Thursday, December 1, 2016

I Love Pokemon Sun & Moon!

I don't write about video games. I write about uniforms. But anyone that knows me or follows me on Twitter knows I love video games, specifically Pokemon. I was so excited from day one when Nintendo and Game Freak announced the latest installment of the Pokemon series, and it didn't let down. The 7th generation of Pokemon is easily my favorite.

Pokemon Sun and Moon

In a world where rankings and top 5s or 10s or whatever rule the internet, I personally hate ranking anything. Especially Pokemon games. I've been involved with the series since a young age and have played (and own) every main series game. I loved Red & Blue (and of course Yellow) for what they were. A cultural phenomenon that quickly swept the world was just a blast to dive in and learn the story, the characters, the mechanics, the tricks and glitches, and everything else. I loved every upgrade that came with Gold & Silver. Since the day I picked it up, Pokemon Crystal has always been my favorite game. More color, animated sprite entrances, great music, and so much more. Ruby & Saphire honestly weren't my favorites, but I think that's simply because I spent so much time playing them that the music just became annoying. Diamond & Pearl was around the time I started to grow away from the Pokemon series, and I don't think I even played through it completely the first time around.

With Black & White, I honestly don't remember even buying them. I think I picked them up just because the name on the front and didn't bother too much. But then their sequels, Black 2 & White 2 came out in fall 2012, during my first semester at Auburn. My then-roommate and I decided to take on the big task of watching every single episode of the Pokemon anime - all 700 episode or so at the time. While going through the regions on the anime side, I played through the correlating video games. I loved seeing how similar and different the two mediums were. Once Black 2 & White 2 finally dropped, I was back into loving Pokemon again.

When the 6th Generation in Pokemon X & Y were announced, I couldn't hold in my excitement. I watched every video from Nintendo, all the prediction videos, and everything else. I loved Kalos. I thought that Game Freak did a fantastic job of building a new, exciting world that was so different than anything else. But there were some issues, naturally. Lumiose City was a nightmare to navigate, especially with that camera. Sadly, Team Flare was not a great villainous team. It's a crying shame that it's taken until  November of 2016 - three years after release - for any motive for Lysandre and Flare and their actions. Granted, that was in the anime, but still. There wasn't much character building with Flare and their leader, and it was a big drawback for many people.

Fast forward past the fantastic Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire remakes, and Pokemon is once again making us sit and wait to explore another new region. But my gosh was it all worth it. From the first teaser released, it was obvious that Sun & Moon were going to be heavy on two things - world building and celebrating Pokemon's 20th anniversary.

Previous games tried to build a cohesive world, but it just fell short. ORAS' Delta Episodes is a great example. There was such little dialog on the details of that portion of the game beforehand. It just appears post-game and then is finished.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Alola
When can I move to the Alolan region?

But with Sun & Moon, your character and mother just arrived in the Alola region from the Kanto region. You are referred to many times throughout the game as having just arrived from across the seas. Each of Alola's four islands are intertwined one way or another with the trials, kahunas, or whatever else it may be. The previous Pokemon regions are referred back to and hinted at numerous times. Game Freak certainly wanted to use the franchise's history and lore when building Alola, and it worked perfectly.

Nearly everyone expected the new games to honor Pokemon's 20th anniversary, but I don't think many expected them to do so in this fashion. There are countless references to previous moments in games - the switch behind the poster in Celadon City's Game Corner leading to Team Rocket's hideout, a group jokingly remaking the Nugget Bridge and asking you to join Team Rocket, and more. There's so many moments that you can't help but smile when understanding the reference, and it made the games fun and nostalgic.

I was hesitant about abandoning the gym-model for trails, but I it worked wonderfully. Instead of having gyms and cities seemingly disconnected from each other, everything flowed so well in Alola. It wasn't uncommon to see trail captains and kahunas referring to each other, let alone seen together. I loved the idea of each captain getting to design their trails completely different from the others. There was such little variety in gyms in the older games, other than maybe the gimmicky puzzle that needed to be solved. The trails were a great way to try something new without completely blowing the model up, and it tied in with the Hawaiian-based Alola region incredibly well.

