December 01, 2016

Pokemon Sun - Review

Over the course of my gaming life, I have played a fair share of Pokémon games, from the mainline entries, to the stadiums, snaps and mystery dungeons, but while new entries outside of the main games tired something different, the main stayed consistent, evolving only ever so slowly. With Sun and Moon, that has changed.

You are the new kid to the islands of the Alola region, where humans and Pokémon live in a more productive and co-operative way, in fact you will often see Pokémon out and about, just like humans. One of the bigger differences between Alola and other regions is that Gyms are not a thing here, instead each island will offer up trials, which can reward you with Z-Crystals, used to power up your Pokémon in battle. Kickstarting your adventure is Professor Kukui, the local Pokémon guru who is all about discover Pokémon moves, though for some reason, he always seems to do it within the confines of his house. You are then given your choice of one of the three new starts, Rowlet, the grass/flying type pokemon, Litten the fire type and Popplio the water type, your choice here can determine how difficult the game is at the start, due to the rock, paper, scissors effect. The narrative that stretches across the game is kinda pointless, it has some great moments, more so when Team Skull take to the screen, but it does give you a reason to push forward, at least occasionally.

The Island Trials Challenge is the big reason to keep moving forward, as you progress further and further into each island, the challenges will prove to be difficult, each one greater than the last. The challenges will usually take the form of fighting through some Pokémon and then discovering the Z-Crystal at the end, obtained once you beat the more powered up version of a local Pokémon. The Z-Crystals work much like the Mega Evolutions from X and Y and can only be used once per battle. As with past games, you have a rival in the form of Hau, a carefree kid who just wants to have fun exploring the island and battling with his Pokémon, he pops up at times, sometimes it’s for a chat, other times for a battle, but he keeps things pretty fresh. Lillie is the other member of the island crew, a mysterious lass who walks around with a large white hat on and a Pokémon duffle bag, containing a special Pokémon. 

As for the gameplay, the bulk of things have not changed to much since the last release, you still will be randomly drawn into battles if you walk into the long grass, people standing around on routes will also challenge you, if you lock eyes, or as is actually the case, pass within their line of sight. Now though, there are some changes to the world in that occasionally you will see shadows of something as they sprint towards you in the long grass, once you defeat or capture that Pokémon, you will be able to collect an item. Also around the world are piles of berries that you can collect, which can help your Pokémon in battle, depending on the berry in question, but as all Pokémon love berries, you will sometimes find a wild Pokémon hiding in the piles, triggering another battle. The biggest change to the world, for me at least is, that you can now ride Pokémon around, from a Taruos for dashing through the world or maybe Machamp to help clear the path, or my favourite, Charizard, so you can fly around.

Sadly, for all the changes that are good, the gameplay still suffers from two very annoying issues, the first is that the game takes way too long to get going, yet again. This is not the first game in the series, so there is a very high likelihood that people know how to play the game, sadly the game does not seem to care. It takes around 3 hours of constant interruptions of people talking, people sending you to and from, before you can finally start to explore on your own, but even then, you are tied to a marker on the map and until you trigger that marker, you will be stopped from proceeding. The other part to this is that people will ask you yes or no questions, but you can’t proceed until you say yes, which means it’s not really a choice, just something else to annoy players who want to get out and explore.  While new players may appreciate the slower approach, as someone who has been playing the series since day one, I know how to play and being asked at the start if I know how to play the game and being able to skip the hand holding would be great.

Perhaps the biggest shift for the game so far, is that the game is now presented in a more 3d form, while Pokémon X and Y applied this, the battles still took place on a mostly 2d isometric view point, here that is all gone. While you still have no control over the camera, the world looks nice, no matter how you are looking at things. Classics like the Pokémon Center now have a new look, the previously mentioned Pokémon wandering the world help make it feel more alive than ever before and it is just a nicer looking world across the board. Even the older generation one Pokémon like Pikachu, Meowth and such all look nicer here than they have ever done in the mainline games before. Even the overall battle presentation, with the moves, intros and character shots are better presented here, Team Skulls intro and the Trial win screens are prime examples of that.

While visually the game has been presented extremely well, audially, there are some major inconsistencies, which mare the experience. Right off the bat, the music is not one of these, almost all the tracks are wonderful, for the ones that are tied to locations you know from past games, like the Pokémon centre, they are great and fresh takes on the classics you know. The rest of the new music can also be described as catchy and upbeat, you can even order the album if you want, there is a few tracks that loop a little too often, which can grate after a while, but still a solid effort musically. The downside comes from the Pokémon cries, any Pokémon created for Sun and Moon have some great cries, with nice and clear distinction between them, sadly they clash and they clash hard with any older Pokémon. Meowth is your mothers Pokémon and the cry it makes when it first wakes you up is the same as the original game, in fact as you meet Pokémon from the generations, you will notice how different their cries are, with the exclusion being Pikachu as they sound like they do in the tv series. Mixing all the different styles just does not work and while, I can understand the desire to keep the familiar sounds here, the quality of them being so different works against it.

Pokémon Sun is a great addition to the series, it has taken some big steps into modern gaming and offers up more for players to do, it is sadly held back by its heritage and seems very reluctant to let it go, or adapt from it, which can cause older players some grief.

Thanks to Nintendo Australia for supplying the game for review

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