Rabla Reviews: Pokemon Moon(/Sun) [3DS] – Part One (No Spoilers)

This blog still exists and is actually still the best way for me to get my thoughts like this out there, so here we go. I’ve been playing Pokemon Moon over the last few days and with the scenario done and a majority of content down I wanted to go through some thoughts and issues with the game.

This first part will be addressing general gameplay mechanics, the Alola region, some Pokemon and a few problems that should be addressed for ‘Eclipse/Earth/whatever’. I’ll be avoiding any Main Scenario spoilers and anything notable, and those will be in a Part Two post.

This is actually one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had with Pokemon since I first got into the series when I played Silver back when I was five years old. It’s pretty well-known that I have serious issues and an extreme dislike of Pokemon X/Y and didn’t even play Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire after learning about the mass of content that was cut (OR/AS has an extra scenario segment but has less gameplay features and facilities than Emerald), so I initially didn’t even plan to play Sun/Moon. I was done. After 16 years I was ready to call it quits, still determined that I wouldn’t ever see a better scenario than Mystery Dungeon 2.

Because of this attitude, I didn’t follow any news regarding Sun/Moon. I saw the initial reveal and starters, and over the months saw probably less than thirty Pokemon across Alolan natives and some new Alola Variants. I knew they had changed away from the Gym system, and I knew there was some deal with Z-Crystals, which I found amusing since to me it looked like they were trying to stuff in some mechanic left over from a cancelled Z Version to follow X/Y that was left on the floor. From the outside it looked like a mess of Gen 1 pandering and sticking everything they had to check off their big list of features into one formula breaking pot which initially didn’t seem too appealing.

However, as mentioned, I have been playing Pokemon for 16 years. It’s not just my childhood, it’s a part of my entire life. So when the Demo came out, I decided to try it. And I hated it. It was a railroaded mess of an anime promo and a camera mechanic (that’s not actually significant in the game, I should note). So that put me off even more.

AND YET, here I am. I finished the main game two days ago and have still barely put the game down. I started… today last week. It’s… super fun. It’s great. I love it. Maybe it’s having a stronger effect after coming off the back of X/Y but I adore this game. Let’s jump right in.

alolamap

Alola as a region is fantastic. When it was first revealed with the Hawaiian and Tourist-y themes I wasn’t sold, but as you travel and see the islands and talk to people you learn about its ever-evolving culture and traditions. One of the major themes of the game is this struggle as Alola tries to embrace its own culture as the rest of the world marches on, and how the region needs to start to change and catch up without abandoning its true values.

Because of this, Alola is basically its own entire world. Yes, you start on a beach in a nice house facing the ocean. Professor Kukui’s lab is a broken down beach hut in disrepair. The first place you visit, Iki Village, is the most old tribal wooden place I’ve ever seen in Pokemon. It reminds me a lot of my trip to Fiji two years ago. Then once you’re past that, and you follow the shoreline west across Melemele Island, you reach Hau’oli City (the one in the Demo) and its a normal, big place you’d see anywhere else in the series. And that’s the first look at the kind of shifts you should expect. The people across Alola explain that, as many people travel and visit over time, they’ve brought their own cultures too, and Alola has become one amazing miniature world. On Akala Island, there’s a rundown dusty town called Paniola Town that looks like the setting for a Western flick. On Ula’ula there’s a traditional Japanese village called Malie City, where half of its space is dedicated to an amazing walled garden. Every single settlement across Alola has it’s own unique style, culture, and story, and they all tie together under Alola’s own traditions to make up this amazing place. Every single time you find a new town you marvel at its style as you approach and explore, discover what it holds and learn to love it.

