Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

The Pokémon Series Evolves

The original Game Boy Pokémon games inspired a generation to be the very best like no one ever was. Worldwide, trainers set forth on an adventure to capture and raise the titular Pocket Monsters. Twenty years later, the series remains as strong as ever, spawning dozens of sequels and hundreds of Pokémon. Pokémon Sun and Moon cap off the series’ yearlong anniversary celebration and show us how far the franchise has come. Not only does Pokémon’s seventh generation provide a robust execution of the game’s ever-growing mechanics, but it also challenges the traditional structure of every other mainline entry, resulting in a fresh evolution of the series.

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Cue The Lion King

If you’ve ever donned a Pokémon trainer’s cap, Sun and Moon’s base gameplay won’t surprise you. For those uninitiated, you play as a young trainer and raise unique creatures known as Pokémon. By capturing them in Pokéballs, they are yours to train. As your Pokémon battle other trainers’ monsters, they become more powerful, sometimes even evolving to stronger, larger forms. Each Pokémon is distinct, sporting different elemental types (Fire, Water, Electric, etc.) and game-changing abilities. The joy of discovering new Pokémon and picking a team of six favorites still forms the backbone of these installments.

Fans have enjoyed this structure for decades, but the developers at Game Freak have wisely chosen to spruce up the formula. The biggest difference is there are no gyms in the new region of Alola. You may be crying blasphemy, but the new Island Challenge feels fresh while still holding on to the series’ beloved gameplay. Instead of gyms, you engage in Trials scattered throughout the four Alolan Islands. These Trials vary from gathering ingredients to taking a memory quiz. Upon completion, you fight against a buffed-up boss-like Totem Pokémon. After finishing the trials on an island, you are worthy to fight its Kahuna, essentially a gym leader.

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You can now see your opponent during battle.

The autonomous Totem Pokémon mark a shift of focus to the lovable creatures themselves. Sun and Moon remind us that Pokémon are the stars. The new Pokémon Refresh, an upgrade to Pokémon X/Y’s Pokémon-Amie, lets you pet and feed your creatures via the Nintendo 3DS’ touch screen. Through Refresh, you can heal status ailments after battles at no cost. Even better, as you take care of your Pokémon, they will return that favor in battle. Loved Pokémon gain more experience points, land more double-damage critical hits, and dodge attacks more often. I hardly used Amie back in X/Y, but here, Refresh is clearly displayed as an option post-battle. You can ignore it if you’d prefer as well. But when I see my Pokémon ruffled up, I can’t help but want to clean it.

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This Raticate is more than buffed-up.

The focus on Pokémon extends to your means of travel. Instead of a bike, you traverse the world on Pokémon like Lapras and Charizard. They aren’t yours, but you are free to summon them as soon as they unlock. By far, the best aspect is that the series has finally gotten rid of HMs (Hidden Machines). In the past, you had to teach your Pokémon these special moves to get around. The HMs wasted potential slots for a Pokémon’s limited four-move set, but were mandatory to beat the game. Now, you can teach simply call on the new PokéRide summons to push boulders or surf. It’s more intuitive and also purely fun to charge a Tauros into a blockade of rocks.

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Riding on Lapras

There is a downside to giving Pokémon more autonomy. Wild monsters now sometimes call for help during battle, transforming it into a two-on-one fight. These “SOS Battles” can lead to some bonuses with stronger and evolved Pokémon appearing. However, it is a hassle during regular gameplay, especially since you can’t capture until you defeat one of them. Even worse, there’s no penalty for a wild Pokémon to call for help, so it does so immediately after attacking you. It’s a neat idea, but one flawed by its inconveniences.

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Magikarp may call on Gyarados to battle.

The new Pokémon are high-quality and have a hint of tropical flavor. From the adorable owl, tiger, and seal starters to the majestic cover legendaries, each new creature breathes life into the world. There are new monsters based on Hawaiian leis, salamanders, red pandas, and sand castles, just to name a few. Additionally, new Alolan forms of old Pokémon allow you to see old favorites in a new light, for better or for worse. Though there are some amazing inclusions, like the fire-dancing Marowak and snowy Ninetales, there are also hilarious oddities like the awkwardly tall palm tree Exeggutor. While the effort to make old Pokémon new is appreciated, it would have been nice to see more novel creatures.

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Litten takes on the new Alolan Raichu.

Sun and Moon’s new major battle mechanic is the Z-Move. Although intended to follow up to last generation’s popular Mega Evolutions, it doesn’t garner as much hype. Like Mega Evolutions, you can only use one Z-Move per battle. However, your opponent can block or lessen the damage considerably, with a move like “Protect,” for instance. There is a corresponding Z-Move and Z-Crystal for each type, and you obtain each type’s Z-Crystal through the Island Challenge. They are incredibly flashy and are fun to use during the game. However, as far as battle mechanics go, it’s more style than substance.

