"Pokémon Sun and Moon:" An Actual Evolution of the Franchise
Seven generations and 20 years later, the Pokémon franchise continues to show no sign of slowing down. While previous generation of Pokémon have gradually added to and iterated on the tried and true “gotta catch’em all” formula, “Pokémon Sun” and “Pokémon Moon” are by far the most evolved version of the franchise yet. This newest generation still found a way to make the familiar feel new as well as improve on a rock solid foundation.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are, at their core, the same Pokémon games that most fans are familiar with. You play a young boy or girl exploring a world of colorful creatures, capturing them and then battling other Pokémon trainers in the hopes of being the very best that no one ever was. You still encounter a tree-themed professor, you still earn yourself a rival and you still face-off against a malevolent group of people looking to use Pokémon for their own agenda. Nothing is too new here, but it’s the execution of all these familiar elements that set this generation apart from the others.
The new setting of the Alola region, a region based loosely off of Hawaii and other Pacific islands, is a nice change of pace for the Pokémon franchise and a good excuse to breathe new life into old Pokémon. It’s not just tropical visuals and the island themes permeating the environment, it’s the way the setting influences the motivations and explanations for the world. The titular “Pokémon journey” that the main character embarks on is actually part of an ancient tradition for the islands, as a kind of “coming of age” trial. This alone infuses the story, as simple as it may be, with far more reasoning than any other Pokémon game, where it was always just assumed that kids wander the world catching Pokémon.
Secondly, the Alolan structure replaces the age-old Pokémon Gym concept with “island challenges.” This, again, changes the dynamic of the game. The game is no longer just a grind fest for players to endure until the post-game. There’s an actual story to be told and trainers will need to worry more about exploration and discovery, in addition to making their Pokémon stronger, because an island challenge can be composed of battles, quizzes and puzzles. None of these are particularly difficult, but it breaks up the usual monotony of constantly battling.
Pokémon battling has also received some much needed attention, in terms of both presentation of mechanics. The fully 3D characters and environments give the game an opportunity to move the camera around more, and being able to see both yourself and the opposing trainer react to the battle is a nice touch. You can also earn “Z-Moves” for your Pokémon, which feature unique attack animations, but this is admittedly a shallow addition to the game. A more welcome mechanic is the addition of an actual indicator of an attack’s effectiveness versus a certain type of pokemon, eliminating the need the memorize the complex table of “what type beats what Pokémon” that has been with the games since the very beginning.
“Pokémon Sun and Moon” finally give new life and greater meaning to a game franchise that has always been considered “the same game over and over,” despite its continued success. While it was previously believed that there was little that could be done to change Pokémon besides minor fixes and improvements, it is now clear that there is still some potential left in these colorful little critters. (“Pokémon Sun” was the version reviewed for this article.)