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.

pokemon-sun-moon-hold
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.

Pokemon Sun Mon Battle 2.jpg
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Totem.jpg
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Ride Pokemon.jpg
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon SOS.jpg
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Battle (1).jpg
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.

pokemon-sun-moon-z-move
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Battle Royal.png
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Team Skull.jpg
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.

pokemon-sun-moon-city
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Festival Plaza.jpg
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.

Pokemon Sun Moon Alola.png
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.

Pokémon Sun and Moon Analysis & Thoughts

Information, Thoughts, & Analysis on Pokémon Sun and Moon

The Pokémon Company recently revealed a trailer for the upcoming games in the Pokémon series: Sun and Moon.  I will share my thoughts and analyses on what the trailer and official website had to offer, including information on starters, legendaries, gameplay, and region.  Please share any thoughts or excitement you may have about anything Generation VII in the comments below!

Pokemon Starters.jpg
Introducing the Pokemon Starters: Rowlet, Litten, and Popplio!

Rowlet: The Grass Starter

Rowlet is this generation’s grass starter and is actually a dual-type, Grass/Flying.  Its typing makes sense since it’s an owl Pokemon.  More notably, we haven’t seen a dual-type base starter since Bulbasaur’s Grass/Poison typing.  While this may seem to take away speculation regarding what types its evolutions will be, there has been precedence for Pokemon changing types upon evolving.  For instance, Scyther switches its secondary typing from Flying to Steel when it becomes Scizor, and Fletchling goes from Normal/Flying to Fire/Flying when it becomes Fletchinder.  I’d be fine if Rowlet remained Grass/Flying, which would hopefully make it a better version of Generation II’s Jumpluff or Generation III’s Tropius, but usable in official battles unlike the mythical legendary Pokemon Shaymin.

Rowlet
Introducing your Grass starter for Pokemon Sun and Moon, Rowlet!

The official site lists some interesting tidbits about Rowlet, likely from its Pokedex entries.  This excerpt from Rowlet’s page is particularly interesting:

Rowlet can attack without making a sound! It flies silently through the skies, drawing near to its opponent without being noticed, and then lashing out with powerful kicks. It can also attack from a distance using the razor-sharp leaves that form part of its feathers.

Pokédex entries are usually fluff entries that don’t actually describe what the Pokémon can do in game, but instead make up legends or tall tales about the Pokémon.  This entry is interesting because it makes Rowlet seem like a flying ninja.  While it’s probable that this excerpt doesn’t mean much, there is a chance that this predicts what kind of Pokemon Rowlet will evolve into, perhaps something along the lines of Greninja merged with a Sceptile and Noctowl.  Its other entry talks about it turning its head 180 degrees which further emphasizes its owl resemblance.  Rowlet actually does this as part of an animation in the trailer.  Its first Grass move, Leafage, is a brand new attack that appears to strike Pokémon with leaves, presumably made from its own feather quills.  Though this sounds like another established Grass move, Razor Leaf, the trailer shows that it more resembles several homed shots of leaves aimed towards the opponent as opposed to a barrage of leaves.  The other starter’s moves include Ember and Water Gun, which are both weaker moves with a base power of 40.  This suggests that Leafage may be the base power 40 version of Razor Leaf.

Rowlet 2
Rowlet is too cute.

Rowlet’s name seems to be a pun of “owlet,” which is a name for a baby owl.  Its Japanese name, Mokuroh, is likely also a pun of “moku” (wood) and “fukurou” (owl).  Rowlet looks like a round baby owl with a leaf bowtie.  Although I don’t typically pick the grass starter, Rowlet might just be my first one due to its overwhelming cuteness and potential.  For fun, these are what come to mind when I look at Rowlet.

Kikwi.png
Kikwi from Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Blathers.png
Blathers from Animal Crossing – He even has the same green bow tie!

Litten: The Fire Starter

Litten is a fire kitten starter with a black body and red whiskers, leg markings, and face markings.  It starts out as a plain Fire starter, but based on its color and general attitude, it looks like it may gain a secondary typing of Dark down the line.  This would also match the general color scheme of Pokémon like Gen II’s Houndoom and Gen IV’s Weavile.  We already have a dark wildcat in Gen V’s leopard-like Liepard but maybe we’ll see Litten evolve into a different wildcat like a dark tiger or even a liger.

Litten.png
Litten, the coolheaded Fire starter of Sun and Moon!

The official site characterizes Litten as a coolheaded Pokemon who doesn’t show its emotions.  It’s always nice to see Pokemon have such a defined personality just like with Gen V’s beloved smug grass starter, Snivy.  Litten starts with the move, Ember, which has been a common starting Fire move since Red and Blue.  The difference comes in how Litten produces fireballs, which the official site describes as flaming hairballs.  That’s right.  Litten actually licks its own fur and spits out hairballs as explosive projectiles, which is amazing.

Litten 2.png
Litten spits out fiery hairballs to attack.

Litten’s name most obviously derives from kitten, or baby cat.  The “Lit” part of its name likely refers to a fire or candle being lit.  The same “Lit” can be seen in the Fire lion cub Pokémon’s name, Litleo.  Litten’s Japanese name, Nyabby, also fits well.  “Nya” is the Japanese onomatopoeia for “Meow,” and can also be seen in Meowth’s Japanese name, “Nyasu.”  The “by” part of Nyabby’s name might be a pun off of the Japanese character (kanji) for fire 火.  Although that character is more commonly pronounced “hi,” it is changed to “bi” when following certain vowel sounds.  Finally, Nyabby rhymes with tabby, which is a breed of cat.

Its attitude and overall coolness makes Litten a good choice for a Fire starter.  I tend to lean towards the Fire starter ever since Charmander, and I’m glad that Litten doesn’t disappoint (as far as we know, right Fennekin?).  Litten reminds me of the following:

Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat, whose author I was recently able to meet!
Salem
Salem, from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, is also a dark cat with attitude.

Popplio: The Water Starter

Popplio, the sea lion Pokémon, is Generation VII’s water starter.  Its playful appearance, red clown nose, and jester-like neck suggest that it identifies itself with the circus or a water show like at a zoo or Sea World.  Its base form is a Water-type, but it may gain an ice-type for its final evolution, just like the other sea lion Pokémon, Gen I’s Dewgong.  It is also similar to Gen III’s Sealeo, who is a Water/Ice type Pokémon that evolves into Walrein.  Dewgong and Walrein resemble dugongs and walruses respectively, so maybe Popplio’s final form could be a dolphin?  In all 20 years of Pokémon, we have not yet seen an actual dolphin Pokémon, so this starter could become a series first.  Sure, it has whiskers, but even baby dolphins have whiskers on their upper jaws that fall off following birth.  Of course, it may just become another sea lion just as its Pokédex classification indicates.

Popplio
Popplio, the playful water starter!

Regardless of what kind of animal it resembles, Popplio is definitely a creature of the stage.  The official site states that Popplio can “snort out balloons made of water.”  It can then use the “elasticity of its balloons to perform acrobatic stunts and jumps.”  Even its image shows Popplio as a performer.  If this were Gen III or IV, it could have taken part in one of its renowned Pokémon Contests.  Perhaps Pokémon Contests may even return in Gen VII with Popplio being one of its big stars.  Popplio’s playful nature suggests that looks and style may have a role to play in some form.  Its first move is Water Gun, though I wonder if its bubble balloon technique could be the foundation of a brand new signature move.

Popplio 2
Popplio is like a circus performer that you’d find in an aquarium show.

Popplio seems to be a combination of pop and (sea) lion, referring to both its bubble ability as well as its classification.  Bulbagarden notes that “lio” may also come from Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, Hawaiian for monk seal, which makes sense considering the Hawaiian-based region.  Its Japanese name, Ashimari, may come from ashika meaning sea lion and temari which are Japanese silk hand balls.  These hand balls can be played with, similarly to how Popplio plays with its balloons.  Although I’m not terribly fond of Popplio, there is hope in where its final design will lead, especially since water starters have had a recent history of having superb final evolutions, such as Greninja.  Here is what Popplio makes me think of:

Jonathan
Jonathan, the seal from Kaleido Star, an anime about the circus
Stitch
Okay, Stitch is a stretch, but maybe I’ve been influenced by the Hawaiian-based region in this game.

Legendaries: Solgaleo and Lunaala

The cover legendaries were also shown off in the trailer and the official website.  The names Solgaleo and Lunaala have not been confirmed but are heavily speculated names based on trademarks made by The Pokémon Company.  Sun’s legendary is a majestic white lion with hints of red and yellow on its mane.  The name of Solgaleo would be very fitting if true since “sol” is Latin for sun and “leo” is Latin for lion.  It resembles Gen VI’s fire lion, Pyroar.  In addition to this, the fiery background and nature of the sun imply a Fire typing at the very least for Solgaleo.  The sun emblem from the logo art appears on its forehead in the trailer.  A fire beam can be seen emanating from its forehead roughly 44 seconds into the Japanese commercial.

