Pokémon goes to the new Alola region in Pokémon Sun and Moon and the results are a fresh take on a classic and incredibly compelling formula.
Pokémon Sun and Moon starts out introducing us to both Lillie and her Pokémon Cosmog that she calls Nebby. In what looks to be an artificial garden of some sort and chased by people in white, Lillie tries and fails to run to safety. Cornered she cowers down and then we flash forward to meet our character.
This opening scene may seem somewhat cursory but it turns out to be important in a number of ways, as both Lillie and Nebby have a big role to play in Sun and Moon’s narrative.
The narrative is important to Sun and Moon because it stitches the whole game together and it is surprisingly well executed. I won’t go into too many details on though, bar how it intersects with gameplay, as I don’t want to spoil it.
Talking of gameplay, Sun and Moon is set across four main islands in the Alola region. This is clearly based on Hawaii and as such, the landscape features a fair few volcanoes as well as an abundance of beaches and the like.
Each of the four islands has a variety of captains overseen by that island’s Kahuna. The respective captains each have a trial you need to pass, these are quite varied but once the main tasks are done, you then have to face off against a Totem Pokémon.
Once each trial is complete, you receive a Z-Crystal, more on these later, and eventually have to fight against the Kahuna directly. Beating the Kahuna’s Pokémon finishes that island and you move onto the next.
While that may sound straightforward, to get to each trial you need to go along a variety of routes. Each of these routes is full of Pokémon trainers eager to battle with you and long grass for you to fight or catch wild Pokémon in.
The level design is very good overall and mutually reinforces the core battling gameplay by rewarding the player for exploring, as you get various items in the process, and you also level up your Pokémon team as you do so.
You also get access to a variety of Pokémon that you can ride over several types of terrain. Some of these can also sniff out hidden items and allow you to bulldoze through blocked off areas. If you want to full explore Alola and unlock its secrets, you will need to do some backtracking after unlocking some of these Pokémon.
The battling itself is like in the other Pokémon games, as you face off against enemy Pokémon with your own. The combat is turn based and you have to take into account the types of the Pokémon you are using as well as those you are facing.
This is because the types in Pokémon are counterbalanced against one another, somewhat like rock, paper and scissors. However, this is made a lot broader by the fact that there are many different types. This means you often have an effective attack against most enemies. Having a varied deck of Pokémon also helps, as that way you can switch out to a Pokémon that will be more effective against a certain enemy.
After each fight, your Pokémon receives experience points, which in turn means they can level up. Leveling up increases your Pokémon’s base stats and this is ultimately where the main potency of each Pokémon lies.
In that, sufficiently leveling up your Pokémon means you can smash your way through most encounters, which makes sense as it’s clear Sun and Moon is both trying to appeal to newer players as well as longtime Pokémon fans.
Thankfully, you get an item early on that allows the experience points to be shared amongst your current Pokémon team. This means you don’t have to switch Pokémon around mid-battle if you want to level them up.
After sufficient leveling, your Pokémon can then evolve. The criteria for evolutions can differ quite a bit but generally, you have a level threshold you need to reach and in doing so the Pokémon then evolves into another form.
My starter Pokémon was Litten, which evolved to Torracat and then Incineroar (shown above). On leveling up and evolving, you also get access to new attacks. Now instead of simply adding to an even greater menu of attacks, you have to choose which to keep and which to forget.
Now some of these can be straight up new and more powerful attacks, whereas others can be more tactical abilities that increase your speed or decrease an enemy’s defense, though these kinds of status effects are obviously numerous and I won’t list them all here.
One point to note with Incineroar, is that if you want to activate its specific Z-Move with the Incinium Z crystal then it requires the move Darkest Lariat. If you have forgotten Darkest Lariat, then you can relearn the move via an NPC on the fourth island.
As for Z-Moves, these are new to Sun and Moon and increase your attack power quite considerably.
The Z-Moves use Z-Crystals, which have to be held by the respective Pokémon. The Z-Crystals are also tied into the type setup and that means that they can only be used if that Pokémon matches that type in some way.
Z-Moves can only be used once per battle and are very powerful. Some are straight up attacks whereas others can be status changes. Some Pokémon also have unique Z-Moves and those are increased in potency even further.
In terms of differences between Sun and Moon, apart from the Pokémon exclusive to each version you also have a time shift as well as different Totem Pokémon to face. The time shift is interesting as Sun operates via the time set out by the 3DS clock, whereas Moon shifts that by 12 hours. The time in the game is important as certain Pokémon only come out during the day or the night. What makes this a little trickier to manage is that the time passes in the game naturally, so if you want to catch a Pokémon at night on Sun then you need to play the game at night.
Once you have decimated your various opponents, you can then go back to a Pokémon Center and refresh your Pokémon, as well as buy supplies, but also take care of them with grooming and cleaning. The latter grooming option can pop-up after a battle and is worth doing, simply because the more your Pokémon love you the better they are in battle.
While you can work your way through the story straightforwardly, there is a huge amount of content in Sun and Moon, from trying to catch all the available Pokémon to exploring and unlocking all manner of other items and abilities. The game is genuinely immense.
As for any issues with the game, if you are familiar with Pokémon then Sun and Moon may be overly familiar but a lot has gone into making this game feel fresh.
The few bugbears I did have with the game were things like the sound you make when you collide with objects while navigating the world gets a bit annoying and feels like unnecessary messaging. In addition, not being able to keep all your attacks still bothers me. Though that annoyance of mine is likely a carryover from the fact I really enjoy the Super Robot Wars games and that each unit in those games builds up its menu of attacks over time.
There are also some framerate drops in double battles and Totem Pokémon battles but it didn’t bother me so much as the action is turn based, so it was visually a bit jarring but didn’t really impact how the game plays. Following that, despite being on the 3DS this game doesn’t really use stereoscopic 3D. This omission is odd but again it doesn’t detrimentally affect how you play the game.
Overall, I loved playing Sun and Moon and despite the fact that this is he umpteenth Pokémon game released, it’s still incredibly compelling and brilliantly paced. The story and characters are very nicely done too, though the Team Skull grunts are wonderfully cheesy in their attempt at being hip-hop infused gangsters.
My only real piece of advice from my playthrough though, is that you need to save often. You can lose yourself in this game for hours on end and if you are not careful, you may end up running out of battery power or inadvertently ejecting the game cartridge while playing (yes, I did this and was suitably mortified at my own idiocy).
In any case, Pokémon Sun and Moon is a wonderful investment of time and I can happily recommend it to anyone that owns a 3DS, regardless of whether you want to catch all the Pokémon or not.
Disclosure: Nintendo sent me copies of both Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon for the purposes of this review. I also primarily played through Pokémon Sun and am working my way through Pokémon Moon.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I also manage Mecha Damashii and do toy reviews over at hobbylink.tv.