Can you believe that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Pokemon franchise?
The Pokemon franchise is still a global powerhouse, no matter what anyone thinks. The power behind it has produce not one, but two cultural hits: The original release of the Game Boy games back in 1996/1998 and Pokemon Go which was released earlier this year.
We've now crossed over the 800 mark and I'm not ashamed to admit that I know a good 600 of them by name.
Less about that, let's talk about Pokemon Sun and Moon.
I WANNA BE THE VERY... WAIT WHAT?
The release of Pokemon Sun and Moon marks the start of the 7th Generation of the long running franchise. Nintendo and Game Freak, not content at keeping things entirely the same, decided to change up the formula a little bit and that is made apparent early in the game.
Instead of having you start the game with any inclination of being a Pokemon Trainer, you are basically thrown into that opportunity. Your rival is more like your cool cousin Tito. He is carefree, likes to talk a lot and is a generally nice guy. He even picks a starter that is weak to yours!
Man, we've come a long way since Gary, let me tell you.
Alola doesn't stop being different there, however. Here, paradise does not have any Pokemon Gyms. Your battle supremacy means nothing here. Your ability to be a generally nice guy who can complete tasks and occasionally thwart the local gang of bored tweeners will earn you respect.
Even the local threat is nothing substantial.
That is until we start talking about Ultra Beasts: Essentially, Pokemon who come from another dimension. Without spoiling anymore of the story, Pokemon Sun and Moon relies heavily on narrative. While other games have simple outlines and you experience them as you go, connecting the dots and discovering plot beats along the way, Pokemon Sun and Moon has an actual campaign that you will go through.
Of course, that isn't to say that you don't end up as a Pokemon Champion: You do. But the way this occurs is altered slightly from the general formula. In fact, you even start defending your title against different opponents as opposed to just fighting the previous Champion over and over again.
SERIOUSLY, IT'S ABOUT FREAKING TIME!
Something that needs to be talked about immediately is the removal of HMs. Gone are these nonsense abilities that you have to waste on Pokemon. Let's not pretend we all didn't have a slave that chopped down trees and swam up waterfalls for us. Our 6th Pokemon was resigned to be a slave to these abilities because we couldn't progress without them.
Instead, HMs are now replaced by Ride Pokemon: Pokemon who primarily function as transport. You don't even need to teach Fly to your Toucannon. You can simply summon a Charizard and be on your way.
If there was anything that Nintendo and GameFreak could've changed, this was it. It's the most welcomed feature in Pokemon.
FUN AND GAMES, BEGRUDGINGLY
With every generation, Nintendo and GameFreak tend to tweak their "helper" systems. During the 2nd Generation, we were given the PokeGear. A PokeNav in the 3rd Generation. "Poketch" in the 4th. C-Gear in the 5th. PSS (Player Search System) in the 6th.
Here in the 7th, helper functions are now built into your PokeDex which is powered by a Rotom! It even talks to you and it has a personality and talks to you. It's quite nice actually. With that, you have the power to go into "Virtual Reality" and participate in the Pokemon Festival.
It's a multiplayer lobby of sorts that can summon avatars of other players from around the world who you can talk to to earn points and upgrade your own Festival grounds and play really dumb mini-games that involve your proficiency in identifying Pokemon-Typing, avatar clones and certain phrases in other languages. There are more, but they're basically all the same with slight deviants. This is where you perform all your battling and trading as well. Pokemon Festival is the new Global Trade System.
You also have the ability to change up buildings and stalls around the Festival. They range from pretty useless to immensely helpful, however they have a limit of 1 use per day. Depending on your play style, you may never make use of any of these features, but if you are someone who is into battling a lot, certain buildings can short-cut whole day worth of training, albeit, requiring specialized items that are hard to come by.
Besides that, you are also given access to PokePelago. A series of islands populated by Pokemon you capture. Each island serve different purposes and paid for by PokeBeans. I found this feature to be more pleasurable and stable than Pokemon Festival. There's an island where you gain PokeBeans, an island for growing Berries, an island where Pokemon search for items, an island where Pokemon can be trained specifically for certain stats and another island for raising affection and hatching eggs.
On top of that, your Rotom PokeDex also has access to Pokemon Finder. A Pokemon Snap-like mini-game that you can take part in at certain locations. I found this feature to be woefully underutilized and underdeveloped. Unlike Pokemon Snap, you don't get to move around and there's generally only 1 Pokemon present for you to take pictures of. It's not nearly as engaging or as amusing as Pokemon Snap, which by the way, fans are still waiting on a proper sequel for.
The one change that competitive Pokemon Trainers may not appreciate is the removal of Super Training. Super Training was a series of mini-games that players can take part in through the PSS. However, with the removal of PSS, the limitation of raising a Pokemon stat's now depend entirely on a Player's ability to battle wild Pokemon or whether they have the patience to wait nearly 50 hours while their Pokemon passively train themselves in PokePelago.
There is Hyper Training, but even that is limited by how often you can get items to use it.
If anything, competitive battling was made slightly less accessible through time consumption alone.
SUGAR, SPICE AND EVERYTHING NICE
While the 6th Generation explored the ability to go into a 4-stage evolution with Mega-Evolutions, the 7th Generation explores the idea of deviations. Pokemon who don't have access to higher levels of evolution may end up having deviants due to their environments. Some of our favorite Generation 1 Pokemon such as Vulpix and Sandshrew now have Ice-typing.
It's a nice way to allow Trainers to have access to Pokemon without having to specifically evolve them in a certain way or lock them to certain Pokemon in general. This isn't necessarily a new idea, but it's nice that it's expanded to include other Pokemon besides Eevee. The main difference here is that they come out this way from the start and there is no going back to their original incarnations without specifically trading for them from an environment that wasn't Alolan.
With the addition of a Z-Ring, Pokemon now also have access to Z-Moves. They do extreme amounts of damage in lieu of being able to Mega-Evolve.
It's an interesting concept that expands battling to a different level. While I'm not an expert in competitive play, I can imagine that this is a game changer in that having a Pokemon be able to perform a Z-Move requires them to hold an item.
In the previous generation, Pokemon who were capable of Mega-Evolving are required to sacrifice their held item to be able to achieve their next stage. Z-Moves are similar in that a Pokemon seeking to use their best moves are required to forego their item for a Crystal that gives them the ability to use a devastating attack. However, that attack is usable once per battle for everyone on your team... meaning that once you use a Z-Move, no one else on your team can.
It can potentially be a hail mary.
A Water-Type Pokemon may be able to 1-Hit KO a Mega-Evolved Charizard whom would've been slightly beefier than usual.
These "deviations" are definitely welcomed changes to the formula.
A MASTER, I WILL BE
Pokemon Sun and Moon was an experiment in deviations and slight changes to the winning formula that has lasted for decades. While they're not groundbreaking changes, the removal of HMs have been a long time request and it was delivered. Long time Pokemon Trainers will appreciate some of the changes but may begrudge some of the sillier aspects of the game such as Pokemon Festival. Competitive Pokemon Trainers will definitely hate the increase in time consumption in training their Pokemon team. Newly minted Trainers who are going on their first adventure with their chosen partner will be none-the-wiser and will love this game the same as how we fell in love with Pokemon Red and Blue years ago.
The 7th Generation is going to be interesting as Nintendo and GameFreak continue to tweak the formula. While not everything worked, there's enough working changes that will leave Pokemon Trainers wanting more.
Maybe we'll get a Charizard that will actually have Dragon-typing one day.