Pokémon Sun & Moon is the first Pokémon game to feature a memorable story and characters.
It’s also the first Pokémon game to feature dynamic camera angles, dedicated cutscenes, and full animations for as many of its humans as its pokémon.
Gee, what could be the connection?
For many people, the plot of any given Pokémon game is about as essential as a story in a fighting game. In fact, you could easily make the argument that the Pokémon titles are fighting games. Sure, there’s a complete JRPG GUI, and you talk, level up, and manage your ‘mons as if they were straight out of Final Fantasy Legend, but the battles are the main draw. And, while that’s true of many JRPGs, most JRPGS are not two player, and even less are head-to-head two player. For a countless number of Pokémon fans, the “main campaign” is a way to tinker with random party configurations at best, and a complete waste of time at worst. The real appeal is producing the best team ever, marching into your local poké-tournament, and cleaning house with your Level 100 Medicham. Or, like fighting games, popping online to play with the “meta game”, and feel really great when you wipe out a Mewtwo… that was trained by an eight year old. You monster.
And, for about the last every Pokémon game ever, it seemed like Game Freak agreed with the audience that didn’t give a damn about plot. Yes, every Pokémon game even going back to Pokémon Green had a whole plot with unique characters and trials/villains to overcome, but the plot was always completely secondary to the sheer weight of one day becoming the Pokémon champion and scooting into the postgame. Hell, in one of the later Pokémon titles, a cyclopic, light-haired bad guy raised an entire evil castle from the Earth while summoning some manner of god- mon… and I can’t even remember which game contained that event. I want to say Black/White? Maybe? Look, I’m still anime racist, and I can’t tell these silly magic emperors apart.
But Pokémon Sun/Moon changed all that. It introduced Lillie and Nebby, and, in one fell swoop, flooded Deviantart with more Pokémon fanart not featuring a naked lady version of Pikachu than anyone ever thought possible. Lillie not your thing? Don’t worry, we’ve got rude boy Gladion and his beloved Type:Null to keep you company. Hau ain’t bad, either, Team Skull is unforgettable, and Lusamine is a great villain because she’s such a threat to not only “you”, but the people you inexorably care about as well. Sure, every Pokémon villain has threatened the world with flooding or ghost dinosaurs or whatever, but how many of those rogues had the sheer malevolence to torture a lil’ dude that has been living in a gym bag? For the first time in Pokémon history, the people of Pokemon Sun/Moon are more memorable than the ‘mons, and, considering they’re competing with Rowlett, that’s no small accomplishment.
But, sad to say, you don’t care about Lillie, Gladion, or even Professor Kukai because of their personalities and design (though, admittedly, you might like the Prof for his topless lab coat fashion combo), no, you the stars of Pokémon Sun/Moon shine because of scene direction.
Other Pokémon games had heroes, friends, and villains, but they all lived in a decidedly primitive JRPG world. Pokémon X/Y , Sun/Moon’s direct ancestor, had excellent graphics (and outfits!) available, but every story beat played out with protagonists that may as well have been Dragon Warrior sprites. Lord Whatshisname is threatening the planet with his pokémon-based death ray, but I can’t remember his damn name because he just stood there like a doof and generated text box after text box of “dialogue”. Yes, you’re a generic bad guy, I get it, can my gyrados eat you yet? The average Pokemon villain is no more threatening than the bug catching kid on Route 1, and it’s all because they’re presented in exactly the same way. In fact, that kid in the shorts might be more threatening, because he’s there when you just started, and your most effective offensive measure is to friggen growl at your opponent. By the time you’re stomping down Team Rocket, your favorite pokémon has evolved into a rhobeast, and the average battle takes just long enough for you to open a menu. Looks like you’re blasting off again, Giovanni, compliments of six different hyper beams.
