It has been over three weeks since Pokémon Sun & Moon were released and, wait for it, I am still actively playing the game! Between the beautiful setting, old and new varieties of Pokémon, and the myriad of activities beyond catching Pokémon and the story, I am hooked! True to my nature though, I am going SUPER SLOW; just now heading to the second Grand Trial.
The graphics are just what a Pokémon game needs. The Pokémon themselves look great, with plenty of animations during combat and even a few variations on their cries. They feel very alive! This is only heightened by the lively environment they are encountered in. Encounters now occur in a fully rendered space where you can see Pokémon and their respective trainers. Little details like seeing trainers move their mouths to shout commands and point towards the opposing Pokémon go a long way in making the battles feel more real within the game; the connection between Pokémon and players is palpable.
The world feels large, filled with life and offers plenty of opportunities and incentive to players who venture and explore it. The graphics and art direction of support the ambience and theme of the setting very well.
Now, it is obvious that the game is pushing more detail than the resolution on the 3DS can handle so pixelation and “blending” happen. More often than not, when the camera is overlooking a larger area, characters’ faces tend to look like jumbled messes (especially my dude who wears glasses). But, when you look at the “completeness” of every game sprite and area, there is barely any room for complaint. They were ambitious and succeeded at delivering a quality visual experience. One mild complaint though: the entire game is played from a perspective that is too zoomed in. Whether they did this to make the environments feel larger than they are, make areas a little more challenging to traverse, or simply to lower the amount of graphics rendered at once to keep performance up, it is very noticeable. This made it very hard to develop a “mental map” of some of the more labyrinthine areas of the game.
Another detail worth noting is that under certain situations, specially when more than two Pokémon are present during battle, the frame rate does suffer from drops. This will be very noticeable during the games battles against “Totem” Pokémon. These consistently have a “fiery” power up visual effect surrounding them and Pokémon that are summoned to their side. Beyond this, the game runs like a beauty.
Parallax 3D, where did you go?
Now for a pet peeve of mine: Why no Paralax 3D? Sadly, when I ask around, the average answer I get is “I didn’t even notice since I don’t ever play 3DS with the 3D on.” Well, I do! It is a Nintendo 3DS for a reason! Frankly I do not believe the developers have to do much extra work for games to support the feature so it was extremely conspicuous when I started playing the Special Demo and there was no 3D. But, I chucked it to “just being the demo”. But, when I loaded the full version and there was still no 3D, I was extremely surprised and disappointed.
There are a lot of areas of the game where I would have loved the effect of depth. Some environments could have been breathtaking. The games Pokémon Refresh feature (where you pet and interact with your Pokémon) would have had an added layer of reality and “palpability”.
But, like any good adaptive human, I usually forget about this missing feature when I get deep into play sessions. Yet, every time I have to go to the system’s home screen for one reason or another, I am bitterly reminded about it.
Was this deliberate decision made to open up processing power and performance room for the game to look and play the way it does? Was it just a sneaky ploy to extend playtime when on battery power? Was it a cop out to concerned parents about the “harmful effects” of 3D on young children? A good research topic for the future.
The box mentions “some areas playable in 3D.” This refers to PokeFinder, a mode in the game where, in certain spots, you can use your PokeDex as a camera and snap pictures of Pokémon. This feature uses very little Paralax 3D in conjunction with the motion sensors. It is a very cool concept and it works well. The resolution of the pictures taken is horrendous, though.
To be expected from a Pokémon game, the gameplay experience is smooth and very user friendly. The game tends to force players through very tightly scripted paths, only fully opening each island when the player is ready to move on to the next one. This actually gave me a little piece of mind by only allowing me access to small areas first and then slowly expanding my range. This forced me to alternate more often between story progression and my relentless quest to hump every wall, drawer and conspicuous rock.
This tunneling approach probably also makes the game more accessible to younger audiences that might be less inclined to read through text bubbles and more inclined to just hammer through. But, if they do choose to read, the games dialogue is very streamlined and simple, while still being interesting and even funny. It might be a little too simple for players looking for a deep character-driven story, but it should work for the average majority of players. After all, it is a Pokémon game. We are here for the critters!
