My love affair with Pokemon has been lifelong. I have yet to miss a launch game from the main series so, Ultra Sun was no exception here. As the Pokemon has an ongoing legacy, it’s nice that the Ultra Sun & Moon series refines the series formula. Though, I’ll readily admit that I was only moderately interested in returning to Alola.
Aloha is the region in which Pokemon which you are to venture through on your Island Challenge. Instead of taking on your series of Pokemon Gyms as is common in the series you are tasked to go through a set of Trials set by the Captains of the Islands and their Island Kahunas. These trials take the forms of classic battles, scavenger hunts, quizzes and a final task of it culminating in battling the Totem Pokemon of the Trial. While these deviate significantly from the usual pattern of going round and collecting Gym badges it was a welcome change. It gave the series the refresh it needed, and in turn, gave these particular games a soul that the others were lacking towards its more recent entries in the franchise.
It’s a game that prides itself on it being about the journey rather than the destination. From the beautiful depiction of the tropical islands (as Alola is based on Hawaii) to the charming and engaging captains and Kahunas. The individual trials give you a greater sense as to what role these people play in their respective communities as well as greater insight into who they are as people as well as trainers. These aren’t just one-off encounters like in previous entries in the franchise, and this is to the stories benefit. The Captains and Kahunas never outstayed their welcome, they had their purpose for the narrative part of their trials and then let you be on your way to the next objective. It’s cleverly paced, and while Ultra Sun is still plagued with some stiff dialogue at times, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is capable of laughing at itself for its silliness.
The narrative progression in Sun & Moon was one of the short comings of the first iteration. It took a long time to do anything, and Ultra Sun and Moon address this issue. You get to pick your starter a lot quicker, and there are some subtle changes to trials and sequences of event that has been shortened considerably. This is an improvement as far as I’m concerned, as it trimmed a lot of the fat narratively speaking. Something that may be disappointing to players who have already completed Sun and Moon before is that regarding the overall arch of the story there isn’t any significant change until the credits have rolled. However, in saying that, there are plenty of reasons to see the 30 + hour story to the end.
There are optional tasks in game now, where the people of each of the towns could issue you with mini quests along the way. Some of these side quests (if you could even call them that given their brevity) are nothing short of fetch quests. But, its the reasoning and their writing that kept me wanting to find more. Two side quests mainly hooked me; one was where an elderly woman was lamenting about her brother whom she hadn’t heard from since childhood. I stumbled upon a message in a bottle that I found in the corner of a cave well out of the way of the central area I was roaming. Sure enough, that message was for his sister letting her know that he was safe and that he still loved her and wanted her to be happy. Returning to the women and being able to provide that closure for her is a testament to the writing from Game Freak and a real understanding and respect for the fact that this game is enjoyed by all age groups. The second one that caught my attention was finding some misbehaving Ditto who are transforming into Humans. There is a wonderful scene that I won’t spoil as a result of finishing that quest, but it leaves you with a bit of wistful wonder that has long since been missing from the series at large. There is a lot to be explored and a lot to gain from exploring every nook and cranny of Alola.
There have been some minor updates to the game from a UI perspective too. The battle screens are adjusted in move selection, so you no longer have to try and keep a mental record of what moves have what effect on the opposing Pokemon. The overall menu screen has, thankfully, been made brighter by the colour change. There is now a quick save option bound to the 3DS’s Y button that is accessible from the main menu. Pokemon Amie from X & Y has returned to a more useful format of Pokemon Refresh where you can heal status ailments of your team as well as increase their affection using Poke Beans. Increasing the affection with your team can lead to them dodging enemy attacks or shaking off status effects mid-battle which can be useful when you’re in a pinch!
Which may happen more regularly than you might think. I struggled to play Ultra Sun in a way I didn’t with previous games. While the inclusion of the Z crystals that you earn at the end of the trial to power up your Pokemon is an interesting mechanic, however, it wasn’t quite the one shot button of destruction I was hoping for. Though, your mileage will vary depending on your squad makeup. Ultimately, it’s a flashy power move of which its animation get tiresome after its twentieth or thirtieth time. Seriously, there are only so many times you can watch Breakneck Blitz without wishing there was some sort of skip button.
All that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ultra Sun and Moon to newcomers to the series or veterans. 20 years have passed since the original series of Red and Blue launched on the Original Gameboy, and the series has been a process of iteration in each entry. I’m happy to say that after all of these slow and steady iterations, Pokemon has finally found its form again.