Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Pokémon Sun’s difficulty. As with every Pokémon game before this, the majority of its challenge is a direct result of the way you play the game. If you’re sticking with the same Pokémon throughout the game and using the Exp. Share then you’ll find yourself overlevelled, but if you turn that feature off and try to stay at the same level as your opponents then you’ll really be able to appreciate the subtleties of the game, namely the strategies that have been programmed into the different opponents you face. Last time I talked about one of the Totem Pokémon that destroyed my team, but if I was significantly stronger than it then that match would have been very short and ultimately not very exciting. Certain areas of the game have special Trainers that will only fight you after you’ve beaten the other Trainers nearby, and they tend to have some interesting strategies and items to use against you.
Hardcore Pokémon fans have always found ways to make the games harder, and the Nuzlocke challenge is the first one that comes to mind. When you play through the game using this ruleset, your Pokémon are considered ‘dead’ after they faint in battle and you can no longer use them. You are also only allowed to use the first Pokémon you catch in any area on your team, which forces you to come up with new strategies to adapt. I think that Totem Pokémon, Ultra Beasts, and special Trainers add to Pokémon Sun’s difficulty, and that if you play it in such a way that your Pokémon are on par with your opponents you’ll find that the game offers a level of challenge on par with harder games in the franchise, like Pokémon Black 2 / White 2.
After beating the third Island Kahuna, my impressions of the Island Challenge are still relatively positive. I’m finding that the Trials are following a very explicit formula with different skins on top. In essence, you’re battling three Pokémon and then the Totem Pokémon, with some minor environmental interactions in between. I was hoping that there would be more variety, like having to use specific items and attacks or solving puzzles. All in all, they’re still very enjoyable. More so, I’d argue, than the Gym Leader Challenge present in other Pokémon games.
Remember when I said I couldn’t get tired of Team Skull? Well, I’ve sort of backtracked on that a bit. Maybe it’s because I was just overtired while playing through a specific section of the game, but you fight a LOT of them in a short period of time and I got a bit burned out . Don’t get me wrong, I still love their aesthetic and characters, and the section of the game was really unique, but it’s the kind of thing that I’ll have to come back to during my second playthrough before I make up my mind about it. Perhaps the biggest issue was the repetition in the Pokémon they fought with. This has been an unfortunate trend in the ‘evil teams’ in every game, where they all seem to have very similar Pokémon. Golbat and Ratatta, especially, are two that you see coming back in every game.
Story-wise, Pokémon Sun is very strong. The writing is great, and a lot of the characters are very compelling. I’ve already talked about how much I like Team Skull, but Hau has been quite lovable from the get-go. Gladion, Type: Null’s Trainer and member of Team Skull, has more depth than I anticipated. He DOES start off as an angsty teen like I figured he would, but his arc is proving to be very interesting. Not only is he Lillie’s brother and Lusamine’s son, but he actually values teamwork despite coming across as a lone wolf. I would say that I’m a bit disappointed with how much they foreshadowed Lusamine, leader of the Aether Foundation, being a complete nut, but in the end there have still been enough twists and turns to satisfy me in that respect.
I was really excited to encounter more of the Ultra Beasts in the story, but so far there haven’t been any opportunities to do so and I’m starting to wonder if I’ll see them at all in the main game. It seems like things are really starting to wrap up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more twists and turns along the way.