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Pikachu performs the electric Z-move.

The new optional battle format, the Battle Royal, is decent. Battle Royal pits four players into a free-for-all match. You earn points by landing the final blow on a Pokémon, and the game ends when one player has run out of usable Pokémon. This mode generates unique strategies as well as luck-based outcomes. Brought a Pokémon to a sliver of health but an opponent finished it off? Shame, you get nothing. Battle Royals can be entertaining as a party mode, but they’re not meant to be taken seriously.

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Four Pokémon go in…

There are other quality-of-life improvements that trainers will appreciate. You can now see which moves are “super effective” or “not very effective” from the move selection screen, eliminating the need to memorize the type chart. It only activates for Pokémon you have faced before to prevent spoiling your initial encounter. When you catch a Pokémon, but have a full team, the game now asks if you’d like to add it to your party. You can increase a Pokémon’s base stats with Hyper Training. Grid movement is also gone, allowing you to move freely in any direction with the circle pad. Finally, a map with objective markers on your bottom screen ensure that you will never get lost.

Both Sun and Moon are fundamentally identical, with the exception of version-exclusive Pokémon. Additionally, Pokémon Moon reverses day and night in-game, which means if you play during the day, it’s actually nighttime in the game. It’s a minor difference, but one to keep in mind.

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Would you hang out with these guys?

The story is a step up from previous generations with one of the most entertaining teams in recent history, the nogoodniks of Team Skull, and some of the most mold-breaking characters the series has to offer. The journey’s linearity is par for the course, but this game especially makes it clear by blocking you off from areas until you beat the Island Trial. Coupled with the slow opening, veterans may get disheartened. Worry not, for the game picks up after the first island.

What a journey it is! The Hawaii-inspired region of Alola comes alive through the impressive visuals and music. Thanks to a shift from the traditional overhead view to a more natural perspective, the world sucks you in with its vibrant colors and lush life. Each island is distinct and offers an array of environments. Even battle backgrounds display your current terrain. The animations during battle are as exciting as they’ve ever been, with some new ones added in. The only con is that the game chugs on an old 3DS, especially during battles with more than two Pokémon. There’s also a lack of 3D, aside from a new lackluster photography mode (it’s no Pokémon Snap!). For the first time, characters have realistic proportions. This complements the character customization tool, and your custom hairstyles and clothes will stand out.

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The Pokémon world has never felt so alive.

Relaxing island tunes comprise the soundtrack, and the trademark composition of battle music is familiar and energetic. Of particular note are the hip beatbox stylings of Team Skull’s themes, the futuristic Aether Foundation music, and the island chantings from the main Alola theme.

When you’re not journeying through Alola, you can also visit the new Poké Pelago. Here, you interact with your stored Pokémon in gradual increments, similar to how mobile games work. You can train your team, hatch eggs, send Pokémon on expeditions, and perform other tasks, provided you are willing to wait hours for them to finish. Its passive nature makes it super effective. While you are playing the game proper or even while not playing, everything continues moving in Poké Pelago. You then return and reap the rewards later.

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The Festival Plaza, your online Pokémon theme park

Festival Plaza is not as effective, and is actually a downgrade of a feature from Pokémon Black 2/White 2, Join Avenue. Within the plaza, you can interact with trainers who you’ve passed online or offline. By taking their requests, you gain Festival Coins which you can spend on any of the facilities in your specific plaza. Each facility has a different function, whether training your Pokémon, dyeing your clothes, or selling rare goods. However, unlike Join Avenue, you can’t upgrade your facilities. You either get a random new facility after earning coins or buy facilities from other trainers. While a great setup can go a long way, a barebones set of stores is only moderately useful.

More importantly, the Festival Plaza is where you engage in online multiplayer. Whereas previous games allowed you to always be online while playing the story, you are now limited within the confines of the plaza. That said, the online is fantastic. All the multiplayer options that have kept the community alive are present here. Battle with trainers around the world through the Battle Spot or official championship tournaments. Compete in singles, doubles, and Battle Royals online. Trade with anyone in the plaza, or test your luck with a random Wonder Trade. The Global Trade System (GTS) likely represents your best chance at catching ‘em all, with players depositing their Pokémon and requesting specific creatures in return. Even though it’s all limited to the plaza, it works. The extensive multiplayer and the everlasting desire to catch ‘em all and raise the best battle-ready Pokémon will keep your adventure going past the roughly 30+ hours of story and postgame.

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Welcome to Alola!

