By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
“Pokémon Sun” and “Pokémon Moon” are the newest generation from the long line of popular Nintendo games. Following Pokémon’s trend of basing each game’s region on real world locations, “Pokémon Sun” and “Moon” take place in the Alola region, which is heavily inspired by the Hawaiian islands. Like all of the other main Pokémon titles, “Pokémon Sun” and “Moon” has the player traversing the region, catching a diverse cast of creatures, and using them to battle other Pokémon trainers. However, because 2016 is Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, “Pokémon Sun” and “Moon” remove many gameplay aspects that have been in the games since 1996 and replaces them with refreshingly new content.
“Pokémon Sun” (the version I purchased) provided a unique experience for me within just the first few minutes of playing despite the fact that I started Pokémon games since 2004 and have played every generation of the series. Not only is the game set in the islands I am proud to call home, but this is my first time playing a Pokémon game without knowing much about what it had in store. Usually the Pokémon games are released a year earlier in Japan than it is in the United States, so by the time I get to play, I already know the entire Pokédex roster and pretty much the entire game. Nintendo started releasing the games everywhere at the same time with “Pokémon X and Y”, but I still ate up whatever news I could find and learned most of the game before I even played it. With “Pokémon Sun” and “Moon”, however, I only watched the trailers and avoided all the leaked content that hackers released to the internet. So, for the first time ever, I was experiencing a Pokémon with fresh eyes. As I played through the game, I was actually discovering new Pokémon that I hadn’t seen before and it brought me back to when I was a 5-year-old playing “Pokémon Emerald” on my GameBoy for the first time. Pokémon has always been a series that pushes discovery and exploration, so it felt like I was finally immersing myself in the essence of what Pokémon is all about.
But enough of me gushing over my nostalgia for the franchise, what about the game itself? For me, the story is the best part of the game. Pokémon’s stories have never really been that engaging, with a few exceptions (Platinum and the Mystery Dungeon games being some). I was always more focused on building up a good team and just went through the motions of beating Gym Leaders, catching the Legendary, and defeating the Elite Four. While the storyline of “Pokémon Sun” has a few plot holes and weird writing choices that are probably a result of translation, I was actually enthralled with the story arc of of the side character, Lillie. I don’t think that’s something I can say for any of the other Pokémon side characters. They’re always just sort of there and nothing interesting happens to them. Lillie is far more interesting than any character in the Pokémon games, including the player’s character who has always just been a blank slate. There are also proper cutscenes in “Pokémon Sun” that are very cinematic. Pokémon has been toying around with the idea of animated cutscenes for a long time, but Pokémon Sun is the first time it really works well.
The villainous team, which is now Team Skull, also surprised me. As I was playing through the game, I was pretty disappointed with how the team was handled. You battle the team’s leader very early on in the game rather than near the end and he’s pretty easy to defeat, so I thought the game ruined the buildup to the menacing boss battle that other Pokémon games had. However, a little past the halfway point of the game, “Pokémon Sun” completely turns around the dynamic of Team Skull with the predictable, yet unprecedented, inclusion of a second villainous element. The actual boss battle of the game had me, for the first time, doubting my skills as a Pokémon trainer. Just a few turns into the boss battle, I found myself muttering, “I don’t think I can win this.”
Another classic Pokémon icon has been altered in the new games. Pokémon Gyms don’t exist in the Alola region and are instead replaced by the trials of the Island Challenge. Instead of battling a set of eight Gym Leaders throughout the game for Gym Badges, you must take on the trials of seven Captains followed by a battle with a powered up “Totem Pokémon.” The trials range from finding hidden Pokémon to cooking. Each trial gives you a “Z-Crystal” that activates a Pokémon’s overpoweringly brutal “Z-Move,” so the prizes actually have use in battle outside of just letting you into the Elite Four.
For any local player, the best part of “Pokémon Sun” might just be the representation of the island life in a popular video game. I strange but delightful to see the words “howzit” and “shoots” and be referred to as “cousin” in a video game. Although if “Alola” is Pokémon’s parody of “Aloha,” wouldn’t that be the equivalent of us greeting each other by saying “Hawaiʻi?” The locations are great as well. The islands are shaped very similarly to the Hawaiian islands and there are major towns, cities, and volcanoes where there should be. My absolute favorites have to be “Hauʻoli City” as a stand in for Waikīkī and Diamond Head being renamed “Ten Carat Hill.” That’s just brilliant. Although there’s one location that seriously tests my suspension of disbelief in this game about catching monsters in balls: the Elite Four’s Pokémon League (a foreign concept in the canon of the game) is built atop of Alola’s equivalent of Mauna Loa in a matter of a few weeks (or however long it takes you to defeat the Island Challenge). Living in a state in which we can’t even get a rail system built quickly, I cannot accept that the Alolan people would even allow that construction to begin. I’m sorry, Pokémon, but that’s just too unrealistic.
Overall, “Pokémon Sun” is the best Pokémon game at least since “Pokémon Platinum.” It changes up the status quo and keeps even the most veteran of Pokémon players on their toes. If you’re a fan of Pokémon, or even just Nintendo in general, “Pokémon Sun” and “Moon” are worthy purchases.