Welcome to paradise.
It really surprises me how much Pokemon continues to remain popular after more than two decades. Sure I grew up with it, but I also grew up with a time when it wasn’t cool to like Pokemon anymore, and you’d get made fun of by wearing a Pikachu t-shirt in middle school. But ever since the Internet generation took off, those little bastards pretty much rule the world what with them being Nintendo’s biggest money-maker along with that Pokemon Go fad that has since faded, but that still doesn’t change its position as probably the most popular app in the world. And now with the release of Pokemon Sun and Moon along with the giant reception both games got, it really does make me wonder how long people expect this franchise to last and when the hell is Ash going to stop being ten years old in that still-running anime.
Having recently bought a 3DS so that I can join my work colleagues in some casual break time, I picked up Pokemon Moon in order to see what all the fuss was about regarding all the changed mechanics these new games apparently brought thanks to its Alohan setting removing all the gym leaders and whatnot. Fifteen hours later, I had beaten the campaign and I can confidently say that there are some gameplay alterations to the formula. There just aren’t enough gameplay alterations to the formula.
If you’ve played any Pokemon game ever, you should know the drill by now. You play as a young mute boy or girl going on an arbitrary adventure with no parental support or survival experience of any kind, accompanied by pocket monsters who have the ability to breathe fire and manipulate the fabric of time and space, and yet they don’t have enough self-awareness to break free from the humans. Whilst taking on various challenges in order to be made a man in the eyes of society, you must engage with a sinister organization named Team Skull, who is quite possibly the most incompetent group of villains I’ve seen short of a group of bank robbers trying to hold up a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. After you defeat said organization, you must contend with the region’s Elite Four, who in an astonishing twist, are just four trainers you’ve battled before only with stronger Pokemon. You remember the Orange Islands arc in the Pokemon anime and the differences it made to the formula? I can’t help thinking that these games used that arc as inspiration for its own official island setting, except they decided that snowboarding and target shooting are so last season, and they thought interpreting a ritual dance or battling a random Pokemon with souped-up statuses is far more current.
Instead of gym badges, you’re now awarded a special Z-crystal every time you complete a trail, and said crystal can be used to allow a Pokemon to perform a super move depending on what moves they can actually learn, although you can only use one Z-move per battle. I’m guessing this is to be a more fair replacement for the removed Mega Evolution system and how only certain arbitrary Pokemon could use it. Although even the Z-move distribution is a bit unfair. Can someone please explain to me why Pikachu and Eevee gets their own Z-moves? There’s catering to the fanbase and then there’s just plain favoritism, Gamefreak guys.
I’m not so big on the SOS mechanic where enemy Pokemon can summon other Pokemon to assist them. Not only is it completely unfair since you can’t summon another Pokemon to help out when that happens, but there are some monsters you can only capture when they’ve been summoned, and it’s kind of random when a Pokemon chooses to do the SOS, along with being a crapshoot regarding whether said SOS actually succeeds. You can buy an Adrenaline Orb from the store to help you out, but even then, catching a Gabite through said method is a bit of a whiff. Not helping at all is that you can’t capture a Pokemon if you’re facing two at a time for no reason whatsoever. And let me tell you, trying to get Magby to stay in his fucking Ultra Ball is hard enough without him summoning Magmars to inflict multiple burn statuses on my team.
A mechanic I do approve of is the replacement of HMs with the Pokemon ride system, which makes sense since TMs are infinite use these days, and requiring your monsters learn certain moves to get around doesn’t exactly make for good competitive gameplay. How the ride system works is that you get to summon certain Pokemon exclusive for transportation (Tauros crashes through boulders, Charizard flies you somewhere, etc.) almost anytime you want just by pressing the Y-button. Obviously you have to unlock these rides as you go through the game, but they’re practically given to you every time you reach a certain plot point, so there’s no chance of missing any. Either way, thank god I don’t have to teach “Fly” to a Pokemon that I may not have on me because I don’t want to use a flying type in my team (although I strongly suggest you do, because there sure are a lot of fighting types in this game).
But all these added mechanics don’t change the fact that campaign-wise, there’s only one strategy to Pokemon: use whatever the enemy is weak against. Catching and power-leveling up a competent team isn’t hard even if you don’t use Serebii.net, and it couldn’t have taken me more than fifteen hours to beat the entire campaign, although I should point out I turned off the battle animations because fuck me if I was sitting through that shit again. I guess I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was with my starter Pokemon (I chose Litten, the fire type) to the point that I ended up taking it out of my main team, but since the game includes a system that tells you what a Pokemon is weak against after you’ve encountered them once and I made sure each member of my team had a variety of moves to use, it made all the boss battles that weren’t against legendary Pokemon even more of a fucking joke than they would have been in the previous games. And if that doesn’t do it, then the fact that the game automatically heals your team before a boss battle starts sure will.
Admittedly the new Alolan versions of certain Pokemon like Raichu, who’s now a Psychic type, threw me off a bit, but never to any lasting degree. If anything, I had more trouble with the Fairy types since I haven’t played a Pokemon game since Pokemon White, so I didn’t know what they were weak against until around the time I caught Lunala (the bat-like Pokemon that’s on the cover for Moon). And because I couldn’t be assed to do my own research ahead of time, I had no idea Moon makes it nighttime when your DS indicates it’s daytime and whatnot until someone told me. So you can imagine my confusion when I started the game and my mom sent me off without a flashlight at the stroke of noon.
And if you think I’m going to talk about all the other features like the Battle Castle and whatnot…hahaha, fat chance. I’m not really much of a multiplayer gamer, let alone a competitive one. I’ll do it once in a while, but I don’t exactly care if I end getting creamed by a bunch of Koreans who take this game way too seriously.
Finally, there’s the overall plot of the Sun and Moon installments. Pokemon has generally made an effort to lean more towards narrative gameplay overtime, and the story this go-around involves a young girl named Lillie trying to hide a special Pokemon from Team Skull, some stuff regarding mythical jellyfish that I never fully grasped, and family drama that’s about as light-hearted as you can expect from something aimed towards kids. It’s functional stuff, even if it leans a bit on the shipping side of things and being easily forgiven, but it’s not like anyone is going into Pokemon expecting it to be Digimon or Monster Rancher, now are they? One thing I never really grasped the importance of is the rival of the game, as he’s very arbitrary and basically adds fuck all to anything other than occasionally helping you out and getting your team to level up faster once you wipe his happy go-lucky ass. I don’t think he’s even in the new anime of these games where what passes for gym leaders are now fellow students of Ash, and Lillie has to wear a space suit in order to touch Pokemon. But that show is still early in its run, so who knows?
So to sum it all up, Pokemon Moon is fine for fans, but don’t expect me to indulge in any hardcore competitive EV training.
- So why is the protagonist the only one who thinks to carry more than three of the little bastards at any given time?
- I think I’ve only seen Samson Oak in this game once, and I don’t even remember what he does.