I've been whining for ages that the Pokemon series has stagnated. It's true. My review for Pokemon Black and White was the first example I posted, but I've felt the same about the series from The Gold and Silver days through the Black and White 2 days. Pokemon X and Y were the only time I saw the franchise take a significant step forward, and even then, it was largely graphical: the franchise finally departed from the 2D or faux-3D era. Other than that, the franchise shows more stagnation than any other with which I'm familiar. Look at the difference between the original Pokemon Red and Pokemon X, and compare it to the difference between Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or the difference between Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XV. Pokemon has barely changed, despite the same amount of time having passed.
Hey, DDJ, that's not fair. I've got lots of new stuff in store! Oh hey, Pokemon Moon, it's nice of you to show up in my review to defend yourself. I've heard some good things, I'm actually pretty excited! Yeah, it's going to be a whole new Pokemon experience!
For starters, I've heard there are no more gyms! That's interesting! Yes, very! So what do you have instead of the traditional gym challenge? Instead, you complete island trials! Oh, neat! What does an island trial consist of? Well, for starters, you have to traverse through an area and solve puzzles! ...sort of like the gyms from the last several iterations? Um. I guess so.
Alright, well that's expected: solving puzzles is kind of a part of almost any game. No gym leaders, though? That's right! Instead at the end, you'll face a Totem Pokemon! Oh, what's that? It's a string Pokemon that you have to defeat to finish the trial! ...so, it's like a gym leader, except there's only one Pokemon? No! It can call allies to support it! Oh, so... it's... like a gym leader, then? No, it's completely different! There's no gym leader standing behind the Totem Pokemon sending it out! Um... It's totally different!
Alright, alright, it's totally different. So, with no gym leader, there's no one to give you a badge and a TM when you win like usual, right? That's right! No badges! Instead, you get Z Crystals! You move through the game by collecting Z Crystals by beating the trials! ...instead of collecting badges by beating gym leaders. But badges were just tokens of progression! Z Crystals are used to unlock new moves for your Pokemon! So... kind of like TMs? No! Completely different! They unlock new powered-up versions of your moves! So, mega-evolutions, but for moves? ...um... well... I guess?
Wait! Here's something cool! There's one Z Crystal for every type! Oh, that's kind of interesting. And there's 18 types now, so that means there's 18 trials? That's awesome! That's over twice as many gym-... er, trials! Great! ...oh, well, um. Actually. About half of them are just handed over to you at random points in the game. There's only seven actual trials. ...oh. So, But still, no gym leaders, right? Well... yes. But there are kahunas you beat when you complete some trials. And there are captains that oversee the trials. So, they're basically gyms with different vocabulary, then? ...I guess.
Well, that's alright! Surely you've got other new stuff! Sure do! I have lots of new Pokemon! ...I mean new stuff besides just the same kinds of things that every game in the franchise adds. Oh. Well, I've got new legendary Pokemon! ...so does every other game. And a plot that centers around those legendary Pokemon! Yep, same with every other game since Gold and Silver. And a cliched plot starring a handful of complete archetypical characters! Er, that's not a good thi- And the silent protagonist is completely irrelevant to the story! He's just a placeholder! Wait, I didn't even say...
Ok, ok, I admit it! I'm basically just another iteration of the same formula. New Pokemon, new legendaries, a new half-hearted attempt at a plot focusing on friendship and togetherness. Hey, now, don't get so down on yourself, Pokemon Moon. I'm sure you have something interesting to offer! Well... I really went all-in on one-vs.-two battles? I noticed! They were interesting! That was definitely a welcome wrinkle. And I introduced regional variations. They're Pokemon you already know, but with different forms! That is pretty cool! It's some nice fan service to long-time fans of the series to see new versions of their old favorites.
And there's more! I have Poke Pelago! And Festival Plaza! Oh, those sound interesting! Tell me about them! Well, Poke Pelago is like a new version of the day care, with so much more! You can plant berries, and send your Pokemon exploring, and have your Pokemon train and level up! You can even put berries out to attract new wild Pokemon!
Oh, that does sound cool! So what kinds of treasures can you find? Oh, all the most expensive stuff! Send out your team, and two days later, they'll come back with Nuggets and Pearl Strings and Star Dust and more! Huh, you know, you're right. I have... almost a million dollars in the game, mostly just from selling the stuff they find. See, isn't that cool? Well, actually... I have to say, it takes away a lot of the challenge. I mean, now I don't have to ration potions, or Poke Balls, or save up for TMs... I can buy anything.
