Imagine a game with deep, engaging gameplay mechanics, crisp, colorful graphics (for the system it’s playing on), catchy music, but is marred by what is possibly the most cumbersome story in the history of gaming.
If you’ve played Pokemon Sun or Moon, you don’t have to imagine. You’ve already played it.
I’ve played a bit of Pokemon Sun version. Enough to write up a post about my first impressions of the game. I haven’t read or watched any reviews on the game, so my impressions of the game are not influenced by them at all. After this, I might find it interesting to look at a few of them to see whether I’m the only one who had the kind of experience with this game that I have.
I’m likely to catch some flak for it, but this post is my honest opinion. It’s not as positive or upbeat about the game as the opinions of other players might be, but it’s an honest opinion that addresses what I see as problems with the game. You can look at my other posts tagged Pokemon, so you’ll know that I’m sincere and not someone who is just trolling, here.
For a while, I’ve viewed stories as largely unnecessary in video games, but viewed RPGs as the exception. However, I think it is possible for RPGs to go too far with their stories, and Pokemon Sun demonstrated this to me. RPGs typically start out very story heavy in an effort to establish the premise and provide a pretext for the action that’s to take place for much of the game. That’s normal. However, Pokemon Sun went too far with this.
How do most Pokemon RPGs start? With a young character meeting a professor, receiving his first pokemon, and after a short fetch-quest, he can buy pokeballs and strike out on his own, and the player can play the game at their own pace. In Pokemon Sun, the story is heavier. Much heavier.
The point of Pokemon is the pokemon themselves: catching, battling, and raising them. I started Pokemon Sun eager to do just that, but had my experiences frustrated by loads of lengthy exposition. By the time I finally obtained my first pokemon and experienced the first battle, it felt like it was over too quick. But then it was on to more exposition.
In RPGs, there is an illusion of open-endedness. There’s usually a story that doesn’t advance until you’ve brought your characters to a certain location. I’m okay with this, as long as it doesn’t get too linear. Pokemon Sun is linear. It felt as though I was carting the main character from one location to another just to have the plot advance some more. It got to the point that I was dreading the appearance of Lillie, a character that does a lot to advance the plot early on. To put that in perspective, I didn’t find Navi from Ocarina of Time to be annoying.
One of my personal objectives getting into this game was to get a Raichu in my team, because I liked the new Alolan Raichu’s design. So I was looking for a place to catch a Pichu or Pikachu early on. So I was happy to have battled a guy with a Pichu, because I could use the fact that it was registered in my Pokedex to find its location. Getting Pichu required me to backtrack to a route that I had visited earlier, but Lillie wouldn’t let me wander off. I had piles more exposition to go through before I could finally go back and catch the thing.
My experience with Pokemon Sun was that of carting the main character from one short distance to another with piles of exposition in between. That kind of thing typically wanes off early on in most RPGs, particularly in story-light RPGs like Pokemon. But at four-and-a-half hours in, it doesn’t seem likely that that’s going to change much.
Another point to bring up is that there seems to be a bit of a spiritual theme going on in Pokemon Sun. That comes off as strange, considering that the main themes of Pokemon have been nature, science, technology, exploration, and, of course, friendship. I understand that it’s not the intention of video games to try to determine what everyone believes in. But spiritual themes are more serious than they are often given credit for. I’d have preferred if Pokemon avoided taking on certain themes that may be of religious significance. I don’t say this as an atheist, because I’m not an atheist. There are people who take religion very seriously, and some may see the appearance of spiritual themes in Pokemon as reason to not allow their children to play them. Not long ago, I defended Pokemon from false accusations of witchcraft. When Pokemon goes near spiritual themes, it makes it harder to defend it against such a charge. It might be that many people out there won’t consider this a determining factor for whether to purchase this product, but there is a potential for controversy.
While I haven’t played very far into the game, there is one feature that I might have a problem with. That would be the one where you take pictures, and they are subsequently rated in a manner reminiscent of social media. Yeah, we actually have Pokemon teaching people how to post photos on pages like Facebook. Personally, I don’t see the feature as one that’s necessary to the experience, and I’d prefer for it to not be obligatory to complete the game. However, that the demo could not be completed without taking some pictures might mean that it would be necessary to do the same in the main game to complete the story. Not to be overly negative, but the feature struck me as tacked-on and unnecessary, and was probably put in after spending a while as someone’s pet project.
The main point of Pokemon is the pokemon. The battles, the catching, and otherwise interacting with pokemon. That’s the kind of thing that a person would buy a game called “Pokemon” to do. The piles and piles of exposition isn’t necessary to such experiences, and largely serve as obstacles to the gameplay mechanics that players bought the game for. At this point, it’s looking like a chore to complete Pokemon Sun, and I don’t feel strongly inclined to play the Moon version and repeat the experience.
So, I’m actually disappointed with what I’m seeing from the Sun version so far. Maybe next year, they’ll make remakes of some earlier games that take it far easier on the story. That would be better, considering that I know how to play Pokemon, and I don’t need hours to get reacquainted with the game mechanics or get escorted around some city that was already in the demo. In fact, allowing players to explore a game on their own and find out things about it isn’t a bad thing. It was what made nearly all the rest of the Pokemon games so rewarding.
One more thing. The rewards for playing the demo include a bunch of items that can be sold for piles of cash. The opportunity to start the game with a silver spoon is theoretically a neat incentive to return to the demo. Except you begin the game with more money than in most Pokemon games anyway, and receive a much bigger lump of money from your mom shortly after starting the game, making those items not much of a big, screaming deal.
That’s how I feel about the game so far. I did say that I was going to be honest. I’m getting pretty tired of stories in video games, and this one turned out to be a particularly egregious offender, so I went and unloaded on it. Disagree with me? Comments section.