After the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon in 2016, they were followed up by, somewhat controversially, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon in November 2017. Although these games are standalone games in the 7th Generation, they have faced claims that they are the ‘finished’ versions of the original Sun and Moon, and were released as enhanced version as a quick cash cow. However, were there enough deviations in the newer game’s plot and Pokémon distribution to justify a second release of the 7th Gen?
Story – Potential Spoilers from this point onwards
The game starts with yourself and your mother having just moved to the Alola region from the Kanto region. Once you’re settled in, you’re introduced to Professor Kukui who explains the basics of the Alola Island challenge to you – rather than travel around the region fighting gym leaders and collecting gym badges, as you would have done in the Kanto region, you take part in the Island Challenge – have to travel to the four different islands of Alola, and taking on different challenges along the way, in order to take the final challenge at the end and become the Alola region champion.
At this point is the first deviation from the original Sun and Moon, where you soon after get your first Pokémon from a choice of three starter Pokémon, and are thrown into the first battle of the game. A welcome change after the plot heavy Sun and Moon forced you through forty minutes or so of cut scenes before the first fight!
After the initial opening, the game pretty much proceeds plotwise as Sun and Moon did, up until the first time you visit the Aether Foundation, where the game begins to take on an almost alternate universe version, with the plot focussing on the mysterious Ultra Recon Squad, and their aims regarding the creature Necrozma. Even here, there are differences plotwise between Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, with Ultra Sun’s Ultra Recon Squad wanting Necrozma stopped, and Ultra Moon’s Squad wanting to help Necrozma. I quite liked the slight differences in plot and tone here, as although nothing was majorly different between the two versions, it did put me in mind of the older Ruby and Sapphire games which did have major differences between the two, despite being the same ‘pair’ of games.
Again, Team Skull makes an appearance within these games, with their role pretty much the same as it was in Sun and Moon, which I guess was a given – you need a team of thugs somewhere in a Pokémon game! However, what I did like was the better exposition given to Team Skull’s Guzma’s backstory, and what happened to him – and the fact that Guzma makes a return during the postgame storyline as well.
Although the Aether Foundation is also back in this game, with similar goals as before – conserving Pokémon and wanting to research the Ultra Wormholes, I feel that the plotline from the original Sun and Moon was a bit stronger with regards to the Aether Foundation – especially as in the original games, the Aether President Lusamine went off the rails somewhat with her need for perfection and beauty, which led to the climax where your constant companion, Lillie finally managed to tell her mother where she went wrong in life and rejected her mother’s ideals. This was missing from these games, so it comes off as Lillie and Lusamine having slightly weaker character development, overall. The Aether Foundation part of the plot also fell a bit to the wayside near the end of the game, considering the plot is taken over by the Ultra Recon Squad and Necrozma near the game’s climax.
However, I did feel as though this game had a decent postgame – not only was there the Poni Grove, Poni Gauntlet and the very minor Ultra Beast capture quest which opened up after the main game is completed, and the Elite Four beaten, but there was a whole over side plot regarding the comeback of Team Rocket, as Team Rainbow Rocket, and their takeover of both the Festival Plaza and the Aether Foundation. Not only was there a clever bit of use of the Battle Agency used in the Festival Plaza of this portion of the postgame, where you’re forced to use rental Pokémon to fight of Team Rainbow Rocket, but the main bulk of fighting Rainbow Rocket out of the Aether Foundation took a decent amount of time.
My favourite part of the Team Rainbow Rocket quest however, was the fact they brought back all the evil team members from the previous generations and that you get to fight all of them during this part of the game. On top of that, there was also the bringing back of the warp tiles from the older games, which I thought made for a nice throw-back to those days.
My main gripe with these games however, is still the length and number of the unskippable cut scenes. The pacing of the games is still slightly off – although the game is fairly quick with getting to the action near the beginning of the game, the plot loses the momentum by the time you reach the second island – and goes back to cut scene after cut scene. And again, anytime you enter a new place, you’re forced to sit through a cut scene and exposition before being allowed to go off and explore. Although I can appreciate that this is a good think as far as serving as an introduction to the series and game mechanics go, especially for younger players, as a long time player of the Pokémon series, I would have appreciated being able to skip the scenes – especially near the beginning before the plot deviates from the Sun/Moon plot, where I’ve now had to sit through basically the same hours of cut scenes four times, not counting replays of the games. However, I did appreciate that now after fighting the Elite Four, you are given the option to save the game after the end credits roll, and there is no longer a forced battle with Tapu Koko at the end – instead the game leaves it with the credits rolling, and you seeing Tapu Koko calling you – leaving it up to you to choose when to face it.
