Pokemon is a huge part of my life. The original games came out in Japan less than a month before I was born, the first games I ever owned on my first ever console were Pokemon Snap and Hey You, Pikachu, and now it’s a huge part of my life to the point where it’s practically my job (except I don’t make an income but shush). Yet, even with it being such a huge part of my life, if I were to make a top 10 list of my favorite video games of all time, Pokemon would not appear on that list.
That is, until now.
Welcome to Matter of Experience, which is just my review/first impressions series except the name is a pun and I go in-depth on the artistic side of things more than anything. I always knew I’d have to make a post about Pokemon Sun and Moon (from now on referred to as Pokemon S&M because I’m a child), but I didn’t think it’d be my next post. However, after 2 weeks (at the time of writing this) since the games came out and over 150 hours put into the game, I knew I had to share my thoughts on these games.
Obviously, after such a long time put into the games, I have finished the story. I know there are people who have yet to get the games, either waiting for Christmas or were waiting to see how people liked the games before buying. So, the first thought would be to avoid spoilers. However, since I like to talk about art and story writing is art, avoiding spoilers would defeat a lot of what I had to talk about. As a result, this review will be split into sections, and if you’re avoiding spoilers, you can skip past the parts you don’t want to be spoiled about. Some sections, like the story, will be split into two halves; a non-spoiler section and a spoiler section. This way, I can talk about everything I want to talk about while hopefully avoiding turning new customers away from these games.
Without further ado, let’s get into the review. Is Pokemon S&M the best generation, or is something amiss in Alola?
Part 1: Spoiler-Free Basic Information
Pokemon Sun and Moon are the 7th generation of Pokemon games released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Pokemon. It was announced February 27th, 2016 on their birthday and released November 18th, 2016 in America for some reason I’m sure is important but I have no idea of at the current moment. As always, the games were made by GAME FREAK (the company’s proper name is capitalized, so I always capitalize it) and published by Nintendo and the Pokemon Company. The games are based in the Alola region, which is based off Hawaii in the real world. It takes place 20 years after Red, Blue and Yellow.
One interesting fact about Pokemon Sun and Moon I’ve yet to see talked about by any reviewer is that the director of the game, Shigeru Ohmori, is new to directing Pokemon games. He’s been a game designer since Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, became lead designer in Pokemon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, and with became game director for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, meaning that this generation was Shigeru Ohmori’s first time ever directing a brand new generation of Pokemon games.
This is so important to note, because Pokemon S&M does a lot to change up the formula. From the graphics to the gameplay to the music to the story, the Alolan region somehow manages to feel like a breath of fresh air while still maintaining that Pokemon familiarity. I have a lot to cover here.
Part 2: Main Characters
This section will cover the basic personalities of the major characters in Pokemon S&M in order of their appearance. While I will avoid story spoilers, if you don’t want to know what the characters are like, skip this section. If you don’t want to know what the characters look like, you might be out of luck unless you stop reading now, depending on what my editor decides.
Professor Kukui: The Professor of the Alolan region. He’s an
ambitious young professor who’s travelled the world and
decided to study Pokemon Moves and which ones work best
in which situations. In his own words, “the best moves are
the ones a trainer and Pokemon choose together in the heat
of the moment.”
Lillie: Just a small town girl. Living in a lonely world. She took
the midnight boat going to… well, anywhere. This mysterious
assistant to Professor Kukui is a little cold at first, but becomes
a lot warmer to you as the story goes on. Not going to spoil much
further, but I will say, she is by far my favorite Pokemon character.
Ever. When she was revealed in a trailer, I thought I would hate
her. I’m wrong a lot of the time.
Hala: It’s Hawaiin Santa. He really doesn’t hold much weight
in the story, but he has some important information to talk
about, so I’ll include him here. He is what’s known as an island
Kahuna. They’re the island bosses. That’s pretty much all there
is to it. They’re considered the strongest trainers on their home
islands, chosen to lead. He’s also the person who gives you your
starter Pokemon. I will not be bringing up other island Kahunas
unless they hold significant plot relevance.
Hau: It’s your rival! Kinda! Hau is pretty much Barry from
generation 4 (Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum), but
worse. His character is pretty much being hyper, wanting to
smile all the time and make others smile, and eating an Alolan
pastry similar to a doughnut called a malasada. He doesn’t even
get a pass for being difficult like some previous terrible rivals
(*cough* Silver from gen 2 *cough, cough*) because he is
pretty easy to beat, not helped by the new tradition of your
rival choosing the starter Pokemon weak to yours. I hated
Hau at first, but he did redeem himself a bit towards the end.
Hau is the third worst character in Pokemon S&M. He’s also
Hala’s grandson, which is a part of his character. Many characters
often say things like “It must be hard living in the shadow of your
grandfather”, which could add depth to Hau’s character. Problem
is, Hau rarely mentions it himself, and never seems bothered by it.
Sorry for the long bio on Hau, I just had a lot to say about him.
Also this was literally the only vectored image of him I could find.
Team Skull: Decided to talk about the criminal team all under
one banner, as to avoid spoiling the admins and boss, since that
could count as a story spoiler. Team Skull is based off of
stereotypical hood culture, as far as I can tell. They rap, they say
“Yo” all the time, they move their arms around like they’re trying
to be badass. Honestly, if they were portrayed seriously, they’d be
insufferably annoying. However, they’re played for laughs, and it
works so well. While I’m not sure if I’d say they’re my favorite
enemy team (it’s kinda hard to have a favorite enemy, really), I
can say without a doubt they’re the most entertaining. Where, in
previous games, I would groan every time I had to fight a group
of them, in this game, it just felt natural, less like an annoying
road block and morel ike a fun interlude in the story with funny
characters. And, semi-spoiler here, their main base in the game?
Hands down my favorite area in all of Alola. I won’t spoil it or even
say the name of the area, but the atmosphere there is the best I’ve
seen in a Pokemon game ever, except maybe Giratina in Platinum.
Sina and Dexio: If you played Pokemon X and Y, these names
might sound familiar to you. Then again, they very well might not.
