I literally just finished the main story and Elite Four battles, and I can safely say that I love it.
Pokemon Moon is about as unique as a Pokemon game can get; the Kahunas and their captains (Alola’s equivalent of Gym Leaders) are scattered across four islands, pose trials that don’t always focus exclusively on battles, and the Z-Crystals (a mix of gym badges, TMs, and Mega-evolutions) are extremely fun and useful. It takes the basics that we all know, love, and associate with Pokemon games, and puts a different spin on them with a dash of culture and a surplus of story.
You start out like every kid in the Pokemon world everywhere: te-eleven years old and looking for adventure. Having recently moved to the Alola region from Kanto with your mom and Meowth, you go out and make friends with the neighbors, who invite you to a local festival. You come across one particular girl named Lillie, who timidly accompanies a bizarre Pokemon named Cosmog around the islands in search of its home, and Hau, the grandson of the island Kahuna and your laid-back rival for the game.
Spoilers below. You have been warned.
I like that the usual Team enemies (in this case, Team Skull) are kind of a red herring; it’s really the Aether Paradise employees that are hiding some insidious operations beneath a guise of kindness, inclusion, and sanctuary. Slightly undermined by the fact that an opening cut scene largely hints at it, but it’s still interesting story-wise.
Team Skull harkens back to Jessie, James, and Meowth, who by this point are so inept and goofy that no one can even remotely take them seriously. Add to that the faux-coolness they appear to be shooting for, with silly poses and word choices that make rappers sound like college English professors, and you have the living embodiment of the phrase “non-threatening.” I’d personally be more intimidated by a team composed of Bewear or Mimikyu.
But hey, Team Skull is adorable. They have quite a following already.
Aether Paradise is more like Team Plasma if it were run by confused teenage otakus; a worthy question about how we treat Pokemon is warped and rendered ridiculous by one lonely mother with a lot of money and screwed-up priorities. President Lusamine learns of another world/dimension/thing with creatures called Ultra Beasts, and decides that she wants to collect and keep them all to herself. When her children rightly defy her and reject her designs for them, she disowns them and descends further into her living-being-hoarding madness.
It’s okay though. She might be possessive, crazy, violent, and abusive, but she’s a woman and pretty, so it’s less creepy and reprehensible I guess. We’ll look the other way this one time.
P.S. I could guess who she was related to the moment I saw her. Only two of the “twists” in this game are genuinely surprising, and this little reveal wasn’t one of them.
My favorite new mechanic is the Ride Pokemon. Instead of having a HM slave that you drag around everywhere, now you can summon a specific Pokemon anywhere you want and they will do one specific thing for you. Uneven terrain? Call a Mudsdale. Need to bash a bunch of rocks in your way? Summon Sharpedo or Taurus. Want to surf on a Lapras for no real reason than that it’s calming and has spectacular graphics now? Yes please.
Ever since I was little, I wanted to be able to ride a Ponyta like that one episode of the TV show. Now, I’m one step closer to that dream.
My only major complaint about the game is, ironically, the story. Overall, it’s pretty solid and compelling (hell, for once, I actually felt emotionally connected to the legendary Pokemon before I tried beating it to a pulp and shoving it inside a tiny ball), but the cut scenes drag on and are either generally too numerous or grouped so closely together that I honestly wonder why the developers bothered taking their hands off the reins when they’re just going to violently wrench them back in under one minute. It’s one thing to do that for a tutorial at the beginning of the game (which Pokemon Moon does) but even then, you run the risk of testing your audience’s attention and patience.
Nintendo, while I appreciate your attempt to write an actual story that compels and sets this installment apart in the series, remember that this is Pokemon. A) I’m mostly here to battle, catch, and breed animal hybrids, which doesn’t require Lord of the Rings-level detail, and B) it undermines the emotions that I invest in the characters, story, and the game itself when half the time, I’m jamming the A button in annoyance just to get to the next playable segment. I was especially irritated and impatient when, upon beating the Elite Four, I had to endure 20 minutes of ending filler cut scenes AND a legendary battle-catch, all without being able to save or hit up a store for more Ultra Balls.
Some serious pacing and spacing needed to be done. That aside, there’s also only so much I can feel genuinely invested in a story that feels the need to constantly bash me over the head, screaming, “OMG, PROFESSOR KUKUI IS THE MASKED ROYAL!” I GET IT, NINTENDO! THANKS! Not to mention the occasional, borderline vague friendship speeches that, at worst, seem to be parroted straight from the dark days of 4Kids Entertainment.
I’m sorry, but real people, real friends, good friends don’t talk like that to one another, and even if I could stomach a few such speeches, this game gives me one too many.
I know this is technically aimed at kids, but even if I were ten years younger, I’d still be insulted by how little the game thinks of my intelligence. I personally like linear games, but I think we can all agree that extensive hand-holding is obnoxious and unwelcome in games. Not many people look on these characters fondly:
Otherwise, outside of a few gripes with the new and returning creature designs and how needlessly complicated evolving can be, Pokemon Moon (and by extension, Sun) is definitely in the top 3 of best main-series Pokemon games ever made. It’s upbeat, colorful, fun, and packed with interesting content.
The ghost-type trial is my favorite out of all of them. You get to snap pictures and meet Mimikyu, the simultaneously saddest and most adorable Pokemon I’ve seen in a while. The Pokemon Pelago is absolutely brilliant and I’m surprised Nintendo didn’t do something like it sooner. The idea of all of the Pokemon consumed by your “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” quest sitting in boxes on a computer for all of eternity is pretty depressing; at least this set up seems more humane.
Lillie’s character arc is pretty admirable, and she’s genuinely likable the more time you spend with her. And thank Arceus that everyone and their mother offers to heal your Pokemon for you.
*Pictures featured in this post do not belong to me.