But Pokémon Moon/Sun does something completely different. PSM actually treats the camera like a tool, and not a necessary evil. There are close ups of character’s expressions. There are mad scientists that giggle when they think no one is looking. There are villains framed against their helpless captives, and screens that convulse and shake as cherished Nebbys are beaten and hurt. When you first meet Hau, it’s a happy occasion, and everything about the direction, from the angles employed to the joyful music playing, tells you that. When you first meet Lusamine, you know something is up, because the direction reminds you that something isn’t quite right here. And when you find yourself trapped in another world with a raging, monstrous Pokémon, you don’t have any questions about the stakes of your next battle. Pokémon Sun/Moon goes the extra mile to tell its story, and everything about the “ignorable plot” of the title sparkles as a result.
And it’s a damn shame more games can’t take a page from this new Pokémon book.
Somewhere in the history of gaming, we started to think that “plot” simply meant “more words”. You could blame it on the possibility of more words (Newer words! Bigger words!) with the expansion of game storage space, or you could just point to the success of Final Fantasy 7 and call it a day. Super Mario 64 was only kind of a hit, and it had like a paragraph of words; Final Fantasy 7 was practically a novel… so clearly what the public wants is more words! And it doesn’t matter that Final Fantasy 7 had amazing visuals, set pieces, and “sprites” that may have looked like Popeye’s spikey haired cousins, but never stopped emoting; no, what’s important is the big, long plot and all those precious words. It doesn’t matter if we pump out a JRPG where heads just talk to each other for hours at a time, and the average infodump is accompanied by maybe one still image, what we need is as many words as our typing monkeys can spit out! Throw in the word “evil” over and over again! That has to be interesting, right? A couple of dudes sitting in a non-descript room talking about what is inevitably going to be the final boss and how it fought some brave hero twelve billion years ago? More! “Press X to advance text” is the most exciting thing a person could do with a controller!
So congratulations to Pokémon Moon/Sun for advancing the storytelling capabilities of not only the franchise, but the entire medium. Nobody had to do such a thing, and we would have been perfectly okay with another preteen saving the world from old men and their rattatas, but you went the extra mile, and created an unforgettable experience. Congratulations, development team, you are Pokémon Masters.
FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Sun / Moon
- System: Nintendo 3DS for all time.
- Number of players: As many players as there are on the Global Trade System, so probably something approaching the total population of Europe.
- Ultra Moves: I’m going to consider this “review” as something that applies to the Ultra versions as well. Give or take a lame sidequest with Looker, the Ultra versions are better in every way than their less interesting ancestors, and there’s pretty much no reason to ever go back now. They even included a surfing minigame that makes absolutely no sense! That’s always good!
- Favorite Pokémon (this generation): Okay, yes, I know Rowlet is the breakout star of this generation. But did you know that one of the other starters turns into a freaking angry wrestling black cat? How could I ever say no to that!? Its signature attack is a spinning lariat of doom! Dooooom! Keep your round boy, I’ll go for the lucky cat any day of the week.
- Think of the children: Look, I get that we all like big, showy Z-Moves. But it’s one thing for a torchic to use scratch on a psyduck, and it’s quite another thing for a Lunala to suck an opponent into another dimension, focus a multi-beam laser on its target, and then spit the poor sucker back out on the ground. That’s just bad sportsmanship.
- Other cruelty: Immediately having the choice of adding a poke to your party or sending them back to the PC is great! I just feel like there could have been a better way to phrase it all…
YOU GET SENT TO THE BOX!
- So, did you beat it? I am the very best.
Like no one ever was.
- Did you know? There are only two new dark type pokémon in this generation: the previously mentioned Incineroar, and Guzzlord, Snorlax’s evil cousin. Given dark type is my favorite type (because it’s the only type that contains a Godzilla), I take personal offense at this choice.
- Would I play again: This is the most recent Pokémon generation as of this writing, so, yes, I’ll play it right up to the very moment a new Pokémon generation hits the streets. I’m very predictable that way.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Diddy Kong Racing for the N64! Time to race a wizard pig for dominance of a genie elephant. Or something! Please look forward to it!
Bahamut got nothing on this