Sina and Dexio were Professor Sycamore’s assitants in gen 6, and
they were by far the worst characters in a game chock full of the
worst characters in any Pokemon game. They make a very
unceremonious return in Pokemon S&M. I could not find a
vectored image of them to include, and part of me is glad I don’t
have to see their faces in my article. They barely serve any purpose
just like in their original game, so you might be wondering why I’m
including them in this list. To be perfectly honest, it was literally just
to talk about how much I hate them. These two, Dexio in particular,
are the second worst characters in Pokemon Sun and Moon.
Hopefully my editor won’t find a vector so they can stay out of my
Gladion: Just a city boy. Born and raised in south… Alola… The
song fell apart a lot faster this time around… At first glance,
Gladion looks like that edgy kid who tries too hard to be dark
and foreboding. He even shakes his arms in anger while battling.
But, just like with Lillie and Hau, there’s a lot more to him under
the surface. You meet him while he’s freelance working for Team
Skull, but as the game goes on, the “freelance betrayal” trope
comes through and you learn a lot more about him. He’s one
of my favorite characters in S&M, probably second favorite. I
can’t really go more into his character without spoilers.
Lusamine: The head of an organization called the Aether
Foundation, Lusamine has a love for all Pokemon, especially
the beautiful ones. I’m not sure if she started the Aether
Foundation, but she’s the president, and since the Aether
Foundation exists to protect Pokemon, both from wild
predators making them extinct and from Team Skull’s thievery,
she must be good. Once again, I can’t really say anything more
about her without spoiling anything, so I’ll save the rest for
the spoiler sections. I couldn’t find a vector for her, so here’s
an image with a blank white background. Sorry for those using
a color inverter or something to ease eye strain on computers.
I would include a few more characters in this section, because we meet quite a lot of characters throughout the game, all of which serve some purpose, some more than others. I wish I could include all the important ones, but this section is already going on long enough. These are all the most vital characters, in my opinion. At least, they’re the ones I had something to talk about. On to the next section.
Part 3: Important Pokemon (Spoiler-Freeish)
Since Pokemon are basically characters, I will be talking about the important ones here. This part, however, will be split in two. This section will contain spoilers of starter Pokemon, two important Pokemon you meet very early in the game, and a new type of Pokemon. This section will involve pictures, so if you’re avoiding that spoiler, find a way to block out the pictures. They will be in the same location as the previous section.
The second half of this part will involve HUGE spoilers for the plot of this game. As a result, I will not be bolding any names nor providing any pictures in hopes to easily allow anyone avoiding spoilers free passage through without ruining anything. If you don’t care about spoilers but don’t know the story of this game, I still highly recommend you skip that section so, if you get this game (which I highly recommend), you can go into the story as spoiler free as possible.
On to the Pokemon!
Rowlet: And so, on the 40th day, the world decided that,
come 2016, when the 7th generation of Pokemon was
released, so too would a round owl starter that would take
the world by storm. Once it was revealed, one woman
writing an editorial would share the opinion that no one
asked for that Rowlet is… meh. It’s really meh. If there’s one
thing Pokemon has taught me over the years, it’s that I
apparently don’t like owls. Rowlet is the Grass starter of Alola,
and while it’s definitely kinda cute and I usually prefer the Grass
starters over any other, Rowlet is by far my least favorite starter
from Alola. It was the Pokemon I used first on my playthrough
because I had a great nickname for it (Simon Blackquill), and
it was decent, but overall, it’s a bit underwhelming to me. There
has been much worse, though (I’m looking at you, Tepig). I’m
also not a fan of its dual typing of Grass/Flying.
Litten: I might as well make it obvious how I usually think when
it comes to Pokemon starters. Usually, the Grass type is my
favorite, then the Water type is decent to good, and I could care
less about the Fire type. In gen 7, the roles are pretty much
reversed. Keep in mind, I’m talking PURELY about the first stage
Pokemon (as in, the one you choose before they evolve). In the
case of the first stages, Rowlet is my least favorite and Litten is my
favorite. At first, I didn’t care much for Litten, but seeing it in game,
it has stolen my heart. It’s the Fire starter, in case you couldn’t tell,
and while I’m more of a dog person, I’d take this cute little cat home
if I could. For those curious, I like to name my Littens “Brandy”, a pun
on the term “firebrand”.
Popplio: I’ll just come out and say it. Popplio is probably my
favorite Alolan starter Pokemon. At least, it used to be that way.
I have a soft spot for seals (one of my favorite animals), so when
it was revealed and everyone was bashing it, my heart beat for the
little pup. However, since getting the games, it’s had a reverse Litten
effect, where seeing it in game has kinda made me like it less. No
offense to any Popplio fans, it’s still a good Pokemon and I like its
whole line the best (so far, that might change once I do a playthrough
with Litten), but it just seems so much less expressive than I thought.
All the starters express a lot of emotion by just looking at them. Well,
not Rowlet, but still. Popplio is the happy one, the dopey, derpy one
that’s happy all the time, just like you’d expect from a circus seal.
And while that’s not bad, and does make it cute, the novelty is
starting to wear off for me. Either way, it’s still a fantastic Pokemon
and, spoiler alert, the best Alolan starter in terms of competitive use.
That’s a fact, by the way. Its base stats are better distributed than
Alolan Pokemon: Because this is the anniversary of Pokemon’s
original release, they included a new type of Pokemon; Alolan
forms. These are Kanto Pokemon, such as the Grimer on the right,
that have changed appearance and typings due to them being in
a new region, like Alola. This is a great mechanic, bringing a new
breath of fresh air to a lot of old favorites that, while not changing
their stats as far as I can tell, still somehow making them a lot
more viable, such as with Marowak who, while somewhat
underwhelming in previous metas, now destroys so many.
Cosmog: I can’t say much about this Pokemon without spoiling
stuff, so I’ll just be quick here. Cosmog is a Psychic type Pokemon
that you learn within the first hour is a rare Pokemon Lillie is
hiding in her bag. I won’t say anything else, I just wanted
to mention it because it is an important Pokemon. Also, if
you see the Pokemon here and think “I want one for my team!”,
forget about it. Cosmog is unavailable in the main game of S&M,
kinda. Either way, though, the antics of Nebby and Lillie are very
entertaining, and the memes are absolutely delectable. Also I
once again could not find a vector, so here’s the official artwork
from the game’s website, as shown by the border design in the corners.
