Pokémon Sun And Moon Review (3DS)

Pokémon Sun and Moon are finally here, and it’s been a whirlwind experience to finally play through them. They mark a fitting finale to the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, saving the veritable best for last with plenty of new Pokémon, a new region, and a vast array of smart updates and changes to the series formula. For series developer Game Freak, Pokémon Sun and Moon also have a huge juggling act to meet expectations, having to appease the hardcore community but also keep it accessible to newcomers while being fresh and new.

So how do these new Pokémon adventures meet such intense anticipation and mountains of expectations?

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Pokémon Sun and Moon is still largely the same Poké-game you may or may not have been following in the last 20 years. You play as a greenhorn trainer in a small town, ready to begin his Pokémon journey. You chose from the three starter Pokémon of Rowlet, Litten, and Popplio to set out and become the best trainer in the land. It’s largely a familiar set-up, but where Sun and Moon differ from past games, the devil’s in the details.

In hindsight, I’m inclined to agree with fans that the quest in Pokémon X and Y was one of the series’ weaker efforts. Sun and Moon make up for that with a much more involved story. The quest you embark upon in Alola is fairly involved and engaging. Only Pokémon Black and White (and its direct sequel) can claim to share such an immersive tale.

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Here we have a plot that has more twists, turns, and meaning than I’m used to in a Pokémon game. We have new characters who are more interesting and functional, sitting at the forefront of the plot rather than in the background (the timid Lillie deserves a specific shout-out for her own story arc and development). It may make you feel like your independence on the journey is being smothered by the recurrence of familiar faces (the first two hours are slow), but it makes the story feel more meaningful than if it was another Poké-quest to get eight badges.

I dare not spoil the particulars of the story, but I will say that, despite Nintendo and Pokémon Company doing their best to show everything about the games before they came out, Sun and Moon have plenty of surprises for you. The final act in particular, feels like a shake-up from previous games. Yes, there’s a big bad, and Legendary Pokémon are involved, but the presentation of those well-worn elements is something different.

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Humans and Pokémon live together in peace and harmony more so than ever in Sun and Moon. Even your Pokédex is now alive for the first time with a sentient personality thanks to a cheeky Rotom.  You’ll see Pokémon everywhere just hanging around their trainers and in the wild ready to be photographed using the Poké Finder, capturing Pokémon in their natural behaviors (or just looping animations). This mode may be more novelty than Pokémon Snap-proper, but it’s a harmless addition that almost lives up to its promise (the scoring feels more random than consistent).

The new, much-publicized Island Trials in part explore the natural connection between Pokémon and trainer beyond just a mere Gym battle of strength. Functionally, they fulfill the same role as those past Pokémon Gyms in level locking your traded Pokémon’s progress, only with less predictability this time. Unlike Gyms, Island Trials have variety, be it asking you to hunt for cooking ingredients or to photograph ghosts in an abandoned supermarket. The feeling not knowing what was coming next made for one of the best parts of Sun and Moon. Having no sense of the game’s pacing was at once different, uncertain, and also an exciting prospect.

As for the difficulty, Game Freak also heard complaints among fans and critics that X and Y were too, how you say, easy. I’m inclined to say so because in the latter game, Sun and Moon were kicking my team’s teeth in. You’d best hope to have a diverse team covering all manner of types and defenses because they’ll get knocked out by even casual trainers.

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Holding all this together is Pokémon Sun and Moon’s excellent presentation.  Older Pokémon games kept everything culturally generic for the sake of localization, even the very-French Kalos region of X and Y. Sun and Moon throws this out the door to put focus on a specific culture. The Alola Region is a multi-island region that couldn’t scream out “Hawaii” any louder if it tired.

Game Freak really committed to the Hawaiian theme, more so compared to any previous Pokémon region I’ve seen. From the new species of Pokémon to the aesthetic design of the menus, shows a newfound commitment to consistency. The attention to detail and immaculate Hawaiian vibrancy give Alola more personality than any other region in Pokémon history, one that is vast and teeming with life, a place that feels lived in and even tactile.

