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April 27, 2017

RE: Pokémon Sun and Moon


This would be the part where I’d say “Boy, I am late to this”, but I learned something very important.  You see, neither you nor anyone else can point out how late you are as long as you refuse to acknowledge that you were ever late to begin with.  It’s the perfect system.

Anyway, Pokémon Sun and Moon.  Let’s get to it.


It’s worth noting right off the bat that I’m playing through (but certainly not finished with) Pokémon Moon.  Similarly, it’s actually my brother’s copy of the game; he got it right around release day and put some hours into it, but ended up cutting his journey short due to lack of interest.  As of late, he’s been consumed with Persona 5, Breath of the Wild, and no shortage of other console games -- meaning that his extended gaming time has led to my contracted gaming time, at least when it comes to PS4 and Wii U offerings.  So as a compromise, he suggested that I give Moon a try.

I ended up accepting a couple of days after his offer, but to be honest?  I’ve been wary of diving in.  The reason for that is because, well, I’m pretty sure Pokémon in general is a “forbidden” franchise for me.  I never got to own any of the Game Boy or GBA installments, to the point where the very first cartridge I could ever hold in my hands was Pokémon Black.  And as I’ve said before, I was pretty much addicted to that game -- all too eager to burn through 88 hours of my life, and waking up and falling asleep with DS in hand.  I’m pretty sure if I kept my copy, then I would’ve self-destructed harder than Electrode ever could.

But that was then and this is now.  Surely I’ve learned my lesson; surely I’ve matured enough to realize the value of moderation, and


To be fair, I haven’t put as much time into the game (yet).  I’ve got other things to do, writing well among them, so it’s not as if I’m going to sacrifice time on the clock that could be spent pushing out novels.  With that said?  Yeah, I have lost some time.  There have been instances where I’ve thought “Yeah, I should write something” and five minutes later went “NOPE!  POKÉMON!”  Likewise, there have been instances where I’ve fallen asleep and woken up to the sight of those glowing twin screens.  As a reenactment:

“All right, what should I nickname this Zygarde?  Maybe I’ll go with --”

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…

“Eh huh wha?  Oh, right.  Nickname.  Let’s see.  I already used --”

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…

“Wha huh shit!  I need to give it a nickname, though!  Then I’ll sleep!  I must endure!”

I don’t know why I was so hung up on it.  I don’t even plan to put Zygarde in my party.


In any case?  I doubt it needs saying, but yes, I think Pokémon Moon is a good game.  Really good.  I’ll admit that I’d probably rather be playing Persona 5 instead, but that’s only because I’ve got that Phantom Thief fever (and an increasing, corruptive desire to see the waifus on display, even though Ann is already pretty high-tier IMO).  Until then, Moon is a good stand-in.  I don’t think it’s perfect, but I’m more focused on the good than the bad -- as I should when a game is doing its job right.

So the main rub of this game is that you’re a newcomer in the Alola region, which might as well be Hawaii: Fantasy Arrange.  It’s not long before you spring into a journey to travel across each of the islands, taking on trials and ace Trainers as part of the “island challenge”…even though you’re only, like, 11, and your mom signs off on you navigating what might as well be a continent with minimal adult supervision.  I know this point has been belabored for the franchise, but Christ.  If I had tried that when I was 11, my mom would’ve chained me to a boulder.


Anyway, the island challenge takes your avatar across towns, routes, and oceans in the name of glory and fun.  But there’s more to it than that for intrepid Trainers to deal with this time around.  On one hand, you’ve got Team Skull, a band of popping, locking, wannabe rappers whose thuggery is spreading across Alola.  On the other hand, you’ve got the blooming threat of the Ultra Beasts -- interdimensional beings whose increased activity is acting as the precursor to dangerous times for the sun-soaked islands.  Three guesses as to which one is more of a threat -- though to be fair, it wouldn’t surprise me if the “numbskulls” found a way to integrate with and tap that otherworldly threat.

Playing through Moon has made me reconsider storytelling in the franchise, and how it’s conveyed from game to game.  I’ve heard from a reliable/handsome source (shout outs to burnpsy) that this gen has a really great story, and I’m willing to believe that.  But as someone who’s still more or less a greenhorn to the franchise, I’m wondering how I should approach it.  Pokémon, like a lot of Nintendo games, puts emphasis on the gameplay instead of a straight narrative.  That’s not to say that they can’t have good stories or anything resembling a narrative (see: Skyward Sword), but it’s not hard to see where the focus les.  And yeah, it’s as much a Game Freak production as it is Nintendo, but I think the point stands.  Out of the 20+ hours I’ve put into Moon, I feel like a fraction of that has been devoted to figuring out what the hell is going on.


I’m not saying that to try and be some contrarian asshole (this time).  I’m saying that because if I had to graph my mindshare of Moon, it’d be 80% gameplay -- trials, battles, leveling up, et al -- and 20% story.  Even then, I feel like that’s a generous estimate.  And to be clear, that’s not exactly a death knell for the game; it IS a game, and if your systems are good enough, then you can have that dip on the proverbial scales.  I think my issue is that I’ve been wondering what the Ultra Beasts are supposed to be, and have been since their reveal way back when.  Having started the game, my brain immediately jumped to the only viable conclusion it could:


And that’s a good-ass conclusion for me to reach.  The idea that the Pokéverse is going up against alien invaders; the fact that distortions in space and wormholes -- complete with shattering skies -- are a genuine factor; the possibility that the seemingly-noble (but probably evil, because fiction) Aether Foundation might go into vicious Knight Templar mode because its leader Lusamine has a messiah complex; there are a lot of plot points that can be expanded upon, and I’m VERY excited to see where the story goes.  Part of that has to do with the fact that, even though I’m 20+ hours in, I feel like I haven’t gone anywhere at all.