Rotom-Dex: *Sigh* I’ve been dreading this moment…
Remember how I said Sina and Dexio were the second worst
characters in Pokemon S&M and Hau was the third worst? Say
“Alola” to the worst character in all of Pokemon S&M. As a result,
this bio will be very long, as I want to explain exactly why this
addition was an absolutely horrible idea.
The Pokemon Rotom is a Ghost/Electric type that was introduced in generation 4. The gimmick behind Rotom is that it can possess the motors of different machines, thus changing its typing. It originally came from a television in a creepy old building in Sinnoh. It could transform from its base form into one of many forms, all keeping the Electric typing and its ability of Levitate, but losing the Ghost typing and gaining a new look: A washing machine (Electric/Water), a fridge (Electric/Ice), a lawn mower (Electric/Grass), a fan (Electric/Flying), and an oven (Electric/Fire).
Now that Rotom is in the Pokedex, a few changes are made. It loses its shape, but we don’t know what typing it is, since we cannot use the Rotom-Dex to fight other Pokemon. Instead, it has another role, one that is, quite frankly, extremely stupid. The Rotom-Dex acts like Navi from Pokemon and constantly reminds you of your current mission with flavor text.
Before anyone outcries and decides not to buy the game, I will say now, it’s not that bad. Unlike Navi, Rotom-Dex doesn’t stop you and make you stand in place to hear him. His text is on the bottom screen and you can do whatever you want as he speaks. The only thing it does is make you unable to see your map for a few seconds. So it really says a lot about this game when I say that, in my opinion, the Rotom-Dex is the WORST part of Pokemon S&M. Now that I’ve said that nice thing about it, however, I’m going to explain why Rotom-Dex shouldn’t even be able to speak.
First off, how does Rotom even inhabit the Pokedex? Its name is Motor backwards for a reason; it needs to possess a MOTOR. All of its other forms has a motor in it, from the fridge to the oven to the fan. Pokedexes do not have motors in them. Second off, even if Rotom could possess the Pokedex, how could it speak? The only time the Pokedex could speak was in the anime, where it read out the Pokedex entries in a robotic voice. The Pokedex could never talk, only read out what it was programmed to read. Wanna know what else has speakers that are programmed to read out whatever it can? The television Rotom originally came from. And yet, it couldn’t speak back then. Why can it now?
With that rant over, however, that ends the spoiler-freeish section of the Important Pokemon.
Part 3.5: Important Pokemon (Spoilers)
Again, I will not be including images nor bolding the Pokemon names. Instead, I’ll write a small narrative wherein the name of the Pokemon is hidden. This will go into competitive usage, story spoilers and final forms of previously mentioned Pokemon. If you do not wish to have any of these spoiled, feel free to skip this section (scroll until you see pictures or another bold header).
The main reason I disliked Rowlet was its typing, being Grass/Flying. I didn’t like how we knew what its typing would be before it was fully evolved, and I didn’t like that I would then lose the ability to have a Flying type on my team, when there was a Flying type Pokemon I wanted on my team since it was revealed. As a result, for the longest time, I planned to use Popplio on my first playthrough, which, while I love Popplio, would also deprive me of the Water type I wanted to use. However, my dilemma was solved thanks to Decidueye, Rowlet’s fully evolved form, where it loses the Flying subtype and gains a Ghost one, for some reason… While its new type pairing isn’t exactly new nor well-explained, I was very happy to have a new reason to use Rowlet. Based off of an archer, Decidueye is a slower, but more well-rounded Pokemon. None of its stats are particularly any good, nor particularly any bad. This does make it a bit lackluster competitively, but it’s a bit fun, as it can then run a lot of different tactics. Its signature move, Spirit Shackle, is a physical Shadow Ball, only instead of dropping Special Defense, it prevents the opponent from fleeing. I can imagine a lot of fun ways this could be used. Also, if you’re a shiny hunter, I highly recommend you pick up Rowlet as your starter, as it’s one of only three Alolan Pokemon able to learn the move False Swipe by TM, a move that is absolutely vital for the new shiny hunting method.
Remember how I said Litten was my favorite first-stage Alolan starter? The reason I specified that is its evolved for, Incineroar, is my least favorite, however, not for the reasons you’d expect. Based off of wrestlers, Incineroar is a Fire/Dark type, specifically based off of a heel wrestler, or “the bad guy”. While people think it’s only Fire/Dark because GAME FREAK saw how much people hated Fire/Fighting starters, the Fire/Dark typing actually fits it better, in my opinion, and it’s definitely an interesting typing, only seen once before on the Houndoom line, and this time, it’s Physical. Incineroar is by far the most expressive of the final form Alolan starters, a cocky, snarling villain betraying a flashy, somewhat kind-hearted kitten underneath. So why is Incineroar my least favorite? It’s simple, really. One, I don’t like human-like designs too much, and Incineroar is probably the most human-like Pokemon I’ve ever seen. Feels less like I’ve got a great fire cat on my team and more like I captured John Cena and am using him for dog fights. The only other reason is, Incineroar is very slow. While this makes sense, since it’s got a very high Attack stat, it’s not my play style; I’m more a fan of glass cannons like Weavile or Cloyster. Otherwise, though, I like Incineroar a lot. Probably my favorite part of Incineroar is its signature move, Dark Lariat, which really is a normal offensive move, but it ignores and stat changes, so walls beware! I’ll end this section off with a reminder to the Incineroar haters. Yes, Incineroar stands on its back two legs. So did literally every other Fire starter so far. Don’t hate on it for that fact alone.
I think you can guess what Pokemon I’ll be talking about next. Primarina, Popplio’s evolved form. Like I said before, this one is objectively the best to use in competitive. It’s the same speed as Incineroar but with access to Aqua Jet with more HP than Decidueye. The reason it’s better, however, is that while Decidueye is balanced in all stats and Incineroar is balanced with a focus on Attack, Primarina has a focus. It’s a bulky offense mon, with a huge Special Defense and Special Attack. This helps it out a lot because while the others are jacks of all trades, Primarina stands out in something. Plus, the Water/Fairy typing has only been seen, yet again, by one Pokemon, Azumarill, and this time, it’s Special…ical… Can’t make the same pun this time… It’s a very hard hitting typing with access to Scald and Moonblast, two of the greatest moves in this meta, in my opinion. Oh, and I guess I should probably talk about design too. Another huge plus. When have we ever seen an opera singing Pokemon before? Not one that I can think of. The only downside is its signature move is kinda useless… Sparkling Aria is a fairly hard hitting move, 10 power more than Scald, but it works like a reverse Scald, curing the target of its burn rather than causing a burn. This is practically useless. I can only ever imagine it being helpful in very, VERY niche circumstances, only being run to use Primarina’s special Z-Move (a mechanic we’ll go into much later). Otherwise, it’s the best line, in my opinion.
