(Because Pokemon Sun/Moon does not let players take screenshots, all screenshots for this article have been replaced with Children’s Drawings)
I went into Pokemon Sun having not played a Pokemon game since Soulsilver, and having not played a new one since Emerald. I’d found myself uninteresting in the franchise’s most recent offerings, and was left wondering if Nintendo had it in them to breathe new life into the series. Keeping that in mind, Pokemon Sun managed to not only work its way into being my #2 GOTY, but also ended up being my all-time favorite Pokemon game.
Pokemon Sun changes up a lot about the game. Gone are the gyms and gym leaders, gone are the HMs and obstacles you need specific Pokemon in your party to break, and gone is the rival who picks a stronger Pokemon to spite you. Sun has a far more organic progression, based around specific challenges known as Island Trials and fighting Pokemon known as Totem Pokemon. Each Island Trial is unique, ranging from memory challenges and scavenger hunts to taking pictures of ghosts, Fatal Frame-style.
While previous Pokemon games blocked players from progressing with HMs like cut and Surf, forcing you to teach these to a Pokemon to use them, Sun swaps these out in favor of NPC-controlled barricades and a new feature known as Ride Pokemon. Ride Pokemon are summonable Pokemon that players can ride and use to get past barricades. While they mimic the uses of HMs in previous games, some Ride Pokemon also have extra uses. Some, like Mudsdale, are able to walk across ground otherwise too dangerous for the player to do so alone. Others, like Stoutland, can be used to find hidden items.
Another major change to Sun is the introduction of Z-Moves, special attacks which can be used once a turn for massive damage. These can only be used by certain Pokemon, and require the use of any move of the same type. Z-Moves add an extra layer of strategy to an otherwise played-out battle system, giving players the opportunity to turn the tide on an enemy that is otherwise too tough to take down.
For all the major changes Sun brings to the table, a lot of what it does best is simply refine what was already there.
Alola is a fantastic region, in every way possible. The four islands of Alola are fun to explore and traverse, the characters and random NPCs are a joy to talk to, and it has a life all to itself that previous regions have felt lacking in. Pokemon Sun addresses concerns people had about Pokemon in previous generations by really selling the idea that Pokemon are partners to their trainers, not servants. Alola’s culture is heavily built around the foundation that Pokemon are to be respected, not controlled.
While previous Pokemon games have had recurring characters, Sun has some of the best – and most frequently appearing – characters of any Pokemon game. Constant mainstays are Lilie, a mysterious girl with a distaste for fighting, and Hau, a recurring rival who is just in it to have a good time. In contrast to the rivals of previous games, Hau will always choose a Pokemon which is weak to the players, entirely because he prefers it.
As with all new generations, Sun has a new villainous team in the form of Team Skull. I cannot properly articulate how much I love Team Skull, from their Hip-Hop themed fashion to their amazing theme music to their ridiculous attempts to act cool. In contrast to villainous teams from previous games, Skull has no aspirations for world domination or any grander plan. They are as full of bravado as they are incompetent, and come across more as a disorganized group of troublemakers than an organized team.
The story in Pokemon Sun is interesting, and stands out from the stories of Most Pokemon games. Instead of focusing on a grand epic drama or any fate-of-the-world stuff, Sun is a far more emotional story. The supernatural elements act as a backdrop for a family drama, and a personal story about child abuse, neglect, stunted development, and ultimately moving past it all. It resonated pretty strongly with me, having had family trouble myself. I’m not sure if it was the right move to put that in, but I’m glad it’s in regardless.
Pokemon Sun is not without its problems. Technical issues were frequent, and the framerate dropped to what felt like the single digits during double battles. But despite all that, Sun was an amazingly fun experience for me, and I hope Game Freak continue to improve upon what they’ve started with this.
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