The Pokémon 20th anniversary had all sorts of goodies for the fanbase, from the core video game series to the trading card game. While 2016 has been a year to celebrate slew of other games, I found this as a sort of “The Year of Pokémon”. And to help wrap up this anniversary we now have Generation VII’s “Pokémon Sun” and “Pokémon Moon” (the version I’m reviewing), and I’m enjoying the battles under the moon’s pale light.
The essential Pokémon gameplay is here in “Pokémon Moon”: you catch, catalogue, and train Pokémon while going around the region to become number one. In Alola, however, there are no gyms or league. Instead, you travel across the four islands as a trail-goer as a rite to become a trainer. The trails are carried out by the captains and the kahunas of Alola. The captains’ trails are quirky quests or tests that end on a battle with a Totem Pokémon. These Pokémon have special auras which gives them a few stat boosts and they can call on wild Pokémon for help and start an “S.O.S. Battle” (wild Pokémon can also do the same). Once you’ve cleared all the captains’ trail it is time to take the Kahuna’s Grand Trail, the boss battle of the island. What do you get from any of these? Plenty of things: Z-Crystals, better obedience with higher-level Pokémon, more shop items available, and more.
The change from the Pokémon League to the Alola Trails shifted the experience into something a bit more of a traditional adventure. The overall outcome is what you would expect from a Pokémon game. However, the flow of the story arcs feels more natural. In most of the past games, you were out to become a Pokémon Master. Nevertheless, you had to deal with an evil organization that keeps getting in the way. This sort of arrangement in story arcs felt like one had to stop for the other to go. On the Moon version (and Sun version, of course) you still have your journey and the Pokédex challenge, but the story arcs feel more integrated.
As for new features, they’ve added and improved some things. Naturally, you get your Pokédex but the Rotom Pokédex is far more than an electronic encyclopedia. This model houses a Rotom that helps you catalog Pokémon and pinpoints their exact habitat on the map. It can also display a detailed satellite map on the touch screen, making Rotom far more useful than the Town Map. Personality wise it’s a bit tamed for a Rotom (based on Pokédex entries), but it is a smart-ass so it has that going for it. The Poké Ride Service replaces all the HMs and a few key items (like the bike and Dowsing Machine), which helps put a better focus on exploration while removing HM Slaves all together. More service Pokémon will become accessible as you go, so don’t worry if you find a place you can’t get to early on.
Poké Pelago is an important feature since it houses facilities such as a berry garden, a little resort to increase happiness, and a playground that replaces both the daycare (now a Pokémon Nursery for only breeding Pokémon) and Super Training. It’ll take real-time, plenty of caught Pokémon in your boxes, and beans (currency and food) to accomplish anything but it’ll be smooth sailings once the islands are at Level Three (maxed). The Festival Plaza replaces the PPL (Gen VI) for battles and trading while adding shops and special missions to enjoy. If you want to do local battles and trades there’s the Quick Link, but if you try to sync up with someone in a place where everyone is doing the same (say at a convention) you’ll most likely link up with someone else (a random NPC told me this).
Pokémon Amie’s replacement is Poké Refresh, which simplifies things a bit. On the road and after battles you feed, groom, and pet your Pokémon for affection (that will help them to perform better in battle, like being able to land critical hits or survive blows that would normally knock them out). The QR Scanner does just that: it scans a QR from a friend’s Pokédex and register it as Seen onto yours. Scanning these QR codes will fill up the gauge for the Island Scanner, and once it becomes 100% full, it’ll search for rare Pokémon that are not in the Alola Dex, such as starters from Johto to Unova.
Early in the game you’ll come across the Battle Royal Dome, the venue that lets you enter Battle Royal matches for BP. Battle Royal is challenging since you’re trying to knock out as many opponent Pokémon as possible before any of the other trainers do, all while you keep your team from fainting. I recommend getting three of your Pokémon to level 50 before battling at dome. Finally, there’s the Poké Finder, a sort of Pokémon Snap camera for the game. As part of the Rotom Pokedex, it’ll upgrade itself as you take better pictures and more likes from your NPC viewers. You could also export your pictures to the system’s SD card so you can show it off later. Just don’t trust Rotom with the flash.