Legendaries.png
The cover legendaries for Pokemon Sun and Moon.  The lion Pokemon on the left may be named Solgaleo.  The bat Pokemon on the right may be named Lunaala.

Moon’s legendary is a large purple bat with two crescent wings and an upward-facing crescent moon on its head.  It resembles Noivern from the previous generation but somehow looks even more sinister.  An obvious dual-typing for this legendary would be Dark and Flying, though nothing has been said.  It looks like it generates a beam attack from its moon forehead, seen in both the trailer and commercial.  Its possible name, Lunaala, would fit since “luna” is Latin for moon and “ala” is Latin for wing.

Gameplay

The graphics during Pokémon battles look very similar to Pokémon X/Y, which is good since it had a very graphically impressive and dynamic battle style.  Outside of Pokémon battles, it seems that you will be able to move freely as opposed to the grid-based nature of previous entries in the series.  Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were grid-based but also allowed you to run anywhere if you wanted.  This seems to be an evolution of that style, perhaps taking away the grid entirely.  The camera angles are also different and employ more natural perspectives instead of a strictly bird’s eye view.  This should be exciting for those who want a Pokémon adventure that feels more like a full 3D game experience.

Pokemon Battle.png
Pokemon battles will look similar to Pokemon X and Y.
Pokemon City
Camera angles are more dynamic in this game, and hopefully unlike Lumiose City’s.

Hawaiian-Based Region

In the reveal trailer, we also get a glimpse of the new region of Alola.  The name Alola, most likely coming from Aloha – which means both “hello” and “goodbye” in Hawaiian – more or less confirms that this region is based on Hawaii.  In addition, the clothes, flora, fauna, volcanoes, and islands of the region resemble Hawaii.  My best guess of which Hawaiian island this is most like would be Oahu, which is also the most tourist-friendly island.  The volcano in the southeast might be part of Ko’olau, one of two shield volcanoes in Oahu.  The city is probably Waikiki, a well-known tourist destination most recognized for its city-like appearance and sparkling sandy beach.  The city/beach area shown on the map matches where Waikiki would be in the real world.  The big tower in the middle may then be based on Aloha Tower in Honolulu.  Also seen on the map is a tropical area just behind the big city which looks similar to what most of the rest of Oahu looks like.  If this truly is Oahu, there is likely another volcano area further to the northwest, a big surf area in the North Shore beaches, and Pearl Harbor.  I’m assuming that Pearl Harbor won’t be referenced in the game due to cultural reasons, but we’ll see.

Alola Region.png
The Alola Region resembles an island of Hawaii.

Another big sign that it is based on Hawaii comes from the Japanese commercial for Pokémon Sun and Moon.  During this sweet video, we see a young Japanese boy move to Hawaii and feel like he doesn’t belong.  That is, until he discovers the new Pokémon Sun and Moon games and makes friends with other kids through his love of Pokémon.  This beautiful commercial harkens back to the original reveal trailer for Sun and Moon in which people of many different languages and ages come together through Pokémon.  It also reminds me of the Pokémon 20th Anniversary Super Bowl Commercial in which many diverse people look towards the future and say, “I can do that.”  This, along with the worldwide push of Pokémon, seems to reflect The Pokémon Company’s recent theme of bringing people together and inspiring hope through a common interest.

Pokemon Tropical
There is a big tropical island theme in this game.

Regardless of where this region is based off of, one aspect is clear.  There will be much water.

Sun Moon Starters
Catch ’em All again on November 18, 2016!

Conclusion

Pokémon Sun and Moon looks like a solid continuation of how X and Y evolved the franchise on the 3DS.  The starters look pretty solid for the most part, and its evolutions will likely be guiding factors for the ultimate decision.  The legendaries look interesting and promote the titular sun and moon themes.  Finally, the Hawaiian region is a nice change of pace from the big city-based regions of past generations.  I’m looking forward to the advancements that this next generation will bring!  Pokémon Sun and Moon will be released worldwide for the Nintendo 3DS on November 18, 2016.

What did you think of the reveal trailer of Pokémon Sun and Moon?  Did it raise your hype for Generation VII?  Which starter Pokémon will you choose?  Which version are you going to pick up?  What do you think of the Alola region?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Source: Pokémon, Official Pokémon Youtube Channel, and Pokémon CoJP Youtube Channel