Tunneling aside, the world of Pokémon Sun & Moon is a pleasure to explore. Just a couple of days ago I got to a new town and found myself actually excited to look around and explore it! In most games at this point, any new area is just a new shore of exploring everything and “checking all the boxes”. Not the case with Pokémon Sun & Moon. I joyfully walked around talking to the different NPC’s and going into all the buildings both looking for loot and quests, but also wanting to get more lore about the area. The game does a great job of world building with bite sized pieces of text; again, probably to cater to the younger audiences. It works perfectly for me as it gives me just enough information to breathe life into the island setting without slowing down game progress. This is key! Catching Pokémon is already such a slow grindy process, it is smart for the game to streamline some of its other aspects without compromising quality.
Sun & Moon introduced the ability to mount special Pokémon to traverse the map in different ways. This was implemented very well and is a lot of fun. Unlocking new areas by blasting through boulders or surfing over the water is nothing new to Pokémon, but players used to have to teach their Pokémon special moves to accomplish this. With Pokémon only being able to know four moves at any one time, move slots are usually a precious resource. With riding Pokémon, players no longer have to “waste” a slot, or have a particular Pokémon on their team, to fully explore the game’s world. And again, riding Pokémon is really fun and plays wonderfully. If only riding a mount also functioned as a repellant from encountering wild Pokémon. Wishful thinking!
There are so many details taken care of by the user interface that all the player has to worry about is strategy. Personally, I only know about half of the Pokémon Type Weaknesses Chart so, having the screen tell me which of my attacks are Effective or Not Effective is a blessing from the heavens. I no longer have to waste time pulling up online charts or racking my brain trying to remember. All the information is right there! Even when switching Pokémon, players can check on their different Pokémon and find the best suited for the current opponent before committing to the switch. A quick note: this feature will only start working after you have encountered the particular breed of Pokémon once before.
If type weaknesses sounds like all a player needs, think again! Whenever any status effects are applied during battle, an icon appears on the bottom screen next to the respective Pokémon. Click this icon and the screen displays all of the Pokémon’s stats and any buffs or debuffs each might have. The degree of the effect is also noted. How many more times can my Kakuna use Harden? You do not have to count anymore! It is very clearly displayed on the screen. Any other effects that do not directly affect the Pokémon’s stats, are shown below by name and, wait for it, how many more turns it will be active! Click any of these to get a brief description of the effect. Veterans no longer need to keep mental track of any of these details, allowing them to focus on strategy. The learning curve has become much less steep, which should allow Newcomers to be at less of a disadvantage.
So, are Sun & Moon challenging? So far, not really. Granted, I might have become over-leveled (in relation to story Pokémon) very early on. Definitely a byproduct of all the time and incessant battles spent looking for new Pokémon to catch. On average, my Pokémon are six to ten levels above those of my adversaries. I have been told that the challenge does ramp up later in the story, even if my Pokémon continue to grind levels. A silver lining; I look forward to it! I doubt I will be very competitive against other human players so I want the single player experience to offer me some challenges.
The story! Considering I am maybe only 40% through the game, I probably do not have a good grasp on it quite yet. The Island Trials replacing Gyms are a breath of fresh air. They make Alola, the game’s region, stand out from the other Pokémon’s regions. I find team Skull, the new “adversaries”, quite entertaining (their dialogue lines can be spot on) although very dumb. But, same as everything else, I have only encountered some of their grunts and maybe one standout character. If they have higher aspirations than being bad rappers, they have not revealed them to my character yet.
The lore surrounding this new region and it’s different islands has me very curious. I felt very disconnected from the world in previous Pokémon games (Red and Black). On this one, the world feels real and interesting; a place I actually want to explore. There are a decent amount of NPC’s walking around with things to say. Some do not add much to the game. Others offer useful tips and general advice. Others, more often than in most games, offer the player rewards. Some of these are in the form of Pokémon trades. Others just require you to catch a particular Pokémon and just show them the PokeDex entry. Some just up and give you stuff for free! It is a really good incentive to get players to interact with the game’s elements.
