Pokémon Sun and Moon: Twenty Years and One Review

Remember gaming? Remember this blog? Ha! Well if there's one game to bring us out of apathy-driven retirement it's a new Pokémon game. I've not read many reviews, does anyone do reviews anymore? Is Zero Punctuation still going?

There's something fairly unique about Pokémon video games in that we here at TGAM have been playing them for 20 years now and to the casual Pokémon player who dips in and out, it's easy to think that it's been the same game across all of those 20 years with the occasional roster update.

But for those who are in deep. Too deep. The mainline Pokémon games is 20 years of iterative design and with Sun and Moon they've finally expunged many of the 20 year old mechanics and choreful quirks and built on designs that have been experimented on since Red/Green and Blue. Of course, some old skool players are going to hate these changes. If you've wasted spent hundreds of hours breeding and training that perfect IV shiny Pokémon then yes, it's a gut punch that for kids these days the fuss and indeed the muss has largely been taken out of the process. In fact a lot of it happens when the 3DS has been turned off but I think, in general it is for the better in terms of how we waste our lives on breeding the best fighting cocks for our once every two year battles.

I've played through the game, about 50 hours in. I can sleep at night because I'm back up to a complete living dex (including all the new forms) and waiting for Pokémon Bank compatibility to complete that international dex. Suffice to say, this post contains some game mechanic more than story SPOILERS so do not go on if you're keen not to have elements of the game revealed. I'm going to break the review down into STORY, CORE MECHANICS, BREEDING and TRAINING, ONLINE and most importantly NEW ROCK TYPE POKEMON.

STORY 
We're totally fine with admitting, the story in Pokémon games has always kinda sucked. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There's a formula and hey, it's been super effective for one of the best selling video game franchises of all time but it's not the kind of stuff that will keep you awake at night because of the life changing, thought provoking narrative.

There's a McGuffin or two, a bit of world-saving, some soon-to-be-appearing-in-anime trope characters and as ever it is friendship, positive feelings and trained killer pets that save the day. So far, so blah.

However, what is vastly improved in Sun/Moon is that the story actively tugs you (steady) along and thanks to some trimmed down core mechanics (see below), it's easier than ever to progress through the 'story' become the champion and enter 'end game' territory. There are less unavoidable vast fields of grass, caves are much simpler (although zubats), it feels like the encounters on the sea are much less frequent and even penultimate trial 'Victory Road' is much less of an ordeal. You're lead through the game almost by the nose, there's no confusing progression blocks yet still enough secret areas to discover or return to and to be honest, the game is all the better for a fast moving story.

I've been replaying Pokémon Yellow on the 3DS virtual console recently and the faster pace of Sun/Moon generally will likely see more people get to the end of the game.

CORE MECHANICS
If you played any of the other mainline games there are some tropes of the game design that have been tired almost since red and blue. Remember having to keep a pidgeot and a lapras in your party throughout the game in order to use fly, cut, rock smash, surf, waterfall, strength, flash and (ugh) defog? Carrying two losers around, wasting at least two slots in your party and slots for shitty HM moves that weren't that useful in battling so you didn't have to backtrack to a Pokémon centre every five minutes to smash a rock or cut a reappearing tree down? ALL THAT IS FINALLY GONE. FINALLY.

The HM mechanic was initially a way of metering story progression- you needed to beat gym leaders to use HMs that would then clear the path to the next area but it had outstayed its welcome a mere 400 games later. That mechanic is still in there but it's now thankfully, delegated to a quick menu that you can access all the time. You no longer have to carry around HM slaves at all times, Once unlocked, Pokémon that will smash rocks, push blocks or fly you around are a menu away and again, THANKFULLY you don't have to sit through the full tiresome animation that came with the prototype of this mechanic flying about on mega latios/latias in Pokémon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.    

Berries are also at last fixed. After a couple of games where you had to tiresomely keep track of where/when you'd planted berries to return to them in real time to the portable but still-not-great berry pot in Pokémon Heart Gold and Pokémon Soul Silver to the clunky berry fields and mulch of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, all the boring legwork is taken out of berry growing with Poké Pelago. Just a menu option away, the progress of your berry plot can be quickly checked, you don't need to worry about watering them or using fertiliser and all you need to concern yourself with is whether you want to throw Poké beans at speeding up berry growth or not. And Poké beans literally grow on trees (well a giant vine). We're so glad this is finally fixed, it was always a chore to efficiently grow berries in previous games, with the risk of losing berries if you harvested them at the wrong time, leave them too long or didn't tend to them adequately. Now that's all streamlined to one daily check in making it easier than ever to harvest hundreds of berries quickly.