Pokémon Sun and Moon’s visuals are way, way better than they were in Pokémon X and Y, a bold claim since those were such a watershed moment in the series (the first games rendered in full polygons). And for the first time in the series, gone is the so-called “chibi” look for human characters and in are properly proportioned ones, a most welcome evolution. These graphical features also demonstrate how Game Freak likes to take its time to take advantage of a piece of hardware’s strengths and make it sing for the sake of Pokémon.

Pokémon Sun and Moon also benefits from an excellent localization. The script peppered with humor, personality, sly in-jokes, and the most morbid Pokédex entries I didn’t see coming, is probably the best I’ve seen in the series to date. Time will tell if moments from Sun and Moon will become as iconic as “Smell ya later” or if anything is in the “top percentage” of anything.

Pokémon Sun and Moon’s musical score is similarly fantastic, not only capturing the requisite tropical vibes of Alola, but also makes subtle allusions to past Pokémon games that hardcore players will appreciate the most. I caught nods everywhere from the dulcet piano tunes of Jubilife City to the brassy tracks that recall Pokémon Black and White. Various locations have their own day and night themes, just like in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Already, one of my favorite pieces of Pokémon music comes from Alola’s Hau’oli City. Pokémon cries heard aloud in the wild breathe additional life into your surroundings, giving Alola more of that sense of place that the art direction succeeds in.

Game Freak looks to shake up the competitive Pokémon landscape with the many new additions to Sun and Moon’s gameplay, from the Pokémon themselves to Alolan Forms and the Z-Moves. Much like the Fairy Type and Mega Evolution transformations in X and Y, these many new additions are largely useful and augment the adventure with mechanics that give hidden depth.

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Many of the newcomer Pokémon are not-so-subtle nods to Hawaii’s natural wildlife (Rowlet is based on a local species of owl), while others augment the region’s South Pacific theme, like Kmoala the koala or Pyukumuku the sea cucumber. I’m looking forward to unique specimens like Bruxish, Mudsdale and the already-popular Mimikyu in how they add surprising variety to combat.

The Hawaiian-esque Tapus and the uber-mysterious, unnerving Ultra Beasts also add a new dimension to the definition of “Legendary Pokémon”, the Pokémon that fans know are notoriously hard to catch and incredibly powerful. These two collections add up in large numbers across Alola, as though to make up for the lackluster number of legendaries introduced in X and Y (in-game, there were a whopping three total). As for the game’s mascot Pokémon Solgaleo and Lunala, let’s just say they hold a big surprise for anyone who’s been playing Pokémon games since the beginning: they might just unseat traditional norms.

The Z Moves are this game’s de-facto replacement to Mega Evolutions within the campaign. As far as game balance, I find their best utility is in last minute scrapes to victory (my Snorlax with its unique Z-Crystal has gotten me out of plenty of tough battles). They also feel like the equivalent of Final Fantasy summons, which means their animations are loooong (and not in the best way). It’s cool to see the first few times, but become repititious. If you want to blast through the campaign, you can thankfully turn those effect animations off.

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If Z-Moves replace the act of Mega Evolution, then Alola Forms replace the Mega Evolutions themselves. Alolan Forms are a world-building device that re-contextualize previous Pokémon into their new tropical environment while also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original batch of 151 Pokémon. By focusing on the first-generation Pokémon with new coats of paint, the Alolan Forms give me a second look at Pokémon that had been neglected in past years. Like the new Pokémon of Alola, these forms explode with strong personality and intriguing backstories (the clear favorite is going to be the Grass/Dragon type Alolan Exeggutor).

Alolan Forms also feel like the logical conclusion to Game Freak’s patented obsession with alternate Pokémon forms, a practice going back to early favorites like Unown and Deoxys and ramping up since then. The only problem is that there aren’t even more of them. Almost the entire roster of Alolan Forms was revealed before the game’s release, save for a select few. By their small numbers, it feels like the concept was barely scratched below the surface, and fans will be disappointed that their favorite Pokémon didn’t get an Alolan Form. If the concept of regional forms is explored in future games, I’d like more Pokémon that are not just from a single generation.

The Battle Royal is this gen’s novelty multiplayer format. Whereas past four player multiplayer battles revolved around which team won, Battle Royal focuses on the achievements of the triumphant individual. There’s a lot of strategy involved if you start to dig deep, as you can use the efforts of other players to your own advantage.

