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REVIEW: ‘Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon’ change too much and too little at the same time

This review contains spoilers.

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed “Pokemon Sun and Moon” when they launched last year, I was eagerly anticipating the release of “Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.” Though I was not totally sure what to expect from a “remix,” of sorts, I was confident I would still enjoy my time traversing through the Alola region once more.

Sadly, my confidence seems to have been misplaced.

“Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” are essentially the “Platinum” or “Emerald” of generation seven. The games feature a similar story to their original counterparts, with a differing story spliced into the original world. Unlike Emerald and Platinum, however, “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” do not execute this strategy as effectively as we have seen in the past. I started the game as I did in the original “Sun and Moon.” The local Professor Kukui gave me one of three starter Pokemon, Rowlet, Litten or Popplio, and after befriending my beloved Popplio, I set out on my island challenge for the second time.

Throughout my journey, hints of an impending calamity kept appearing throughout the region. Humans from another dimension entirely, the Ultra Recon Squad, keep dropping references to a being called Necrozma. Once relegated to a post-game enigma in “Sun and Moon,” the Psychic-type legendary Pokemon is now an antagonist: enraged after it lost its light at the hands of Ultra Space’s inhabitants, it is now on a psychotic rampage. It yearns to consume all of Alola’s light instead. During the game’s former climax atop a sacred mountain, in which the tiny Pokemon Cosmog evolves into a powerful legendary Pokemon (either Solgaleo or Lunala), Necrozma interrupts the scene, beating up and consuming the legendary before fleeing back to Ultra Space. The player must then pursue it and stop it from consuming Alola’s light once and for all.

To begin with, it felt like I, the player, was always one step ahead of the characters. I knew Necrozma was going to be a sort of villain. Even the characters’ use of “The Blinding One” in an attempt to mask its identity ultimately falls flat, as the reveal is expected; this even impacts the severity of the game’s climax.

A more pressing story concern, however, is the magnitude of changes to the original story because of this. In “Sun and Moon,” Lusamine, in perhaps one of the most impactful plot twists I have experienced in Pokemon, turns out to be the bad guy, having turned her son and daughter into objects in her attempts to find the Ultra Beasts once more. She deems them to be beautiful creatures, and she nearly destroyed the world by trying to summon said beasts. It was riveting, emotional and well-executed, with superb foreshadowing that is easily missable the first time around.

This time, it is revealed Lusamine did all the above because she wanted to protect the world from creatures like Necrozma. She was doing all these horrible things out of a sense of duty. This change would be fine if all the references to the original story were removed. This is not the case. Instead, all the foreshadowing surrounding her ulterior motives remain throughout the story, such as the character arc surrounding her daughter, Lillie, who escaped her mother in order to protect Cosmog. As a result, all the emotional impact of the story is shot, leaving Lusamine to almost be a good person, albeit misguided. This is not the character I enjoyed. I reveled in the first female villainous team leader, who emotionally abused her children and kept Pokemon in cryogenic stasis all in the name of grief-driven anguish. What I received is a watered-down version of this story that ultimately boiled down to a completely different and less satisfying outcome. I did not want Lusamine awake and redeeming herself in the postgame. I wanted the Lusamine who ended the game in a coma, denied a redemption arc by virtue of her own failures as a parent. The complexity of the story had been ruined.

All is not lost for “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon,” however. Team Rainbow Rocket’s inclusion into the story was a superb nod to the series’s origins, looking back at previous evil teams such as Hoenn’s Magma and Sinnoh’s Galactic, all run by the infamous Giovanni of Team Rocket. The humor was great. The battles against the team leaders were challenging thanks to the inclusion of legendary Pokemon, forcing my momentum to grind to a screeching halt as I suddenly had to stop a rain-boosted Kyogre from decimating my entire team with Hydro Pump. It was massive fun.

Unfortunately, the entire Rocket arc was relegated to the postgame. Further, the arc felt hollow and meaningless. Giovanni’s mysterious commentary before disappearing seems like a hint at a continuation of this cool new story, but since the confirmation of “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” as the last main series Pokemon games on the 3DS, I am left yearning for what I know I cannot have.

I have explored other parts of the postgame, mainly venturing into the randomly-generated Ultra Space in search of Ultra Beasts to add to my collection, but my eventual thoughts, what I will use to summarize this review with, is “Why bother?”

I did all this a year ago. I obtained all the Ultra Beasts in “Sun and Moon,” and the new additions to the roster are mere gifts in “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.” The return of every legendary Pokemon from previous games feels pointless thanks to Pokemon Bank. Why would I spend hours trying to obtain them all in “Ultra Moon” when I own them all back in my copy of “Pokemon Y?” I already obtained all 18 Z-crystals in “Pokemon Sun.” I already played this game before.

The parts of “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” that remain unchanged were still as good as they were a year ago, but if I wanted to play “Sun and Moon,” I would. I did not pay $40 to play “Sun and Moon” again. I paid to play a reimagined Alola, akin to Sinnoh’s Platinum and Hoenn’s Emerald. Not enough of Alola truly changed to justify the cost for me.

Sadly, the last main series entries to the 3DS family was a disappointing farewell to the console that lasted four years of Pokemon. It is disheartening how a region with my favorite Pokemon game now also has my least favorite.

About Andrew Wadovick

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