Gaming the system: Nintendo capitalizes on Pokemon franchise with Ultra

In a world where animals have the ability to beat up other animals for either survival or showing their love for their trainer, the world of Pokémon is full of wonder and curiosity. For a little over twenty years, the Nintendo franchise has been enjoyed by children and adults alike, giving them a sense of wish fulfillment every time they start playing. This year, only a year after Pokémon: Sun and Moon came out, Pokémon: Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon hit shelves in November, making Pokémon fans ponder what this game would have in store for them after the already incredible previous installments.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were unexpected, to say the least. With the most recent installments of the games deviating from the two main games and a remastered third game formula, it was hard to predict what Game Freak and Nintendo were going to do after the release of Sun and Moon. While some fans are still skeptical of the games and how they’re essentially Sun and Moon with a few tweaks here and there, I find them to be quite good and a step up from the original installment of this generation’s Pokemon game.

The game is set in the fictional region of Alola (based on Hawaii), a tropical archipelago of islands that the player character just moved to. In Alola, there’s a whole new set of Pokémon to collect, islands to explore, as well as characters to meet. In both these games and Sun and Moon, I feel like a tropical region was something that a lot of fans were looking for and I, for one, am a big fan of how they went about it. The first character the player meets, as in any Pokémon game, is the professor of the region. This region’s professor is the no-shirt wearing, man-bun sporting Professor Kukui who talks like he’s a ‘90s surfer dude. He’s a weird guy, but that just adds to his character, and he has the perfect carefree attitude that fits the aesthetics of the region. After the character chooses one of three different Pokémon to start their journey off with, the player character is immediately plunged into the tradition of Alola: the Island Challenge.

Instead of having gym battles and a Pokémon League like every other Pokémon game, the Alola region has an Island Challenge, which is a series of trials that the player has to go through to be able to fight the Kahuna of each island. This is a really refreshing take on the trainer’s journey through a region because instead of focusing on getting your Pokémon to a certain level in order to beat a gym leader, the goal is to get stronger and become friends with the Pokémon in order to finish a trial together. It has more sentimental value to it and the player feels connected with these animals that don’t exist in real life.

The story in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is basically the same as the previous game, with some added difficulty to the trials and new characters that appear throughout to provide exposition of important plot details. However, the ending to the main story is completely different and, in my opinion, better than the originals. There is so much growth for all of the main characters in the story (yes, including the player), and it ties loose ends together that it makes the final boss fight seem a lot more personal despite the increased difficulty.

The music of the region is almost too beautiful to describe. Pokémon, as a roleplaying game, is very textbox-dialogue heavy and needs a good soundtrack to back it up. Every game that’s come out since 1996 has upped the ante in the music department, and with the 3DS’ superior sound quality over the handhelds of the past, they were able to do a lot more with the soundtrack. Bringing in full orchestrations and varying instruments helped sell the tropical feel of the island, describe characters without having to take up dialogue, differentiate day and night, and evoking powerful emotions from the player, all make the game even more enjoyable. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up at some points because of how beautiful the music is.

Overall, there hasn’t been a Pokémon game like this in a long time. Something so story-heavy and personal hasn’t been made since the days of the DS Lite/DSi. Pokémon: Black and White (and it’s sequals, Black and White 2) had a whole narrative about how not everything is right or wrong, and many of the gym leaders and important characters had much more of a role in the players journey, and the story of Ultra Sun and Moon just gives off the same vibe. It might just be because I get a sense of wish-fulfillment from battling and training with animals that would never be able to exist in the real world, but if you’re a Pokémon fan and haven’t purchased this game or it’s predecessors, I highly recommend going to your local GameStop or anywhere that sells video games and buying it. It’s so good you won’t be able to put it down.