As I sat in the Champions chair after the final showdown with my rival and friend, Hau, I had to reflect on the journey it took to get here.  High atop Mt Lanakila, surrounded by my partners, I had to think about the friendships, the hardships, the Pokémon I met, the people I helped, and everything else leading up to this point.

It was a trial, but Aegislash, Decidueye, Chandlure, Empoleon, Magneton, and Metagross made sure I would become the undisputed first time Pokemon Champion of Alola.

Man, it’s good to be the champ.

Hello everyone and welcome to another review!  I finally, after nearly a year of waiting, I am writing my first ever 3DS Game review!  Now I have to do these reviews in text form because I do not have (nor do I wish to have) my New 2DS XL modded for footage capture.  Maybe down the road if I get the cash I will buy a second system for that, but for now it’s all text all the time for this and future 3DS / DS games I review.  Technically this review applies to both Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, as the games are identical barring certain available Pokémon.

Pokémon and I have a strange history.  My first game was Pokémon Blue at the original release, on an original Gameboy.  I did not play another Pokémon game till Pokémon Black on a DSi XL.  Then, Pokémon Y on my old original 3DS.  And now Ultra Sun.  I have dabbled off and on with the series, but I have always loved the gentle fun loving nature of the games, focused on catching a mostly cute (and sometimes terrifying) little monsters with which to go on an adventure through fascinating lands.

Pokémon Ultra Sun is the last one that is to be released on handhelds, as Nintendo is moving everything over to the Switch now.  So it seems fitting that the final handheld release is the one I am going to review first.  And boy howdy is it a doozy.  Let’s break it down, starting with the visuals.

VISUALS

The New 2DS XL is a fantastic system, and I should take a look at it more in depth one of these days.  Ultra Sun uses its features to the max, and the game looks stunning.  Environments are wonderful to explore and easy to navigate, and the change from day to night is amazing.  Further, character models and Pokémon models are the best I have seen, with wonderful 3D renders, and occasionally a little risqué.  Fight up against a male or female Swimmer and you will see what I mean.

For the most part, framerates are consistent, but I did have issues when there were double battles (2 Pokémon to a side) or weather effects on screen as I would suffer slowdowns and fps drops..  The effects for the attacks, and especially the new Z Moves, were a sight to behold, with fantastic looks and animations to accompany them.  Also, your character can be customized quite a bit and I enjoyed the various clothing options and hair options that I was given.  Overall, visually this game is a treat and until the Switch games come out, is most likely the best you are going to get.  But what about the sound design?

AUDIO

Musically the game is pretty solid, with decent BGM throughout.  However, unlike some games, I don’t really remember any particular theme, not even the intro theme.  Further, I would not seek out the music here to listen outside of the game, like I do with Chrono Cross or World of Warcraft.  Its serviceable, and the battle theme honestly gets kind of annoying after a while.  Point of fact, I played a lot of the game with the sound turned off and I did not really notice anything too bad by doing this.

In combat, the sounds your Pokémon makes, the cries they have, and the sound of attacks are all pretty solid.  Pikachu is the only Pokémon that actually says their name (And they even have a specific voice actor credit) but every other Pokémon simply has a unique sound growl.  Attacks sound impactful, and varied enough to get the job done.  Overall, it’s a serviceable sound design and soundtrack but nothing that stands out in my mind.  Thankfully, the Story fares much better.

STORY AND SETTING

Like every other main title in the Pokémon franchise, you start as a new kid moving into a new town in a new region with your mother.  This time, you are moving into the Alola region, made up of four islands.  Unlike most of the rest of the Pokémon world, Alola doesn’t have gyms, and is a much more laid back region with several unique variants of Pokémon seen in other lands, such as the Alola Sandshrew and Alola Vulpix, among others.  You quickly meet the grandson of the local Kahuna, Hau, and after rescuing a girl named Lillie and her Pokémon Nebbie from a wild Pokémon attack, the local Totem Pokémon gives you a Z-Bracelet, indicating that you are to take the “Island Challenge”, the Alola version of defeating gyms.

The premise is simple: Go and complete 2-3 Island Challenges, obtain Z-Crystals, and then face off against the Island Kahuna in battle to grow and prove you are worthy of the Totem Pokémon’s attention.  You travel island to island doing this, while also helping people deal with issues on each island that are usually caused by a group called Team Skull, which honestly is my favorite team I have seen.  They are just so damn goofy and tryhard its amazing.  They also try to rap, really really badly I might add.  In Ultra Sun there are also sub stories involving the Ultra Beasts and Ultra Wormholes, which lead to “other places” but those are not really touched on in the main storyline too much.