I still would have appreciated having the option to skip the cut scenes, at least on a second play through of these games.
My second, not so major, gripe with these games was the RotomDex. I didn’t think they could make Rotom any more annoying that what it was in Sun and Moon – but they proved me wrong here. Like with the cut scenes, it’s impossible to turn Rotom off, so when looking at the bottom map screen, you’re constantly having Rotom pipe up with ‘here’s some information you don’t need or didn’t ask for’ (quoted almost word for word…) and it being unskippable until it finishes.
The first couple of times, it’s fine, as often you do find something out that you didn’t know (such as tapping the Y button the status screen to see base stats of a Pokémon), but it swiftly becomes annoying – especially when Rotom forces you to answer it before giving you your map back. And as I’ve discovered, ignoring Rotom doesn’t work, it still just keeps piping up with meaningless interruptions. Even though I appreciate the improved interactivity with Rotom, I just wish it wasn’t so annoying about it.
For the most part, the OST of this game is pretty much taken straight from the Sun and Moon OST, with no alteration; so much of what I said there can apply here.
I still really like the moody themes associated with Team Skull, and the vocals in the encounter and battle themes that they use, and I still feel as though Po Team’s theme sets the atmosphere very well for that part of the game.
The Aether Foundation themes again, I think were quite good, with the clinical sort of sound meshing well with the idea of the Foundation being a paradise for Pokémon, which I thought the music worked well setting that for the atmosphere.
Other than that, I can’t think of any of the route themes which stood out, and I found pretty much all of the battle themes to be quite bland, especially the trainer battle and wild Pokémon battle music, which was a shame, as those are the tracks that will be likely heard the most during a play through.
However, there were a few standout newer battle themes introduced in these games, which I thought were particaulrly good – for example the track for the battle again Ultra Necrozma, especially the opening ten seconds or so, which really set the fight up for being the epic battle that it is – even if the theme screamed ‘final battle’ to me… when it was obvious that it wasn’t the final main storyline battle. I also enjoyed the remixes of the Legendary Pokémon themes found in the Ultra Wormhole.
I wasn’t so keen on the remixes for the battle themes of the previous generations’ team leaders, nor was I a fan of the remix for the Rainbow Rocket takeover of the Aether Foundation. Although the remix kept parts of the original themes in them, with them being recognisable as a version of the themes… it just didn’t work too well for me. I didn’t think the Rainbow Rocket theme in particular sounded sinister enough.
For whatever strange reason, I also really liked the Mantine Surf music – it definitely served to put me in the frame of mind of surfing in a tropical paradise, especially with the wave sounds you can hear throughout the track.
The dubious honour for my least favourite track in the game still goes to Hau’s battle theme. I still find it far too happy-go-lucky.
These games kept the exact same graphics and models from Sun and Moon – not something that really bothered me, as I felt the graphics were pretty decent. Again there didn’t appear to be much use of the 3DS’s 3D capabilities, but as a person who never switches the 3D on, this didn’t bother me. Again, there was slight lagging at certain parts of the game, most notably during double battles, which become annoying, but it wasn’t anything more serious than that.
Again, everything was nice and bright looking, and I liked the minor alterations made to the graphics – for example along Route 1 there is a now a multitude of different coloured flowers in the bushes lining the route, rather than them all being the same colour, which I think definitely helped set the tropical atmosphere of these games better. However, the brightness of the areas for the most part is what makes other areas so effective – for example, the shock of when entering Po Town for the first time and seeing the contrast of that town – and then finding out why that is.
Other little details such as swishing grass; over world interactable Pokémon and such like are also done fairly well. Most of the sprites for the Pokémon are quite detailed and also vibrant colours, although maybe not as vibrant as the good ol’ days of Ruby and Sapphire, which I think was a shame, as those colour schemes could have fit Alola quite well, I think. Character models in the game are also done quite well, and don’t look too deformed or odd.
I also think the user interface for the battle menu was attractively done, and didn’t look (or feel) too clunky.
Don’t seem to have many people around my way to use multiplayer with, and never really had the chance to go online with the game.
As per most Pokémon games, any challenge that this game could offer you can simply be overcome by grinding – and it’s argued that the provision of the EXP Share item early on in the game makes grinding far easier and quicker. In a way, this is quite welcomed as most opponent trainers have three or less Pokémon on their team, so trying to grind each Pokémon up individually is a pain.
In the main story, there is very little in the way of challenge, even if you don’t use the EXP Share.
