Pokémon Sun and Moon Review
So, it's been about over a month and some change since Pokemon Sun and Moon were released. That means it's time to do a review! I chose to wait until now so most people would have played it, and this review is meant as much for them as for anyone else. I own both Sun and Moon versions of the game, but have yet to crack open Sun version, so my review will primarily based on my experiences playing Pokemon Moon. The plot and gameplay mechanics for both versions is essentially the same, and I think my experience of playing them isn't going to be hampered by which one I chose. That being said, this is a review that will attempt to balance the enjoyability of being read by both those who have and those who have not played the game.
While I certainly won't reveal any major plot spoilers, there might be some minor spoilers in this review, so if you want to avoid any spoilers surrounding the plot, the internet just might not be for you between now and when you have your own copy of the game. That said, there may be minor spoilers during points that critique the storyline of the game, though no major plot points will be exposed.
Mechanics and Game Play
Before we delve into the review of the story, let's first examine how it feels to play the game. There have been numerous changes to some of the more basic mechanics that we've become accustomed to over the past twenty years that make the game feel a lot different just on how it's played.
Now this is nothing new, Game Freak has regularly experimented with parts of the gameplay formula. But these changes usually occur on the competitive side. This time around, they've made changes that affect the casual player pretty heavily. Most notable are the elimination of HMs, or Hidden Moves.
In previous installments to the series, there were certain moves that your pokemon could be taught that could be used outside of battle. Now, not all of them were Hidden Moves, but most of them were. Dig and Flash were often TMs or Technichal Machines (though in the early games Flash was a Hidden Move). The common thread among Hidden Moves is that they were required to progress to new areas to move forward with the story. The frustration among players was that once a Hidden Move was taught to a pokemon, it could not be unlearned, limiting your selection of battle moves.
There was of course a reason for this. Since the purpose of these moves was to reach new areas of the game, developers didn't want players to get to a certain area, learn a new move, and then delete the Hidden Move, leaving players stuck in the area with no way to get out. This especially made sense in the first few generations when there was a limit to how many items you could carry and extra items had to be stored at Pokemon Centers. If you had a limit of twenty separate items (including Key Items), you left your device to teach a certain HM to a pokemon at a Pokemon Center, and then erased a move that lets you cross oceans while on an island, you were pretty screwed.
It seemed pointless in later generations though as the item limit was dropped, yet HMs kept returning, ensuring players couldn't access certain areas until they had obtained a number of badges. It became frustrating as players had to keep moveslots available for these moves that were - usually - not very good in battle. A team of six became a team of five and an "HM Slave" - a character that could learn four HM moves you'd keep on you at all times.
Pokemon Sun and Moon finally opens up that spot by replacing all HM's with a single Key Item: a device that allows you to summon Pokemon to ride that know all these moves. You can surf on Lapras. You can surf on a Sharpedo that knows Boulder Smash. You can ride a Tauros that also knows Boulder Smash or Fly on a Charizard. These pokemon are not actually part of your team, or even your collection, so you don't even need to hunt for these pokemon. They're owned by a breeder and you can summon them with the device. Once you're done, they return home. Simple, and easy.
The Gameplay Experience
Now that we've checked how the HM system works. It's time to look at the other big change in the game: The removal of gyms in favor of Island Challenges.
In fact, they not only eliminated gyms, but - and you may need to sit down for this if you haven't played and want to read on - there's not even eight Island Challenges. There's seven.
I'll admit, when first hearing this as a rumor before release, I was a tad anxious. I liked the Pokemon formula, and really didn't want it changed up as drastically as it was. Buuut, my fears were kind of for 'naught. It actually didn't feel much different than gyms, but it does mostly replace battles with trainers with non-random battles with wild pokemon instead, finishing with a powerful pokemon with boosted stats known as a "Totem Pokemon."
While I still prefer the old-fashioned gym formula, this wasn't horrible. It wasn't an improvement nor was it worse than the gym system. It was just there, and it kind of worked for the game's setting and story. In fact, in this instance, I would argue that the story would not have worked as well if the old gym system were in place.
Also affecting the gameplay experience was the experience system. Generation V (Black/White, Black 2/White 2) seemed too grindy for my preferences. At the same time, Generation VI (X/Y, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire) were way too easy. This game tries to hit a sweet spot right in the center of the too. There are going to be places you'll have to grind for a bit, but not often and usually not for long. If you just focus on sticking in an area long enough to catch a diverse amount of pokemon, you'll likely not have to grind at all during the game.
You see, the experience system from Generation V returns, where the experience you earn is adjusted based on your level compared to your opponents level. If you are stronger than your opponent, you earn less experience. Conversely, if you happen to fell a stronger opponent you earn more experience than you normally would. However, two mechanics from Generation VI return to offset this adjustment: The experience share, and capturing.
The Experience Share, like in generation VI, is again a key item that will still give your pokemon in battle 100% of the experience for battling, and then gives all the pokemon who did not participate 50% each of the experience they would have earned had they battled. Prior to generation VI, only one pokemon could receive this bonus, and it came at a penalty to the one who was in battle.
Additionally, gaining experience for capturing a pokemon is a returning feature in Sun and Moon. Prior to X/Y, you could only gain experience when defeating a pokemon in battle. I didn't find that I had to grind very much throughout the game, but that's because I like to spend some time catching pokemon in each area, and that allows me to do my grinding during normal play. If you prefer the challenge and like to grind, you can always turn off the Experience Share under your list of Key Items.
How did the changes to the gameplay affect your experiences playing Pokemon Sun and Moon
How about the actual experiences of trying to catch pokemon? What about the Online Features? Multiplayer? Hidden Ability pokemon? Post-game content? How did the story compare to previous games?
In the next article, I review the SOS battle mechanics, take a look at the story without revealing too much about it, explore the post-game content and give my overall rating.