Now we’re getting into slight story spoilers. I’ll save the extreme story spoilers for later, but if you’re avoiding anything, even things revealed in the trailer, this is yet another point to skip ahead. Here, I’ll talk about Ultra Beasts as a whole. Ultra Beasts are a new “kind” of Pokemon from an alternate dimension. If you played ORAS, you know what this is like. Remember the wormholes in the sky you could enter to catch legendaries from previous games while riding the Lati’s? It’s kind of like that, only the UBs have entered the Pokemon world and are reeking havoc. These Pokemon are very powerful, all their stat totals are 570 and all of their individual stats are Prime Numbers, which is actually really funny. Most, if not all the UBs are interesting, fairly unique typings, and they resemble many in-game characters, perhaps hinting at the fact that, in the universe they come from, the humans are the Pokemon. There are 7 UBs in total, 5 to catch in each game, 2 exclusives. In Pokemon Sun (note to editor: don’t bold the game names here so people won’t get caught scrolling past), the exclusives are Buzzwole (Bug/Fighting) and Kartana (Grass/Steel). In Pokemon Moon, the exclusives are Phermosa (Bug/Fighting) and Celesteela (Steel/Flying). To all those Sun players out there, I hate to break it to you, but the Moon exclusive Ultra Breasts are undoubtably the best ones. Luckily, you can only catch these in post-game content. My favorite UB is either Kartana or Guzzlord (Dragon/Dark).
Finally, it’s time for the massive story spoilers. This is a huge plot point that I’m about to talk about, so if you have not beaten Pokemon S&M, do not read this following section, even if you don’t plan on getting the game.
You remember Nebby, right? The Cosmog hidden in Lillie’s bag that follows her everywhere and always tries to escape the bag? In case it wasn’t obvious before, Nebby has huge plot relevance. Around halfway through the game, Lillie is captured by Team Skull and brought to the Aether Foundation, where it’s discovered that Team Skull and Lusamine, the president, were working together. Lusamine is trying to force open the wormhole to the world of the Ultra Beats, where she thinks all the Pokemon are beautiful and the world is perfect. Turns out, she’s a bit of an obsessive person, completely enamored with the world of the UBs and denouncing anyone who betrays her, saying they’re no longer beautiful. Yet, for some reason, she’s very mean to Nebby, who just so happens to be the one Pokemon capable of opening the UB wormholes. Upon being used by Lusamine to open up the portals, Nebby enters a sleep, where it evolves from Cosmog to Cosmoem (Cosmoem being the Pokemon this paragraph was made to talk about (fun fact: Cosmog and Cosmoem are glorified Magikarp clones, unable to do anything more than Splash)). You and Lillie then go on a quest together to bring Nebby back to where it belongs, which just so happens to be on the other side of this game’s Victory Road.
Unfortunately for me, I had this next plot twist spoiled for me, which is why I’m stressing you do not read this if you don’t already know, because this plot twist is so smart. To be fair, I already kind of saw this coming, though, so the spoiler wasn’t too big of a deal. You know the legendary on the boxes of these games? Its time I talk about that. See how both Lunala (the legendary of Moon) and Solgaleo (the legendary of Sun) share a starry pattern with a purple background in at least one aspect of their designs? Well, upon reaching the summit of where Nebby was found originally, you and Lillie play the flute of the Sun and Moon together, thus evolving Cosmoem into the game’s box legendary.
Again, I did kind of see this coming. The starry pattern shared between Lunala and Solgaleo looked like the same pattern as Nebby, so when I was spoiled, it just made sense to me. But it was still a very subtle hint, and this inclusion was genius. This is the first Pokemon game where I have ever felt attached to the box legendary, and it’s all because of how well they wrote Nebby and Lillie. This was a very smart inclusion, and is just one example of how Sun and Moon purify Pokemon’s writing. It also gives a reason for why the catch rate is 45, which means the box legendary is easy to catch. Don’t worry, though, the Tapus and one other legendary more than make up for that fact.
One final spoiler Pokemon. Once you’ve caught or defeated all the Ultra Beasts in the post-game Ultra Beast Missions, one of the characters you worked with will say he saw a black figure fly across the sky and that he was convinced that it was an Ultra Beast. However, you quickly dispell that option, as you’ve dealt with them all. Instead, that black figure turns out to be a brand new legendary, Necrozma, a pure Psychic type. I know next to nothing about Necrozma, and even had to look up how to catch it (it’s level 75 and in the area where you catch Rockruff, by the way. Spray a repel and run around until it appears). I recommend you use your Master Ball, as this is the last legendary of the post-game (as far as I’m aware after 150 hours). I’m very intrigued to learn more about this mysterious legendary.
Part 4: New Game Mechanics
As always with new Pokemon games, there are new mechanics. As always with these parts, just skip ahead if you don’t wanna hear about them. There aren’t many, but there’s one in particular I want to discuss.
First off, the PokeRide. Remember when X and Y said we could ride Pokemon? Remember when X and Y lied? Well, now Pokemon S&M brings that promise to a reality. Now you get 7 Pokemon, not in your team, to ride around the Alolan islands. Even better than that, however, is that the PokeRide replaces HMs! No longer are you required to catch an HM slave! Our prayers have been answered!
Okay, being honest though, there is a part of me that misses HMs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad that they got rid of them and it was really stupid how you couldn’t overwrite the HMs. I mean, HMs never went away, so even if you overwrote them, then you could just teach them back. There’s really no way you could mess that up. It’s like with nicknaming traded Pokemon; the original owner could just change the name back, so why does it matter? The reason I miss HMs, though, is that A) it gave a sense of progress, getting these moves throughout your adventure, and B) it kinda gave you a reason to catch new Pokemon. If I had a choice between HMs and PokeRide, however, I would pick PokeRide, since HMs were handled poorly.