With any new generation, most of the fun is discovering and learning the new Pokemon species. Alola mixed it up once again by not only adding brand new species, but new "Alolan Forms" of previous species that had adapted to their new island habitat in very specific ways. Although it was great to see older Pokemon, I was a bit disappointed in just how common many of them appeared. I wanted to know more about the brand new species, but seemed to have trouble finding many of them. Too many times did I run into the same species - true Alolan Pokemon or the Alolan forms of older species - and I just wanted to see more of the new things.

Another gripe that many others have had is just how slow the game can run. Battles taking a while wasn't that bad to me. At some points, the entrance animation seemed to just drag on. I would think that would be something that can be improved for any future releases (*cough Pokemon Stars on Nintendo Switch cough*). But the one thing that was more bothersome to me was the HP bar. It seemed to take forever for the health bar to drop, especially if the Pokemon's health was in the red. When a Pokemon had a single HP point, that's when it was at its slowest. That's another improvement I would like to see in the future.
Pokemon Sun and Moon Team Skull
Team Skull may take over the top spot for the
majority's favorite evil team in Pokemon.

But there were so many bright spots that it was hard to dwell on those too much. The writing in these games were absolutely spectacular. I've never laughed at a Pokemon game harder than I had with Sun & Moon. The evil team, Team Skull, was incredibly silly which made them likable for so many different reasons than the previous evil teams. Their walks, stances, dialog, and expressions were always enjoyable. They were goofy. They were meant to be less-than-scary, and they were.

I loved that this game wasn't a cake walk. My biggest gripe with previous games - mainly the Black & White series - was that it was so freaking easy. You take a step in any direction in Unova and there's some character running up to you to give you a new key item. I hated having the Exp. Share handed to me after the first gym in X & Y (granted, it's once again handed to you very early in Sun & Moon). But there wasn't much hand-holding this time around. Yes, there was a lot of tutorial and cut scenes in the beginning, but they soon let you loose to once again just enjoy exploring a new land.

I actually turned off the Exp. Share as soon as I got it. Back in X&Y, that one item nearly ruined the game for me. It was too easy. I swept through everyone I found and faced zero challenges. I loved being under-leveled in Alola. I didn't have to sit and grind for hours like you had to back in Gen 1 days, but it was a struggle to continue to win and move on to the next obstacle. I turned the Exp. Share back on later in the game as it was becoming more and more difficult to train all six Pokemon in the party, but soon turned it off once again. This game was tough, and I loved being challenged for the first time in a long time in a Pokemon game.

One aspect so many people wanted to see was the return of a great rival. I know I missed the likes of Gary/Blue and Silver, but wasn't getting my hopes too high on the new guy. Hau isn't the old-school rival we wanted. But he's still cool. Hau has big shoes to fill, and he knows that. He works hard to get to the level he wants to be, but does it all with a smile. And not a cheesy "life if great" smile, but rather Hau understands that you can only get stronger with Pokemon by your side, and it's going to be a journey you can share with them and friends.

Gladion was another great character, but I won't discuss him too much as it is nothing but spoilers.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Lillie
Lillie is just so
incredibly likable
My favorite character in this game, and possibly the entire Pokemon world, was easily Lillie. I was worried when we first saw her official art work and description that she would be nothing more than someone to drag the game down and kill the mood. Boy, was I wrong. Again, won't dive into the details for fear of spoilers, but Lillie is such an awesome character. Her design is fantastic, as is her "Z-Form," as she calls it. Her character is just fantastic and she has one of the best arcs you'll find in a Pokemon game. She's got spunk, and I can't wait to see how they decide to portray her in the anime.

Nintendo and Game Freak knocked it out of the park with Pokemon Sun & Moon. The numbers show it, too, with the games being the fastest sellers in Nintendo history, in the Americas at least. In two weeks since release, Sun & Moon has sold 3.7 million units, which is an 85% increase over previous record holders X & Y. I personally think that Pokemon GO played a good part into that. Getting the world's attention back on Pokemon for the first time since the beginning of the century brought so many people back to the franchise they once loved and possibly drifted from.

If you haven't yet, I highly recommend picking up Pokemon Sun & Moon. You will not be disappointed with how much fun these games can be. It's well worth your time and money.

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