Conclusion

There is always an expectation for Game Freak to deliver the classic gameplay that has enamored us for years. With Pokémon Sun and Moon, I can safely say that they have not only accomplished this, but have also given us groundbreaking changes in how we perceive the traditional Pokémon journey. Whether there are gyms or trials in the next game is unforeseen, but this newest generation represents a radical shift and a wondrous excitement for the future. If you’ve somehow avoided the Pokémon series up until now, this is one of the best entry points the series has ever had. For those of you who already love the series, pack your bags for the Alolan Islands and embark on one of the freshest journeys to date. Alo-la!

Rating: 9.5/10

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Sun and Moon? Which version are you getting? What are your favorite new Pokémon and starters? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Note: Both Pokémon Sun and Moon were used for this review, with Moon being the primary version played.

Tales from Japan – Ikebukuro’s Pokémon Center, J-World, and More!

Tales from Japan – Ikebukuro’s Pokémon Center, J-World, and More!

The Dream Trip!

My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Japan. As big fans of video games and anime, it was no doubt a goal to see Japan together one day. I had studied abroad in Tokyo years back, but this was my wife’s first time. In fact, after returning from my first trip and before we had even started dating, she asked me to take her along next time. As it so happens, we got married, and so this really was the promised dream trip of a lifetime!

Note: Click on images to enlarge or see captions.

That was just a sample (and teaser) of photos from our entire trip. I have thousands of pictures that I could share. I couldn’t possibly post them all, so I will pick the biggest highlights and talk about them. Also, it’d be difficult to share them all in one post, so I plan to devote multiple posts to our Japan trip. I’ll post them in-between reviews so I sincerely hope you enjoy my pictures and tales!

Ikebukuro

We traveled around the Tokyo area, the populated capital and southeastern city of the main island Honshu, for most of our trip. On our first day, we visited the urban district of Ikebukuro. Ikebukuro has numerous attractions, mostly associated with shopping. We saw big department and electronic stores such as Seibu and Bic Camera immediately after exiting the bustling station. Sunshine City, a large building complex with stores and attractions within, is at the heart. Many people know Akihabara as the big district for geeky things, but Ikebukuro is quickly becoming a den for anime and game fans. As such, we definitely had to see what Ikebukuro had to offer for our fandoms. Our favorite places to visit were the Pokémon Center, J-World, and the Animate flagship store. We ate a simple meal of beef bowls at Yoshinoya, a Japanese fast food chain that has gained some international acclaim. Eating in Japan is just as a fun an experience as sightseeing, so I’ll be sure to post more about food whenever appropriate.

Pokémon Center Megatokyo

The Pokémon series is very important to me and is one of the biggest reasons I got into anime and Japanese culture in the first place. It’s no surprise that Japan has multiple stores entirely dedicated to Pokémon. Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City is home to the largest of them, Pokémon Center Megatokyo. Pokémon Sun and Moon had just come out, so there was a large focus on the brand new Alolan creatures, both in statue and plush form. There were lots of other merchandise that we shamelessly bought, from dozens of cosplaying Pikachu (including Luigi Pikachu!), adorable plushies, and Pokémon themed apparel and accessories. We enjoyed taking many photos with the life-size Pokémon statues and decorations!

J-World Amusement Park

Shonen Jump is a huge manga magazine that has serialized many of the most well-known series, including Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Death Note, and Rurouni Kenshin, just to name a few. J-World is an indoor theme park devoted to the magazine and its series. We love theme parks, and an anime-focused one was a must-see for us! One of our favorite attractions was this room where we could shoot Goku’s signature Kamehameha waves through the magic of 3D technology. We also enjoyed playing minigames to obtain the seven Dragon Balls and summon the dragon Shenron. Other fun attractions were a ninja mission to fight the Akatsuki from Naruto and a boat ride through the pirate world of One Piece. We even got to go in a fun flavor-of-the-season room with decorations based on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. We capped our time off eating at the J-World restaurant complete with Ichiraku Ramen and Vegeta’s chicken karaage, because the prince of all Saiyans should be associated with fried chicken.

Animate Store

We did more traditional sightseeing at other areas in Tokyo (and I’ll get to those in future posts), but Ikebukuro was clearly one of our huge shopping days if you couldn’t tell. One of our shopping stops was the new Animate flagship store, which houses seven floors of anime goods. We got lots of things from our favorite series including a Phoenix Wright towel, the Japan-only Monster Hunter Stories amiibo, Pokémon and Yo-kai Watch 3DS cases, and calendars from Boruto and Dragon Ball Super. Here are pictures of the store and some of our new merchandise.

Next Time… Akihabara!

Thanks for indulging me in my pictures and tales from Ikebukuro. I plan to talk about each major area we visited and have lots to share about each one. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! For next time, I’ll share more about the area most relevant to this site, the anime and video game geek heaven, Akihabara!

Tales from Japan

Akihabara – Land of Video Games, Anime Shops, and Final Fantasy Cafés