Pokemon Sun/Moon
Hands-On Preview
Neal Chandran Neal Chandran

Nintendo 3DS


Game Freak

Traditional RPG


US 11/18/2016
Japan 11/18/2016
Europe 11/23/2016

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A new adventure awaits
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...with new challenges
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...new Pokémon
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...and new friends. 'Sup buddy?
"Pokémon Sun/Moon is not the series revolution that X/Y was, but it is more of an evolutionary improvement. "

Firstly, I apologize for the tardiness of my Pokémon Sun initial impressions. I've been so immersed in the world of Pokémon that I neglected my real-life duties, such as writing for RPGFan. I know I'm late to the Pokémon party this year, but better late than never. After all, in the very first episode of the Pokémon anime, Ash was late in getting to Professor Oak's lab and as a result, ended up with the iconic Pikachu as his starter, because all the Bulbasaurs, Charmanders, and Squirtles were taken. Ash may have had a late start, but his adventure was no less epic and can you imagine his journeys without Pikachu? So it is with that mindset that I write this impressions piece.

Pokémon has been a very important part of my life this year (I spearheaded our Pokémon GO Perspectives feature earlier this year, one of the students I support at my day job is a fan who's basing his multimedia school projects on Pokémon, and my most recent audiobook narration was a Pokémon storybook), so I feel like the Pokémon world and the real world have blurred for me.

Pokémon Sun and Moon only enhance that feeling by setting the game in Alola—a region inspired by Hawaii. I visited Hawaii for the first time in my life this year, and anyone who's ever vacationed there knows full well that Hawaii is a beautiful and magical place you wish you could be at right now. This air of magical wonderment is why I, and others, get so into the Pokémon—we want our own eevees or pikachus to go on amazing adventures with in a brightly colored world. With reality being a killjoy much of the time, we want to flit about a world where the rulebook we know is thrown out the window, you can go out by yourself on a magnificent adventure at age 10, you can keep a pet whale (Wailord) contained in a baseball-sized pokéball that fits in any pocket of your backpack, and can even breed your Wailord with a Skitty (a cute kitten pokémon) by leaving them both at Pokémon Daycare.

Even though you are a new trainer in a new land where a new professor (Professor Kukui) allows you to choose a brand new starter pokémon to begin another wonder-filled journey with, there is plenty of familiarity as well. No matter where you go, Pokémon Centers are still staffed by the comforting, pink-haired Nurse Joy, who heals your pokémon with a smile. The basic concept of going out to discover all the amazing creatures of the region, collecting them, and training them to take on various challenges is all there. There is also a syndicate of villains looking to thwart you at every turn, and in Alola they're called Team Skull. Battles are still turn-based and the mechanics are simple to learn, yet difficult to master. The basic Pokémon tenets have not changed, and anyone familiar with Pokémon games will smoothly ease into Sun and Moon.

What has changed are a few "laws of the land." The journey differs somewhat depending on which version you play. The internal clocks for Sun and Moon are set 12 hours apart, so Sun players will likely explore more during the game's daylight hours and Moon players will enjoy the game's twilight. Of course, each version has pokémon exclusive to it and some of the shared pokémon evolve differently per version, such as Rockruff.

The Alolan law of the land I'm most excited about is the "PokéRide" system. Gone are the days when you had to keep a Zigzagoon or Bidoof as an "HM slave" to harbor those obstacle-removing skills, like Cut or Rock Smash, that are necessary for exploration but often middling in battle. Instead, PokéRide lets you call upon a pokémon to travel on to get to new places. For example, using your cell phone, you can call PokéRide to hail a Tauros, like a taxi, and ride it around the land, also using it to smash boulders in your way. Conveniences like PokéRide make this journey much smoother than in prior games.

Another change is that there are no traditional Pokémon Gyms in Alola. Instead, there are a series of ventures called Island Trials and Rite of Island Challenges to progress the game and gain "street cred" in Alola. These trials and challenges involve battling aplenty, but they also have exploratory components that expand upon the dynamic elements of X/Y's modular and sometimes puzzle-oriented gym facilities. It's definitely a clever change that the Island Trials and Challenges are based more on getting to know the land and its culture and less focused on king-of-the-mountain conquests. As for whether the game is more challenging than X/Y (which I found skewed easy), the jury is still out on that one but I definitely feel that this new Pokémon paradigm will be uniquely challenging.

Other changes are more aesthetic. Because Alola is an archipelago of islands separate from the mainland, familiar pokémon have slightly unfamiliar forms as a means of adapting to the new land. For example, Exeggutor is now a full height palm tree and not just a bush. It also has an altered typing (Grass/Dragon as opposed to Grass/Psychic). This really makes the Pokémon world as a whole feel more organic and alive, and it looks great thanks to the stellar graphics engine introduced in X/Y. The idea of using the familiar to introduce something new is a great way to coax people out of their comfort zones. The soundtrack heartily follows this sentiment in that it offers the complexity and depth I expect of Pokémon music, but with a more lilting Hawaiian flair.

The storyline is quite promising in Sun/Moon. I don't expect Citizen Kane levels of storytelling in a Pokémon game, but Black/White raised the bar in this respect, and is considered to have the best story of all the Pokémon games. X/Y's story was a step down, but those games were more about mechanical upgrades. Sun/Moon is stepping it up in the story department, as the protagonist's friends and rivals (including Trial Captains, Alola's equivalent of Gym Leaders) are some of the most colorful I've seen in a while, both in terms of personality and visual design. My favorite part so far was a subsequent encounter with a pair of Team Skull grunts where the game let me choose to say whether I recognized them. Saying "no" messed with those grunts in a hilarious way, and I hope to see more interactive dialogue like that. It's too early to say whether Sun/Moon's story outdoes that of Black/White, but so far it's pretty engaging.

Pokémon Sun/Moon is not the series revolution that X/Y was, but it is more of an evolutionary improvement. It takes X/Y's lovely graphic engine and creates and even more vivid new world. It also improves on and enhances the wonderful conveniences that made X/Y a smooth Pokémon game to traipse through. In a sense, I see this is how Final Fantasy VIII took Final Fantasy VII's foundation and refined it. If you're not already playing Pokémon Sun or Moon, you probably should be.

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