Recently, I started playing Pokemon Sun, the 7th generation of the long-running franchise, and I had some high expectations. How could I not from all the reviews? 8’s and 9’s almost across the board. Nintendo Life even gave it a perfect score and called Sun and Moon collectively, “the best Pokemon games that Game Freak has ever produced.” Full stop.
But I have some problems with it. Some MAJOR problems with it and no, not just some “it’s a kid’s game” kind of problems.
I should probably talk a bit about the kind of Pokefan I am since that colors my perspective a bit. I was an obsessive fan during the first and second generations. My brother and I clocked hundreds of hours into the games, watched every episode of the anime we could (including any re-runs that aired) and had tons of various merchandise. We loved it. My love for the game died out during Gen 3 when I realized that so much of what I loved from 2 was gone. The previous regions, most of the previous generations of Pokemon, night/day, etc. were all cut.
I didn’t play Pokemon again until Gen 6 over a decade later. I played Y and didn’t get hooked. I thought the game was too easy (didn’t realize until later that the EXP Share was basically easy mode for the game). Another few years later, I played Alpha Sapphire and absolutely loved it. Ironic that the remake of the game that killed Pokemon for me wound up bringing me back because of all the many changes such as the DexNav and the Battle Resort.
So that brings me to Sun, my version of choice based on my extremely in-depth review process of buying the first one I saw on the eShop. Now, I haven’t finished the game yet so I can’t review the game as a whole but I’ve already noticed many, MANY issues.
No National Dex
This isn’t as egregious as Ruby’s problem at launch of just making almost all earlier Pokemon completely unobtainable (Gen 1 and 2 couldn’t trade with 3 so, at launch, all of THESE Pokemon were completely impossible to get without a cheat device) but it’s still pretty bad. You can trade earlier generation Pokemon into Sun and Moon via the Pokemon Bank but you have no way to track them or see anything about them in the Pokedex. By comparison, ORAS had a Hoenn Pokedex until you beat the game, at which point you got access to the National Dex which had entries for every Pokemon up through Gen 6. Pokemon from generations after 3 simply had a ??? instead of a number acknowledging that they weren’t in the original game but all it’s data was still there. Their idea of a replacement for Gen 7 is to put a National Dex in the Pokemon Bank itself, an external app for the 3DS that you have to pay annually to access.
Collecting them all is what Pokemon has ALWAYS been about since the very beginning. To omit something this important seems contradictory to what the series is. “Gotta catch the ones in Alola” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Missing DexNav Features
Yes, the internet has almost all of the Pokemon information you could ever want readily available but having to constantly refer to my phone takes me right out of a game. The DexNav system didn’t solve this completely but it certainly helped. Basically, on the bottom screen, it gave you a quick overview of the area and showed you how many and which Pokemon you have caught in the area. Say you’re in Route 105 and you have Pidgey, Skrelp and Poliwag and have seen but haven’t caught Solrock (I just pulled all of those out of my ass, I’m sure they don’t match up with Route 105 actually). The DexNav would show you colored-in images of the first three and a silhouette of Solrock, letting you know that was available here but you don’t have it. It would also give you a little badge in the corner which let you know if you’ve caught everything in the area or if you had more to find.
It was a fun little system that gave you a good idea of where to look for new Pokemon without just referring to the internet. Plus, you got a sense of satisfaction from completing an area, even if you had plenty of others left to go. Yeah, that’s all gone from Gen 7 with no sort of replacement whatsoever.
No Trainer Rematches
One thing I remember about Gen 1 was how few training options you had in the post-game if you wanted to train up new Pokemon. It was basically “fight endless wild Pokemon until they can beat the Elite Four” or bust. Not a lot of fun.
Gen 2 fixed this problem by introducing a cell phone system where various random trainers would call you asking for a rematch occasionally. You could go back to where they were at and fight a stronger version of their team from before as good training or to get more money if you were low. Even Gen 3 had a similar feature.
Not Sun and Moon. From what I can tell, most core games after Gen 3 didn’t have this, or they stripped it way down but at least they replaced it with rematches with the Gym Leaders. Sun/Moon doesn’t even have that or a system like that. Instead, you can go to a single place and pay money to battle a random trainer again but that doesn’t help with training up other Pokemon since you won’t know what you’re fighting against.
