This review of Pokémon Sun and Moon is based on my gameplay experience with Pokémon Sun. Both Sun and Moon are very similar, so while this review is specifically based on my experience with Pokémon Sun, the major details can be transferred to Moon.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are bright, fun, and peppy and manage to bring enough new features to the series to make it feel fresh and original for the first time in years. It’s the first entry that has actually made me want to flesh out my Pokédex and trade with others just for the sake of a good collection. Best of all, the Hawaiian-inspired environment fits the vibe of exploration and freedom that the series has always touted. Long story short, the game is one of the best in the series.
In Pokémon Sun and Moon, the main character has just moved the tropical island chain of Alola and is introduced to a brand new culture. On your new home island of Melemele, you meet Professor Kukui, who introduces you to the cast of characters you’ll get to know over the course of your journey.
For the most part, the premise is the same as ever: get a Pokédex and a starter Pokémon, then travel the region as you discover new creatures. The game does introduce a handful of new features, however. First of all, the player’s Pokédex is infused with a Rotom to act as an all-in-one portable device and companion. It displays a minimap with a marker on the player’s next objective and offers conversational tidbits from time to time. It makes pathfinding much easier than other games in the series and lets the player spend more time doing important things like actually catching Pokémon.
The player doesn’t travel from gym to gym as in other Pokémon games. Instead, he or she will participate in the Island Challenge, which is a quite different format. As the player travels to new locales, characters will show the player to various trials. Each trial is different but usually ends with a fight against a Trial Captain. After all the trials on a given island have been completed, the player will take on the Grand Trial, and when successful, will be granted access to the next island.
The concept of the Island Challenge shakes up the action a bit and makes the experience of moving up the ranks feel more like a game and less like a job. It’s less uniform than the standard gym system, which provides for some experiences unique to the series. Some trials involve fights against wild Pokémon, others are against trainers, some involve quizzes, and so on. While the trials feel a bit easier than the process of working through a gym, there are also more trials than other games had traditional gyms. It all evens out in the end and feels like a fitting element in the experience.
The other major change made in Pokémon Sun and Moon is the addition of Z-Crystals. Each Z-Crystal has the ability to supercharge a different type of move. For example, Waterium Z can power-up a water type move, Firium Z works for fire, and so on. The concept differs from the Mega Evolutions of Pokémon X and Y because the player can only activate one Z-Crystal per match, and it only affects one move, one time.
Although the enemy combatants in the game rarely use their Z-Crystals, they add a level of strategy to PvP fights and otherwise tricky battles in the game (such as the Elite Four). Proper use of a crystal can turn the tide of a match, and improper use can be a waste.
As far as the storyline of Pokémon Sun and Moon goes, it’s sufficient but doesn’t stand out in my mind for the most part. Essentially, the player moves to Alola, meets a cast of characters, learns a bit about the culture of the island and is sent out to catch Pokémon. Along the way, he or she encounters the (rather boring and not compelling) Team Skull, their hired hand, Gladion, a bunch of Trial Captains. There are a handful of plot twists that creep into the second half of the story, and one in particular had me fooled. But for the most part, the storyline just does its job without making too many waves. It’s average, to put it succinctly.
The tone of Pokémon Sun and Moon is very lighthearted. It’s like a digital vacation, obviously helped along by the peppy Hawaiian theme. With that in mind, it’s probably good the game didn’t include a hard-hitting, gut-wrenching or otherwise confusing storyline. The plot just did the job of moving the game along and didn’t conflict with the happy-go-lucky vibe of the rest of the game. On one hand I wish the story was a bit deeper, but on the other I completely understand why it isn’t.
But I do, as I have for years, that the game offered a mode to make battles tougher. The player receives an Exp. Share from Professor Kukui very early in the game, and it makes leveling up a party far too easy. To be honest, building a party is easier in Pokémon Sun and Moon than it’s ever been.
It’s possible to have all six Pokémon at pretty comparable levels by the end of the game, which makes it possible to burn through most opponents without issue. I’ve played five of Pokémon’s seven generations, and this is the easiest game I’ve played yet in the series. I would love the series to provide me a challenge without me having to inflict it upon myself through self-made rules or challenges.
One piece of convenience I will accept is that the game tells the player how effective each move will be against the Pokémon he or she is fighting. The first time the player encounters a Pokémon, he or she has no aid; It’s like the first battle “identifies” the creature. Then, for every subsequent time that type of Pokémon is fought, the player will be able to see how effective each of his or her own Pokémon’s moves are on that foe. Because, sure, I could search Google for the answer to proper and effective types or have a screenshot of a chart on my phone or taped to the back of my 3DS, but this just makes the complicated process a bit more convenient, and I appreciate it immensely. Figuring out fire vs. water vs. grass has always been easy. But Dragon? Fairy? Rock? I’m glad for the help.
But as lightweight as I may have made the experience seem thus far, Pokémon Sun/Moon is honestly the best Pokémon game I’ve played since Crystal because of how fun and easy it is to jump into. It may not be very difficult or have the most riveting story, but it’s fun. It’s the only Pokémon game that has actually made me want to catch every type of Pokémon I encounter and create a diverse party. Although the Exp. Share makes leveling too easy, it also means I have six usable Pokémon at my disposal compared to the three beefy fighters I usually use. Having more strong Pokémon in my party encourages me to experiment a bit with typing and not just rely on the two or three Pokémon I know will be good fighters from the start.
And in my mind, that’s what Pokémon should be. Pokémon has never been about anything but having fun, and Pokémon Sun and Moon offer exactly that. The experience is colorful and inviting, and the tropical soundtrack is simply gorgeous. Graphically, the game is a treat and looks the best of all Pokémon 3DS games to date. The only downside to the game graphically is that 3D support is almost nonexistent. The game is only viewable in 3D from the Poké Finder, which is an Instagram-like minigame, which is ultimately rather useless.
But eschewing 3D seems to be the only option for the game to run even as well as it does. As it stands, Pokémon Sun and Moon suffer from framerate drops in scenarios where the Pokémon being fought are large, there are more than just two combatants, or when attacks require lots of particles or otherwise grandiose animations.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are incredibly fun, but by most other criteria, they’re a mixed bag. There’s little 3D support, an average storyline, and a few performance issues. But on the other hand, the tropical climate lends to some beautiful graphics and an awesome soundtrack, a new and interesting Island Challenge format, and plenty more. Pokémon Sun and Moon pack in enough content to set the duo apart from other games in the series and is a ton of fun in the process. For that, it’s worthy of being considered on of the best releases in the series.