Pokémon is nothing if not conservative.
As I wrote a couple weeks ago, much of the franchise's continued success is owed to Game Freak's carefully calculated formula. They've figured out how to keep hardcore fans happy while enticing new players with each generation, and they're content to ride that approach for as long as it works. In that respect, Pokémon Sun/Moon is no different.
And yet, it's still the best Pokémon game I've played in a while. In breaking out of the traditional formula and fixing some long-standing complaints, they've managed to vary things up just enough to feel fresh and interesting. It story also has a whiff of Black and White about it in the way that it takes some unexpectedly dark turns, particularly toward the end. Ultra Beasts in particular really give me the creeps.
But it's more than just changing up the story format and adding some Lovecraftian elements to the mix. Alola is the best-designed and most enjoyable region in a while, leveraging its island setting to provide a variety of cool cities and terrains. It also does a great job of setting up Alola's heavy hitters early so that when you ultimately battle them it means something.
It's also great to see the monsters get more involved. For too long, the franchise's eponymous creatures have been more akin to props than anything, mostly standing around while the humans do all the heavy lifting. So it's nice to see them take center stage in the Totem Battles and elsewhere, whether they're pawing at you to wake up or smashing through troublesome boulders. For the first time, it felt less like a videogame world and more like a real, lived-in place. Granted, it's still Pokémon, but that extra little bit of authenticity can go a long way.
For that, I'm inclined to forgive its slightly weak postgame (which will probably be addressed in the rumored Pokémon Stars), as well as its continued reliance on first-generation monsters. For those who wrote to ask me what Pokémon they should play to get into the series: This is the one. It's been a while since I've been able to recommend a Pokémon release so heartily. I wouldn't exactly say that Game Freak lost the plot with the series, but the previous generation was definitely a little bit of a letdown in the grand scheme of things. It's good to see them take a few risks, stretch out a bit, and get back on track.
- You may recall that I was a little bit down on the Alolan Pokédex when I was discussing the Alolan forms of the Kanto monsters. Well, having now finished the game and gotten a much better sense of the overall Dex, I feel like I might have been a bit harsh in my initial evaluation of Gen 7's monsters. I still don't think there's anything as iconic or cool as Greninja or Aegislash in Alola, but Decidueye, Vikavolt, Golisopod, and even Sandygast all strike me as interesting designs. I'll even give Nadia the benefit of the doubt and say that Bewear is alright (even if I would never use one myself). Meanwhile, the Tapus—monsters that resemble tiki masks—make for a pretty solid legendary quartet; certainly moreso than Ruby and Sapphire's golems or Diamond and Pearl's Lake Guardians. You would think that Game Freak would run out of ideas at some point; but somehow, they keep cranking out interesting new monsters. Full credit to them.
- In the "one step forward, one step back" category, I find myself really missing the Player Search System from Pokemon X & Y—one of that game's best innovations. With its slick second-screen interface, the PSS made it easy to connect with friends and passersby for random battles, trades, and one-time boosts that made it easy to collect XP and money. In exchange, Pokemon Sun and moon introduces the Festival Plaza, which is similar to the Join Avenue in that it lets you steadily upgrade useful shops by meeting people. It's a very useful feature, but the lack of a traditional in-game friend list makes it that much harder to interact with the people I want to actually interact with. Why is it always one or the other with this series?
- In doing some preliminary research on the upcoming VGCs, I was pleased to see that Mega Evolutions will be banned this year. No feature is more emblematic of Pokémon's persistent power creep, limiting the competitive game to a handful of Megas and the legendary monsters that are powerful enough to hang with them. Mega-Kangaskhan in particular has been an absolute terror due to its Parental Bond ability, which enables it to strike twice for devastating damage. Megas are back for Gen VII, but Game Freak has already taken some steps to rebalance their damage, and they mercifully haven't added any new evolutions in Sun and Moon. We'll have to deal with them again at some point; but in the meantime, this year is a nice respite from a feature that looks cool but has proven problematic.
- All that said, I'm holding off on doing any serious training until the Pokémon Bank update drops. While I'm all for the Alola-only VGCs, I really want to get all my favorite monsters into Sun and Moon so that I can use them on the Battle Tree. I also want to bringing my clutch of Dittos, which are essential for good breeding. Most of all, though, I want to import my legendary monster collection so I can start capturing all of Sun and Moon's legends in earnest. I have work to do!
- I leave you with the below. I hate the cheating that has been endemic to Pokemon going back to the dawn of the series, but I am amused that it results in stuff like this. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and happy hunting.