While they haven’t always had the same name, Contests have been a part of Pokemon since Gen 3 and while they were missing in X and Y, they were brought back in ORAS but they’re missing once again in Sun and Moon. Being able to do more than just fight with your Pokemon is great and while contests weren’t something I felt super passionately about in ORAS, the idea added a lot to the world and gave it an alternative to just constant fighting.
The best I can say for Sun/Moon as a replacement, so far, is they add Pokemon Battle Royals (yeah, not Royales. Royals. It’s annoying to me, too) which really are just another way to battle and even worse, the lowest rank puts you up against Level 50’s from the start so don’t even bother trying to participate in this until you’ve finished the game.
This has been an issue since at least Gen 3, if not earlier, and it’s one that has only gotten worse with each subsequent entry. The Pokemon games just aren’t hard anymore. When I played X and Y as well as ORAS, I thought that maybe this was just me. That as an adult, the games just weren’t as tough to me as they were when I was young. THIS IS A LIE! I played the eShop version of Pokemon Red and can confirm that those games could be brutal at times! They weren’t soul-crushingly difficult or anything but beating the Elite Four actually meant something and getting to trounce your jerk of a rival was satisfying.
I’m over halfway through Sun and Moon (one trial down on the third island) and have yet to fight EVEN ONE trainer with more than 3 Pokemon, including the Island Kahunas (Sun/Moon’s replacement for Gym Leaders). The overwhelming majority of trainers you fight only have one. It makes it almost embarrassing when the trainers then comment on how powerful you are afterwards. “Maybe if you tried actually catching a Pokemon, you would stand a chance.” Even the one’s who boast about how amazing they are never have more than two Pokemon.
No Satisfying Rivals
In fact, one of the only trainers skilled enough to throw a Pokeball more than two times is apparently your idiot of a rival, Hau. This happy-go-lucky moron who spouts things like “There’s nothing to be scared of as long as we’ve got Pokemon by our side, eh?” or “Hoo-ee! That gave me chicken-skin!” manages to finally catch his third Pokemon by the time you reach your SIXTH BATTLE. Yeah, seriously.
In Gen 1, Gary was a world-class jerk who everyone loved to hate. Yeah, he was stupid but his snot-nosed arrogance made it satisfying to beat him. Plus, he was actually tough! Battles against him were some of the toughest of the game and he always had Pokemon teams designed to beat you down. To compare the two, I have fought Hau six times and he still only has three Pokemon but Gary had more than that by the third battle in the fourth town of the game, Cerulean City. Even worse, unlike Gary or almost any Rival from Pokemon games, Hau actually starts with the Pokemon you are strong against, not the one you’re weak against. Since I started with Rowlet, a grass-type, Hau picked Popplio, a water-type.
I could go on and on about all the things that Pokemon Sun and Moon is missing compared to previous games (Hidden Pokemon, Soaring, Diving, Secret Bases…) but ultimately, I think it boils down to this: Game Freak has an issue with Feature Leak. They will introduce new features and gameplay elements in Pokemon games and then forget them or abandon them in future games in the series.
This isn’t just about unique one-off mechanics such as Rotation Battles or Sky Battles that may or may not prove popular. This is about basic game mechanics or Quality of Life updates that Game Freak just arbitrarily decided to remove. What benefit was there in removing the National Dex and not letting people keep track of what Pokemon they’ve collected? Was it to try and get people to forget how despite having 802 Pokemon in the Pokedex now, over half of those (419 to be exact) are unobtainable across Sun and Moon by any means? What benefit was there in removing trainer rematches to let players earn more money and give a more fun method of training up Pokemon in the post-game? Why would you make the game so easy as to be entirely uninteresting UNTIL the post-game?
I don’t want to give the impression that Sun and Moon are bad games, they aren’t, and this is not a full review. Sun and Moon do add some really cool things to the franchise but neglecting features that made me fall back in love with the franchise is intensely disappointing and I feel the fanbase doesn’t do enough to hold Game Freak accountable.