Thoughts on Pokemon Sun

It’s best not to try and review a game a full four months since beating it, that much is common sense. That being said, there are a lot of movies, games, and albums I said I review on this website, which I went on to never actually write. Instead of letting another small failure pile up, I thought I could spare 30 minutes of my time to send this game off into the sunset.

Released somewhere in the vicinity of Pokemon’s 20th Anniversary, Pokemon Sun and Moon represent a fairly significant shift in terms of gameplay and plot that the core games typically tackle. For nearly 20 years, almost all of my life, Pokemon games have been about leaving your Mom at home to fight 8 Gym Leaders, while occasionally battling a Rival with some character arc, a “Team” of bad guys, and the Elite Four and the Pokemon League Champion.

Now, in Sun and Moon you still do most of that stuff. You leave you Mom at home, but she has little bit more of a personality than usual, and a Meowth. You battle a Rival, but in an anti-hero way, he’s just a misunderstood well-meaning brother of one of your best friends. You fight the Elite Four in the end, but for once the games actually make becoming League Champion feel a little bit more significant.

But walking away from a formula 20 years old didn’t always pay off in ways that I had hoped. Set in the Hawaii-inspired Alola region, there are four islands to explore — none of which have any Gym Leaders on them. Instead, there are an assortment of Trials (Boss Fights) against gigantic versions of Pokemon called Totems, which unlock battles with the Island Kahuna. While the Trials were harder than your average battle against a trainer, they lacked the oomph of a Gym Leader battle. When you defeat an island’s Totem Pokemon, something’s just missing. You’re told that defeating the Totem Pokemon is this great challenge by every Trial Captain, but it’s just a Pokemon after all, so you kill it and move on and that same Captain says “Great job kid!” When you walk into a Gym, there are mentors who test you before you can reach the Gym Leader; environmental puzzles, and then some philosophical musings from the Leader before the fight. When you walk out of a Gym with a badge you feel like you’ve taken down a person of significance, earned respect, and moved closer towards the end game.

While Pokemon Sun’s pacing and sense of accomplishment felt off, thanks to the removal of the Gym system, it still earns a place in my heart for its attempt at story telling, and of course the story that naturally develops with your team. The story in Sun feels the closest that the stories in game have resemble those normally reserved for the Pokemon animated films, which is to say, characters emote and go through development arcs, which is more than most Pokemon games have tried. Some characters introduced as good guys become bad, and vice versa, which in a game made for kids is still something. Problem is, Pokemon Sun and Moon tries to do more with the story than their technology allows for, with repeated animations and dead-eyed reactions being a constant problem.

The Team

So, as per usual the best thing about Pokemon is the story that you develop with your team. Part of the reason I go out of my way to document these teams is because, while it’s fulfilling to grow your team and grow close to them, it’s a repeatable, dispensable joy. Every time you see a game through to conclusion, you’ve easily spent 50-60 hours together, and the same sense of family arises from within. As a child in the early 2000’s I enjoyed Pokemon Silver so much, but without a long-term means of documenting that play-through, it’s a very faded memory. Since then, I happen to have save files for every game I’ve played since — from taking up Emulation in High School with a copy of Pokemon Ruby, to randomized runs in College, and today — my Pokemon Sun team. Each named after a character from Tenchi-Muyo, I remember a little something about each of them. Ryoko is the first Misdreavus I caught, evolved, and brought to the end-game. Ayeka is my token poison type, and her Pokedex entry has the words “reverse harem” in them, seriously. I went back an island to catch Mihoshi, after I missed the one patch of grass where you can catch a Vulpix. Washu is the first bug type I’ve ever brought to the end game. I distinctly remember the Alolan-form evolution music that played when Ryo-Ohki evolved, and I remember when Sasami was a bright-eyed Poplio.

And when the game ended, my gothic-lolita dressed Carmine returned home, where Mom was still hanging out with Meowth, and it felt like a definitive ending.