Pokemon Sun – Nintendo 3DS
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date (NA): November 18th, 2016
Developer: Game Freak
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
After what hasn’t really been that long of a wait, the newest, seventh generation of Pokemon games have arrived in the form of Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. Like most paired Pokemon releases, the majority of the gameplay mechanics in these two are the same, although for this review I’ll be focusing more on Pokemon Sun.
Would you look at that, not even two full years and another Pokemon game! The third generation remakes, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire that I’ve been pinning for for years have only gathered the tiniest specs of dust and now the Pokemon franchise is onto the seventh, and newest generation of Pokemon. To be honest, the announcement of a new Pokemon game surprised me for a while, but then Fire Emblem Fates happened last February and I all but completely ignored any news of Pokemon Sun and Moon. However, over the last two or so months of moving I’ve been doing a lot of catching up with the series, including packing up my Pokemon Bank account with nearly every Pokemon to make the transition to the newest generation as smooth as possible.
Of course, Pokemon Bank support doesn’t come for Pokemon Sun until January, but there’s still plenty to do in the newest Pokemon games until then! With around fifty hours delved into each of them, I can pretty clearly say that this isn’t your older brother’s Pokemon game. Well, it mostly is… See, the Pokemon series to me has always played similar to the GBC Zelda games in structure. You have eight dungeons, or gyms, scattered around the over-world that usually must be completed in a specific order. As you complete these dungeon-gyms you gain new tools to allow you to explore more of the over-world, and are usually critical for reaching the next dungeon-gym in line. Finally, once you’ve finished your seventh dungeon-gym, everything usually comes to a head with the plot, you finish the final dungeon-gym, then you take on the final boss’s lair with its mini-bosses.
If you’ve played either or, that’s just roughly how it goes. Usually there are different types of build-up between dungeon-gyms, but the format is roughly the same. But where The Legend of Zelda series has continued to change in the last twenty years, the Pokemon franchise has stayed the same. Sure, you get some huge new feature every generation, like generation five’s nonlinear Elite Four, it hasn’t been until now that the culmination of smaller changes has built into something so huge, and that huge thing is Pokemon Sun.
Following a similar style that has been around since Pokemon Platinum, Black, and White, Pokemon Sun is an incredibly story-heavy game. It follows the player the day they move to Alola from the Kanto region at the behest of their cousin, the region’s Pokemon Professor, Kukui. Sure you get your rival, the island’s kahuna’s (the strongest trainer) grandson who is usually too busy talking about food or training to care about anything important. However, the focus of the story is less on the player and more on Lillie, the Professor’s strange assistant; a mysterious girl whose Pokemon you help rescue in the game’s intro.
Through a story told in many…many cut-scenes, Professor Kukui leads the player, their rival friend Hau, and assistant Lillie on an adventure throughout the Alolan region’s four islands to complete the Alolan “Island Challenge.” The new replacement for the Pokemon League plays more like a backdrop as the player takes on a pathetic gang of thugs named Team Skull and meets a strange organization dedicated to the preservation of Pokemon, the Aether Foundation. While the plot between them is greatly hinted at throughout the first half of the game, making what does occur later ridiculously predictable, things don’t really get to a head until the game’s big bad unleashes beings from another dimension on Alola called Ultra Beasts.
I felt like the Ultra Beasts plot, although incredibly interesting and different in its own right, was a huge let down. Not until the post-game do you really get to explore all of the cool inter-dimensional Ultra Wormhole-stuff hinted about in the main game, including meeting the remaining five Ultra Beasts, but I’m holding onto hope here that a follow-up installment, maybe a Pokemon Sun 2 or a third version delves into it further. The game’s big bad was also a pretty huge disappointment, with them opting to, during the dumbest time, have a Pokemon battle with normal Pokemon when we have all of these cool alien-creatures all over. And I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy seeing Lillie’s growth as a character during the game, but if they had only spent a little less time on cut-scenes where she leads you around straightforward routes and more time explaining these new lifeforms, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more.
Woven between all of the cut-scenes and story is Pokemon Sun’s replacement for the Pokemon League typically found in Pokemon titles – the Island Challenge. The format isn’t too wildly different, but refreshing enough that old fans of the series may find it enjoyable. And it works like this; each of the four islands in Alola has a strong trainer called the Kahuna and about two-to-three lesser trainers called Captains. Like the Gym Leaders of old, all Kahunas and Captains specialize in a specific type, however you’ll usually only battle the Kahunas. The Captains, instead, hold activities called “Trials” in which a player must complete a task then defeat a powered up Pokemon called the “Totem Pokemon.” The objectives for the Trials held by Captains are usually varied in content but follow the same format, usually requiring you to fight three Pokemon or trainers, then the Totem Pokemon.
