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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: Pokemon Sun

Don't stare at it for too long, kids!
"I'm getting too old for this," I muttered as I switched to an area-of-effect attacking move with my Bewear, knocking out yet another S.O.S. wild encounter in two turns. Yes, there was plenty new to experience in the series' latest outing, but Pokemon Sun was testing my patience. I wondered when I became jaded enough about Pokemon to get annoyed by such things, but there I was- trudging halfheartedly through Game Freak's newest catchable critter title.

Sometimes, video games are like comfort food- it is easy to turn off your brain and roll with the punches, slipping into a familiar world and experience and unwinding at the end of the day. But Pokemon Sun did not evoke those feelings in me, and for the first time in the history of the 20-year series, I found myself questioning my love for Nintendo's most reliable cash-cow.


-Graphically, this entry pops with visual flair and the sense of a fully-realized Pokemon world. While other titles in the series have toyed with the influence of the real-life locales they are based upon, Alola takes it to a whole new level in both aesthetic and world-building.

-Boasting great new Pokemon designs that further flesh out the bizarre universe, the newest monsters and Ultra Beasts possess interesting- and game-changing- stats and abilities.

-Yes, things are different. And some of it is really better.


-If you like story in your Pokemon games, well, strap in. This narrative is suitably ridiculous, with plot twists that make little sense, a bloated script, and very little subtlety- although you might not even notice, with how emotionless your player character is.

-If you are on the lookout for new Pokemon, most are hidden behind droves of familiar faces with disappointing spawn rates.

-Yes, things are different. But are they really better?


A winning formula can be a tough thing to break away from, and though Game Freak has changed a few steps towards their traditional "become the champion" routine, it is more or less the same journey as before. While that overarching objective is the same, however, the rest of the design is quite drastically different. Trials take the place of gyms, and though some are simply "gyms, but with a bit more personality," others drift into slightly more bizarre territory that reeks of lazy design. Speaking of lazy, Game Freak seems to have less faith in the players' ability to figure things out for themselves than ever, with copious amounts of dialogue, annoying characters, and scripted events peppering the whole experience.

Pokemon Sun is at its best when it lets the player do what they want, which is not very often. Alola's islands feel like large loops with optional, narrow caves, and though there was the chance to create an interconnected chain of islands, the developers are more comfortable with roping areas off rather than letting the player explore by themselves. You can always revisit those caves- and you'll have to if you want to catch specific (read: mostly new) Pokemon, or get in a fight in order to have a Pokemon call for help, which might result in an even more specific encounter- but they feel mostly bare, outside of their exciting aesthetics. Rarely do they possess environmental puzzles, and the Ride Pokemon (Hidden Machine replacements) offer methods of avoiding conflict rather than deepening exploration and discovery, which just does not feel right. You will have to fight through more than just wild encounters and trainers, though, since the story is shoved down your throat between just about every important event.

"Well maybe you're not enjoying the game from a single player experience. What about the improvements to multiplayer?" You ask.

"What improvements?" I respond, taking note of the absurd Festival Plaza replacing the Player Search System from the generation prior. Or were you talking about S.O.S. chaining, a highly specific method of obtaining better Pokemon through a method that takes ridiculous amounts of preparation. Z-Moves? Well, they're a bit less transparent than the previous Mega Evolutions, but don't expect the game to explain any of these new concepts to you- it will not. Trust me.

Sure, breeding has been made less costly, and you no longer need a Hidden Machine slave, but marked improvements present in previous titles have been removed or given poor replacements, and that kills a great deal of enthusiasm I have for playing with friends. I spent hours prepping new Pokemon for battle in Pokemon Y, but having the formula turned on its head is not something I was hoping to find in this latest installment.

But maybe that is what happens when a new director takes some creative liberties with a beloved franchise- they create a product with a familiar face, but an alien feeling lurks beneath the surface. If this leaves you hesitant, please understand- I love franchises for their traditions and stand-alone titles for their unique features. What I expected to get in Pokemon Sun was my childhood friend in a new coat of paint, but as it turns out, that coat was only applied once to half the wall, and a whole other wall was knocked out in order to expand the room. That is not a bad thing- dedicated fans will become accustomed to the cycles needed to obtain perfect Pokemon and movesets, and they will welcome the convenience of having a free slot in their party, once occupied by a traversal-specific Pokemon. Some of those changes, I like, but others show me how I yearned for the simplicity of the series- where characters spoke in fewer sentences, and I had the chance to imagine what a mountain looked like based on the cave I trekked through underneath, rather than having the image presented to me directly as I run down a straight roadway with steep cliffs on each side.

Perhaps its time for me to box those Pokemon for good, before I start feeling buyer's remorse.

Final Verdict: While Pokemon Sun might be just the change you need to reinvigorate your Pokemania, its many changes pervade not only the narrative structure, but also many other aspects of its design, from wild encounters, to environmental design, to even communication options. These might be fun adaptations for veterans and newcomers alike, but it personally did not satisfy me. Even so, Game Freak's latest installment is sure to provide at least 35+ hours of monster-catching... something.

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