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The best changes of all to how Pokémon Sun and Moon functions come in the guise of streamlined additions for newcomers. Menus have been streamlined, being able to see where a trainer will spot you for battle and seeing type match-ups (and move descriptions) in-battle are in the “about-time” category, making me wonder why it took ten years after Pokémon Diamond and Pearl to think them up.

And of course, there’s the Poké Ride feature, which finally abolishes the notorious HMs for the first time ever. You won’t happen to miss keeping a team built around Surf-ing and Rock Smash-ing once you’ve ridden a Lapras or demolished boulders while riding atop a speeding Tauros. Hopefully, Game Freak keeps sometime akin to Poké Ride in future sequels.

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The Alola Region is so inviting and tangible, that I approve of the addition of a touch screen map on your omnipresent Rotom Dex. Because the environments are so natural in appearance and thus easy to get lost in. Add in the Rotom Dex’s guiding chatter reminding you where you need to go and it’s a particularly useful device for novice players.

The previous games’ Pokémon Amie feature has been given a, well, refresh as Pokémon Refresh, which puts even more of an emphasis on the friendship between and your Pokémon. Amie was best known as “the thing to evolve Eevee into Sylveon”, but Refresh is automatically more useful than Amie with the ability to cure status ailments and performing clean-ups directly after battle. The new and interesting Poké Palego gives greater purpose and function to all those Pokémon you leave behind in their PC prison. Unattended, they can level up, harvest berries, and even grow friendlier passively.

Veteran players are going to writhe at the removal of past systems they took for granted. Features gone are the O-Powers, the Dex Nav from Pokémon ORAS, Super Training, and Horde Battles to name but a few. Game Freak has made up for their losses in some small ways, such as SOS battles in the wild allowing you to chain multiple foes, Hyper Training to raise a Pokémon’s IVs, and bigger monetary payouts in place of money-raising O-Powers.

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If online fans are wondering what happened to the PSS, one of the best additions to Pokémon X and Y, all of its functionality was moved into a centralized hub called the Festival Plaza. This festive communications hub contains all the online features you expect of modern Pokémon and useful shops that can be leveled up in a side quest of sorts. It’s a nice idea in reinforcing the community aspect of Pokémon, seeing all those online trainers drop by your plaza, but centralizing the online functions in a hub rather than a menu is a curious change from X and Y.

Any complaints about Sun and Moon I have are matters of nitpicking. Certain systems in Sun and Moon like upgrading your shops at the Festival Plaza take far too long to make them useful in the campaign. It takes some re-learning to master these new systems if you obsessively dug into the last generation as I have. The hardcore community itself will be just fine with them nonetheless.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how Game Freak still has trouble optimizing their games for the 3DS. Stereoscopic 3D is all but gone in Sun and Moon, and it wasn’t worth it just for the Poké Finder mode to keep it exclusively (hint: it’s incredibly weak). Perhaps it is a lost cause at this point when even the previous Pokémon generation limited the 3D effect to select scenarios, but Sun and Moon have it worse.

From their announcement back in February as a marker for Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, there was never any doubt that Pokémon Sun and Moon were going to be anything but fantastic games. Game Freak has never made a “bad” Pokémon game after all; they have simply evolved with the times.

Game Freak takes Pokémon Sun and Moon to build its most immersive region ever, while expanding on making the games more accessible than ever, while refusing to sacrifice the Pokémon series’ hidden depth. Pokémon Sun and Moon most certainly excel above Pokémon X and Y, while evolving the series for the better and near the pinnacle of the franchise’s best. I can’t think of better way to celebrate 20 years of Pocket Monster-dom.

Review copy provided by Nintendo

Pokémon Sun And Moon Review (3DS)
Pokémon Sun and Moon celebrate 20 years of Pokémon's storied legacy with aplomb. They excel with streamlined changes and useful additions that make for an engrossing adventure teeming with colorful wildlife and characters.
The Good
  • Alola brims with personality
  • High production values
  • Smart additions to core gameplay
The Bad
  • Unnecessary nitpicks
  • Needs more Alolan Forms
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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About The Author

Editor-in-Chief (Former)

A man with a plan. My favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. I can also tell you trivial cartoon factoids.