After completing all of the Captains’ Trials on an island, the player must fight the island kahuna to complete the “Grand Trial,” then move onto the next island to repeat the same process. All trials, regardless of whether they’re from a Captain or a Kahuna grant the player a special item called a “Z-Crystal.” Z-Crystals are little crystal held items that can be given to an infinite number of Pokemon that allow them to use a special move based on the Z-Crystal’s type. So, for example, you have a fire Pokemon that just happens to know Solar Beam, a grass-type move, and you give them a grass Z-Crystal, well, during battle they can activate their Z-Crystal and use a special grass move called Bloom Doom. Any other Pokemon you have with grass-type moves, regardless of what they are, can also hold the same Z-Crystal and also perform Bloom Doom.
There are also special Z-Crystals available for very specific Pokemon which grant them the ability to use a special version of their signature move. If you look below, you can see the final forms of each of the starter Pokemon using their special moves (from left to right) Sinister Arrow Raid, Malicious Moonsault, and Oceanic Operetta. Z-Moves are cool at first, but aren’t as much of a game-changer as Mega Evolution. As you progress, sometimes even after completing trials, you’ll gain the ability to call “Ride Pokemon” in the overworld, as a replacement for having traditional HM moves like Surf, Fly, Rock Smash, and Strength, etc. As cool as riding a Taurus around destroying rocks is, some HM moves are pretty decent moves in their own right. Luckily a few of them; Fly, Surf, and Waterfall, have been turned into regular TMs, you just have to find them.
Pokemon Sun also has its share of upgrades more typical of a Pokemon installment, such as enhanced graphics, fully fleshed out cutscenes, and some UI additions and hotkeys that have come in handy. Quite a few times when fighting Totem Pokemon, or fighting in Double Battles, my 3DS XL would lag quite a bit. I’ve noticed these sorts of issues while playing other newer games, such as Hyrule Warriors Legends, so I hypothesize that the lag won’t be nearly as noticeable on the New 3DS.
Unlike Pokemon Moon, Pokemon Sun doesn’t have too many differences from your standard Pokemon game. While Moon’s in-game clock is pushed twelve hours ahead, Pokemon Sun’s is based on that of the 3DS’s set clock and cut-scenes, the important ones at least, typically occur during the daytime. However, during my play-through’s of Pokemon Sun and Moon I frequently played at night, and therefore most of the time it was night in Pokemon Sun while it was daytime in Pokemon Moon. There are some noticeable differences besides time of day, though. Some of this version’s Totem Pokemon also differ from Pokemon Moon’s. For example, the first trial, which uses normal-type Pokemon, has a Gumshoos as the Totem Pokemon in Pokemon Sun, while Pokemon Moon’s uses an Alolan Ratticate (which happens to be dual Dark-Normal type).
It isn’t that big of a deal, at first, but it could end up being a deciding factor of which Pokemon you choose to use for your team later in the game, however I went the starter-only route as usual for this installment. And, honestly, if you’re comfortable with your starter Pokemon, there isn’t much of a reason to train up a team anyway. As has become a norm since Pokemon X and Y, the challenges in Pokemon Sun aren’t very challenging when you have characters constantly giving you medicine, Pokeballs, and healing your team after every battle. Some of the late-game battles can be a bit challenging when you’re taking on full teams of five-to-six Pokemon, but most trainers in Pokemon Sun only have about one or two Pokemon and are still seemingly under-leveled, which is quite disappointing to see in a game that has essentially re-written the rules for a Pokemon game.
Take my thoughts with a grain of salt, but as much as I enjoyed the concept, Pokemon Sun to me is far from the perfect Pokemon game. I am glad that Game Freak took the time to reinvent themselves here and provide players with something of a refreshing new experience, but their new formula is still far-from-perfect. Even with their new mechanics, like trials, the developers still seem to fall into the same patterns time and time again, giving less of a challenge at times than they likely intended. I still have high-hopes here for a third installment or sequels that revise and perfect this new formula, but so far Pokemon Sun is just, alright.
On a final note, players cannot yet transfer Pokemon from Pokemon Bank and their Virtual Console Pokemon games to Pokemon Sun, yet. Last I heard there was an update coming in January that will mend that. When it happens, however, make sure you’ve also downloaded PokeTransport from the Pokemon Bank menu, as it will be used to transport your boxed Pokemon in Red/Blue/Yellow/Green into Pokemon Bank, and then Pokemon Sun!
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