But you don't even need to use Potions anymore anyway! Oh really? Yeah! You can plant berries! In a couple days you could have over a hundred Sitrus berries, and four of those will completely heal any Pokemon outside of battle, so you only need potions to use in battle! Oh... that... seems like it makes the game easier, too. But at least you still have to ration your moves... There's a berry that restores PP, too! Oh.
So, you have nearly unlimited money, and nearly unlimited healing berries anyway. But I guess even that doesn't take away from occasionally running into a tough fight, or having to level up to make it past the next gy-... er, trial. I took care of that, too! Wait, that wasn't a bad thi- Now you get the EXP share at the very beginning of the game, so leveling is a lot easier! Oh, so it's easier to level up a single under-leveled member of your team. No, it helps your entire team! Every Pokemon in your party receives 1/2 the EXP of the ones who fought! What?! That's 3.5x more total EXP earned per battle! That's right!
Pokemon Moon, I don't think that's a good thing. I'm looking at my party, and I've been consistently overleveled by 10 to 15 levels the entire game without ever even trying. I haven't used my starter since the first island because the shared experience keeps him at least a few levels ahead of everyone else, so he never needs the experience of being used. I just defeated a late-game boss with one attack per Pokemon, and not a single one of the attacks had a type advantage. You've made the game too easy! ...oh. Then you probably don't like that there's like a dozen ways to easily raise your Pokemon's base stats, either? Well, I figured with nearly unlimited money came nearly unlimited Calciums and Irons. Festival Plaza has a bunch of places that will do that for much cheaper, actually. Oh.
But if you don't like them, just don't use them! Well, that's not exactly a fair counterargument. Your appeal as a game shouldn't rely on the player applying artificial constraints to themselves or intentionally skipping certain features. If engaging more with the game means enjoying it less, then that's a problem with the game.
So, Pokemon Moon, I have to say I'm pretty disappointed. "Throwing out gyms" was basically a vocabulary change, and the new features you do have mostly seem to focus on making the game easier. You've got a couple cool features, like the battle royale, ally Pokemon, and regional variations, but on the whole, this just feels like another vanilla Pokemon game. Would it help if I gave you a blonde sidekick that offers to heal your party basically every eight seconds so you don't have to keep going back to a Pokemon Center? ...uh, no, that would make the game even easi- Too late!
Well, this has been a good conversation, Pokemon Moon. Don't get me wrong, I played you to completion, but that was mostly out of a sense of obligation to my inner child. He still hasn't forgiven me for quitting a quarter of the way through Pokemon White 2. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to revisit this review in three years when Pokemon Comet and Pokemon Meteor come out just to remind myself of what I even thought of this game, it hasn't been a very memorable experience.
Wait, before you go... Yes? Well, you've been pretty critical, and it's easy to criticize when you don't have to give ideas on how to improve. What do you think I should do in Pokemon Space and Pokemon Time? How about an online mode that's more than just trades and battles? One where you're actually sharing a world with others, like in most online games? Oh, we could do that. How about bigger areas? You're still stuck in worlds that are barely bigger than the Game Boy games, while other games have created worlds that are several hundred times larger. What about big open fields, free-roam in large territories, secrets that don't have to be hidden behind conveniently-placed stones and camera tricks? That sounds great! And remember, random encounters were originally created because of technological limitations. Those limitations are gone! Instead of wandering around in tall grass waiting for a Pokemon to appear, why not Pokemon that actually appear right there in the world? What if searching for a rare monster was actually searching instead of just waiting for the random number generator to smile on you? Yeah, I can see how that would be frustrating...
I'm not asking you to abandon the absolute fundamentals like turn-based combat or four-move movesets, but so many of your mechanics were originally created due to technological limitations that are not longer there! Why continue to be constrained by them? What about voice acting? An actual plot? Sidequests? Huh... DDJ, it sounds like you're asking me to become a real RPG. ...well, isn't that what you are? "Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon are role-playing video games developed by..." Don't quote Wikipedia at me. Sorry.
Alright, I'll see what I can do. Thanks for the feedback, DDJ. Sure thing, Pokemon Moon. Oh, and one more thing! Yes? Thanks for getting rid of HMs. Sure thing!
Overall rating 3.0 Fair