BREEDING and TRAINING
For those with the RPG min/max compulsion or those who want the most competitive Pokémon for online battling you had to get to know the somewhat clandestine process of selectively breeding Pokémon for the perfect combination of perfect individual values (IVs), egg moves learned only through breeding across species, beneficial natures and desirable abilities. I can understand that players who have put in hard breeding time may miss the rite of passage of iteratively breeding Pokémon, finding favourite spots for hatching hundreds of eggs (or alternatively taping/elastic banding buttons down to hatch a handful of eggs) but there was little about the laborious process that was actually fun and a lot of the process was fiddly. Pokémon Go players, you don't even know the half of it.

There's still a bit of faff about breeding and training but it's been made a lot simpler. Up to 18 eggs, once collected from the Pokémon nursery can be placed in hot springs in Poké Pelago with the prod of a stylus and will hatch over real time even with the 3DS turned off. Again, for those who need hatched eggs and need them NOW this process can be sped up with Poké bean investment which are themselves easily collected in vast quantities a couple of times a day. No longer will you have to play the extremely boring game of haring around the world carrying eggs nestled next to some flame bodied Pokémon (to speed up hatching time), hatching a few at a time, running them past the IV checker, checking the IVs and natures, going back to a PC, swapping Pokémon, changing up the parents and collecting new eggs over and over again. Speaking from experience, I must have spent hundreds, almost thousands of hours doing just that ever since Pokémon Silver. That's 17 years of tiresomely hatching virtual eggs.

Now all you need do is collect the eggs (which is still a bit tedious) dump up to 18 of them in the hot springs and then next day, voila they're all hatching. You can then chuck the hatchlings into Isle Evelup on Poké Pelago and choose precisely the effort values (evs) you want the Pokémon to develop one stat at a time and like the eggs, return to it a day later with your Pokémon having trained itself in your chosen stat or even in levelling up. Again, makes us a bit nostalgic for Poké viruses, power bracers and chain battles to speed up ev training but there was little actual challenge in doing it once you knew what you were doing it was more of a trying time sink.

Even with some of the pain taken out of breeding and training, you're given the power to change some of the previously fixed upon birth attributes of Pokémon. Previous games introduced the ability capsule to help a tiny bit with unfavourable abilities but Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon introduce the new items bottle caps which can help tweak (but apparently not truly change) IVs- the previously hard wired 'genetic' differences between individual Pokémon stats. So no longer do you need to go to extreme lengths to get that perfect Pokémon as these new items can help boost IVs here and there for those nearly perfect Pokémon or to take some of the randomness to legendary or event Pokémon which can't be bred. Bottle caps aren't liberally given away but there are enough ways to get them in the game to build up enough of a collection to cut out an element of tedious breeding. Unfortunately, getting the right Pokémon nature will still require soft resets for those legendaries but some of the pain is taken out of breeding.

It's also important to note that Pokémon Sun/Moon removes even more of the opacity from advanced ev/IV/breeding. In Poké Pelago you are told the explicit number that base attack/def etc. has been increased. We're a far cry from the earlier games, where it was only down to dedicated game crackers than the numbers and influencing factors behind these mechanics were revealed at all. Subsequent generations have introduced characters who will give you hints at these hidden values (IV checker and the effort ribbon) and in this generation even more of the curtain is lifted.

There's still room for some more transparency, Unless I'm mistaken you'll still need a pen and paper to accurately keep track of exactly where you've invested in evs, the only visual clue you are given to the investment so far is the very imprecise scatter chart on the Pokémon summary page. Who knows, maybe next game around we'll be able to just see these numerical values?

ONLINE
The online component of Pokémon Sun/Moon is one of the areas where you can easily trace the design heritage from the older games. In this game the festival plaza menu option combines some of the features of Join Avenue from Pokémon Black/White 2 with some elements of the online system in Pokémon X/Y without the triple layered bottom screen menu system of Pokémon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.

