Almost everyone loves revisiting the past. Last year, we were all nostalgic seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film returning Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo to the big screen. This year, we saw the rise of Pokémon Go, a game that led to millions of 20-somethings revisit their youth, once again trying to catch them all (well, the original 151 at least). Strange, then, that the latest Pokémon games, Sun and Moon, should act as the series' biggest move forward since Gold and Silver and the introduction of day and night cycles.
Perhaps the largest change is how story driven Sun and Moon are. Whereas in previous games your character was left primarily alone when attempting to gain eight gym badges, Sun and Moon feature numerous characters who hang around you for the majority of your journey through the terrifyingly friendly Alola region. There’s an emphasis on story unseen in past games: for the game’s first few hours you barely do anything other than interact with other characters and face a near-death experience.
The result is the first Pokémon game I’ve felt invested in for a long while. Sure, while your character in X and Y similarly featured many friends for your character, Sun and Moon offer mystery and characters who you actually care about. This is probably all helped by updated cut scenes, the graphics having improved drastically on previous 3DS games in the series, perhaps in thanks to GamesFreak electing to completely ignore the device's 3D capabilities.
Another huge change to the series is losing the eight badges system and gaining a trial system in which the player must accomplish certain challenges. While none are hugely difficult - and they all end up requiring the player to defeat certain 'powerful' Pokémon - it’s nice the creators finally felt compelled to mess with the tried, tested and thoroughly done formula.
There’s also Alola itself. With Hawaiian vibes, Alola has noticeable characteristics of its own, the four primary island filled with colourful settings that make it a joy to travel through. There hasn’t been a Pokémon region this wonderful since… I’m not really sure. As expected from being on an island, however, there’s a fair amount of water, something some players may find annoying.
Dreaded HMs have been ditched, replaced by the ability to call upon Pokémon not in your party to help smash rocks and fly to the nearest Pokémon centre. Meanwhile, you can once again use TMs infinite times unlike in the earlier games. Both these aspects may seem like benefits, but - like X and Y - Sun and Moon can at times seem too easy.
Replaying Red and Blue earlier this year, I was reminded just how hard those games were, particularly when it came to the final Elite Four. While Sun and Moon can be seen as games for children, there was no real challenge when marching through Alola: some higher level battles earlier on would not have gone amiss.
Then, of course, there are the new Pokémon. I should probably note that I have almost always chosen the fire-type starter thanks to my affinity with Charmander. However, after evaluating the final evolutions of the new crop, I chose Rowlett, the grass type owl. Watching possibly the cutest starter in recent memory evolve was highly upsetting, knowing I would see his ridiculously adorable face in battles again. (Holding down B was a huge temptation but my drive to be the very best was too strong.) Other new designs aren’t quite as charming, but there’s an overall improvement on the last batch. There’s also Hyper Beasts, which remain a mysterious addition to the series for some time but should be interesting in the competitive sphere.
Thankfully, with all these changed, Sun and Moon act as a refreshing entry in the long-running series, something that was duly needed. Hopefully, with Gamesfreak willing to change up the formula, the Pokémon games will continue for another 20 years. Perhaps, though, a few less anthropomorphic creatures and more challenging battles next time.
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