Welcome to the final installment of Gameological’s Games In Progress coverage of Pokémon Sun and Moon. This week, reviewers Nick Wanserski and William Hughes will tackle the game’s final island, its grand finale, and some of the tricky end-game content that pops up after the credits roll. They’ll also give their final thoughts on their time in Alola, before bidding our coverage of the games farewell.
Well, it finally happened: I lost a trainer battle in Pokémon Moon. In my defense, it was against the Alola Region’s Elite Four, the final challenge standing between would-be Pokémon Champions and the game’s closing credits. And I was being dumb, waltzing into a fight with one of the game’s final bosses with a minimum of healing items and expecting to be able to breeze through it like every other fight to date. But it still happened. I brought an unprepared team into a major fight against a trainer hosting five powerful Ground- and Rock-type monsters, and I got schooled. My Primarina got smacked down early, my Lunala was entirely non-Legendary in its behaviors, and my Magmortar couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. I went down swinging. And you know what? It felt good.
Back in our first entry, we talked about the lack of challenge in these games and the early-going tendency to shut down every fight with a single move. At the time, I thought it was just easing us into its difficulty curve, but here at the end—having trounced the final “villain” and Alola’s ultimate trainers—I’m feeling underwhelmed. I’m not a genius Pokémon master or an expert at move types and team composition, but I didn’t sweat a single fight before the Elite Four. (Also: I really dislike the Pokémon League’s “choose your order” incarnation in Sun and Moon. I want the final battles to be a grueling linear gauntlet, not a pick-and-choose buffet.)
I get that the hard part of Pokémon doesn’t really start until after the credits roll—and I’ll get to that end-game content in a minute—but Sun and Moon’s main game has proven itself to be unsatisfyingly easy, mostly by being far too generous with experience points. I did no grinding whatsoever, simply fighting all the trainers placed in my path, and every single monster I fought was always at least five levels below my team. The result was that I out-paced almost every opponent, one-shotting them 90 percent of the time and taking almost no damage in the rare moments when they got off a hit. The thrill of Pokémon is an evenly matched fight, with both trainers desperately switching monsters and trying audacious strategies. It’s a shame that Sun and Moon doesn’t provide that feeling in its first 30 hours of play.
What do you think, Nick? Did the game ever get hard enough for you? And what did you think of Poni Island and the dimension-hopping conclusion to the games’ plot?
There’s a scene that takes place in the Poni Canyon trial where you run across Mina, the artistically inclined trial captain. She is far too bohemian to have structured anything as conventional as an island trial and is perfectly happy to let you wander in search of your own experience. She dreamily sends you off to possibly get eaten by a Kommo-o, but not before stopping and framing your character and their perpetual vacant dopey grin with her hands, declaring your inspiring countenance as a source of inspiration for her art. And as a bumbling neophyte to the series, I thought that scene—presenting your gormless character as the center of all things in Alola—perfectly summed up the experience for me.
For the entire game, I’ve won innumerable battles against opponents who demonstrated nothing in defeat but awe for my preternatural trainer abilities. And while I admit to being flattered by all the deference to my skill, I never did anything more cunning than attacking with my Pokémon when it was their turn and healing them when they were hurt. So I’m right there with you, William. I had a few close calls throughout the game, but otherwise made it to the final trials without once ever losing a match entirely—our friendly bout notwithstanding. I’m still trying to decide if I think that’s a problem or not. Despite straining narrative credibility, I’m personally glad it’s forgiving, because I don’t have the space in my life anymore for extensive, punishing role-playing games. Pokémon Sun and Moon are long—I came in at about 44 hours to the end of the story. If a player is more focused on collecting and curating Pokémon than battle, the lack of resistance would be welcome. If not, running an unending gauntlet of unsatisfying fights becomes wearisome.
I’d like to backtrack on an opinion I expressed last time we talked. As it turns out, I enjoyed Sun and Moon’s overarching story. The familial drama that unfolds between Lillie, Gladion, and President Lusamine during your visit to a corrupt Aether Foundation was sufficiently engaging. I have to give Game Freak credit for balancing tone within the game as well. A scene in the foundation featuring masked, anonymous scientists begins menacingly but is soon punctured by some low-key absurdity. The dynamic between perpetually upbeat Hau and the permanently angst-ridden Gladion was enjoyable as well, with both characters’ intractable personalities being equally celebrated and poked fun at. And not to belabor the whole lack of facial animation thing, but it was a little ridiculous that your player would stand in the midst of all this emotional chaos swirling around you like a maelstrom, smiling like an idiot the whole while. I hope the next iteration in the series takes the time to craft at least a frowning expression for your character.
The thing I really like about the plot of Sun and Moon is that—as opposed to recent games like Pokémon Black and White or X and Y—the stakes are never apocalyptically high. Sure, there are creepy Ultra Beasts getting unleashed, but the only real threat is of a woman rejecting her family and losing touch with reality. It’s a surprisingly human story, and while I don’t think Lillie’s end-game decision to give up her pacifist ways and become a trainer is totally earned, her evolution into someone who can stand up for herself and show concern for her deranged mother landed surprisingly well. As you point out, Nick, the characters in Sun and Moon are simple but strong, exactly right for this kind of kid-friendly storytelling.