Another new mechanic (or two) is the Poke Pelago and the Festival Plaza. Poke Pelago is a fun addition where Pokemon in your box can be put to activities, from growing berries to making beans to searching for items to relaxing in a hot spring to become friendlier. This is a really cool addition, and while I thought it was gimmicky at first, it became a daily routine to check it. The Festival Plaza is this game’s WiFi hub, much like the gen 5 feature where you owned an area where NPCs visited. And exactly like gen 5’s feature that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of, Festival Plaza is exceptionally stupid. It makes going online a much more annoying step, and offers a bunch of really useless side distractions. The only part of it I’m glad they included is that WonderTrade is still here. The thing about Festival Plaza that annoys me the most is that, in the start menu, Festival Plaza has a green exclamation point on it, and I can’t figure out how to make that mark go away. I’ve spent over 5 hours in the plaza and the mark is still there. It’s infuriating.
Petty squabbles aside, the Festival Plaza is a dumb addition for non-personal reasons. In gen 6 when Wondertrading was introduced, logging into the internet was easy; you go to the screen on the touch screen, connect to the internet, and you stay connected until you shut the system off or disconnect. In this game, however, the Festival Plaza acts as a gigantic step in-between you and any internet capabilities. If you want to go online, first you need to enter Festival Plaza, then choose what online feature you want to use, then connect to the internet, then you’re let in. Doesn’t sound horrible, but this happens every time you leave Festival Plaza, regardless of if you disconnected from the internet or shut off the system, meaning that every time you use the internet, you need to wait to do anything. In a game where they clearly put a lot more thought into the competitive meta and you need to catch all the Pokemon in the Pokedex to complete it, meaning you outright need to use the internet to get 100%, it’s a massive hurdle that has been proven unneccesary from the generation that came before it. No one asked for this. I hope no one ever has to see anything like this again.
The biggest feature talked about is the replacement of gyms in this game. The past formula was always 8 gyms, an Elite 4, champion. Now, there are a bunch of trials, Kahuna battles, and then the Elite 4 and champion. The trials do feel fresh, but they started feeling repetitive to me, which disappointed me a lot. It still felt good to be playing a Pokemon game where I did something new, however. I just don’t think the trial system could be interesting in any place but Alola.
Finally, there’s the new mechanic I really wanted to talk about. The SOS battle mechanic. This is where a weakened and startled wild Pokemon can call for help, having another wild Pokemon appear. To many people, this is the worst new addition to Pokemon S&M, because it makes catching wild Pokemon a lot harder, making you need to knock out multiple Pokemon before even attempting to catch the original one. So many people say it’s frustrating and annoying and the worst thing in this game and I… wholeheartedly disagree.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see how that might get annoying, and they could’ve handled it better. For instance, there’s an item called the Adrenaline Orb that makes Pokemon more likely to call for help. They should’ve included a reverse Adrenaline Orb that makes Pokemon less likely to call for help. The closest we have to that is Paralyzing Pokemon or putting them to sleep, as a Paralyzed or Asleep Pokemon cannot call for help and makes them easier to catch. They also should have allowed people to catch a Pokemon even in the double battle state of an SOS call. You could catch Pokemon in a Double Battle in Colosseum and XD, why not here?
However, with all those negatives, there are HUGE benefits to having a Pokemon call for help. An SOS Pokemon can be an evolved form of the Pokemon you’re fighting, making Pokedex completion much easier. They also have a higher chance of having high IVs and hidden abilities. Best of all, however, is that an SOS Pokemon has a much higher chance of being shiny. This is the new shiny hunting method, and it’s better than any of the others that have ever existed. There are so many benefits to having a Pokemon call SOS, and while I know it doesn’t really help someone just trying to catch a Pokemon, in my opinion, it’s worth it because you also get extra experience.
I now have another new mechanic to talk about. I took a break from writing this and, in an attempt to get a Destiny Knot for breeding, I tried out S&M’s brand new game mode, the Battle Royale. A Battle Royale is a free for all where 4 trainers face off against one another in an attempt to make as many points by killing the opponents as possible. It’s a cool idea, one based off the fan-created Free For All game mode from previous generations. There’s just one little problem.
GAME FREAK doesn’t know how to program Battle Royales. If you play Battle Royales with AI, they will literally do random attacks, unless you’re low on health, in which case literally everyone there will attack you. They do not strategize. They do not think. They just hit random buttons until someone dies, that someone generally being me because the AI cannot make up their damn minds. It’s completely ridiculous because they also give you next to no Battle Points regardless of if you win or lose, so getting any items from doing it is a complete and utter crap shoot. It’s an alright game mode if playing with actual people, but if you’re like me and are trying to get as close to 100% as you can and do it legitimately, Battle Royales are the most frustrating, broken, absolutely horrendously designed additions to a Pokemon game since Rotation Battles. You goofed up, GAME FREAK. You goofed up big time.
Coming back once again, I realized my biggest problem with Battle Royales. I’m currently competing in them to get a Destiny Knot, one of the most important items used in breeding for competitive Pokemon. In order to get it through Battle Royals, you need 48 points, but you can’t easily get 48 points unless you’ve bred good Pokemon to use in a Battle Royale, which you can’t do until you get the Destiny Knot, the only official way of getting that is by playing Battle Royales that you can’t win because you haven’t won enough Battle Royales to earn the right to win it. Confused yet? That’s the clusterbomb this game mode presents.
If you want a tip for Battle Royales, don’t even slightly bother with bulk. Get sweepers or you lose. It’s as simple as that.
That’s all the major game mechanics I can think of. Obviously I missed a few, but these are the ones I wanted to talk about.
Part 5: Artistic Merit
This section will be the final, and most important (in my opinion) part of this review; the artistic merit of the game. This will involve discussion on the music, the game design, the character and Pokemon design, and finally, the story. This will be split into two sections: the basic design review and the first hour or so of story review. Unlike previous sections, I won’t be adding in a spoiler section. Partly because there’s too much to go over and just talking about the important parts would be too disconnected, partly because my internet went out once it was completed but before I could save, deleting all my progress, and partly because this is a story you really need to experience without spoilers.
