So, another year, another Pokemon game. How does this one stack up to previous entries in the series? Given all that was shown off on the run up to the launch, is it all just fan service? I plan on answering these questions and more during the course of this review and I’ll also try to remain as spoiler-free as I can.
Pokéballs at the ready...
The game starts off by first asking which language setting you want and then warning you that you can’t change this after this point. After that you receive a video message from the new professor for this generation who gives you a short introduction to the game. Fans of the series will recognise this sort of intro as what we’ve always had but on a much prettier level this time. The Professor shows you a map of the new Alola region in this sequence, showcasing the islands that you will see on your journey throughout the region. As we all know, Alola is based off of real-world Hawaii and features lots of scenery and other elements that display this inspiration. After the map, you’re introduced to one of the new Pokemon for this region, a Rockruff, who seems to be quite the playful little character. Next you get asked which photo you want to use for your Trainer Passport. This is the part where you get to select the gender of your trainer, as well as skin tone and hair colour, from eight possible options.
After selecting your look and your name, you then see a glimpse of another new Pokemon for the region (a Pikipek) and then the video call ends. You’re then called by your mother to help with some boxes and another cutscene begins. You see a girl escaping from some guards, her bag fires out a large blue blast and then the camera pans up. Here is where you see the first difference between the two games as, in Sun this will show the Pokemon Sun title card and be during the daytime, and, in Moon you will notice that it is nighttime and you’ll see the Pokemon Moon title card.
From here the game follows some of the familiar processes from every previous generation, introducing you to some of the key characters that will follow you through the game, your home and the battle and catching systems. You also get to see that there is a mixture of both new and old Pokemon in this region from the outset and the first of many references to the Kanto region of the Red and Blue games. While showing off some of the new environments in this intro, by panning the camera around your room in particular, it does show that the Nintendo 3DS XL and New 3DS XL systems having larger screens will show more jagged edges to the textures and character models through the game.
The walking animations in this game can take a bit of getting used to too. The standard animation has your arms hang a little far out from your hips but when walking in tall grass, especially when walking slowly, you’ll notice your character moves a lot more deliberately which is a nice touch. Once you’ve been introduced to a couple of key characters and been involved in a sequence reminiscent of the original anime episode you will be able to pick your starter Pokemon. Those of you that have played previous generations may notice this is one of the longest introductions up to the point of getting your starter. As usual, the choices are grass, fire and water or Rowlet, Litten or Popplio respectively.
The Island Challenge
After selecting your starter and defeating your new rival character, you return to your home and come back out the following day for a festival on the island. By the time you reach the festival, you will have learned how to catch Pokemon yourself, found some items and will have battled the odd trainer here and there. You find out more information about the Island Challenge here and then do battle with your rival again. Next day you’re taken a different route to the professor's home and finally acquire the new version of the Pokedex.
This new version of the Pokedex has a Rotom inserted into it which means it is able to talk to you and help through your adventure. This is incredibly handy if you have to save and quit midway through something important or if your destination isn’t immediately visible on the map screen but can get irritating at times when it’s little text bubble gets in the way of the map at the precise moment you’re trying to look at it for navigation. It does also feature some comical dialogue too. From this point on you head to the trainer school, after conquering those lessons you go onto the next city.
Those of you that played the Special Demo Version will recognise this city as the one that you play in on that. Here you get introduced to the new Pokemon Snap-like feature known as the PokeFinder. This is a neat little side activity that you can find spots for dotted around the game, shown on the map by a purple circle with a camera in it when you’re stood in the right place. There is also the first opportunity to alter your character’s look in the clothes shop too. Clothing options differ by the version you’re playing and the island you’re on.
You also get your first encounter with the enemy team in this generation: Team Skull. They remind me a lot of Team Rocket with their need to steal other people’s Pokemon but with the twist of behaving like typical street thug kids, with their wannabe gangster attitudes and phrasing. I want to say that I don’t like them. I can’t. The total indifference the island locals have to them, coupled with some of the dialogue and mannerisms that they use just makes them entertaining more than threatening.
