Pokemon Sun and Moon Review – Welcome to Your Summer Vacation

It has been 20 years since Game Freak introduced Pokemon to the world. This series has had six generations and it’s finally time for changes, and boy does this 7th generation come with significant changes. The story, battle, gyms, and even the traditional grid that makes up the map have been either highly revamped or removed completely. These changes have both fantastic and detrimental effects on the game as a whole, but it’s still Pokemon at the end of the day.

Title: Pokemon Sun
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak
Platform: 3DS(Reviewed)
Release Date: November 18th 2016(3DS)
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review above, or read the full review of the game below.

The attention to detail in this game has truly made the wait that much sweeter. While the graphics in this game have a difficult time living up to other games on this system, the improvements to the style have lead to massive improvements in the overall quality of this game.

The move to full 3D has allowed the for a more realistic island experience. Houses look realistic and have more than one room. For the first time you don’t live in a 2 story house and your mom isn’t forced to live in the kitchen, she finally has her own room! Buildings can have odd shapes and on many occasions have a sense of actual height and size.

This change has also led to an island experience that feels far greater than any challenge I’ve been on before. You can see hills and valleys and secret little coves far below you when traveling through the mountains. Deserts feel barren, snowstorms feel cold, and traveling through these 4 lovely islands feels like a new experience in each area.

The improvements aren’t just focused on the map though, as both Pokemon and trainers have had a fantastic improvement to their overall feel and look. In game trainers are actively looking for you, swaying back and forth – and just because they’re on a higher ledge doesn’t mean your safe from their very active gaze.

These trainers are very expressive, showing a range of emotions that I never really saw in previous generations. Hau is constantly waving his arms around and jumping and it just shows a level of movement that I didn’t really expect in a Pokemon game before. Trainers in combat are active participants in battle, standing behind their Pokemon to give orders. Even the wannabe thugs of Team Skull try to act intimidatingly, walking with a swagger that could only be called expressive, overconfident, and idiotic, but it suits their character quite well.

Even the focus on the smaller details have left me dumbfounded by the level of thought Game Freak has put into this wonderful island adventure. It was like they thought of everything, when I saw a car parked incorrectly. Trainers have many different types of pokeballs and it was pretty accurate for the type of pokemon that came out. Even many of the trainers beds have their own personality. All of these things culminate into a feeling of effort and vitality that is hard to find in any game series.

That’s not to say that these amazing improvements didn’t cause their own issues. While the in-combat models of pokemon are great, when more than two Pokemon fight in battle the game begins to lag, and in the new combat mode multi battle the game seriously suffers for it. Even though this doesn’t really effect the game in most occasions due to the scarce nature of these battles, this could pose a serious issue for tournaments.

While everything has changed in this generation the biggest change would have to be in terms of gameplay. While the core of battle is the same as ever, there are several new additions that make life a whole lot better for your daily battling convenience.

On the left side of the bottom screen we have a button to pull up all of the battling pokemon’s moves. After facing a Pokemon at least once there is a small banner that shows just how effective each move is against your opponent. Despite type matchups are common knowledge to many of our veterans, younger or casual gamers will find this immensely helpful.

The second big change to the battle menu has to be the addition of the character sprites in the middle of the bottom screen. As most gamers know, each time your Pokemon gets hit with a sand attack your accuracy falls one stage, however up until this point the only way to keep track of these decreases was in your head or on hand. Now whenever you click on either sprite you’ll get to see each and every buff and rebuff that your Pokemon is afflicted with. You’ll also get to see any status moves like safeguard, and your Pokemon’s ability and what it does.

On the left hand side of the bottom menu you will find a quick access to your pokeballs, your standby Pokemon, and your bag. While there wasn’t a major change on the Pokemon menu there were two significant changes in terms of quick access to your items. In the items menu there is now a page dedicated to the items you use all the time.

If you’re constantly using potions or X attack in combat and would like quick access to these items just favorite them and you’ll be able to pick them from the favorites page. The other major change was the quick pokeball menu. If you press Y while in combat, you will bring up a small list of the pokeballs you have on hand. This makes capturing Pokemon significantly more efficient.

Even capturing Pokemon has changed for the better. When you have a full team and you capture a new Pokemon, you’ll be given a chance to look through the Pokemon’s summary page. This gives you a chance to look through the Pokemon’s moves, it’s abilities, and stats as well as its nature and potential IVs. If you like the Pokemon you can choose to keep it and send it to your PC, or even put the new Pokemon directly into your party.

The best change to battle system has to be the introduction of SOS Pokemon. When a wild Pokemon receives a certain amount of damage, or if your Pokemon has intimidate, or you use a specific item then the wild Pokemon will call for help from Pokemon the area. This can be abused to train your Pokemon, improve their effort values to an increased degree, increase the rate of Pokemon appearing, or even bring in shiny Pokemon.

This also means that many aspects that used to be in the series are now nowhere to be seen. Horde battles, triple battles, and rotation battles are now gone. This may be a blessing in disguise when you consider how slow the game gets in double battles, but I’m sure many tournament players will be upset by these significant changes.

