There's been a lot of fanfare for the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and The Pokémon Company has done a great job celebrating throughout 2016, culminating with the next generation of Pokémon games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon.
If you've been following all the news for these games, then you know all the changes made to the franchise have been ones players have been asking for. Couple that with callbacks to past games and you may think these are the best Pokémon games to ever come out. Those were my feelings going in as I made my trip to the Alola region and I tried to keep expectations to a minimum.
But you know what? Sun and Moon met all my expectations and I can say without a doubt that these are the best titles in the 20-year history of Pokémon.
As someone who has been going on a journey through the Pokémon world since Pokémon Red, I don't make that proclamation lightly. But there is so much to love about these games and it all starts with the presentation.
Sun and Moon does away with the chibi style from ORAS and X and Y in favor of more realistic and to scale models that look better and give players a sense of immersion.
Grass seems taller, trees larger and to see Pokémon to scale in the overworld is pretty cool.
Game Freak uses traditional Hawaiian instruments along with its usual Pokémon flair to create background music that makes you feel you are actually in paradise. You’ll be able to crawl under rocks, climb trees and truly explore the region. Pokémon cries can be heard as you pass patches of grass and trainers react to your movements. They'll look at you as you walk past instead of standing there like robots.
Also, I can't praise enough how Sun and Moon streamlines a lot of what bogged down previous games. The removal of HMs is done masterfully with PokeRide and it seems Game Freak has been listening to Pokémon fans.
Some other great changes include how newly caught Pokémon can be added to your party even when it's full. Trainers can open the poke ball bag from the fight menu, eliminating one extra step. When a Pokémon wants to learn a new move, there is one less extra prompt if you want to decline.
The return and expansion of Trainer Customization makes your Alola adventure feel that much more personal, and Pokémon fans will see themselves getting attached to the region and the people, especially once the story of Sun and Moon really gets moving.
I won't go into the story too much, but from previous trailers and information, many players know who the major characters are and some may even think they know how the story shakes out. However, I'll just say you should stay on your toes because this is unlike any Pokémon story I’ve seen and you’ll likely feel the same.
In terms of characters, Sun and Moon introduces some great and memorable ones. Game Freak made it a point to make Sun and Moon about getting closer to your Pokémon and to the people of the Alola region, and that's what happens here.
You're introduced to a lot of characters and they just don't go away; they are as much a part of your journey as your Pokémon.
The cutscenes are great, but I do wish your trainer’s expression changed in certain scenes. That creepy smile is really inappropriate in more dramatic plot moments.
The theme of these games becomes clear by the end of the story and it's a poignant one that will be discussed for some time.
Outside of the story, battling is the main draw of the Pokémon games. And with every new generation there's always some new mechanic. This time it’s Z-Moves.
Z-Moves, like Mega Evolution, are a one-time use mechanic that bring some of the most powerful moves to the forefront with some sick over-the-top battle animations. These unique moves are really overpowered and can help you turn the tide of battle.
From a casual player's viewpoint, Z-Moves are a great trump card to use when you’re in a pinch but competitive battlers may want to rethink certain strategies. It’ll be interesting to see how battlers incorporate Z-Moves into their team when they have to sacrifice a hold item to use them. If you weren’t a fan of Mega Evolution, I don’t think you’ll enjoy using Z-Moves that much.
With new attacks and new abilities, Sun and Moon will create a whole lot of new strategies. However, during your Sun and Moon adventure you will want to use Z-Moves because your journey will be an arduous one.
Pokémon games get a lot of criticism, and deservedly so, for their low difficulty level. Yes, the franchise is targeted towards a younger audience, but those who have been around since the beginning breeze through it. You won't have that problem here.
This is the toughest Pokémon game in some time. The AI uses items, switch ins and other tactics that you may not expect. The AI is just generally smarter in Sun and Moon and will punish any trainer who didn't stock up on items.
The levels in each new route and town seem designed to be just above or at your same level so by the time you reach the end you'll need some high level Pokémon.
The battle interface also helps younger trainers and those who have trouble remembering the typing chart by showing what attacks work well against a certain Pokémon as long as you encountered them before. This is a great learning technique and encourages trainers to explore and meet every Pokémon before you face them in battle.
Sun and Moon does suffer from framerate issues when you are in a double battle, which is a bummer but it’s not a deal-breaker in any way.
The new Free For All battle mechanic is pretty cool when you want to have four friends battling each other. It lends itself to new strategies because the battle ends when one trainer loses their entire team so you’ll have to make sure you have the most points before the battle ends.
However, it would have been better if the battle could just continue until one trainer is standing.
For the Pokémon themselves, there's plenty of new Pokémon along with the Alola forms of older ones that sort of act like new Pokémon. I personally never liked Alola forms, I would have rather preferred new Pokémon but that's alway been my personal preference.
If there's a knock I have on Sun and Moon it’s that the number of new Pokémon seems low. Especially when a lot of them are single stage Pokémon that don't evolve. But this is totally a knit pick and when one of my few criticisms of the game are that “I want more Pokémon” Game Freak did a lot right.
Again, Pokémon Sun and Moon are the best Pokémon games in its history. I’ll say it again, Sun and Moon are the best Pokémon games in the franchise.
The combination of updated graphics, tougher battling, and a compelling story and characters bring 20 years of Pokémon full circle. Trainers young and old will be able to enjoy Sun and Moon as it walks the line between too kiddy and too adult very well.
This is the Pokémon game fans have been waiting for and after 20 years the future of the franchise is brighter than ever.