Also, having dipped a little further into the postgame now, I should probably eat my earlier words, because I’m getting my ass kicked left and right. Due to how most of Sun and Moon is set up, my team is full of what TV Tropes would call Glass Cannons: fragile, hard-hitting speedsters that don’t need to soak hits, just pour out elemental damage. That was fine until now, but I’m repeatedly getting wrecked by monsters that can take three or four attacks before going down. (I’ve run into two different high-level Snorlaxes that feel like they’ve been placed in my path specifically to mock the way I’ve ignored status effects and buffs in favor of damage-dealing moves.) It feels like a whole different game from the gentle road trip we’ve been on, and it forces me to ask whether I’m still the kind of person who needs to continue on in Alola once our coverage ends today.
Once upon a time, the Pokémon games were an outlet for my obsessive tendencies as a player. I pored over primitive online FAQs, hunting for obscure monsters hiding in that damn Safari Zone. I convinced a friend who’d ruined his save file with a Game Genie to come over to my house late one night, so he could trade me the starters I was lacking. I needed to catch and record all 150. I needed to get that bare-bones diploma, signed by Game Freak, that said I was a Pokémon master. Twenty years later, and that need, that pleasure in completion, has been leeched away by age and familiarity. I see the empty spots in my Pokédex, and yeah, I feel that tug. I see the weaknesses in my roster, and I think, “You know, I could spend a couple of hours tweaking this and patching the holes.” But I’m not that kind of player anymore, and the great thing about Pokémon is that it’s still there for me, despite that transition. There are a million ways to play Pokémon, and Sun and Moon cater to them all. When I took on this assignment, the thing I relished most was the chance to dig back into a gentle, colorful world I hadn’t been able to really visit in years, and in the end—and despite my kvetching about difficulty—that’s exactly what Nintendo and Game Freak gave me.
How about you, Nick? How does it feel to complete your first Pokémon game? Will you be back for any more?
William’s final Pokémon League champion roster, with closing remarks:
“Nebby,” Lunala: You are the best thing about picking Moon over Sun, buddy, and a thousand times cooler as a psychic ghost bat than you ever were as an irritating cloud-star sidekick.
“Kiln,” Magmortar: With every evolution, you looked more and more like a cross between a duck and Guts Man, but you never let me down.
“Stalac,” Magnezone: We never really clicked, did we? But I couldn’t resist the urge to keep a lightning-spamming UFO on hand.
“Mort Two,” Lilligant: I recruited you because Mort One’s stat growth was crippled by my inability to find a Sun Stone. It’s not your fault you didn’t have a chance to catch up.
“Larry,” Toucannon: Best of birds and best of Pokémon. May your beak stay sharp and full of seeds.
“Seal,” Primarina: I never loved you, terrifying mermaid dog, but you killed well. Rest. Rest, far away from me.
I’ve always cited my age as the main reason for never having been into Pokémon. I was 22 when I first played a copy of Pokémon Blue borrowed from my then-girlfriend’s younger brother. I enjoyed it for about six hours and then gave it back, never playing another minute until Sun showed up at my door. I never watched the cartoon or participated in any of the culture that sprung up around this ubiquitous series. I just kind of looked on with bemusement toward everyone younger than me who went apeshit for the games the same way I’m sure my dad looked on at me about Star Wars.
But that’s creating an artificial distance, because I’ve been playing non-Pokémon video games consistently from then until now. It’s not an age thing—some non-traversable generational divide—it’s just that everything you mention as being your original source of joy in the series is exactly the opposite of why I play games. That kind of focused, time- and detail-intensive dedication to completeness makes me exhausted. All of which sounds like a lead-up to saying I’m once again done with the series, but it’s just the opposite. If I never paid much attention to Pokémon because it required an Excel-sheet mindset, Pokémon Sun and Moon happily proves that it doesn’t. Like you, I enjoyed meandering through Alola, seeing the sights, buying $15,000 sunglasses, and catching the Pokémon that looked neat and ignoring the rest. I think the game could stand to be shorter, perhaps, but gripes over a game’s length are one of gaming’s most worthless arguments. So yeah, I’ll play Pokémon again, for sure. And I’m glad that the game is flexible enough or has evolved enough (Ha! Get it?) to remain worthwhile for you despite your changing tastes.
What I won’t be doing is digging deep into the postgame stuff. I’m going to play more, but not for a challenge. I plan on taking my small army of leveled-up brutes across Alola to gather some of the more interesting Pokémon I missed the first time around. But not all of them, lest I undermine my own insistence on being a non-completionist.
Nick’s final Pokémon League champion roster, with closing remarks:
“Hootenanny,” Decidueye: Thank you for making it through your awkward Japanese game-show-host phase to become a super-cool ghost archer. I will always love your little start of battle animation where you turn your head slightly as if to look at me and say, “Are we still doing this?”
“Chodofu,” Salazzle: The Pokédex says that female-only Salazzles are so scarce that they tend to collect male Salandits to form a harem. Nothing I can write will beat that. Enjoy your mimbos.
“Zardoz,” Gigalith: I’m still unnerved by your empty-seeming gem-shaped eye sockets. But Power Gem is a rad move, so I love you.
“Uri,” Alakazam: Uri Geller famously made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where he was unwilling or unable to replicate his spoon-bending hoax in the controlled environment set up by the show. I never saw you bend a spoon either, but I sure did see you knock a lot of suckers out with psyblast. I believe, Uri. I believe.
“Lannister,” Solgaleo: I just folded you into the party because you’re powerful. You’re cool and all, but William is right. A psychic moon-bat is cooler. I wish I could have had you on my team when you were still in your original rainbow fart form.
“Creepachu,” Mimikyu: You’re the best, you unsettling little weirdo. I don’t even care that you’re not mind-bendingly powerful. I’m just so happy to have you around as a reminder of just how bizarre this kid’s game can get.