There are parts of the game which are definitely a challenge – for example battles against members of the Aether Foundation’ are quite tough, with the members having no set type of Pokémon that they use, and often having well-made teams. I also had a bit of a battle during the last fight in the Elite Four, before you are confirmed as a champion, which was nice… even if I was over levelled by a factor of about five, but a tough fight is appreciated
Likewise, if you’re not expecting it, some of the Totem Pokémon fights can also be quite tough, especially with some of the stat boosts they get, and being able to call Ally Pokémon which usually complements them in some way. The final trial battle in particular was pretty brutal, I felt, and despite a decent type-advantage (and my trusty Magnezone), that was also a fight I struggled with – which made a nice change compared to Sun and Moon!
There are ways in which the player can create a challenge for themselves in this game, whether that’s through running a Nuzlocke, mono-type or low levelled challenge. Ultimately though, the main story part of this game does not offer much in the way of a challenge. Maybe the game could have included a “hard” mode, similar to how Black and White 2 a couple of years ago did, but I don’t think that would be necessary.
Finally, the difficulty does rack up slightly in the fight against Ultra Necrozma, but if you come prepared… such as by trolling him with an Illusioned Zoroark, for example, even that fight is extremely easy.
There is a bit of a challenge with the Rainbow Rocket parts of the game as well, but that’s more due to the gauntlet nature of the fight and the sheer variety of Pokémon and Legendaries you have to face during that part of the postgame – and easy access to a healer for your team makes it that little bit easier, I felt.
This game has the standard formula which every other Pokémon main series game has, where you have to raise a team of up to six Pokémon, with four moves each and take on the Island Challenge and fight the Elite Four, although you can swap and change your Pokémon as much as you like once you’ve caught them. There was a decent set of new Pokémon, which a much better distribution in these games, I felt, and ‘Alola formes’ of various Kanto Pokémon, which gave them new movesets and types, which meant that making a varied team was easy to do.
However, I would have liked Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon to have introduced even more Alolan formes of Pokémon, as I found Sun and Moon somewhat lacking in this department. I did like the nice touch whereby, if you bring certain Alolan Pokémon into the Ultra Wormhole, they evolve into their Kanto version, which made collecting those a possibility without having to trade for them, which I quite liked.
Even though as with Sun and Moon, there were no gyms, but trials, I think they could have improved on the trials even more… rather than make them worse. I think the original trials were better – most notably the Grass type trial. Some of the Totem Pokémon were also changed up quite a bit in these newer games – the jury is out from me on whether these were good changes or not – some of the trials were easier with the fight, some were somewhat harder. I would have liked it if the Totem Pokémon buff had been higher, or the AI had been better, something like that, I think. Make the trials an actual trial, not a slight road hump which trips you up for a couple of seconds.
I also think a lot of the game was made too easy – sure there were a couple of tougher fights in the game, but I think more could have been done with the rank and file trainer battles – most trainers up to the second Island only have one Pokémon on them, or two at most – which makes fighting a bit disappointing, and quickly dealt with – I prefer teams which are well-thought out and require a bit of thought in order to defeat.
Although there were the Route Captains on certain routes in the game which had certain gimmicks for their teams, or clever item use, etc., I think there should have had these sort of fights as the standard difficulty, and then the Route Captains employing better teams with better AI.
I like how the EXP system has been retained from Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, where Pokémon receive more EXP from defeating higher-levelled Pokémon, and the amount gained steadily decreases as the Pokémon levels increase, it especially helps with catching newly caught Pokémon up to the levels of your team, especially if you’re like me and have a habit of constantly swapping out the fifth and sixth members of the team.
I really didn’t like the Z-moves (then again, I still don’t like Mega Evolution…). Z-moves are granted to your Pokémon by virtue of them holding a Z-Crystal of a certain type, either won during a trial, given to you as part of the plot, or in the case of some, literally found lying on the floor. Then, provided the Pokémon is holding a Z-Crystal, they then need to have a move of the same type as the crystal, or with some Pokémon, a certain signature move. The Z-Crystal then upgrades the move once only per battle into a super-powered version of that attack. And then that’s it, although a certain RotomDex power I believe allows you to use a Z-move once again, for a total of twice in one fight, which can make it slightly more tactical, especially if using a Z-move which also has an attached status buff.
Although I like how other trainers also use Z-Crystals, I… just didn’t like it. That and the poses your trainer use before releasing their Z-Crystal power are cringey to look at.