Alola also takes significant advantage of the new 3D worldspace. Kalos was pretty, but it’s region map design was very traditional and would fit in the older games; it only played with the unique 3D advantage inside specific cities, and then it was straight line maps between each one like any other game. Alola on the other hand is a much more 3D world. You curve around mountains and through sea routes, you travel over paths and see the world in the distance, you can see on your map that your mountain climb has taken you back close to a previous location at a new angle. While there’s no mega-metropolis like Lumiose in Kalos or Castelia in Unova, but you can feel a sense of scale in the world as you travel. There’s a point on Ula’ula Island where you have to reach an observatory on one of it’s two giant mountains, and you actually take a bus the first time. When you reach the top, you’re allowed to just walk the path if you want.

Anyway, I’m going on a bit too much. Design-wise, it’s fantastic and vibrant and I love it. Some people might still prefer Unova but overall this is my favourite region. There’s a bit more to address but it belongs in Part Two.

p06_04_en

As mentioned, Alola has no Pokemon League or Gyms. The calling for a Pokemon Trainer in this region is the ‘Alola Island Challenge’, a series of different Trials across the four islands to prove your strength and bonds with your Pokemon. They’re divided up into ‘Trials’ and ‘Grand Trials’, where each island has multiple of the former and one of the latter.

Pokemon has always tried to do it’s best to make Gyms unique. In R/G/B/Y alone there’s several unique puzzles (Lt. Surge and Sabrina’s gyms as examples) to make the walk from the front door to the Leader more interesting, and they’ve always tried to balance these types with more standard ones. However they all basically came down to walk in, fight trainers in the way, leave, Pokemon Center, return, continue, repeat. Trial’s attempt to challenge that style of play in the way that they all offer a unique course and goal, but more notably lock you into the challenge. Once you step through the gate to a Trial zone, you either win or lose, so come prepared. Each ‘Captain’ prepares a Trial unique to their type, and upon winning it you receive that type’s Z-Crystal, which is how a majority of them are obtained. The Totem Pokemon idea is really cool too, but has a flaw (which I’ll address among others a bit later). Once you beat all the Trials on an Island, you fight the Island Kahuna in a more traditional Gym Leader style battle, who again will reward you with their type’s Z-Crystal (even among Grand Trials, there’s no type overlap).

The problem is that they’re all a bit too basic, which may just be an issue of trying something for the first time and wanting to play it safe (a sentence which describes the entirety of X/Y) and potentially the fact that they’ve backed down from trying to focus on their older audience when Black/White came out and have returned to a children’s market, with a VERY OBVIOUS intention to directly compete with Yokai Watch, a series that destroyed Pokemon OR/AS in sales during its launch. A lot of them are point to point movement with a small narrative in mind, some are more… or less. The very last Trial in the game looks a lot like this:

ff13-forward

Regardless, I enjoy the concept. It’s a really nice change of pace, and one of several fantastic changes. Speaking of changes…

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The ‘Ride Pager’ is a fantastic solution to the tyranny of HMs ruining Pokemon’s movesets for over twenty years. There’s no bike or anything, instead you slowly unlock access to seven different Pokemon as Mounts across the Island Challenge, each one effectively replacing a HM or feature from the previous entries. It’s so much better and it’s super fun as they all have unique fun animations (the one that replaces Strength is by far the best).

As a few additional notes: Poke Pelago is fun. It’s almost an idle-style mobile game (think Neko Atsume or Notice Me Senpai) packaged in with the actual game that can enhance and effect your main experience. Pokemon Amie is now ‘Refresh’ and can be launched directly from the conclusion of a battle to dust off and clean up your battle-damaged mons, including removing status effects. The Festival Plaza is a reimagination of BW2’s Join Avenue, and is the portal for all Battle and Trade online modes. It’s a nice, easily accessible hub for every feature related to Online Multiplayer, since rather than being a physical location it is accessible at any time through the menu.

So, that’s a bunch of fun additions. Now let’s talk about some issues.

p07_02_en

Firstly, practical issues. There seem to be several million different reasons that cause the framerate in battle to completely shit itself to the point of delayed inputs and critical slowdown. Most of them can be summed up by “more than two Pokemon on screen”. A Totem Pokemon’s (or any other with one) Aura effect will also shit the framerate. It’s… really bad.