The camera in the game is no longer restricted to an overhead view as it follows you around from different angles throughout Alola. Alola is a mosaic culture that shows it through the architect of the towns and cities with a bit of lore behind them, which makes the region look very diverse and interesting to explore. The scenic routes also come in a variety of biomes. However, that doesn’t stop people from driving on every single road there is (at least that´s the case with all the vehicles that I’ve seen around). Battle scenery for “Pokémon Moon” also come in different flavors, and while it’s not like“Fire Emblem Fates’s” they are well detailed and match the area (even having special town backdrops).
The Pokémon models (new and previous) still use the stock animations (with a few exceptions like the Alola starters), but I’m pretty sure having the developers animate all 800+ Pokémon’s move pool is legally considered murder in Japan. The human models look great and match their occupation and personality. They even show up behind their Pokémon in battle and use different Poké Balls, which honestly adds more detail to a character. The Z-Moves are over-the-top animations that would bring a smile when seeing overkill, though I think Snorlax’s Pulverizing Pancake has all of them beat. The only issue I had with the graphics was a dropped frame rate in some cases. However, this is because I’m playing “Pokémon Moon” on a Midnight Purple 3DS (from the older standard model series). And for people who love screenshots, I’m afraid it’s limited to Poké Finder. Having a -New- 3DS won’t help you either because you can’t post screenshots on Miiverse.
The music is appropriate for towns, characters, and battles but many of the songs have a tropical theme to them. The Hawaiian tuned tracks are relaxing to listen to, which is great for the Pokémon Center remix since you go to a PMC to heal up before the next battle. Sound Effects and Pokémon cries are back from the last generation, with a few additions and tweaks, and Pikachu is still voiced by Ikue Otani. Furthermore, the developers also added in the Pokémon’s cries along the routes and areas with patches of tall grass, so now the wildlife sounds lively in this game.
The non-grid movement is back, but I think it’s slightly downgrade from the Pokémon ORAS remakes. As you could tiptoe slowly or walk normally depending on how far you tilt the circle pad. It’s just walk and hold B for running on “Pokémon Moon “but at least the movement is fluid like any good modern JRPG. The Quick Select for items have been replaced with Poké Ride Service controls, but since some things like using the fishing rod have been simplified it’s a good change. The battle menu had some better changes with Info icons that give you a detailed description and a status screen for your and the opponent’s Pokémon. There’s even a designated Poké Ball button, which is much better than having to go through sub menus just to catch Pokémon. Rotom takes up the touch screen most of the time and touching it in certain spots will bring up the map screen, the Pokede, the current quest update, or a quirky animation because it likes getting poked.
+ A story that feels fluid with a few side quests to do
+ Well detailed characters, environments, and mixed cultural structures
+ Excellent music with some relaxing tropical tracks
+ The Alola region feels very alive
– Unfriendly with older 3DS models
– Screenshots unsupported for Miiverse
Replay value: 4/5
Game Freak and Nintendo´s “Pokémon Moon“ is a really enjoyable Pokémon experience from the franchise. Sure, while I love the Pokémon main games, I have to say this title tweaked a lot of things for the better and made it a new experience while keeping the core mechanics. Alola and train on.
Title: Pokémon Moon
Format: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: JRPG Adventure
Resolution: 800 x 240/320 x 240
Release date: 2016-11-18
Spent time: 32+ hours
Average grade internationally: 88.17% Gamerankings.com
PEGI/ESRB age rating: PEGI 7+/Everyone
Due to certain circumstances I am unable to create screenshots from my playthrough. The images used for this review are taken from official Pokémon Company operated pages.
Robin Ek – Editor
The Gaming Ground
More by David Lucas: