For a while now each new Pokemon entry has been comfortable and familiar, like an old pair of slippers that you can’t bear to throw away. While I have enjoyed the past few iterations with Omega Ruby and X & Y, they were still incredibly safe games and riding purely on nostalgia and the lack of multiple saves on my old games.
But, in the run up to it’s release, Pokemon Sun and Moon promised to be refreshing and new by finally bringing some new ideas to a very tired formula. After having played the game for a good chunk of hours (sadly, no review copy here, just lucky enough to receive my copy a day early), I’m happy to say that my first impressions are positive.
The start of your Alola adventure is a mixed one, as it’s mixed with a fantastically realised theme, introduction of new ideas and some very tiresome hand-holding. It’s no secret that Pokemon is very protective of you in the beginning hours of the game, as it slowly walks you through mechanics and characters at a frustrating pace. Sun and Moon does take a few hours to finally pat you on the head and send you into the islands of Alola on your own, which unfortunately does bring down an otherwise excellent start.
However, while it is frustrating to be coddled for hours before you can finally set out on your grand island adventure, it doesn’t last long in the grand scheme of things, and it isn’t enough to ruin a great opening. Immediately you get a sense of character and liveliness from this new world. Everything from the UI itself (I especially like the graphic that pops up on entering a new route) to the characters’ clothes, to how the sound and colourful design work together, gives this entry an immediate and overwhelming sense of style.
Immediately Alola feels distinctive, which is more than can be said of the last few games which fail to stand out against the long like of Pokemon games.
It’s not just an upgraded aesthetic we get here, though. We have seen several very worn mechanics being thrown out, but they are replaced with something familiar enough to not upset the boat of highly critical Pokefans. There are also old mechanics that have been reinvented as well.
Among these are gyms and Gym Leaders; the Elite Four; Day Care; HMs; out-of-combat moves and Mega Evolution. Even the closely guarded secrets of the divisive IVs have been laid bare. These are tried and true staples of the Pokemon franchise, and they have either been disposed of or reworked in a new and interesting way. While I have yet to see all of the changes brought to the table by these improvements, the ones I have seen have been fantastic and encouraging.
While having these familiar crutches ripped out from under you is a bit jarring at first, it immediately sets Sun and Moon apart and makes it much more than “Pokemon another one”. The most major change that you are introduced to first, is that it’s no longer your usual fare of eight gyms then the Elite Four as your final challenge. Instead, you are tasking with undertaking seven Island Challenges, each comprised of a Captain, a trial, a powerful Totem Pokemon. At the end of it all, you are rewarded with Z Move-enabling Crystal.
The trials aren’t just battles, though. They have a nice smorgasbord of variety with everything from hidden ingredients to analysing Pokemon dances. Immediately this brings up the concern of these mechanics feeling gimmicky, but from what I’ve experienced so far, that isn’t the case. Again, these opinions are based upon first impressions from a handful of hours of play, so do keep that in mind.
After these challenges are complete, you battle the island’s kahuna who are powerful trainers who have a close bond close bond with that island’s respective guardian Pokemon, the Tapu. One thing you see here (and previous to it) that also adds another layer to the character of this game, is the presence of cutscenes. Actual, proper cutscenes (I know!) that are well executed and actually give a bit of feel of the animated series I’m sure many of us grew up with. This lends extra personality to the reoccurring characters, the trainers, and of course the island kahunas as well.
Lastly, let’s touch on some of the changes to the battle system. The trainers you face benefit from some great animation in battle, as for the first time you can see them on the battlefield behind their Pokemon as they gesture while giving orders to their team. Also once you have battled a Pokemon, when you face that Pokemon again, your moves will show you how effective they are. So “effective”, “super effective”, etc. This is actually a pretty helpful feature, as given the insane amount of Pokemon and mixtures of types that we have now, it saves you from having to play the memory game once you’ve fought a Pokemon once.
While I have a long way to go on my journey to be the very best ™, my first impressions of this new entry are very positive indeed. Instead of feeling like slipping into a comfortable but tired routine backed up by nostalgia, I’m indulging in a brand new adventure which sees a childhood favourite series finally revitalised and earning a spot besides classics like Gold and Silver.