Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Pokemon Moon Review


It's been three years since the release of Pokemon X/Y, which if I remember correctly, were games that were supposed to usher in a new generation of Pokemon. The buildup for those games targeted that Pokemon was evolving and becoming something more than it had ever been before. Now with the power of hindsight, it's easy to see that X/Y weren't the revolution that anyone had hoped for, and actually were probably the most technical, yet traditional game in years.

With Black/White, there was a genuine attempt to shakeup the formula with it. 150 new Pokemon, triple battles, rotation battles, fully alive worlds, and a story that was actually engaging and broke up the series formula. Hell, after you beat the Elite Four, you never even got the chance to fight the champion, you had to defeat Team Plasma once and for all. X/Y had a less engaging story and went back to making a game that adhered to traditional Pokemon rules. Eight gyms, the Elite Four, beating the villain team after the seventh gym, frequent friendly rival encounters, you name it. The only real innovations were Fairy Pokemon, which were a neat idea but weren't as readily available as I would have hoped, the jumped the 3D, which made the game look great, but that was about all, and EV Training, which helped balance out the competitive and meta game, but I've never really been interested in all of that.

Bottom line, X/Y were good, but not great. I'd probably say they're just as good as Gen I in hindsight, but not as refined or as experimental as Gen V and Gen II were.

Gen VII though is a different beast entirely. This is the radical shift that I think X/Y were trying to be, but couldn't quite stick the landing. Sun/Moon truly seemed advanced and are the new standard for making a "progressive" Pokemon game.

As is the case with most Pokemon games I talk about, I'm not going to go over the basic mechanics of the series. You catch monsters, train them, teach them moves, and fight each other. It hasn't changed in 20 years, and it isn't going to change anytime soon. I stand by the fact that every mainline game in the series is fundamentally the same, so let's just agree to look at all of the new additions to this game. And just for full disclosure, I chose Moon as my version with Rowlet as my starter (Popplio is an affront to God), and I also went into this game doing a blind Nuzlocke because I clearly hate myself.

If I was to tell you the one thing about Sun/Moon that is different from any other game in the series, I probably would be hard pressed to name what the one big feature is. Sun/Moon build on all of the basic tenants of the franchise in new and interesting ways.

For example, I never realized it until this Gen, but every NPC you encounter is previous games all have the same build. With the exception of AZ last Gen, every trainer is always the same height and may have a different physique. Here, every trainer looks unique and have heir own height, skin tones, hair styles, animations, and feel like actual human beings. Hell, most trainers don't even stand in one place waiting to fight you. They'll walk around a route and challenge you if they see you. Sometimes they might be doing their own thing and not notice you. No one is just standing there waiting for you to challenge them, mired like a statue.

Speaking of routes, but every route is now fully 3D! Routes have height, terrain, hills, peaks, valleys, crevices, and there is no grid lock pattern for how to move around. I never realized it back in X/Y, but even though you could freely skate around in 3D, as soon as you hopped off them you were forced into the same grid based movement structures that have been present since the very beginning. It's a small thing, but wow is it noticeable.

I don't think I even realized this until I sat down to write this, but Sun/Moon have made gym battles fun again by ditching them entirely. Gyms are now called "Trials", and while there are technically 7 trials in the game, there are also 4 grand trials after a certain number of trails. With 11 "gym leaders", the game feels bigger than ever before, but what makes me even happier is that now trials can range from a whole variety of challenges. One has you fighting a bunch of Wishiwashi's, an adorable new water Pokemon, before fighting a big Totem Pokemon, or a traditional RPG boss if you will. Another has you gather ingredients for a dinner that summons the Totem Pokemon, but for those that fear there are still no more tough "gym leaders" to fight, you can still fight every Trail captain somehow and the Grand Trial leaders, called Kahunas, are the exact same as normal gym leaders.

Also, to the relief of everyone that is playing this game, HM's are finally, thankfully, gone. Back in the day, you usually had to lug around a Pokemon that knew moves like Surf, Waterfall, Dive, or Strength just to progress in the game. Now, with the press of a button, you can instantly use Surf, Strength, Fly, or any other previous HM move without needing to teach it to a Pokemon. You can still learn those moves, but they're all now TM's, which make the game feel much less restrictive when I knew I had to basically overwrite all of my Water Pokemon's moves just to teach it HM's (Hoenn).

