The Pokémon franchise returned again in November 2016 with Pokémon Sun and Moon (or Pokémon S&M – what an unfortunate abbreviation), and brought with it a startling deviation from the norm. Gyms are now gone and have been replaced with trials and grand trials, many of the original Kanto Pokémon have had a complete redesign, and HMs have been removed and replaced with specific non-playable assistant Pokémon. As you can imagine, these alterations have completely mixed up the fundamental formula of such a well-established game series, and the reactions are a mixed bag to say the least.
Firstly, the graphics have taken a massive leap from the previous generation; sprites are more developed, more hairstyles and colours are available, and the environment is spectacular. The new generation is still using the new method of models rather than the original sprites, and this allows for huge versatility with mini games and interaction with your battle-ready pets, which, as always, gets my seal of approval. The new monsters are all welcome additions to the family, rounding the total population to a tasty 802. Some of the designs are a bit of an acquired taste, such as in the case of the weird anchor Pokémon Dhelmise, or the perfectly cuboid bug Charjabug, but many of the designs are spectacularly innovative and deserve great praise. Lycanroc, for example, is a personal favourite, as is Drampa who makes a very interesting dragon type. The starters are all pretty decent besides the final fire evolution which looks a bit like a janky Terry the Tiger.
Also, I can’t fault the new trial system. Originally I was sceptical – like babies, I hate change, and struggled to adjust to the idea that gyms were to be altogether removed from the game. However, my mind was quickly changed. I think the new system is fantastic. It removes the necessity for towns, allowing the environment to show greater variety of biomes and landmarks. Instead, the islands are divided into sections, with each section correlating to a Pokémon type. As a consequence, these sections are themed, such as in the case of the ghost section, featuring a derelict beach comprised of creepy ashy black sand and an abandoned supermarket. The trial involves taking photos of creepy supernatural happenings, which was massively enjoyable. It has proven to make the game extremely fun, interesting, and varied, and I’m hugely in favour of this new direction. This also serves to greatly increase the game’s length, which reaches a meaty thirty hours or more. While I don’t expect future games to also have trials, I am impressed with the innovation shown in this new instalment and would encourage potential players not to be put off by this change in direction.
A brilliant innovation introduced to streamline the process of travel and eliminate the problem of irritating ‘unforgettable’ HMs taking up the space otherwise occupied by more useful moves, is that of new ‘pager’ Pokémon. These Pokémon are added to your inventory along the storyline and function as living HMs. Each has a specific purpose, such as the rock smashing Tauros or the flying Charizard, and together they add a brilliant new feature to the story. No longer is space wasted on ‘HM slaves’, or valuable move space assigned to the irritating ‘cut’ function, and this receives some serious approval.
My main gripe would be the same as in more previous instalments: the sheer level of cut scenes and scripted moments. In the more recent editions of Pokémon, the storyline has become far more guided in its execution; unlike in the initial games where storyline was largely driven by character exploration and typically avoided excessive chunks of dialogue, Pokémon Sun and Moon is saturated with unnecessary chatter. Exposition is forced down the player’s throat at every opportunity, with NPCs waiting along the linear route constantly hassling the player. I understand that the newer games might wish to tread a bit closer towards the realms of anime and in doing so create more cut scenes and character development, but I’m here to play a game. I’m not interested in watching some weirdly proportioned teens with crap hair sweating it out over some arbitrary plot development we all figured out four hours ago. I’m quite impatient – I like to make progress, not follow scripted events for far longer than necessary. What Pokémon NPCs could say in 10 words, they say in 10,000.
Regardless, however, I totally recommend. The new games may frighten the ‘true fan’, but if you don’t appreciate seeing the games you love from a new angle, then are you really such a true fan? This new instalment adds an incredible flavour of variety whilst remaining keenly loyal to the roots of the series. It’s a must have for Pokémon fans.