Alola Trainers and welcome to the seventh generation of Pokémon!
With the start of Pokémon Sun and Moon, we find ourselves exploring a brand new region and discovering a new way to play.
The Alola region brings a brand new way to play, new Pokémon to catch and new mechanics to exploit. Ever since its reveal, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon have proven to be quite different from past games in the franchise. Following the success of X, Y, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Sun and Moon bring a new twist to the incredible world of Pokémon.
This time around, the art style has taken a more realistic style compared to the 6th generation. Building on the 3D graphics from its predecessor, Sun and Moon introduces a free-form of movement. This is the first time players will not be fixed on a grid. The game feels fresher and smoother when exploring this time around.
The theme of Alola is obviously heavily inspired by Hawaiian culture and that is emphasized almost everywhere in Alola. From the way habitants greet each other to the very design of the Pokémon themselves, this tropical and exotic region presents a world of its own, complete with traditions, guardian deities and folklore. Even the music and sound effects have taken a more tropical ring to it too.
In Sun and Moon, you play the role of a new Trainer that has moved from the Kanto region to the Alola region. As a newcomer, you will learn the ways of the Alolan people and being your adventure as a trial-goer. That’s right. In Alola, young children can begin to undertake Trials on the different islands upon reaching the age of 11. Furthermore, every island has a kahuna, a big boss in charge of keeping the peace as well as accepting challenges from worthy trial-goers.
Compared to past games, Sun and Moon is a lot more story-driven. Players will be welcomed by multiple cutscenes and story developments. Indeed, the game will keep you wanting to find out more and more about the mysterious Pokémon you will come to meet.
There is a ‘but’ in this change as well. As much as a developed story is welcomed, it quickly becomes the only real way to advance in the game. By following the clearly marked flags on your map, you will simply move on from one area to the next, facing trials and kahunas before moving to the next island. The exploration feels limited and you will have easily traversed almost every inch of the islands upon completing the Grand Trial against the kahuna.
In this sense, the game is much more linear compared to past games where exploration was always a big deal. The story where the player must save the world from some calamity is also generally separate from their quest in defeating gyms and becoming champion of the Pokémon League. In Sun and Moon, the lack of multiple main objectives to hit results in a lack of accomplishment. Of course, this ease only makes the game more accessible to the new player.
Speaking of exploration, the game features, for the first time, a free-form of navigation. Characters are no longer placed on a grid of some sort and they move smoothly even across tall grass. The added effect of hearing the wild Pokémon as you walk only emphasizes this exotic ambiance.
Exploration is also made easier with the new mode of transportation: Poké Ride. This new feature allows Trainers to ride Pokémon to travel around Alola. Different Ride Pokémon are used for specific use. For example, a Tauros allows to breaks boulders and rocks in your path, Charizard can take you to Pokémon Centers you have accessed before. This also removes the use of HM for good and it a great addition.
Now, no self-respecting Pokémon game will be the same without battles. Battling in Sun and Moon has also been eased to the casual player. A lot more information is being displayed on the bottom screen this time around. Players can always check what form of stat increase or decrease applied to all present Pokémon. Also, if you have battled the species at least once before, your attacks will show if they will be super effective or not.
Other new mechanics include one of the main additions to Sun and Moon: Z-Moves. In Alola, upon completing a Captain’s trial or the kahuna’s Grand Trial, you will receive their designated Z-Crystal. Like Gym Badges, they represent a Trainer’s completion of a trial. Furthermore, these Z-Crystals can be given to a Pokémon to hold but it must know a move of the same type. Only then can a Pokémon execute a Z-Move in battle.
During battle, only a single Z-Move can be used by a Trainer for the duration of the fight. This introduces a new way to battle and adds more flavour to strategies, especially that the Mega-Evolutions are still usable in Sun and Moon. As a mechanic, it only brings more opportunities to mix and match optimal Pokémon teams.
Of course, these strategies and ideas can only flourish when Trainers are met with challenges. Speaking of difficulty, it is a shame that Sun and Moon does not pose a problem to veteran of the franchise. Most players will find it easy to zoom through the main content since both the exploration and the battling ahs been simplified. Even the Trainers, the notorious Team Skull and kahunas do hold a competitive or difficult edge against the player. It would have been better to introduce players how to battle at the higher level in order to compete with veterans instead of over-simplifying the game’s overall experience.
Other activities in Alola feature Pokémon Refresh, the Poké Pelago as well as the Festival Plaza. Each of these additional modes are accessible seamlessly at any point of the game. Pokémon Refresh is a redesign of X and Y’s Pokémon Amie which allows Trainers to play, interact and care for their Pokémon. This allows for the Pokémon’s attachment to the player grow.
Poké Pelago is an island paradise where Pokémon you have caught and sent to the PC can relax and enjoy their time. They can also search for Poké Beans to feed your team, items and more. Sometimes, even wild Pokémon can wander onto your islands. Finally, the Festival Plaza serves as the hub for all things multiplayer. The more active players are, the more the festival grows with more facilities and the like.
Pokémon Sun and Moon features a lot of new mechanics and modes for players to explore. It is a turning point for the franchise and it was clear that the game was trying to change how Pokémon can be experienced. However, while some additions were welcome, there were also some that could have been worked on or tuned down. It is a change towards the right direction for the franchise and I am eager to see how this formula will continue to evolve with future iterations.
The design of the game has seen a great upgrade compared to past titles and it is entertaining. It just feels like that Sun and Moon is missing an X-factor that could have truly made it a superb installment. Perhaps allowing player to find their next destinations by themselves and give a real sense of challenge to players. It would only make the experience a lot more memorable if the experience results with a big sense of accomplishment.