Game Freak’s way of dealing with this apparently unavoidable issue is the most confusing back and forth I’ve ever seen. Firstly, Triple Battles and Rotation Battles are gone, along with Horde encounters, because TOO MANY MODELS, right? Need to keep the models rendered on-screen to a minimum. However, Trainers are now always present on the battle scene. You will be off-screen behind your Pokemon, viewable during the dynamic camera sequences during waiting periods or big moves. So that’s now three models on-screen for a wild battle, four for a battle with a trainer. There’s also the new S.O.S mechanic Alolan Pokemon use in battle, to call for assistance from other fellow wild mons. Not only does this happen to a somewhat annoying frequency (No-Catch Rules still apply in a wild battle with multiple mons, so you might knock a critter into the red for a catch and then have to deal with a second Pokemon out of nowhere before you’re allowed to throw a ball) but its a major mechanic in Totem Trial Battles, where they can call a sequence of multiple allies as adds to keep them up and assisted. Remember that the Totem Aura is ALREADY destroying the framerate by itself.

Secondly, there’s the Battle Royal, which is throwing the potential justification of removing the aforementioned modes out the window, because it’s a four-man Free for All, so plus trainer models that’s eight rendered on-screen at once, the same it would be for a Triple/Rotation + Trainers. And boy does that mode chug, which is a shame because its super fun.

Hell, certain Pokemon (like Lunala) can destroy the framerate on their own. I asked people playing on the New3DS models if it’s any better and it’s a minimal improvement. It’s just… so weird that a first-party developer has put out a 3DS game that no 3DS can smoothly run.

Anyway, leaving that is the drama over the lack of National Dex. As it is right now there is no way to have a complete database of Pokemon unless you shell out for Pokemon Bank, and that’s not actually going to support Sun/Moon until next year. On one side, people have suggested it’s a good change to not discourage new players from having a 800+ list of Pokemon to fill in that they can’t actually get, but on the other side the people who do actually do it are feeling thrown out.

It’s worth noting that there ARE ways to catch Non-Alolan Dex Pokemon present in the game, and catching them just… leaves an empty spot in their Summary page and no actual record of your success.

Lastly… Rotom. What an annoying goddamn pest of a creature.

r-dex.jpg

Ever since D/P/Pt there has been this need to make use of the touchscreen and honestly I think that one, the Poketch might still be my favourite just on the fun variety of Apps you could obtain for it. Sun/Moon has the worst use of the touchscreen ever. It’s an active map, and that’s honestly really nice, but a lot of the screen space is dedicated to Rotom’s stupid fucking face. Every time Rotom comments on the story or goal progression, he slides over a bit to make his witty dialogue ‘thatzzz written like thiz zzt!!’ and the map TURNS OFF while his speech is present on the screen. If you want to open the full Alola Map, you tap the map, but you have to touch it in a specific area kind of near the bottom of the screen. If you’re a normal human being and assume you can tap the map in the center of the screen, he turns the map off to respeak his stupid dialogue again. And if you touch anywhere else he does one of his many wacky fun zany animations that, yes, all also turn the map off. It’s stupid. I know you need to compete with Whisper in Yokai Watch but surely you can do it without actively ruining a component of the game.

And that’s… kind of a running theme in Pokemon Sun and Moon. Sure, this [new thing] is awesome and fun but why does it come at the expense of [expected traditional feature].

So… I dunno. I do still think the game is super fun and its leaps and bounds better than X and Y, but there’s all these small hiccups or oddities that make it feel weird. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably get over them and still enjoy it. But they’re there, and it’s worrying. Hopefully the third version (assuming that’s not a scrapped idea overall now) isn’t actually on the 3DS, or at least super optimized. There’s no way they can go bigger and better while still on this hardware.

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