Part 5.4: Structure, Music and Design
First, the graphics. At first, when I saw them in reveal trailers, I’ll be honest; I didn’t see much difference between the graphics in this game and the graphics in X and Y. For some reason, I’m very blind when it comes to graphical fidelity; I don’t see how technically good the games look, I notice it on a color basis. I see how vibrant things are, how diverse the color schemes are, how interesting it is to look at everything. For instance, my favorite game is Xenoblade Chronicles, which I’ve been told looks horrible on a graphical stand-point, but to me, it looks amazing, whether you’re going through the colorful smoke-filled Satorl Marsh or, my personal favorite, watching the yellow pillars of light on Valak Mountain during the night time. A big rule of art is, no matter how good your tools are, you still have to be creative with them, which is why something like Gears of War looks horrible, drab and boring with grayscale colors.
It’s also why something like Sun and Moon looks amazing. When it comes to graphical fidelity, even I can see the huge improvements between X and Y and this. Everything looks less pixellated around the edges, things move more smoothly (some times), and when it comes to how I see art, everything is more vibrant, colorful and varied than I was expecting. I spent the first island really fearing that there wouldn’t be much variety in locations, but I was proven very wrong. They even fixed my biggest complaints from X and Y when it comes to graphics; all the characters are extremely expressive, having different poses, emotions and facial expressions (except the main character, who stares forward, eternally smiling like a mummy), and the battle backgrounds are a lot more varied, depending on your location. In X and Y, there were maybe 5 different battle backgrounds. Now, there seems to be one for every different area you go to. My personal favorite is the stage in Iki Village on the first island, where you can see a crowd of people watching your fight, adding so much to the enjoyment.
I do have two complaints about the graphics, however. While the days, sunrise and sunset look amazing (sunset is my favorite), night, as always seems to be the case in Pokemon games, is kind of boring. Night time can be so much more interesting than just making everything navy blue, GAME FREAK. Tint the sky a passionate purple, have varied stars scattered throughout the sky, have the moonlight waver and change how bright it is. I feel bad for Moon players; while night time doesn’t look horrible, it is leagues below the other times.
The biggest complaint, graphics-wise, is simple; the 3DS was not ready for this kind of graphical output. Load times are long, even opening and closing the game can make the system struggle, and worst of all, double battles, SOS calls, status effects, really any effect that adds more to the screen than the standard 1 on 1 battle causes the game to studder and drop frames like crazy. At least, on a 3DS XL. I’ve heard it’s better on a New 3DS, but not perfect.
Music-wise, I yet again can’t say too much. I don’t listen to music much as I play these games. However, because this game is much more thematic than previous entries, I did find myself plugging my ear buds in during crucial moments or when I was excited to be somewhere, and the music I did hear was amazing. There’s something about it; it feels very alien to Pokemon, and yet, at the same time, it’s more just a style shift from previous works of music than completely different sounds. I like this music a lot, and one song in particular, Seafolk Village Night, is my favorite Pokemon song of all time now (that should tell you a lot about my musical tastes). I also quite enjoy Hau’s battle theme, and anything with Team Skull in it is impressive at how different it is from the rest of the music, but perfectly fitting for them. The music definitely made many different locations, cutscenes and story marks much more memorable. If I had to recommend any place to plug in your earbuds and listen to the music all the way through, it’d be Po Town. I won’t say why due to spoilers, but the music makes my favorite place in all of Pokemon even more thematic.
The Pokemon and character designs are a marked improvement as well. Every single new Pokemon feels like a legitimate addition, even the Alolan forms, which I was afraid would be way too silly and ridiculous, breaking the immersion. The only Pokemon I think might do that is Alolan Diglett, which is just Diglett with metallic dirt around its base and blonde hair. Characters, as I said before, are infinitely more expressive, and so many different types of bodies appear. There are much more varied character models as well, once again improving on a complaint of generation six I had where every character looked the same. The trial captains all stand out along with the kahunas, the legendary Pokemon all command respect, I really have no complaints about anyone’s design. My personal favorite character (besides Lillie, who is too good for this world) is Nanu, who, while soft-spoken himself, portrays so much character in his stance, in his movement, in his mannerisms. I’m an aspiring voice actor, and there were so many characters in this game that, the second I saw them, I instantly had a voice I’d use to read their text. That is the ultimate sign of good design. Also, quick note, character customization is back and in full force, even better than X and Y’s in Alola. I just have three things to say about it in this game. 1) I hope you know a good way to make money, because Alolan fashion is unbelievably expensive. 2) I love how there are so many options to differentiate your character from the rest. It’s so varied and interesting, and I found myself changing my outfit and hair style almost daily. 3) GAME FREAK, please add in more pants, hair colors and clothing colors. There are maybe two types of pants in the whole game (for the female character anyway); jeans, which I hate, and khaki pants that look more like they’re part of a baseball uniform. I know it’s hot in Alola, but you could at least give us something other than booty shorts. Shorts can go down to the knee and still be considered shorts, you know. As for colors, I’m just sad that auburn hair isn’t in this yet, and I can’t buy any blue clothes; instead, I need to buy white clothes and the dye them in the stupid Festival Plaza if I have the right place to do that. It’s a dumb mechanic, please just offer all colors for clothes and hair.
Finally, I want to discuss the game and level design. Here, I do have some complaints, or, more accurately, some concerns. The routes of this game are very big chunks of the islands; for instance, the first island only has 3 routes on it that circle the entire island. They somehow feel simultaneously too long to be considered a single route (as in they should’ve been split up into multiple routes in some instances) and too short to leave a lasting impact on me as a player. Overall, the game felt extremely linear; there weren’t many hidden caves, branching paths, interesting areas to go search. I felt like I was on a fun house ride, strapped into a cart, exploring a story at my own pace, but without much reason to explore. Keep in mind this isn’t a bad thing; there are still places to explore and a myriad of side quests (most of which I didn’t even find until post-game), and linear games aren’t bad. However, for a Pokemon game, it feels a little odd to feel like I only had one true path 95% of the time.
As for the game itself, it plays well (besides the frame rate issues). If you know me, you’ll know generation two is my least favorite generation because I feel there were many design flaws in it, one of which being the wild level jumps and drops that forced you to grind to beat one area, then be overlevelled in the next. X and Y were criticized harshly for being too easy due to the EXP Share. Sun and Moon, however, fix the EXP Share problem and, thankfully, are very well-balanced games. I never felt like I was too underleveled, nor did I ever feel too powerful. Totem Pokemon were always a massive struggle, Kahunas were tricky, the final battles were touch and go. Hau was a joke, but he’s Hau, so who cares? I had the EXP Share off the whole time because I thought it’d be like in X and Y, and I still grinded (ground?) very rarely. With the EXP Share, the game is a challenge, but not one you need to grind for if you do as many trainer fights as you can, which you’re incentivized to do thanks to side quests, Alolan Pokedex completion, and to see all the new Pokemon this region has to offer.
