December 16th, 2016
I’m all for tradition, but after 20 years, it begins to get old; Nintendo & Game Freak caught on, and their most recent iteration in the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon Sun & Moon, set in the tropical islands of Alola, exemplify their attempt at reaching the fresh and new. A revamped plot structure, additional battle mechanics, and improved graphics imbued a much-needed freshness into the series, but is it enough?
The hottest new feature is Z-moves: largely replacing (but not omitting) mega-evolutions introduced in the previous generation, Z-moves augment existing Pokémon moves for a more powerful variant, effectively giving Pokémon a fifth move; excluded to a once per-battle minimum, they resemble something straight out of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures – not that that’s bad!
Additionally, the formulaic plot was renovated. Deviating from the classic model of fighting eight gym leaders, Pokémon Sun & Moon now requires the player to complete various “island challenges”, unique to each of the game’s four islands, before fighting the island Kahuna, the game’s equivalent of a gym leader.
This brings a much-needed breath of fresh air, bringing life into a model that began to feel stale, while still keeping many of the mechanics and hallmarks that defined the Pokémon series.
And hallelujah to the antagonists. Pokemon’s long standing tradition of apocalypse-geared organizations has come to an end, as the newest syndicate of (dis)organized crime, Team Skull, proves th emselves to be the most human antagonists yet. A ragtag gang of common street thugs, Team Skull eschews goals like flooding the Earth or rewriting time for, well, nothing. Like anarchists, they don’t really know what the hell they’re doing, but by God, they’re doing it, stealing bu s signs and Pokémon just because, without having to shoehorn some grandiose discourse on morals or whatever. They’re the bad guys because of their own issues, and it makes them arguably the most endearing antagonists to date.
The supporting cast is also commendable. Professor Kukui and his catchy “Yeahs” interspersed throughout every sentence are quite endearing, as is the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and too-innocent-for-his-own-good Hau, your rival and immediate bestie. Lillie can come off as a d amsel in distress in the game’s first half, almost feeling like dead weight; she’s just a late bloomer, and as the game wraps itself up, she begins to become less and less of a caricature.
That said, it’s not all peachy-keen. The game’s beginning takes an absurd amount of time, nigh-literally holding the protagonist’s hand. Luckily, the pace picks up after the first island, but first impressions last. And while the new Rotom style Pokedex – definitely a plus towards endearment! – constantly reminds the player of where they are supposed to be, some older fans may cite this as further handholding.
The Battle Royal style – four trainers fighting at once – also feels forced, yet unimportant; it’s randomly introduced at one point in the plot, but remains unimportant for the remainder. While it could used as a tool for a narrative, it’s neglected.
That said, Sun & Moon is an improvement upon its predecessor. X & Y felt clunky and awkward, experimenting in areas that didn’t need it. While imperfect, Sun & Moon seek to patch up the mistakes of the past, plugging more holes than they’re poking in a ship that, admittedly, won’t be sinking for a long time.