There have also been significantly negative changes towards how you hunt for Pokemon. Fishing has been almost completely removed and you’re only able to fish in designated spots. Sneaking up on Pokemon has also been removed from the game (which was my favorite improvement from the previous game). So while core aspects of hunting and battling Pokemon have been improved on, these have come at significant costs.

Every aspect of this entire game has been effected by change and no change was greater than on the hallmark of the series: the Pokemon gyms. Technically, Alola isn’t a part of the Pokemon League and as such doesn’t have a series of gym. However, in its place are unique trials that explore the various aspects of the Alolan life.

These trials focus on memory, tenacity, logic, and strength. You will be watching fire shows, participating in experiments, making unique dishes and fighting boss Pokemon known as Totem Pokemon. These Totems feature greatly increased stats and often call for help from allies.

Now many of these trials I wasn’t really impressed with. Honestly, I thought several of these trials were lazy excuses to keep a sense of progression without really doing much to earn that sense of accomplishment. In one case you have to travel up a volcano and meet the fire trial captain, and the trip up the volcano was only a few screens total. It felt like a seriously missed opportunity and this was one of my biggest issues with this game.

There were so many changes that were made to help this series gain a foothold in a new generation. Most of these changes had an amazing effect on my experience with this game, but it feels like they lost something significant in the exchange. There are no real challenges in this game, no long dungeons until the very end, and I just feel that Game Freak streamlined the challenge out.

Your hand is being constantly held and if you ever loose your way there are convenient checkmarks to point you exactly where you need to go. Sure you can ignore all of these suggestions but the game always felt like it was on rails. There is obviously a tropical forest for you to explore, but your focus on completing your objectives lead you to miss the wonder of the experience.

While my experience with the gameplay might have been hit and miss, this games music and sound was a grand slam. Old themes have been revamped and significantly improved to have a unique Alolan flare to them.

For example, the Pokemon Center’s theme: while keeping the core theme intact has added a touch of Alola through percussion instruments and a heaping dose of ukelele. Hearing the percussion, guitar, ukelele, and occasional vocal arrangement was like experiencing the glorious brass of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire after only knowing the limitations of Red and Blue. It makes the music feel that much more involved

Many of the themes in this game are amazing and I would highly recommend playing this game with the sound on just to experience  it. One theme that I feel deserves credit are the themes to Team Skull. These are harsh and in high contrast to the traditional upbeat Alolan themes that pervade all of the islands. Not only do their themes match their personality, it matches their motivations beautifully.

I do feel however that character themes are too pervasive. I do understand that the developers are trying to let you know a certain character appeared but if I have to listen to Professor Kukui’s theme one more time I might have to pull my hair out. It has a tendency to pull you out of key events and it’s my only real complaint when looking at this game from a musical perspective.

I will say that from a gameplay perspective I felt the hand holding detracted seriously from this game. That being said, it completely makes a lot of sense when you realize you’re not really traveling alone anymore. During your travels you’ll be adventuring with your two new friends: Lilly and Hau, along with your expressive pokedex possessed by a Rotom. Hau is taking the island challenge alongside you and acts like your rival, while Lilly is trying to solve the mysteries of her Pokemon companion Nebby and how it’s connected to the legendary Pokemon of the area.

This games story almost completely makes up for many of this games gameplay issues. The characters are expressive and each has their own development and motivations that I haven’t really seen in a Pokemon game before. The villains, while hammy in their writing, are quite a bit more complex than in previous games. Even the writing surrounding the Legendary pokemon is more genuine and involved than in Pokemon X and Y.

This game is full of life and the interactions with the world around you really show you just how interesting Alola really is. One great example is checking out the waste disposal area where you can meet the manager trying to teach his son a lesson in perseverance. Not only do you learn more about the world of Pokemon Sun and Moon, you see snippits of life that really drive home just how great the writing in this game.

Even the trial captains have a focus and personality that not even gym leaders had. Each captain has a home that you can visit to learn more about them and their personality. In one example you can see two little sisters challenge you to a battle and when their sibling, the trial captain asks to battle you just to see who is stronger. While this is completely optional this brings a sense of human genuineness that this game has been lacking for a very long time. These small touches of life make this game connected and enjoyable.

Pokemon Sun and Moon are amazing games. The improvements that Game Freak have made in this game show the polish and attention to detail Pokemon is known for. The story is amazing and the twists this game pull really impressed me.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant issues that will upset most of our veteran gamers. Frame rate drops and the exclusion of significant features do hurt this game, but fans who have been waiting for an entry that significantly changes things up will be pleasantly surprised.

Pokemon Sun and Moon were reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8.5

The Good:

  • The Change into full 3d has allowed for a beautiful world
  • Music is great, Strings and Percussion make old themes great again
  • Gameplay improvements make battling much better for newbies and veterans
  • Story is lighthearted and Enjoyable

The Bad:

  • Serious lack of traditional core challenges
  • Many core features have been removed including triple and rotation battles
  • Character  themes can interrupt memorable scenes
  • Game suffers significant Framerate issues in double and multi battles
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I am a research student with a history in psychology. I am a fan of tactical rpgs and I love to travel. I hope to one day be a clinical psychologist.

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