But maybe that’s the wrong approach to take.  It sounds like I’m slamming the game -- and to be fair, it’s an issue that’s left me a little frustrated at times, in the sense that it feels like I’m on a “where’s the plot?” quest that plagued me in Final Fantasy 15.  Still, this is why I feel like I need to approach the game’s story in a different way than I normally would.  Stuff is happening.  Points are being followed.  But I feel like Moon is less about that structured beginning, middle, end and more about the ideas.  The concepts.  The feel of a story, if not the story itself.  And on that front, things have long since started coming together.  It leads me to believe that things are seriously about to start popping off.  When they do, there’ll be fireworks.

I don’t want to overreach right now, because I still have a ways to go before I reach the end of Moon.  Still, I think that the crucial point here is that the devs wanted to discuss the importance of failure and losing as much as -- and likely more than -- success and winning.  Rival character Hau is one way that they chose to accomplish that, especially when stacked against Team Skull.  Probably Gladion, too, but I haven’t seen enough of him to make any definitive statements.  Either way?  I feel like I could make a full post on Team Skull, because for one reason or another they’ve wormed their way into my heart.  Team Plasma?  Pfffffffffffffft.  Nah, son.  These guys are my boys.


So how’s that gameplay, then?  Well, it’s Pokémon, so you know what you’re getting into here.  Build a team of six.  Dive into one-on-one (and occasionally two-on-two) turn-based battles.  Attack while mindful of enemy/move types so that you can exploit strengths and weaknesses.  It’s a formula that works.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert on the franchise or its battles, but if I had to guess?  I’d say type advantages are some of the most important aspects to the whole system.  If you know them, you can land one-shot after one-shot against your foes.  If you don’t, then…well, see the Stone of Triumph clip above.

These days, I’m of two minds about it.  There have been times where I thought, “Oh, I should just switch to this type so I can win instantly.”  That’s not the most glowing situation to be in; I like a bit of challenge, strategy, and thought to go into my games, after all, and I’m wary of when a game railroads me towards a blindingly-obvious solution.  (To Moon’s credit, though, there have been plenty of instances where dual-typing and abilities have forced some strategic reconsideration.  I appreciate that.)  But typing is such an intrinsic part of the franchise -- a “nature of the beast” sort of thing -- that I can’t imagine how you’d completely step away from the system.  Or even if you’d really want to.

I say that because, on the other side of the coin, there’s a hidden advantage here.  Battles are a core part of the experience, but not the only part; it’s as much about taking down opponents small and large as it is bonding with your Mons of choice.  If there was no type advantage system, then there would be a much lower incentive to switch out your team members.  Forcing you to adapt to situations and opponents builds up the core part of the franchise: forming bonds with your pocket monsters as you progress further and further down the road of mastery.


It’s not something that you’re supposed to consider consciously, if I had to guess -- but it is the conclusion I’ve come to, given that Moon features the Refresh mechanic.  Thanks to the power of the 3DS, you can take stylus in hand and give your Mons a good rub, clean them up after a battle, and even remove status ailments without sacrificing an item.  It’s a bonding exercise outside of picking your attacks from menus and/or winning the fight du jour, and it works way better than it should.  Seeing a Mon’s happy face after learning what spots they like having stroked touches some special pleasure center in my brain; it’s to the point where I feel bad whenever I don’t take time out to see those hearts fly from their heads.

I get it now more than ever, Refresh or no.  Pokémon is about those battles, and those trinkets gained after each major foe (especially in this case, by virtue of earning the super move-enabling Z-Crystals).  But it’s about building bonds with your partners -- your avatars, and the extension of yourself -- as you go on a massive journey.  I’m not just keeping a Crabrawler in my party to fill a type niche, or hold out until I can get him to level up; I’m happy to have him punching foes by my side.  I’m not just keeping a Golduck in my party to justify the time spent leveling up a Psyduck; I’d almost call it an honor to have something so cool in the midst of my quest.  And it’s impossible to overstate how fond I am of my Decidueye, since he’s been with me from day one as an innocent little Rowlet.


Like I said, I’m not done with Moon just yet.  I probably won’t be for a while.  And as much as I’d like to kick my addiction before it’s intervention time, I’m happy to be able to keep traveling through Alola with my new friends on my side.  So inevitably, you’re probably going to see more from me on the game.  Maybe not for a while, but it’ll happen.  And I hope you’ll stick around for it.

Till then?  Uhhhhhhh…I don’t know.  Can we just talk about Guzma for a second?  I mean, I remember getting stopped cold when I saw his Golisopod for the first time.  Literally had to stop myself from going “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!” when his insectoid devil-beast popped out.  And the less said about Totem Mimikyu (or any Mimikyu, arguably), the better.

Pokémon.  Gotta stave off the embrace of the Old Ones catch ‘em all.

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