I will admit however that the overall story is fairly basic, and focuses on the themes of friendship and hard work and is clearly designed for children and young adults.  If you are looking for the Witcher 3 levels of storytelling here, you will be disappointed.

One major change to how the story plays out is the switch from Gyms to Trials.  For me, the change from Gyms to Trials is honestly a welcome one for me.  The trials were all interesting, and fit the theme and tone of the islands.  The Trials all features particular types of Pokémon, and because you ended up with close to 14-15 trials overall, you got to face off against each type of Pokémon in a grand battle.  Further, the world felt a lot more real than previous entries.  Roads and trails frequently connect to multiple locations, and distances travelled felt realistic as well.  The towns all had diners, cafes, stores, and more that you could visit, and plenty of people to interact with and help.  One of the first things I did in fact each time I got to a new region was to explore as much of it as I could, looking for off the beaten path locations, secrets, and trainers.  Plus of course, all the various Pokémon I could chase down and capture.  The world even evolved as the story moved forward, with Alola changing a little towards the end.  Overall out of the few Pokémon games I have played this has to be my favorite for the journey.  It also helps that Hau felt less like a real rival and more like a true friend, both of us trying to train our teams to be the very best, while helping each other through the journey.  And what a journey it was.  Let’s talk about how the game plays.

GAMEPLAY

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Pokémon by and large can be a fairly simple game on the surface.  And if you just play it without paying attention to the nuance of it, you can miss out on quite a bit.  However, at the same time, you don’t NEED to learn all the nuances like strengths and weaknesses, or STAB or Breeding or EV/IV and things to really enjoy the game either.  It’s as basic as you need it to be, or as deep as you want it to be.  I also want to be clear that I am by NO MEANS an expert, and I am a PVE (that’s Player vs Environment) player.  I do not get into competitive battling, which is cutthroat and highly complex.

Controls are simple: You use the Circle Pad or DPad to move on screen, or select things.  You have an inventory system made up of bags which stores your potions and consumables, your TMs (machines that can teach moves to Pokémon), your beans, and more.  You also have your party of 6 Pokémon, which are the focus of the game.  You will spend your time wandering the islands of Alola, using the Riding Pokémon to speed up travel, encountering other trainers to battle for cash and wild Pokémon in the tall grass to capture.  Battles are a turn based affair as well, with you vs the other trainer in a 1v1 match (sometimes 2v2).  The trials are a combination of gauntlet (usually involving other trainers or wild Pokémon) and puzzles, involving simple switches to move things around, or slides, and the like.  You can also visit Pokemon Centers to buy items and heal your team, and use the Pokémon PC and Box system to store hundreds of your little friends.

But the real magic of Pokémon?  It’s the creatures the games take their name from.

Pokémon is all about the little creatures you find and capture, and train to make up your party.  In Ultra Sun there are over 700 little beasties to hunt down and catch, and each one has a combination of moves, strengths, and weaknesses that make it different from the rest.  A Pokémon can only ever hold 4 moves, and each move has a set number of PP (Power Points) that dictate how many times you can use that move before you have to rest.  Every game starts out the same, with you choosing a “Starter” Pokémon from a Grass, Fire, or Water type.  These typically evolve twice (yes, Pokémon can evolve and change) getting stronger and learning new attacks as this happens.  In Ultra Sun your options are Rowlet (Grass), Litten (Fire), and Poplio (Water).  I for example started with Rowlet, because a tiny owl is too damn cute to not use!

Each Pokémon can have 1 or 2 “Types”.  For example Rowlet is Grass.  These types can also change when the Pokémon evolves.  Rowlett eventually becomes a Grass/Ghost type when they evolve to Decidueye, for example.  Types dictate what the Pokémon is Strong and Weak against.  Hit a Grass type with a Fire attack, and it does boosted damage, whereas hitting a Grass type with Water does less.  Attacks ALSO have types, and if your Pokémon and the attack share a type, the attack gets a STAB (Same Type Attack Boost) bonus on damage.  So if Rowlett uses a Grass attack, it gets boosted damage.

This is where learning what each enemy Pokémon’s type comes into play, and the game can get incredibly dense.  Some Pokémon are tough against physical attacks but not special attacks, for example (And yes, attacks can be SPECIAL or PHYSICAL in nature).  Learning how to maximize your teams potential, while minimizing the weaknesses you have, is crucial.  When I played the game, I went through making sure my team was themed, with either everyone being a Ghost or Steel type.  Which, comically, meant that Fire Types were for the most part my bane (both Ghost and Steel take increased damage from Fire).  It’s a challenge I give myself each time I play, using thematic Pokémon.

