or have read what I have wrote here at Bit Cultures, I love Pokemon. Some of my fondest memories are playing Pokemon with friends throughout my childhood, and later adulthood – it was actually how I met and became friends with a good number of the people who now help run this website. Let me just say that I am extremely grateful for Pokemon bringing these wonderful people into my life.
Pokemon has been called a “phenomenon” many times over the years, in many facets of the franchise, from the first Pokemon video games, among Red, Blue, and Green selling over 30 million units, to the Pokemon television show, which has now reached its — get this — twentieth season, to the more recent Pokemon GO app that caused millions of players to walk over two billion miles in a summer. Pokemon has had an impact on most people alive today, and I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to say so. Pikachu and Charizard are up there with Mickey Mouse as some of the most recognizable characters in the world.
I would say that now is not the time to be sappy, but in truth, that’s not the case. These monsters in our pocket are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and what better way to celebrate such a milestone than the love letter that is Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon.
Pokemon Sun and Moon have your family move from your humble beginnings in Kanto to the tropical group of islands known as Alola, based heavily on the South Pacific Islands. From there, you set out from Iki Town on the “Island Challenge”, a journey where you have to complete the trials of each Trial Captain, which can range from taking photos with your Poke Finder to finding ingredients for a spicy dish, before finally facing off against each of the four islands’ Kahuna. You also run into the nefarious Team Skull, who, like many teams before them, seem intent on robbing innocent trainers of their Pokemon – although this time in pursuit of street cred more than anything.
Sun and Moon’s characters, such as Hau, Lillie, and Professor Kukui, are not terribly original by any means – Hau is a happy-go-lucky trainer who loves to eat malasadas and longs to become an Island Kahuna like his grandfather, and Lillie is a quiet, shy, and somewhat mysterious young girl that assists Professor Kukui and has something rustling around in her large bag – but the truth is, they’re new to Pokemon. Long gone are the days of the rival named “Asshat” that is always one step ahead of you, rubbing your nose in every little thing he’s done better even though you thrash him every time the two of you meet. These characters are more rounded, more multifaceted, and the game is better for it. You feel like you’re actually embarking on this long journey beside these characters, and growing with them as the story goes along. You never really feel like you’re taking the journey alone, which, to me, feels very new and honestly exciting. And, without saying much for fear of spoilers, the story in Sun and Moon is so much more than we’ve ever seen in a Pokemon game – I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told that this story goes from zero to one hundred faster than I’ve ever seen a game in this series, or many games out of the series, for that matter, go before.
From the addition of the Poke Pelago to the numerous Ride Pokemon, the game has been streamlined to make for the ultimate Pokemon experience. You can fly wherever you want, surf wherever you want, and smash or push rocks wherever you want without ever having to catch the dreaded “HM Slave”. Berry fields, Pokemon Day Care, and wireless communications are at your fingertips with a touch of a button. You can even scan QR codes to find random rare Pokemon in the wild that aren’t normally available in Alola. Catching Pokemon is easier than ever, with the ability to press “Y” and throw that first PokeBall in your inventory at a wild Pokemon, and your bag is separated just to make sure that finding items is a cinch. And with the addition of the new type chart interface, you’ll never have to try and remember how many turns the opponent has left on their Light Screen or if Sableye has any weaknesses– it’s all right there for you to see.
Don’t take that to mean that the games are easy though – Pokemon Sun and Moon are some of the hardest Pokemon games to date for sure, and I’m saying that as a 23-year-old adult. There’s a bit of hand-holding in the beginning of the game, and often Hau will give you items when the two of you meet up, but it’s not long before you’re rushing to use your last Revive while a Totem Pokemon decimates your entire team. I found myself under-leveled at the end of the game, which honestly surprised me considering that I usually clock in at about 5 to 8 levels higher than that of the Elite Four. And don’t you dare underestimate Hau, even though he picks the starter weak to yours, his Pokemon seriously pack a punch.
I’ll talk briefly about sound design, since Pokemon games are pretty standard as far as music goes, but Sun and Moon does well in the music department. A lot of the battle themes have a bit of a laid-back air to them, coming standard with island life, but these songs certainly can get you hype for battle. I’ll give you a small sample with my personal favorite:
The graphics are beautiful in-game. I am so happy that I’m finally able to walk around as a full-sized customizable trainer, and one that truly makes me feel like I’m setting out on my own adventure. The animations on the trainers are varied and solid (try spinning around your circle pad or mashing the B button while walking), as well as the Pokemon having a lot of cute animations both in and out of battle. I warn you, though, that with all the effort they put in to making this game look pretty, it all seriously pushes the 3DS to its limit. It’s a bit frustrating to see a little more than minor frame rate drops during double battles or during an elaborate Z-Move, especially with Z-moves being such an important thing in Sun and Moon’s repertoire — I feel like that’s the reason why I haven’t played a triple or rotation battle yet in this game. If the Nintendo Switch rumors are true, we can hope that this will be the first thing to go, and we can all experience the Alola region in the smoothness it was intended to be experienced in.
Aside from frame rate issues, the Pokemon in Sun and Moon are really the only mild complaint that I have with the game, and to be honest, it’s not really the Pokemon themselves that I’m complaining about at all — Pokemon like Wishiwashi, Lycanroc, Mimikyu, and more deserve so much praise for being fresh and interesting, and all equipped with a slew of new moves and abilities to look at and try, and the Alolan forms, while not entirely new Pokemon, pay homage to the originals while still giving us something different to play with. At first, I was concerned with the amount of new Pokemon we received in the region, but after thinking about it for a while and expressing my concerns with other fans, I realized that it wasn’t the amount I had a problem with either; it was simply how many of them were shown to me prior to the game’s release. A few new Pokemon and Alolan forms were new as I played the game through, but to be honest, a lot of the Pokemon I hadn’t seen, like Water/Poison Mareanie and the Grass/Ghost Dhelmise were seriously hard to find, and would have made me go too far out of the way to catch them. I would suggest to Nintendo that they leave a little bit more to the imagination next time, but maybe since they kept a tight lock and key on the plot, they were willing to reveal more of the other features in the game. Who knows.
Overall, Pokemon Sun and Moon is what I said in the beginning, a love letter to the young and old alike. If you’re a newcomer to the series, or if you haven’t played since Pokemon’s first days on the Game Boy, or if you’re a fanatic just like me, you’re going to enjoy this game. Among the vast amount of story, the new Alolan forms and interesting new Pokemon, the fresh take on gyms and exploration, and the cast of extremely likable characters, there is something for every Pokemon fan to love. Game Freak, this one is going to be hard to top.