2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon Franchise. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I was down at my local video game store (mind you this was the mid 90’s so GameStop and Best Buy weren’t a thing yet) breaking open my piggy bank to purchase the newest craze in gaming for the Gameboy, Pokémon Red and Blue. To this day I consider it the best $26 dollars I have ever spent. It jump started my love for this series and introduced me to a new genre of gaming all together.
Over the years (Six generations to be exact) the series has been altered in big ways, adding online multiplayer, breeding, and even convenient shortcuts. Sun and Moon takes all of this even further, introducing much-needed adjustments to item management, traveling, and battling. The games also made changes to the core elements of the Pokémon formula, like gyms and badges, to create a unique experience. These were risky moves to make for a franchise that has so much nostalgia behind it, but they all lead to what is one the most memorable Pokémon journey in years for me. This all helps to illuminate the pitch Game Freak is making toward original fans of the series: what you loved isn’t being cast-off; it’s just getting a new twist.
Alola is the most inspired region in Pokémon since Johto, which has made exploring it fun and rewarding. The region is based on the Hawaiian island chain, and from the smaller island you call home to another with a luxurious resort and volcano, each of the four islands has its own feel. The Alolan islands are composed of different environments and climates, allowing many classic Pokémon to now have “regional variants.” Alola also makes available a much wider variety of Pokémon at the start of the game than in previous generations. Having access to these types of Pokémon right away makes the early team-building process a lot more fun than the days of being surrounded by rodents, bugs, and birds for the first quarter of the game. I found it to be a smart compromise that makes the old feel new again. While on your adventure instead of just looking for items or places to grind, the game teaches the player to expect the unexpected.
The reason people are finding Sun and Moon so approachable for new or seasoned players is all thanks to the streamlined battling system that was introduced in this game. The move-selection screen now has way more details at a glance, including information about what the moves do in case you forget. Move effectiveness is also displayed, which means it’s a lot easier to battle effectively without having to memorize type match-ups. It was especially helpful in quickly learning the strengths and weaknesses of the new Alolan Pokémon.
Another new introduction to the battle system for this generation was the inclusion of the Z-Move sets. These are special moves that one Pokémon in your party can perform once per battle. It is similar in theory to the Mega Evolutions introduced in X and Y (which makes a comeback in Sun and Moon after you beat the main story-line and venture to the Battle Tree). For once, a Pokémon game made me care more about move-sets, turn order, and team make-up more than any previous generation. It’s a thrilling change that highlights the complexity underlying a series that is flippantly referred to as a children’s game. The new interface is a breath of fresh air for a stagnant system used for the better part of 2 decades.
Speaking of stagnant, the ancient HM system has finally been replaced with a system we can all get behind. This new system is known as Poke Ride. This allows players’ access to early exploration of Alola, usually something that takes a while before a player can do in previous games. It’s a seriously important change that frees up your party and prevents you from having to carry around Pokémon just to get you places.
There are even small upgrades to more recent additions to Pokémon, and though they’re less noticeable, they’re welcome. Pokémon Refresh is a slightly altered version of X and Y’s Pokémon Amie that serves more of a concrete purpose in healing status conditions after battle. Trading with and battling real-life players is similar to that of previous generations, complete with the Wonder Trade feature that has become a fan favorite, but with a festival-themed site as the base of operations and a variety of item rewards for engaging in multiplayer. There’s also a cool new minigame-style feature called Poke Pelago in which you upgrade series of small personal islands, one of which makes the boredom of hatching eggs easier (finally) while another works like Super Training. As an avid Pokémon player, these littlest additions do a lot to make doing the things that are still the same in Sun and Moon better this time around.
In Conclusion, Pokémon Sun and Moon is an ambitious new addition from Game Freak that compliments the 6 previous generations of Pokémon perfectly. It combines a lot of the fan’s favorite things about the Pokémon series into an adventure that reminds why we fell in love with this series in the first place. All this while somehow managing to not simply repeat what came before, Sun and Moon both honors the 20-year legacy of Pokémon and improves upon it in a number of ways, making for a surprising and engaging tropical adventure that is as much about the journey as it is the destination.