The latest Pokémon games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, were just released, and we put our lives on hold to play them through.
This game is Good. I admit that even if it was just a mediocre Pokémon game (a la Diamond) I would have liked it, but I *love* this game.
This is the first game in the series to have eschewed the traditional Pokémon League structure — since the first generation, all games have had the main character go fight 8 Pokémon gyms to collect badges and then go on to defeat the region's Elite Four. But instead of gyms, in Sun and Moon there are Trials, which vary from straightforward battles to collecting ingredients for a stew to taking photos of Pokémon. I love the new Trial structure; the challenges are fun to complete and after 20 years of the same thing, the change is very welcome.
The beauty of the game's world-building deserves extra praise. With crashing waterfalls, snowy mountaintops, black sand beaches and bustling cites, the region of Alola is eclectic and fun to explore. One of my favorite moments was this hill you climb early in the game: the silhouette of the other islands in the distance, enveloped in purple fog and glittering stars in the skies was simply beautiful. The soundtrack of the game is also great, and helps strengthen the unique identity of each island. One addition that I particularly enjoy is the Pokémon cries you hear in the wild as you are just walking around. It seems so simple but adds such an element of depth that I don't understand why this wasn't thought of sooner.
And I also love the addition of Pokémon Refresh, where you can groom your Pokémon and feed them. However, this serves an extra purpose in the game because Pokémon that have been groomed perform better in battle; they can resist or snap out of status effects, avoid enemy attacks, land critical hits or resist fainting. This is an element of realism that really does add something to the game; the franchise has always stressed that "Pokémon are not tools or objects; they are partners" and this addition confirms just that.
I'm totally with Alp re: liking the new game structure, although right now a not-insignificant part of me is craving the old, the comforting, and the familiar. (Lol, wonder why!!!!) With previous Pokémon games, you knew exactly what you were in for, and could check items off your to-do list one by one in the service of reaching a concrete final goal. With this version (I played Moon, btw), the game unfolds itself piece by piece, and you can only ever see one step ahead at a time. This is both soothing and stressful, somehow? But maybe that is just me, an inveterate planner and a deeply impatient person.
SPEAKING OF IMPATIENT: this game is sloooow. It might just be my old 3DS but it takes forever to load (aka ~15 seconds) and cutscenes and battle animations also feel much longer than in previous games. (For what it's worth, Alp has a new 3DS and didn't experience the loading lagginess.) This is, of course, because it's a far more intricate game, and, at least for me, not a dealbreaker — I'll take a few extra seconds of load time if it means that I can navigate such a truly gorgeous world.
It's been many generations since I've actually wanted to take the time to stop and chat with unimportant NPCs, explore little areas off the beaten track, and pop in and out of peoples' homes (RPG protagonists have the worst manners). But the beauty and the attention to detail in this iteration makes me want to ferret around everywhere and talk to everyone and buy everything. (Except shoes, which are weirdly SO expensive.) As someone who hated Pokémon Go, because I did not want my escapist fantasy world overlaid on top of my messy and hectic actual world, this game provided a space that was exactly the right size for me.
There's definitely a hint of anxiety about Getting The RPG Right; I think players could probably do without all the hints and directions, and I personally could do without the low-rent Navi knockoff that is Rotom, a Pokémon that lives inside your Pokédex (aka Rotomdex) and chirps directives at you throughout the course of the game. That said, for all that Rotom is irritating, it's a useful way to remember what the heck I am supposed to be doing when I pick up my game again after not playing for a while. And they've taken care to remove a lot of the friction from previous versions — the elimination of HMs and replacement with Pokémon who just do the tasks for you is the most subtle yet welcome change I could have asked for — which makes scooting around between the islands a downright joy.
Oh, and one more thing: this is the horniest Pokémon game ever. The three of us could not stop sending each other screenshots of all the double entendres, suggestive comments, and NPCs who clearly have nothing better to do than stand around and ogle one another. It's clear that while this is ostensibly still a franchise for children, there's an awareness of the fact that this first and most devoted fanbase has, in some small way, grown up.
So, unlike Alp and Alanna, I’m not a committed Pokémon fan — I played the classic Red and Yellow, then I took a break for… like 15 years? And didn’t come back until X and Y were released on the 3DS in 2013. I loved that game, despite my skepticism. It felt like the classic Pokemon I loved, flash forwarded into the future, and plopped into France. Pokémon Sun is not a classic Pokémon game, and while streamlining and innovating is definitely a good thing, I sort of was hoping for a standard Pokémon experience. Thankfully, after you get through the first hour or so (WHICH ARE SO SLOW), it turns around and it gets really good. There are so many new features — and it felt really good to be able to make a little brown boy as my character and actually be surrounded by lots of characters of color. That’s pretty unusual in an RPG.
I eventually remembered what Pokémon is really about: catching the critters, building them up into your partners, and proving your worth. If you’re like me and haven’t obsessively been following Pokémon for two decades, there are SO MANY GOOD ONES IN THIS GAME. But even beyond the new guys, this game introduces the concept of Alolan forms, which are basically a handful of the classic 150 Pokémon, redesigned and adapted to the climate of Hawaii—er, I mean, Alola. Like, I always hated the original Poison-types (Muk? Seriously?), but in the early part of the game, I was rocking a rainbow Alolan Grimer named Fandango. Apparently, Grimers had been brought to the Islands to deal with an excessive garbage problem and the toxins they consumed turned them into a Poison/Dark type. Rad. Also, disturbing.
While the game has lots of slow cutscenes, there are all these animations stuffed with love and care. I’m obsessed with the little title cards that pop up when a trainer poses before they start battling you. It’s just a shame that this game tends to implement a ton of short 1-2 second black screens between loading things. In that key way, it feels like a step back from X and Y, which to me never felt like it was moving too slow. But I felt that way far too often in this game.
Quibbles aside, this seems like the Pokémon game everyone has been waiting for. I mean, not me, but everyone else — lapsed fans who just got back into it from Pokémon Go will be in awe of the size, scale, and features in this game. And for old fans, it’s packed with twists on old formulas and there’s tons of beautifully animated little things strewn throughout. It’s clear that they thought hard about this game.