Pokémon Returns Revamped and Better Than Ever

By DONALD IRONS
On November 27, 2016

Photo courtesy of Tofoli.douglas, Flickr

"Pokémon" has long been a series renowned for its repetitive, formulaic gameplay. That’s not to say most video game franchises don’t have formulas and well-worn structures – they do. However, most franchises are marked by a willingness to tweak and alter parts of their core sensibilities by introducing players to new experiences in the form of a different world structure, fighting mechanics or even a different manner of storytelling. “Pokémon” has failed to show such flexibility, changing little over the course of the franchise’s relatively long history.

For years, the makers of “Pokémon” have merely added fresh cosmetic touches to each new game, most obviously in the form of brand-new Pokémon. These changes mask a gaming structure which comes across as archaic, when compared to other contemporary games. This reliance upon visual aesthetics mean each new title stands on the strength of its art and design: “Pokémon X” and “Y,” or “Pokémon Black” and “White” were quality additions to the series because of their style, while “Ruby,” “Sapphire,” “Diamond” and “Pearl” were merely unremarkable, due to their lackluster graphic design. However, the latest editions to the series, “Pokémon Sun” and “Moon,” break from this trend and tweak the core structure of the game for the first time in years. They’re all the better for it.

Certain things, of course, remain the same. As usual, the two latest versions of the game differ only in terms of what Pokémon may be caught while the basic battle system remains intact. However, gone is the gym system of progression replaced by a new “trial” and “grand trial” system which comes with many strengths. Whereas the gym system required the player to do repetitive tasks, the trials allow the player to perform tasks unique to each trial. More importantly, the trials actually feel worth playing, given the rewards of z-crystals which unlock powerful moves for your Pokémon to use and appear less predictably, two areas in which the previous gym system struggled with.

The time spent outside of trials is refreshing as well. Gone is the grid system of yesteryear, allowing other areas of the game to really open up and offer new ways of exploring and navigating that weren’t possible before. Whereas the grid system often forced players to go through a field of tall grass causing repeated encounters with Pokémon the player rather not be bothered with, now there are ways to circumvent the grass to hasten the pace. Aiding this is the removal of HMs, which had players assign moves to Pokémon for the sole purpose of exploration taking up move and party space. This allows for the new "Poké Ride" system which can be called upon at any time and is much more convenient. The isles of the Alola Region itself also display impressive diversity as well, going from simple fields to metropolitan areas to cliffside to lush meadow and dank cave in the span of one island.

The story is also told exceptionally well visually. While other "Pokémon" games have had decent to good stories, “Sun” and “Moon” tells its tale with such visual flair; the game utilizes camera shots and motions to make the story a much more engaging experience and it ultimately makes the players time in Alola all the more satisfying.

“Pokemon Sun” and “Moon” are exceptional games that invite their players into new experiences previously unavailable in the series and demonstrates precision in knowing what to change in the established structure of the franchise. Whether you’re a repeat visitor or a first time tourist, book your tickets to Alola today.

dirons@ramapo.edu

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