Pokémon Sun begins with the same sort of opening you expect from a Pokémon game. A professor greets you, introduces you to the world, and helps you set up a character. Except, it isn’t the same. You’re talking to Professor over what’s basically Skype. You have a magazine showing off the Aether Foundation facilities. You’re actually some time away from setting off on your journey, making such exposition a necessity. It feels less redundant than previous openings.
It’s part of a continuing trend. Pokémon Sun goes out of its way to offer situations similar to ones we’ve previous experienced in the Pokémon series, but they’re more personal than in previous installments. Upon arriving on Alola’s Melemele Island, you’re going through the events you expect. You move to a new town, meet the new professor, find the rivals, and acquire your first Pokémon. Except this time, your house is more detailed. Your mother’s pet, a standard version of Meowth, is more active in your daily life. (Pro-tip: sleep in your bed sometime after the introduction for a fun scene.) Your first interactions with your contemporaries are more meaningful.
Even picking out your first partner feels more important in Pokémon Sun. You’re given the opportunity to choose your starter from Rowlet, Popplio, and Litten. We’ve seen the official videos from Nintendo where the starters seem to be a bit more animated in this portion. But the first time you meet your new BFF feels like you’re actually getting a creature that’s an ally and a pet. I was delighted to find I’d acquired a female Rowlet without even reloading, even though it meant I had to abandon the awesome name of Owlton John for Owlie McBeal. When I went to show it off to my mother, I expected a more standard and empty congratulations, not a moment where Owlie McBeal was appreciated for the precious baby she was.
Another improvement that makes it feel like a wider and richer world is the Pokémon distribution. You will stumble across many more of the critters on Pokémon Sun’s islands than you did in previous games. While I tended to rely rather heavily on Owlie McBeal, due to her typing proving rather perfect for the challenges I was facing throughout Melemele, I very quickly had a full party of Pokémon. I tend to be more conservative about catching in games, only going for ones I really want, and found myself with 17 critters in my collection by the time I was ready to move on to Akala. That’s not even counting ones who had evolved, since Owlie McBeal’s affection levels and constant use led to her becoming Dartrix rather quickly and it wasn’t long before some of my more classic Pokémon began improving as well.
What really helped was the early acquisition of Exp Share. Professor Kukui gives you within the first few hours, making it easy to bolster your ranks. Seeing as how it is physically impossible to get a Rockruff until after you’re able to ride a Tauros, knowing I could keep my Hachiko protected in my party, gradually growing, while Owlie McBeal carried me forward to victory was a big deal. It’s available as a standard item that applies to all Pokémon in your party, letting you switch it on and off for better teamwork.
It even felt like the pacing of Pokémon Sun is better than previous installments. Yes, you feel a bit more guided down particular paths. Characters like Lillie and other NPCs will strongly suggest you go to certain places and do specific things, not allowing you to advance to areas without completing certain storyline objectives first. The result is something that initially feels a bit more linear than previous games. But, it also feels like you go down these paths more swiftly. Objectives are more easily met, the Captains and Kahunas seem like more important figures than previous Gym Leaders, and you’re ushered from place to place so swiftly that I actually appreciated this pacing. It meant I was more excited to immediately return to such places, perhaps at different times of day or gaining new ride methods, to see what other Pokémon and secrets were hidden around the island. Especially since unlocking every area could mean scanning QR codes and finding a rare, non-native creature.
It’s like Pokémon Sun kept playing with me. It’s show me situations that would be reminiscent of ones I’ve experience in games since Pokémon Blue. It’d take my expectations, then do something deeper and different with them. As a result, the experience felt more natural. Alola felt more rich. It even made me nearly break a promise to myself, where I’d only use Alolan exclusive Pokémon and forms, because it was so thrilling to see an unexpected creature who’d be perfect for my possible team. I loved Professor Kukui and my rivals/comrades, because I was given constant opportunities to learn more about my companions. I appreciated Owlie McBeal, my Rowlet, because of our initial connection and the way people would reference her, or whatever the first Pokémon in my party was, in conversations. I enjoyed the island more, because there was so much to see and do, even upon repeated visits. Right from the start, Pokémon Sun shows it’s something special.
Pokémon Sun and Moon will come to the Nintendo 3DS in Japan and North America on November 18, 2016. It will arrive in Europe on November 23, 2016.