The Pokémon variety offered by Sun & Moon seems good so far; bringing a mix of new and old Pokémon. Not being well versed in Pokémon breeds, I cannot really tell which Pokémon are exclusive to this new version or ones that have shown up through the generations before. I do know there are a lot of original Generation 1 Pokémon, some even sporting brand new Alolan looks. The changes are not subtle either, making the Pokémon look either more “asian” or generally more “island” like. Dugtrio sports long blond hair. Raichu now floats in the air using his tail as a surf board. It manages to successfully bring back some of the original Pokémon we all love so much but still making them feel new.
Another notable change is how some of the previous generation Pokémon have had their types expanded or changed altogether. Another great way of making older Pokémon feel new again.This will probably make some of the old Pokémon feel a bit newer to returning players. At the same time, it might upset other players that have grown attached to specific Pokémon and team compositions. Either way, it is probably a byproduct of keeping the roster of now 801 Pokémon properly balanced. Newcomers might also be at less of a disadvantage against veterans, whose prior experience might no longer be as valid.
No Pokémon game is complete without player vs player Pokémon action. And, if competition is your thing, Sun & Moon should support all your trading and battling needs both locally (next to each other) and over the internet. Setting things up locally is as easy as both participants holding down a button at the same time when near each other and their 3DS’s will find and establish a connection to each other.
Getting to the same connection over the internet requires a few more steps and its not entirely straight forward; it took me and a friend a good ten minutes of fiddling around to figure out how to connect to each other. If there is an easy way, we totally missed it! The game does a terrible job (none existent) of walking players through this feature of the game. This is one of those instances where an instruction booklet would have been a lifesaver!
Once connected to each other , the game sports very nice interfaces to trade Pokémon or setup for Pokémon battles. During trading you can see the Pokémon the other player is cursoring through live. This makes it really easy to show your Pokémon to others and see their Pokémon without having “put” any Pokémon up for trade. Trading is as easy as each player selecting the Pokémon they want to trade and confirming the trade when prompted. Accepted the trade? You are treated to the colorful and laser-y Pokémon trading cutscene. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME! Whether this is a staple of the franchise or a way to mask the process of transferring data between both devices, the cutscene cannot be skipped and gets really old really fast. You almost want a way to trade Pokémon in bulk! If the process of transferring the actual Pokémon data does not last the whole cutscene, a skip button should have been made available.
Yes, sir, it would not be a Pokémon game without Pokémon battles either. Players are allowed to go with already saved teams or prepare a team on the fly from the Pokémon in his or her box. It is very versatile and flexible; even allowing the same Pokémon to be assigned to multiple teams giving players the power to try any combination without having to worry about “moving Pokémon around”. Each game allows for the saving of six Battle Teams in conjunction with the Story team.
Once everything is setup, battles are smooth and pretty much lag free. I didn’t feel at any point that I was waiting on network communications. Instead, I just had to wait on my slow friend to make decisions! The experience was very seamless. With help from external voice chatting, we had a great time duking it out over the internet; just like if we were sitting in the same room.
Another cool feature stemming from battles against other players is the ability to record them. After a battle is completed, the player is asked if he or she would like to save the Battle Video. Select “Yes” and, boom, you got yourself a great reminder of your PokeMight! Or PokeFail… Whether to brag about an awesome moment, or study matches looking for improvement opportunities, I recommend trying this out.
Bottom line: this is a fantastic game! Game Freak has learned to make better and better Pokémon games with every generation, and it truly shows with Sun & Moon. The amount of content between story, gameplay and all the extras is pretty impressive and should keep players ensorcelled way past the initial clear.
My OCD has been kicking in full gear with catching all Pokémon and, as a result, going super slow through the story. But, I am not burned out! I look forward to opening my 3DS every day to get “a little bit further” on my Pokémon adventure. Having friends around to trade and battle with adds a whole other layer to the game and has helped keep it fun and interesting. I might never be competitive, but I can sure come up with random Pokémon combinations and troll the hell out of my friends!
With titles like Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian out already, I have been very tempted to make a a new purchase. But Pokémon has deterred me from from doing so. I want to see this game through and want nothing to distract me from it!