As for the new Pokemon, my reactions as positive, but a bit less enthusiastic than I had hoped. There are now 90+ new Pokemon if you count the Alolan forms, which are about a dozen or so Pokemon from Gen I that have special forms in this game with new typing I.E, Vulpix is now Ice and Exeggutor is a Grass-Dragon .Without those, there are still more new Pokemon than Gen VI, but there are now 16 (18 if you count Pokemon that you can only get from digital codes) Legendary Pokemon, more than any other game. The amount of Legendary Pokemon is insane, making the actual number of new Pokemon less spectacular than before. When so many of the Pokemon are locked in the post game, it's a bit of a damper for a longtime collector like myself.

Another aspect of Sun/Moon that I'm a bit torn on are the edition of Z-Moves. After you fulfill certain circumstances, you can give a Pokemon in your party a Z-Crystal, an item that lets them perform an incredibly strong type based move. For example, if you give a Rock Pokemon a Rocknium-Z, then they can do a super strong Rock move. The only drawbacks are that you can only use 1 Z-Move per fight, you can't use a held item because the Crystal is a held item, and it's attack strength is based on the power of the move you're upgrading, so a powered up Surf will hit harder than a powered up Bubble.

On one hand, it adds strategy to a fight where you can have only one Pokemon use a Z-Move per battle, making it tough to choose which type to use and when to use it. Plus at least it's better than Mega Evolutions, which I still believe are useless and didn't do a damn thing to expand upon battles and make them more dynamic. It just limited your teams to a certain few Pokemon that everyone always had in order to actually last in a fight. On the other hand, Z-Moves are now pretty much "Hit button to win" moves that will do a titanic amount of damage even if the move is normally effective. Not very effective won't kill, but get a good Pokemon with a good move and have them use a Z-move and you can kiss your enemy goodbye. It makes battling a bit too simple for me.

As for all of the other little ins and outs, I have to say I really enjoyed all of the tweaks that Game Freak has made for Sun/Moon. The story has a few different beats to it that make it stand out, and while you do have to deal with Team Skull, hilarious street thugs that make Team Rocket look like criminal masterminds, as well as the Aether Foundation, an altruistic group that tries to help all Pokemon by protecting them and sound much more like a Pokemon version of the Catholic Church. They disavow all evils done to Pokemon and protect them, but you know there's one or two thing sup with them that don't sit right with you.

Look, after playing Pokemon for 20 years, it's easy to say that I've seen it all. I've seen new Pokemon, new moves, new regions, new trainers, and there comes a point where the franchise just doesn't seem to innovate. Sun/Moon made me feel excited to play Pokemon again in a way I haven't felt since Gen II. I wanted to explore Alola and catch all of the Pokemon I could find (Nuzlocke rules prevented me from doing that, so all I could do is stare at amazing Pokemon and shed a single tear of sadness). I wanted to see new challenges and fight more trainers because I felt like this was a world that I wanted to be in more.

Pokemon Sun/Moon was the reinvigoration that the series needed in my opinion. It's still obviously Pokemon, but enough things have been added to make me feel like this is a game that I've never played before. Okay, I obviously never have played it before, but this wasn't your typical Pokemon game. Some of the changes I really like, some I have reservations on, but nothing about the game made me think that Game Freak made a mistake designing these games. That being said, this wasn't a huge gamble for Nintendo. This wasn't an all-or-nothing, do-or-die case for the series, but it shows that Nintendo isn't content to sit on its laurels and tried and true formulas.

I'm still enjoying Sun/Moon i way more than expected, and I'm still having fun battling new Pokemon and watch my hard earned Pokemon slowly die through bulls*** moves like pursuit. PURSUIT KILLED 5 OF MY POKEMON IN MY NUZLOCKE! I'M AFRAID TO SWITCH OUT DYING POKEMON NOW IN FEAR OF THEM DYING TO A CHEAP MOVE THAT IS ONLY THERE TO MAKE MY TEAMMATES DIE!

Have you ever tried to Nuzlocke a Pokemon game? It does things to your mind... I now have an emotional connection to my Wishiwashi Bubbledumdum.

Yes, that is a sentence I have just written out. I think I need to get away from my computer now.


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