However, I yet again have a concern about some new gameplay mechanics, namely the Island Trials. These replace gyms in this generation, and I’ll be honest, I really miss gyms. Trials are not bad by any stretch, and I think they really fit the Alolan experience. Towards the end of the game, however, all the trials felt extremely similar to me. They were always giving you just one task, then you fight a Totem Pokemon, then you beat said Totem Pokemon, then you get a Z-Crystal, then you leave. I’d love some variety in a third game, if one comes out. For instance, I had an idea for a possible Flying challenge where you find the Z-Crystal, then, in the middle of the same animation you always have where you get a Z-Crystal, a bird flies in and steals it before you can grab it, then you have to chase down the bird. Something like that and other ideas I’m sure someone else could think of, more variety to these trials, would be greatly appreciated. I also don’t think anywhere but Alola could have these trials and make it work.
My concern with the trials being this predictable is that I worry they won’t be fun to play through a second time. When playing the first time, the wonder and confusion of who the next trial captain might be, what their trial will be, who the Totem Pokemon will be, it was enough to drive me forward. However, towards the middle of the game, I was told one of the trials was “the best one”. I was told what type it was and that it was so well done that it was hands down the best trial in the game. So I waited with bated breath for this specific trial, and when I got there it… wasn’t the best. It made me realize that expecting the trials and losing the mystery behind them made it a lot more lackluster; not bad, but just run-of-the-mill. It also didn’t help that it followed the same formula as every other trial. I think the third game, if it exists, should make the trials more varied, unexpected, and engaging, perhaps even have multiple paths through them. Until then, I am genuinely worried the trials will be more of a chore to go through than anything else.
Part 5.8: Story (Spoiler-Freeish)
This section will talk about the first few hours of the game, while you’re on Melemele Island (the first island of the game). If you don’t want to know ANYTHING about the story of this game, skip ahead. If you don’t mind hearing a synopsis of the first bit of story, read on ahead.
The game starts with a video conference with Professor Kukui, who, of course, asks your name and gender. This time, however, they did handle this part a lot better than previous Pokemon games. This time, because you’re new here in Alola, he’s filling out a Trainer Passport for you, and asks you to spell out your name and choose which portrait to use. He also sends out a Rockruff, a new Pokemon, as the ceremonial “show off what a Pokemon is” section. Instead of just standing there like a taxidermied corpse, however, the Rockruff starts barking, climbing all around the Professor, all until Kukui asks Rockruff to wait until after so they can play. It adds a lot of character to Kukui and to the Pokemon of this island, and I’m glad for this inclusion.
After this comes a short cutscene showing Lillie fleeing from somewhere. Everything’s a sterile white, but she’s being chased by these really creepy looking guards with demonic smirks on their faces. She gets cornered, and it’s at this point when the thing she stole in her bag lets out a burst of energy, then the screen pans up to either the sun or the moon (depending on what version you’re playing) and the title appears. This cutscene is a very good example of how this game sets its story separately from previous installments. There are a lot of cutscenes in this game. They all serve to tell a very engrossing story.
After that cutscene, we’re told the game now happens about a month later. You wake up in your bed in your house, greet the Professor and get dressed. Then, you head out, taking your first steps in Alola. I’m going to skim pretty fast through a lot of story crap that really doesn’t matter, only focusing on things I want to talk about. So you head up Route 1 and go to Iki Town, a very cultural, small town where the Island Kahuna, Hala, lives. You’re supposed to find Hala, but you can’t. Instead, you go up the path to see Lillie, who you don’t know yet, walking up the path towards a shrine. She has something in her bag. You follow her. When you both reach the top, whatever’s in her bag jumps out and walks out onto a plank bridge scaling a canyon with a raging river beneath it. Cosmog, the Pokemon that jumped out of the bag and I will from now on refer to as Nebby, is then attacked by Spearow, a nod to the first ever episode of the Pokemon anime. Nebby can’t save itself from the attackers and Lillie is too scared, so you, being the blank-faced protagonist with nothing better to do, run out, nearly falling every few steps, and protect it from the Spearow.
Cosmog then releases a burst of power, like it did in the cutscene, shooing away the Spearow… and breaking the bridge, causing you both to start plummeting to your deaths. It’s at this point when Tapu Koko, a new Pokemon known as the guardian of the island you’re on, swoops in and saves your life, then leaves behind a sparkling stone for you. It is later revealed that this sparkling stone is a Z-Ring, allowing you to use Z Crystals in battle, and that Tapu Koko is very fickle, and would only do such a thing if it was moved to help you and saw potential in you.
Off the bat, I absolutely love this. In previous Pokemon games, you’re always the chosen one of some shape or form, and you’re never really given a reason why. Here, you’re clearly given one from the beginning. An island guardian was impressed by your caring nature for a Pokemon and person you’d never met, and you actually DID something to get their attention. From there on out, you’re a chosen one because you proved you were worthy and continue to prove it as you go along; it makes your power and position feel earned and worthwhile to me. This was a huge step in the right direction.
The next bit isn’t, however. I’m biased, but the section after this and leading up to choosing your starter Pokemon is around 3 minutes long with no breaks to save, meaning after you save Cosmog is the soonest point you can save in before getting it. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but if you’re shiny hunting for a shiny starter, that means every time you reset your game to try, you have to go through the same 3 minute talking cycle just to see if you got a shiny. Even the cutscene where the Pokemon has to choose you as their trainer has been ruined for me, because you can’t skip that or save before it or find out if you have a shiny until after it finishes. However, I will say I do like that cutscene, as it does show a kind of bond between you and your Pokemon. I’ll say more on that later.
After you pick your starter, you’re told to head back home. On your way back, Hau, the rival you hadn’t met up until this point, runs up to you and challenges you to a battle without introductions or an attempt at being patient. I will be blatant here. I hate this rival battle. Partly because it does nothing to help Hau’s character, partly because it’s got the same problem as XY where the rival has the Pokemon weak to yours (only this time, you only have one rival, so Hau never feels like that big of a challenge to me), and mostly due to something I’ll explain in the next paragraph.
