First Impressions: Is Pokémon Sun the Right Step for the Series?

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As a kid, I would wake up each morning and watch Pokémon on Kids’ WB before heading off to school. Pokémon was my favorite show, my favorite game, my favorite conversation topic, my favorite everything. What was known as “Pokémania” had taken over the world and at the time, Pokemon seemed like a fad that people would soon grow out of.

Fast forward to 2016, the 20th anniversary of Pokémon Red & Blue, and Pokémania has returned. Madness ensued when Pokémon GO launched on mobile platforms over the summer. And although its reign was brief, it held the world captive, and people everywhere flooded the streets to catch ‘em all.

And now, just in time to distract us from the fallout of the 2016 election, comes Pokémon Sun & Moon, the seventh generation of Pokémon that sets out to shake up the decades old formula. As is tradition with main-line Pokémon games, Sun & Moon feature brand new monsters to battle or trade and a new land to explore.

What makes these new games different is the setting itself. The Alola region, modeled after Hawaii, doesn’t have gyms or gym leaders. Instead it features a culture all its own, deepening the lore of the Pokémon world in the process. The focus on Alolan culture and the islands’ inhabitants places the focus of Sun & Moon on the story, a traditionally overlooked aspect of the previous games.

The games strings players along a mostly linear path, with human companions who you follow every step of the way. You get to a new city and the over-eager Hau wants to check out ruins, and the pacifistic Lillie wants to shop. This formula should sound familiar to anyone who was (or still is, no shame) a fan of the show. And that’s exactly what playing Sun & Moon is like! Each “mission” feels different from the last and like any good episode of the show it doesn’t always involve heated trainer battles. One minute you’re learning about status effects and the next you’re helping a farmer with his berries.

Each vignette shows players what life is like in the unique Alola region. While there is a surrogate for gym battles, the formal Pokémon League isn’t yet an entity on the islands. What you have instead are trials, led by captains and Kahunas. The key word here is “led”, these folks are your friends and want you to succeed, and the time you spend on each island is guided by them.

Admittedly, I’m not that far into Sun. I’ve logged about 6 hours and just reached the second of four islands at the time of writing this. But, I can already tell that Sun & Moon are an important step forward for the series. I can’t wait to see what secrets awaits me in Alola and beyond.

Dan Berlin

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