Pokemon Retrospective: Gen. VII – Alolan Vacation

Not Quite the Vacation We Expected

I Only Wish Each Day Was Longer

Coming hot off the heels of a successful sixth generation with Pokemon X and Y, Game Freak decided to make some changes to their established formula with the seventh generation. Pokemon Sun and Moon released around the world in November 2016 on the Nintendo 3DS. Fans were amazed by the improvements in graphics, even just from the previous 3DS games. No longer confined to the small-scale polygonal models meant to represent the sprite art of previous generations, the character models were full-sized and proportional to this large-scale series of islands in this region.

Releasing just in time for the 20th anniversary of the franchise helped to bring it to the forefront of people’s minds again. The short, animated Pokemon Generations episodes helped many relive certain aspects of different generations. With the concurrent success of Pokemon GO, the series found itself cemented in people’s minds as relevant and nostalgia-fueled; a winning formula for so many around the world who wanted to catch them all over again.

What could possibly go wrong?

Fun in the Sun

At this point in my Pokemon fandom, I can readily admit to feeling a bit burnt out on the whole franchise. I had been collecting every game as soon as it was released and had played multiple versions, sometimes simultaneously. Not only had I been playing competitively, but I was also knee-deep in the breeding and training mechanics. This meant A LOT of hours were invested in crafting as many perfect teams of Pokemon as I possibly could.

For the most part, I really enjoyed my time playing Pokemon Moon.

Sun and Moon looked especially promising, however. The new, tropical locale had shades of Hoenn in it. I was also very interested in the fact that the standard formula of going from town to town and collecting all the gym badges was replaced with something a little more engaging with the island trials. I was fairly lukewarm on the Pokemon designs, admittedly, but the promise of Rowlett becoming this Robin Hood-esque archer bird was enough to convince me that I had to pick it up on the first day.

For the most part, I really enjoyed my time playing Pokemon Moon. The time feature was interesting between these two versions because Pokemon Moon reversed the clock: if you played during daylight hours, it would be night in the game, and vice versa. Thus, most of my time spent in Moon was in the dark and I rarely saw what Alola looked like in the daylight. That set a profoundly different mood for the entire game that I didn’t really understand until I got to the end.

The main story was definitely compelling, though I find myself feeling decidedly unfavorable towards Team Skull. Team Flare from X and Y were shallow enough, especially compared to the multi-dimensional Team Plasma from Black and White. Team Skull were a bunch of street thugs headed by another street thug whose strings were being pulled by the true big bad. Fairly predictable storyline with a unique twist, to be sure, but still fairly predictable from the opening cutscene onwards.

After the main story, though, there was very little to hook me in to the postgame. Other than searching for the other Ultra Beasts, there was very little to do outside of catching them all. Because I had already done that for the past three generations beforehand, there wasn’t a compelling reason to continue to do so other than bragging rights and breeding stock.

It’s Like We’re On Vacation

The graphics were certainly one of the main sells of this generation. The chibi-fied designs were no longer a factor, replaced with character models that were more realistic and better representative to proportions in the real world. The region of Alola mirrored this upgraded graphical style by beefing up the size of the various towns and explorable areas. The amount of detail represented in the wild areas was stunning, especially coming from a 3DS. The water effects from the surrounding ocean would put the region of Hoenn to shame.

The storyline and general roadmap of the game was also quite different from what had come before. Doing away with gym battles and gym badges, the region of Alola was more focused on various trials that you can do. These trials were not overly complex, but offered some variety to the standard battles you would normally partake in at a gym. Successfully fulfilling the requirements of the trial awarded you with Z Stones, which allowed your Pokemon to pull off type-specific, super powerful Z-Moves in battle. There were puzzles to solve, items to find, mazes to navigate, and even an odd memory puzzle with photographs of dancing Pokemon. What wasn’t there to love?

Unfortunately, a lot of these changes were looked down upon by many fans. Unlike the older generations, many felt like the tutorials in this game were far too intrusive and unnecessary. Not only that, but many of the cut-scenes were drawn out and entirely unnecessary. This was further exacerbated by the releases of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon a year later, updated titles that offered very few new elements to the games. In fact, much of the same basic narrative plays out almost exactly the same as the original versions, leading many to feel disgruntled that they didn’t offer as much of an update as, say, Black 2 and White 2.

Number One’s Our Destination

Of all the articles I have written about Pokemon thus far, this generation feels the least interesting to me. Could it be that I do not yet have enough nostalgia for it? Possibly. But for the most part, I think this is truly the first generation that I am lukewarm on, which really is a shame. I know that many others still enjoy the games and play them to this day, and I am glad for that; however, when it feels like a complete slog to finish off the second version of the game – which is typically considered the pinnacle of the generation – something is definitely off, and I am not entirely sure it’s just me.

The end of the seventh generation is ending soon; however, there were two more titles released in between the seventh and the eighth generations that deserve to be talked about. Further cashing in on the success of Pokemon Go, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Let’s Go, Pikachu! released a year later on the Switch, blurring the lines between remake and mainline entry just a tad, and revisiting a beloved region before exploring a truly new world in high-definition.