Pokemon Sun First Thoughts: Enter Melemele Island

So I’ve been kind of absent from this blog for almost a month, but I’ve actually been busy with life for once – that and powering through Fantasy Life again, reaching DLC story Origin Island for the first time ever (More on that to come!) But everything had to be put on hold last night when I got in from work and saw Pokemon Sun waiting patiently for me. After what felt like an eternity of waiting, Rowlet and I finally got our chance to start our new adventure together…

Pokemon Sun and Moon begin the most exciting of ways, with graphics and camera angles like you’ve never seen before in this series, along with a mysterious opening to what is clearly going to be a larger side-story featuring a new Pokemon called Cosmog. Pokemon X’s visuals and storytelling development blew my mind when it was first released, but this takes things one step further even than that. From the moment you get to take your first steps a whole new world comes alive, adding a very personal element with the camera choices and extra scenes and dialogue, as well as new mechanics that, while subtle, really help to immerse you in the tale (You even walk differently when going uphill – talk about detail!). It’s the furthest removed from the original formula of all the generations this great series has graced us with, but while it doesn’t strictly feel quite like the Pokemon game we’re familiar with, maybe that’s actually a good thing.

In the beginning at least, the story is very linear, telling you where to go and when and blocking off certain routes. While I was kind of itching to do some exploring of my own in this rolling, fairly open-world-style environment, it is a nice way to ease into things and learn the lay of the land. It also offers a nice introduction into the various trials you have to face as you progress through the story, a completely new spin on things. I thought having no gyms to take on would be weird, but taking part in my first island challenge instead actually felt perfectly natural. It’s refreshing to see the creators mixing things up a bit, and while these trials involve puzzles and sort of mini games that we didn’t see in the gyms, battling to win is still very much at its heart.

After completing my first trial, I decided to check out the Festival Plaza, a feature based around communication and trading. It’s good to see that Wonder Trade has made a triumphant return, and the addition of your own Pokemon park with a range of different stalls offering different benefits is one of the new developments they’ve got right. Trainer customisation is another returning feature, and the first town alone offers plenty of new clothing options for your avatar. Pokemon refresh builds on the previous Pokemon Amie, and the great thing about this is that as well as raising your partners’ happiness values, status conditions can also be cured at the end of a battle without the use of an item, saving you a decent chunk of money because you’re going to get poisoned – a lot. You also get to enhance your battling strategy with the new more-powerful Z moves early on in the game too, allowing you to practice a little with them and knock down the difficulty level by a margin.

Completing the trial isn’t enough to complete the island, however, as I eventually had to face off against their leader, despite proving myself against the powerful Totem Gumshoos already. You could say this is kind of like fighting the gym leader after battling all their trainers along the way. It’s interesting to have to take on a fighting type trainer, as the majority have specialised in normal type Pokemon so far. Without proper training, Kahuna Hala can be pretty darn tough, and even going in with level 13 flying types was a struggle, so it seems as if the developers were listening when people complained X and Y were too easy too.

There are a wide range of different types of Pokemon to be caught from early on in the game to help you face your trials. Sure, you have to sift through repeated Yungoos (Day) and Ratatta (Night) to get the good ones to show up, but it’s worth it to play with classic elementals such as Pichu, Butterfree and Growlithe before you even reach your challenge location. The main change in wild Pokemon battles comes in the form of SOS battles, which involve your foes calling upon their friends for help. This is an interesting development and great for training, but if you want to catch the thing, it can turn into one hell of a nightmare. When I first found Oricario, I knew I wanted it, but the problem was that it kept escaping even my great ball, and then calling upon more friends to throw me off. I like how it adds a little bit of challenge to the game, but in the moment, it can leave you reeling with frustration.

The final notable feature to round off your first island in Alola is the introduction of the new HM move mechanics. Gone are the trusty HMs such as Surf, Fly Strength, and in their place come special Pokemon you can call along to help you out with such obstacles. This in my opinion is a fantastic addition, not only because riding these Pokemon is completely adorable, but it also saves you filling up valuable party and move spots with moves you don’t even really want. Beating the Kahuna on Melemele Island offers you the use of Tauros, which can break down large clusters of rocks blocking your path – very handy, especially if you hope to explore Ten Carat Hill before moving on with the main story.

Despite all its new and improved details, I still don’t feel quite at home with Pokemon Sun yet, but then I’ve only played around 10 hours so far. I do think it has potential and it’ll be interesting to see how things develop from here on out once I get on the ferry to the next island, but I’m predicting more fascinating new areas to explore and features to embrace, as the journey continues to be the very best, like no one ever was…

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