The game also introduced the idea of ‘SOS Battles’, wherein which a wild Pokémon is able to call for help during the battle, and summon an ally Pokémon. Similar to the older chaining, as ally Pokémon are defeated, more can be summoned, and chances of them having a Hidden Ability or being shiny also increase. However, I also found occasionally the calling for help mechanic got a bit annoying, especially if all I want to do is quickly speed through a route, as it really does inflate the time spent in battle. What also annoyed me was how some Pokémon you can only catch from a 1% chance from an SOS call… which is great when the original Pokémon in question has a 1% encounter rate on that route (Bagon and Salamence, I’m looking at you!). Some of the SOS summons are also dependent on the weather, which makes timing to catch certain Pokémon a bit of a trick, especially if you’re trying to do this without the help of guides or walkthroughs.
Sun and Moon managed to get rid of HMs, and replaced them with Ride Pokemon, which was also kept in place for Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. The Ride Pokemon can perform certain tasks; Tauros helps you get around faster than running and destroys boulders which are blocking access to certain parts of routes, Charizard can help you fly to any location, Lapras and Sharpedo replace Surfing and also allow you to go angling from their backs, amongst others. This was a much needed improvement that frees up space on players’ teams as HM Slaves are no longer needed, nor is it required to give up a move slot for a HM.
However, although an improvement, it still has several issues; for instance, you can no longer fly to any route like in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, and must fly to a specific location with a Pokécentre. I was also annoyed by the fact that every time you use a Ride Pokémon, you also have to sit through several seconds of an animation of getting onto the Ride Pokémon before having to use it and as with Sun and Moon, there is still no way to turn these animations off – I believe older games you were able to skip the animations in some of them.
The games also brought back the ‘Rotom Dex’, a Pokédex possessed by a Rotom – which although it has a very useful map feature, which also marks out where to go next to advance the storyline, also got on my nerves as mentioned previously in the story part of this review.
I quite liked the Festival Plaza, and although it was mainly to allow as a gateway to online play, I liked the fact it could be accessed and built up without the need to go online, and still allowed you to access things such as easy EV training of Pokémon and hard to get items. However, after levelling up the Plaza the first few dozen times, it did get a bit annoying hoping that you’d randomly get the shop or facility you wanted, without going online and finding the facility to invite. However, it made for a decent diversion from the actual game.
The Battle Agency, new to these games was also a very welcome diversion, even though I’m unable to invite players to my game in order to get new Battle Agency Pokémon, I was still able to make decent headway into the Agency with just the rental Pokémon and the game-generated players, and I have spent… more than my fair amount of time levelling my Battle Agency up. I also like how the Battle Agency gives large amounts of Festival Coins as a reward for clearing each level of the Agency, which makes using other features in the Festival Plaza that much better.
The Ultra Wormholes were also brought in a new minigame to these two games, and I quite like them, although maybe not so much the random nature of them. Basically after the Ultra Necrozma part of the plot if over and done with, you get access to Ultra Space, which you can travel through using Solalgeo or Lunala as a Ride Pokémon, and then using either the gyroscopic controls (standard controls) or the circle pad to control the flight through Ultra Space, you can pop into different wormhole, which drop you in a universe which has access to older Legendary Pokémon, or Pokémon from different generations which would otherwise be inaccessible in these games. What was particularly nice about the Ultra Wormholes is that the further distance you travel, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter a guaranteed Shiny Pokémon in them, with the maximum chance of encountering a shiny standing at 36% chance – much higher than the non-wormhole chance, even with a Shiny Charm.
As it is, I’ve spent quite a bit of time also in the Ultra Wormholes trying to track down shiny versions of all the regular non-Legendary Pokémon available in there. On that note, Legendary Pokémon encountered in Ultra Space have the regular chance rate of being shiny versions or not.
The Poképelago felt like an expy of the Dreamworld from the 5th gen, and I quite liked it – it allowed you to quickly and easily grow Berries without having to rely on Berry drops from the odd tree dotted about the region, and also allowed for the catching of Pokémon not native to the Alola region. I also like the random Pokémon that turn up on the first island of the Poképelago, as that’s definitely helped me fill out some of the pages in my Pokédex, especially with the low encounter rate in the wild Pokémon – although it is a bit random as to whether the Pokémon will stay with you or not – I’d like a better way to guarantee them staying, especially that damned Lapras!
I do think more could have been done with the Poképelago, however.
And overall, that’s how I feel about the game – some aspects were innovative, but not nearly enough, I felt.
I probably could replay through these games again, especially with the much better Pokémon distribution present, and the quicker introduction to the game… but again, the thought of sittign through all those cut scenes again, puts me off.
Replay Value: 7
Although they were definite improvements on Sun and Moon, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them ‘Ultra’ version of those games. Slightly better polished versions of the games? Yeah, I’ll go with that.
Written by Karen