The island challenge itself involves you taking on various trials set by the Captains of the island that you’re on, followed by a battle with the Island Kahuna at the end. This replaces the age old gym battle and badge system from every game that came before. Trials take the place of gyms and, instead of badges, you get awarded the Z-Crystals that go with the new Z-Move mechanic added to the game. At the end of each Trial you’ll face what’s called a Totem Pokemon, which is a Pokemon that has an aura around it, increasing one or more of it’s stats. Again, version makes a difference to the first Totem Pokemon you find as each version has a different one.
Once you’ve completed the Trials of each island and then the Grand Trial (defeating the Kahuna in battle) you get to move on to the next island and segment of the game’s story. Just like the gyms of past games, each Trial and Kahuna are type-specific so careful planning will make them pretty easy to conquer. There’s even a point just before one Trial where an NPC will offer you a trade so that you have a Pokemon perfect to help you out!
When you’ve conquered the Island Challenge and completed the main story arc, you then are set to take on the Elite Four in the newly formed Pokemon League of Alola. Once you are Champion, you get the opportunity to catch more legendary Pokemon and the Ultra Beasts in a mini quest. In doing this post-game questline you will come across more familiar faces from earlier in the game as well as a few others that you may recognise from previous games.
Pros: Wonderful story, graphically beautiful and well rounded gameplay. The happiness of your Pokemon now actually makes a difference in battle as it can dodge attacks, resist status effects and survive on 1HP from a killing blow (as if it had used the move Endure or a Focus Sash item)! With the new Ride Pager item, you no longer need to keep a spot in your team open for what is known as an HM Slave Pokemon. Z-Moves add a new dynamic to your attacks and can actually ignore moves like Protect to a certain extent.
Cons: The game suffers lag and frame rate issues in multi-battles or if there are too many effects onscreen at once.Still no option for experienced players to skip the catching tutorial. Trading through Festival Plaza seems more awkward than it needs to be. The common presence of healing NPCs can reduce the challenge somewhat for experienced players, too.
Sound: The music in the game matches the tropical surroundings, giving a very warm feeling throughout the brightly lit city areas. Pokemon calls are once again a string of noises with Pikachu being the only one to call out its name like in the shows. A nice touch is that when a Pokemon that has a standard and Alola form (like Marowak) is evolving, the evolution theme tune takes on a much more Hawaiian sound for that evolution.
OVERALL (TL;DR): Long-time fans of the series will appreciate the new environments and new Pokemon, as well as the divergence from the standard formula when it comes to completion of the path to the League and the multiple references to past games (particularly Red and Blue). Newcomers to the series will have a well-rounded adventure before them with lots of thrills and action whilst not being too difficult to get into.
Overall, this is a very well-made Pokemon adventure. The changes to the user interface for the battle screen can take a little getting used to but after a while you’ll get into the habit of hitting the Y button to throw Pokeballs if, like me, you don’t really use touch controls for anything other than the grooming and stuff that has to be touchscreen controlled. The button designs are quite decorative and clearly meant to give off the Hawaiian theme that the game carries throughout. The game looks beautiful and plays fantastically. The difficulty curve isn’t too steep and it’s certainly a lot harder than some previous games. The Exp Share still being a spread item that you turn on and off rather than being a hold item for a single Pokemon still makes levelling an equal team easy though.
I’m definitely looking forward to when the game becomes compatible with Pokemon Bank so that I can trade all my stuff up from previous games onto this one and start raising some really tough Pokemon.
Finally, if you own a 3DS and don’t pick a copy of this up, you’re missing out! This is definitely the best version since Gold and Silver, in my opinion, and an essential title for your handheld library.
Guest blogger: Edd @The Game Booth / Gamebooth.co.uk
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