Although O Powers will be greatly missed (but to be honest, hatching power was the key one which is a bit obsolete now- see above) Festival Plaza is much cleaner than the messy menus of Pokémon ORAS. There's less scope for ad-hoc online battles with strangers but more family-audience friendly co-operative interactions through the Festival Plaza missions which earn the Festival Plaza currency to get rare or discounted items. Although old-hats will recognise the elements from Join Avenue such as rotating out shops and stalls, in general, how Festival Plaza actually works will be quite confusing to newcomers to the series who may not realise that it requires quite a bit of investment to develop into something that is useful. The serebii page clears up a lot of the mystery about the Plaza and its attractions.

NEW ROCK TYPE POKEMON
As ever, there have been some who have complained about the new Pokémon designs. Overall, we like the flavour of the new Pokémon inspired by real animals. As island nations, a lot of the more nature inspired Alolan Pokémon take their cues from insular wildlife so Borneo, Madagascar, Australia and tropical reefs all get a shout out with some of the new designs.

Having said that, as a die hard rock type Pokémon fan, there's slim pickings in the new Pokémon. In fact, yes I've been provoked, triggered even, to go as far to say that it's the worst generation for rock types since the original Gold and Silver (which also didn't have new fossil Pokémon, coincidence...).

There's a paltry four new rock types, five if you include the new Alolan geodude line. Let's take a look at each in no real order to annoy those with OCD.

Alolan Geodude, Graveller, Golem. Golem gets a beard, moustache and a giant magnet, loses the ground typing and gains electric type. Well, thanks but no thanks I guess. Losing the crippling four times weakness to the smallest of puddles and even fairly dull blades of grass is great and as a rock type trainer, having access to same type boosted electric moves is novel! However, combined with losing the ground typing, golem picks up 4 x weakness to ground moves. Is the Groucho Marx new design worth it? The meta game will tell I guess.

Silvally Much like arceus, nobody cares for a type slut. If you can't commit to one type properly, you don't deserve due consideration. Also, not personally digging the design.

Rockruff and Lycanroc. Form funniness continues with two different forms of pure rock type lycanroc; one bad ass edgy werewolf and one errrr straight up wolf I guess. Daytime lycanroc is faster but has less HP and defenses. Fast rock types are still a bit of a rarity (LOVE YOU AERODACTYL) and daytime lycanroc has weather shenanigans in the ability sand rush. The move pool is a bit uninspired on first inspection. As for the flavour, well, the moon is kinda rocky so yeah, rock type werewolf. I guess.

Minior EVEN MORE FORM FUNNINESS in the rock and flying armoured meteor. Seven different colours (eight with the shiny form) and then the shields down form change bullshit. I guess rock types were due a bit of the form fun. But YES YES YES to minior but only if you shout appropriate shields up/shields down Star Trek lines when the form switches. Shields down is such a cool ability- at full HP the defense stats are high, speed is low and minior is impervious to some status conditions. Under half HP and SHIELDS DOWN CAPTAIN, defense and attack stats are swapped, speed is doubled but minior becomes vulnerable to status conditions. My one wish would have been for SHE CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE CAPTAIN to activate when HP drops under 50% rather than at the end of the turn that so in most instances, minior's boosted speed and attack will come too late to make an effective difference against sweepers. Still, cool design, cool flavour. Obviously, baby blue minior is the best.

Nihilego Eh. I should be excited about yet another unique new typing for rock types and poison brings some great advantages but I just don't get why this alternate dimension jellyfish is a rock type at all. I guess maybe it reflects the 'whackyness' of the alternate dimension. I'm also not sold on the Ultra Beasts designs. Again this is probably the point but these designs look like they come from a lesser series. Either way, that awful defense combined with the limited chances to catch these, and no chance of breeding, Nihilego is unlikely to get much play in the TGAM household.

Overall, what do you expect from me? A number in a box? A thing out of another thing? I'm 20 years into this shit. There's nothing but blind affection that keeps me playing this series and pretty much one of the handful of games I even pay attention to anymore. It's not a game, it's a way of life. It's not our fault you're not part of the new world order with us. Now when can I transfer Omastar over?

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