This is a deep RPG, despite its child like setting and themes, make no mistake.  Battles are 1 v 1, with you sending out a Pokémon and your opponent sending one out, unless it’s a double battle.  You can switch your Pokémon out during a fight or use an item, but that takes the Pokémon’s turn, and it gives your opponent a chance to get in a free hit or even heal their own Pokémon.  Double battles can get even crazier, especially when your opponents decide to have both their Pokémon attack just one of yours.  Your Pokémon’s speed stat dictates how fast it goes in battle, and when your turn comes you choose from one of the four available moves your Pokémon has learned.  Some moves are attacks, some are buffs for your team, and some are debuffs for the enemy.  There are even status effects like Poison, Sleep, Paralyze, and so on.  And to make things even more complex, every Pokémon has an “Ability” that gives it a unique effect.  Metagross has Clear Body which prevents Status Lowering effects (things that might drop its attack or defense) from bothering it, for example, where Arcanine has Intimidate, which cuts the opponents Pokémon’s Physical Attack down.  Geodudes can have Sturdy, which make them survive lethal damage once with 1 HP.  Every Pokémon has 2 abilities it can come with, and you will almost NEVER know what your opponents have.

To make things even more complicated, you are level gated.  You see, Pokémon only listen to a seasoned trainer.  As you complete trials, the max level a Pokémon will obey you without question goes up.  But if a Pokémon goes beyond that level, then they might ignore your commands, meaning they will not do anything in battle.  This prevents you from simply level grinding to overpower enemies with sheer force.  Traded Pokémon make this even worse, as they gain BOOSTED XP during fights!  I used quite a few traded Pokémon in my team, and there were multiple instances where I simply outleveled my trainer card, and had to resort to hoping my weakest Pokémon would survive and let me defeat my enemies, because my stronger ones just wouldn’t listen to me.  My Metagross Hiemdall was my saving grace for a lot of this, because I actually caught him and trained him up on my own from his unevolved form Beldum.

All of this adds up to an incredibly deep and satisfying game, which is as complicated as you want it to be, nevermind things like IV and Effort Values which I still personally do not understand (it has to do with stat growth on level up and things) and natures.  Or breeding your Pokémon, or the various side activities or the Player vs Player stuff.  Collecting all the outfits, getting all the Z-Crystals, ect ect ect.

There are also plenty of stuff you can do with other people outside of battling, such as the Festival Plaza and Trading.  Wonder Trade is my favorite trading method, where you submit a Pokémon and randomly get one in return from someone else.  I spent several hours total just repeatedly sending out Pokémon and getting ones in return, just to see what people would send.

The answer is a whole lotta Magikarps, just saying.

Finally, there is the Post Game.  In Ultra Sun, the game is NOT OVER when you complete the main story and become the Champion of Alola.  In fact, there is an entire Epilogue called “Team Rainbow Rocket” and plenty of activities you can complete once you are champion.  Hell there are entire areas that only become accessible once you are champion!  For the first time, for example, YOU CAN DEFEND YOUR TITLE!  You can actually go and face off against people who want to take you down and become Champ in your place.  I haven’t dug too deep into the Post Game, as after 40 hours of regular Pokémon I needed a change, but it’s just as deep and compelling as the main story.  Such as hunting down the various Ultra Beasts and Legendaries (yes, there are special Legendary Pokémon which are even stronger than most normal ones out there) that exist in the Ultra Wormholes.

FINAL VERDICT

If you could not tell, this game is something else.  It’s an epic culmination of years and years of games and history, and it shows.  Truth be told, this is my favorite of the Pokémon games I have played, and one I fully intend to come back to on my system when I feel the urge.  The story, the world, the style of this game just exceeds every expectation I had for it.

If you have a New 2DS XL or 3DS system you should definitely get this (Or Ultra Moon, they are effectively the same game with just a few different Pokémon available to them) if you are looking for a relaxing yet deep RPG with tons to do and see.  If however things that are very kid friendly and feel at times like it’s come out of a child’s anime are not your thing, you might want to steer clear, as the story, while solid, is pretty basic.

You can pick up Pokémon Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon from the following places, and it’s well worth the $40 price.

The Nintendo Store – https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/pokemon-ultra-sun-3ds

Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Pokémon-Ultra-Sun-Nintendo-3DS/dp/B071WNTGFY/

Gamestop – https://www.gamestop.com/nintendo-3ds/games/pokemon-ultra-sun/149398

Walmart – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Pokemon-Ultra-Sun-Nintendo-Nintendo-3DS-045496904555/664937166

Videos belong to their original creators.  They should give you a prime example of the kind of content you can expect from Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon.

Pokemon Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon: A Review
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