The next day is the Iki Town Festival, which you’ve been invited to. On the way, Professor Kukui teaches you how to catch Pokemon. You go along the route, fighting wild Pokemon and trainers and potentially catching new teammates, and when you get to Iki Town, you find out that part of the celebration for the festival is to have two trainers of worth battle each other. You and Hau have to fight. Again.
This is why I hate the first rival battle. Every single first rival battle in previous games was a surprise “HEY FIGHT ME” from the rival. It would’ve said a lot more about Hau’s character and been a lot more thematic if the first rival battle occured here, at the Iki Town Festival. It is blatantly a shame that they jumped the gun and devalued Hau as a trainer and as a character with the first fight. At least, to me, they did that.
After that, there’s not much I can talk about with the first island. You get the Rotom-Dex (burn it), get sent out on the island challenge, meet Team Skull, fight the first trial (the introduction of Totem Pokemon here was really interesting and actually kind of terrifying), fight the grand trial (you just fight Hala (I will say, some dialogue here changes depending on your actions. I didn’t use Z-Moves in my battle against Hala, and afterwards, Ilima, the first trial captain, said “Impressive. You didn’t even use any Z-Moves!”, which was really cool to see, but overall had no impact on the story beyond that)), and then you head out to the next island.
It’s a slow, but overall decent start, in my opinion. A lot of people say this is the worst part of the game, and it is, which says a lot, because it’s not even that bad. I saw a lot of people complaining when you were forced to go to the Trainer’s School, saying it was too tutorial-y, but I disagree. It made you fight trainers, which you had to do anyway, and felt like an actually fun, decent challenge. That’s probably the worst of all the tutorialing that happens in this game, and after this, the story only gets better.
Part 6: Concerns and Conclusion
Pokemon Sun and Moon are fantastic entries to the Pokemon franchise and easily my favorites. They have some massive flaws, specifically in new design features and decisions that baffle me, but they don’t take much away from the overall presentation. As I said in the beginning paragraphs, before these games came out, I wouldn’t place any Pokemon game in my top 10 favorite games of all time. Now, Pokemon Sun and Moon easily make slot 7 or around there. Keep in mind, as a very avid gamer, the fact that I think S&M beats out the hundreds upon hundreds of other games I’ve played speaks volumes of it.
I’m not going to give it a numbered score because, frankly, numbered scores are utilized extremely poorly by other reviewers, giving them a bad representation. Instead, I will simply say that I would highly recommend you buy these games at some point. They are well worth $40. Personally, I would easily pay $80 for just a single copy of one of these games; that’s around what I value them at. In fact, I value these games so highly I own four copies; a digital copy and a physical copy of both versions. I’m getting into the competitive scene for the first time in any Pokemon entry, and I’m unbelievably excited to see where these go. The only thing I’d say should stop you from buying these is if you’re scared of going into a Pokemon game while being behind on new Pokemon. If that describes you, I’d recommend either picking up Pokemon Platinum, which I personally think is the closest to this game in style and feeling, or Pokemon XY or ORAS, the entries that came before this, in order to get reacquainted with the series, as Sun and Moon are definitely easier to appreciate if you’re a veteran, but not so much that they alienate new players.
I do have some concerns, however, that make me worry how this game might be in the long-run. The story of this game isn’t as large scale as previous ones. The region nor the world nor the universe are really in too big of peril, except in one specific section, and throughout the entire thing you never really feel like you’re on this epic quest of gigantic proportions. Obviously, that’s not a bad thing, many games can do this well, this game especially, but part of me worries that the smaller scale will kill some people’s motivations to finish. There was enough motivation for me, but if you don’t care about the characters much, you’re going to find it hard to finish. You’ll also find it hard to beat the game without a heart in your body, but I need to take everyone into account when talking about this game.
There’s also the fact that a lot of the new mechanics, features and devices introduced in this game don’t feel like they could exist anywhere but here. Let me put it this way; with everyone anticipating a remake of the fourth generation, can you see Sinnoh ever having Z-Crytals, trials, PokeFinder or even Battle Royales? Personally, I can’t, especially not the trials. I think every game after this, excluding any potential third game, will go back to the normal Pokemon formula, and any new generations will either add their own spins or be the same formula as before. Again, this isn’t a bad thing necessarily, I like the Pokemon formula, but I’m unsure what that will mean for these games specifically. I don’t know if the novelty of their differences will keep them refreshing, or if future games with improved story in the normal Pokemon formula will blow these out of the water, giving the story and atmosphere of this game to the standard Pokemon games we all know and love.
Finally, my biggest concern is that this game’s biggest points, for me, banked on experiencing the story without spoilers. I bought this game on release, and even I couldn’t escape spoilers, and in cases like the final boss and the trial everyone considered to be the best, spoilers outright killed my enjoyment of those moments because I expected them, I knew what was coming or expected too much of them, whereas things like the final trial and Po Town were some of my favorite moments in the game because I was not expecting them in the slightest and they blew me back with their designs. I have no clue what a second playthrough would be like for me, if there would be enough hidden in the story for me to find new things as I played through with knowledge or if it would just feel like I was repeating history, but with such huge emphasis on story and uncertainty, I can’t help but worry that any future playthrough will just feel empty due to me knowing what will happen.
Obviously, I love these games. I wouldn’t have spent nearly a month writing this article if I didn’t. The problem is that these games, although they are amazingly made and the best Pokemon games to date, hang too much on people not knowing what will happen. I tried my best to structure this review so it would spoil as little as possible for anyone who’s maybe getting it for Christmas or was undecided so far, and as a result I didn’t talk about a large amount of things in this game. I genuinely worry that, if people are spoiled or even have played through it again, it’ll kill any potential replay value this game has, and replay value is what Pokemon does best. Maybe I’m wrong, as I’ve yet to do a second playthrough, instead choosing to spend 250 hours on my original save file to build a competitive team and do post-game gameplay, and all of these worries could prove to be completely unfounded. Based on my experience, however, these concerns are at least worth thinking about.
After all, every game is just a matter of experience. I valued the ones I had with this game. Hopefully I’ve convinced you to make your own experiences with them as well.