Pokemon Sun and Moon kick off the newest generation of Pokemon, but it is clear Game Freak aimed to create more than just a generational leap in its newest duo of games. Instead of just adding in a new region, new Pokemon, and one or two features, Pokemon Sun/Moon take new steps to recreate how Pokemon is structured. For the most part it works. Most of the improvements in game make it more streamlined and the region interesting to explore. Unfortunately, Sun and Moon have an element of shallowness that holds the games back from being truly exceptional.
Players are dropped into the Alola region, a new locale based off the Hawaiian islands. The presentation is unlike any we have seen before in a Pokemon title. Environments are well-sculpted 3D models, with realistic geographic features. No longer is grass simply boxed up and contained, but grass flows and looks much more natural in execution. Hills stick out, and geography is varied. My one pet peeve is the camera, which is fixed. In game that attempts to replicate a 3D terrain, it become quite the nuisance to be unable to adjust the viewing angle. Other than that, in nearly every element, Pokemon Sun and Moon is dressed to impress. The presentation is accentuated by a faithful soundtrack and great battle animations.
The story is fleshed out as well, with an intriguing plot that keeps players guessing. Unfortunately, it seemed at times that the dialogue would drag out too much. Though I appreciated the character interactions, at one point I was ready to just go out and catch more Pokemon.
Unfortunately, though most of the new Pokemon designs were rather well-designed, there clearly were not enough of them. The seventh generation feels like the smallest one. On one hand, it was nice to see such a diversity of Pokemon – the Alola region has tons of Pokemon from previous generations for players to catch and battle with – but on the other hand it was oftentimes boring to go so long without meeting a new creature. The problem was partially remedied with the reintroduction of Alola form Pokemon from the first generation. Yes, it was absolutely awesome to battle with an ice-type Vulpix and a dark-type Raticate. Unfortunately, these renovations did not do enough to fill the hole of missing Pokemon.
Pokemon Sun and Moon pack tons of small, but very meaningful changes. For example, once you beat a Pokemon once, players will then-on see the type matchups of the Pokemon. Although many veteran Pokemon players might have the type-chart memorized by now, this new feature surely helps new players get acquainted with the game’s battle system.
Alolan battles also introduce Z-Moves, a new type of ultra-powerful attack move that can only be used once per battle. There is a surprisingly large amount of strategy involved in planning Z-Moves. First of all, each Pokemon can only be equipped with one Z-Move at a time, meaning that players will have to choose which move-type will be the most useful for each Pokemon in battle. Planning when to use a Z-Move is a strategy in itself as well – use it early in the battle to reduce HP loss, or save it for later in a battle when a particularly difficult Pokemon might pop up?
Sun and Moon also introduces a new four-player battle mode. This mode allows four trainers at once to battle and target each others Pokemon. The game has a facility where players can try out the mode, but it isn’t used and seen in the main game, and as a result fails to make a large impact on gameplay.
Another excellent innovation is the absence of HMs, or hidden moves. In previous Pokemon titles, players needed to teach their Pokemon certain moves in order to make it past certain points in the game. Sun and Moon, on the other hand, expand upon a “ride” concept first introduced in Pokemon X/Y. At any time, a player can summon a myriad of Pokemon to help them traverse the environment. Need to travel across water? You can call a Lapras or Sharpedo. Need to fly to another town? Call a Charizard. These “ride” Pokemon are granted automatically throughout the story and do not take up a slot in your party.
Pokemon Sun and Moon also do away with Pokemon Gyms. Instead, players will face “Trials” across the various islands of Alola. I loved the various trials, they were varied and interesting throughout. Rather than face rather straightforward Gyms, these Trials introduced various tasks to diversify gameplay throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, the “trial” structure seemed at points very linear. The sheer number of trials meant that I was usually headed directly from one to another, with few downtime in between in the main story.
Unfortunately, after completing the 25-hour story, there is little endgame, especially when compared to other Pokemon titles. Yes, there are a few smaller side missions and legendary Pokemon to find, but Sun and Moon lack the robust battle area and end goals that have defined previous Pokemon entries. To make matters worse, Pokemon Bank is not yet ready for transferring Pokemon to the new generation. As a result, It is hard to see which Pokemon I still need to collect to complete my Pokedex, an essential part of every Pokemon trainer’s journey. For now, I will likely wait out on catching every last Pokemon until I transfer my virtually-complete Pokedex from Alpha Sapphire.
Overall, Pokemon Sun and Moon take two generational steps forward, but also take one step back. Small new intricacies like battle enhancements and a refined presentation vastly improve the moment-to-moment experience of playing Pokemon. However, a sparse catalog of new Pokemon, shallow end game, and lack of launch Pokemon Bank support hold the titles back from being truly exceptional.