Pokémon games have various objectives. You’re supposed to see new sights. It’s an opportunity to catch ‘em all. Among all of the possible activities, battling is one of the most important. We’re encouraged to show our might in fights against virtual and actual opponents. With Pokémon Sun, I’ve felt a certain distinction. It almost feels more like the focus is more on specific Pokémon and trainers, rather than making it through specific gyms and going from point A to point B for a general badge.
It all begins with Pokémon Sun’s battles. As is common with the Nintendo 3DS entries, they’re very dynamic. Between actions, the camera will offer different views of the characters on the field. They’ll fidget as they wait. Attacks are well animated. But, it’s the moves that really shine. In addition to a feature that automatically tells you if a move will be effective, super effective, or useless, there are also the Z-moves that can be earned after completing trials and offer a super-powered assault that can be used once per battle. When a fight is done, you can immediately go to Pokémon Refresh to remove status ailments or clean them up after a fight. It really helps to make you feel like your companions and their opponents are most important.
So do the occasional Pokémon drop-ins. Alola is a region packed with the critters. It always felt like I had an overwhelming number of characters to catch in each region. In fitting with this, battles can easily become 2v1 affairs. There were many occasions when I’d be drawing a battle out intentionally, to make sure I’d catch a particular prospect, and suddenly it would call for help. This actually made my fight against a shiny Stufful rather harrowing, as it kept calling on friends to show up. Which, of course meant I had to keep beating the companions before I could throw a Poke Ball to catch Pooh Bear. As a neat aside, pay attention to the cries in the area you’re in, as they can indicate which Pokémon you’ll encounter before you even enter a battle. Also, be prepared to spend a lot of time looking for some Alolan exclusives, as newer characters like Stufful and Morelull can be rather rare.
The Pokémon Sun Island Challenge trials highlights this focus on Pokémon as well. You might experience between one and three trials per island, each issued by a captain, before you can face the kahuna and move on to the next location. While the demo offered an opportunity to take pictures of members of the Jangmo-o evolutionary line, they’re far more varied in the actual game. All involve battling, of course, but how these things come up are different every time. In one situation, you’re investigating burrows to find a Yungoos or two. Another involves collecting the correct ingredients for a mean with the help of a foraging Stoutland. You’ll even be faced with a spot-the-difference quiz. In each one, you’re in the creatures’ natural environment, taking part in an activity related to that space.
This makes the Totem Pokémon feel more important as well. Instead of actually fighting captains, you’re taking on stronger-than-usual creatures they helped train. It’s all up to the Pokémon themselves, not the human opponent. It actually feels like you’re going out into the wild on some sort of expedition to get stronger, rather than visiting one urban environment after another and fighting in sterile spaces. It’s about getting back to Pokémon’s roots, connecting with them after a fight, and showing that you’re smart and respectful enough to deserve that Z-crystal.
I also felt as though it made each island’s kahuna more impressive. There’s a greater build up to this fight with the best trainer on the island. It makes you feel like it’s a big event. They’re trainers just like you, yes. But, they’re one of the few people you’ll see also using Z-moves. They have the strongest Pokémon you’ll see on that island. It’s not like facing a gym leader. There’s a sense of gravitas that I’m certain people will appreciate as they encounter each one. Especially since, in every case, these kahunas will have some bearing on the story before you ever face them.
The Pokémon are the most important part of the Pokémon series. Now that I’ve played Pokémon Sun, it almost feels like there are two minds. The games prior to it are more sanitized and officially condoned situations where it’s more about gimmicks. Here’s a gym! It’s trainers and leaders are the stars! And they just so happen to all focus on Pokémon of a particular type. With Pokémon Sun, it’s more about going into the creatures’ homes and using the trial as an opportunity to grow closer to them. With the first trial, I was able to get closer to and better understand Yungoos and Gumshoos. Yes, there are captains and kahunas, but it feels like they’re there to compliment the Pokémon. It’s an interesting change.
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.