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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Yes, I know, this game came out ages ago. In fairness, it took me a long time to finish it, and even now I've barely explored all the post-game content available for players. Like any Pokemon game, it's a sprawling, bustling world backed up by a fairly rich story, which means that it tends to be a little bit of a time sink.

Set in the Hawaii-based region of Alola, Sun and Moon follows a silent player character as they undertake the island challenge, a series of trials for aspiring trainers, set by a bevy of trial captains and kahunas. As they make their way through the islands and work on their trial challenge, however, they swiftly find themselves wrapped up in a conflict involving small-time punks Team Skull, large and wealthy conservationist group the Aether Foundation, and the mysterious and otherworldly Ultra Beasts.

In terms of core gameplay, Sun and Moon is not strikingly different from any other Pokemon game. As is always the case with these games, the gameplay has been streamlined and adjusted, but remains functionally the same, which is unsurprising, given that Nintendo has never been especially inclined to randomly reinvent a working formula.

The biggest gameplay changes are how HMs have been replaced with Ride Pokemon, and the addition of Z-Moves.

Presented without comment.

Ride Pokemon combine the functionality of HMs with the experience of riding a Gogoat from X and Y, and while it's an odd shift to get used to, it's not difficult to see the benefits --  largely that it removes the necessity for a HM slave on your team, while still keeping the environmental obstacles aspect of gameplay. It's even worked into the story somewhat, as a few NPCs will remark upon how HMs are illegal in Alola.

The other big change is that addition of Z-Moves, which function mostly like your standard RPG limit break moves and also somewhat like a replacement for Mega Evolutions. There's one Z-Move for every type, and so long as you have the stone for that type (gained in most cases by performing island trials) and a Pokemon who can hold said stone and knows a move of the same type, you can move the Z-Move. Simple, intuitive, and only made marginally more complicated by the addition of about a dozen Z-Moves that only specific Pokemon can use with specific moves.

In terms of story, I'm honestly kind of torn. In a lot of respects, Sun and Moon follows the tried and tested Pokemon formula, and I've never really had a problem with the games following that formula -- there's a degree of difference in that the story utilises island trials instead of gyms, but as island trials function very similarly to gyms, it's not exactly a huge departure. The biggest difference is that each island trial culminates in a battle with a Totem Pokemon, a kind of miniboss who is stronger than others of its species and surrounded with a defensive aura.

Lunala, the giant moon bat.

It feels odd to praise the series for taking a step that puts it more in line with its peers -- because island trials and Totem Pokemon are functionally indistinguishable from dungeons and bosses from other RPGs -- when Pokemon has always been somewhat ahead of the curve in terms of RPG mechanics, but Nintendo makes it work pretty well.

It's in the execution of the mandatory evil-team plotline that things fall apart a little, although really only a little. While the basic premise of a seemingly-good (but also blisteringly obviously evil, this is still Pokemon after all) conservationist group allying with a kind of (and intentionally, on the part of the writers) pathetic, more archetypal gang is a pretty solid one, the story starts to show its cracks when it involves the Ultra Beasts.

The Ultra Beasts are somewhat eldritch quasi-Pokemon who include among their numbers the game's mascots, Solgaleo and Lunala, and who form a critical part of the motivation of main villain Lusamine. They're a pretty interesting concept and they fit in well with the wider universe, which has always had a bit of fun playing with the idea of mysterious monsters that stretch the definition of a Pokemon, but they're sorely underused to the point where it feels like story material was cut. While the game sets you up to believe that they'll be essential to the story, really only two -- the game's mascot and a parasitic jellyfish called Nihilego -- ever feature into it in a meaningful way, and barely at that.

Solgaleo, the cutest legendary.

It's a minor quibble, but as is usually the case with Pokemon games, minor quibbles are all I have to offer. They are, after all, Pokemon games -- mechanically and even in terms of story, they're all pretty similar, and if you're buying one, chances are you know exactly what it is you're getting and you're buying them because you enjoy that kind of game. You can always basically chart out exactly what any individual game in the series will be like, and that's a large part of their appeal.

But also, the fact that each game in the series is so similar means that by now Nintendo has fine-tuned them down to something approaching perfection, both when it comes to the gameplay and when it comes to the more technical aspects of the story. That doesn't leave me with a lot to criticise -- hell, I wish more game developers would focus on fine-tuning, streamlining, and building upon their series' core gameplay instead of constantly attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Concluding briefly, I would definitely recommend this game to people who like the franchise, but I maybe wouldn't recommend it to newcomers, or at the very least would do so somewhat reluctantly -- and that's less to do with the game's quality and more because I do have a terrible anti-progress streak and rather think a newcomer should experience the standard gym system. That's really the only thing.

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