Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Return Trip to Alola: Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon

Alola everyone! I'm back from my second trip to Alola in my copy of Ultra Moon. Since it has been almost a month since the release, I don't feel bad about talking about some of the finer points of the game. However, if you haven't played the games yet because you are expecting them for Christmas or something, then be warned. This blog post will be filled with spoilers! Now that is out of the way, if you continue reading, that's on you. 

Necrozma is kind of the main antagonist, which is new to Pokémon games. That role is usually given to the evil teams.
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (USUM) was marketed as the biggest pokémon game to date, with approximately twice the story seen in Sun and Moon as well as other revamped games like Emerald or Platinum. Like those games, USUM were meant to be upgraded versions that explore the third legendary revealed in their given generation. In this case, the legendary was Necrozma. USUM also pulls heavily from Black 2 and White 2 by giving Necrozma two new formes by merging with the previous box art legendaries Lunala and Solgaleo. This is very similar to how Kyurem can merge with Zekrom and Reshiram. So, like my last blog, I'm going to run through the Pros and Cons (and in between) in USUM. These are all my opinion and feel free to comment below.

Mid Point: The Story of Necrozma
Necrozma's fused formes are kind of a hot mess. Dusk Mane Necrozma looks better though.
Since I started this by talking about Necrozma, we'll start there. Like I said before, Necrozma is a fusion legendary like Kyurem. There are some distinct differences between how Kyurem merges and how Necrozma merges. First, design-wise, Kyurem still looks like Kyurem when fused, just with aspects of the fused dragon merged into it. Necrozma is the opposite. It looks like the base legend, either Solgaleo or Lunala, with bits of Necrozma tacked on. Of the two, Dusk Mane Nezcrozma looks better in my opinion. I guess that isn't too crazy, as Kyurem suffers from the same issue. The Black Kyurem forme (fused with Zekrom) looks better than the White Kyurem forme (fused with Reshiram). In both Necrozma and Kyruem's case, one looks cool and the other looks confusing.

For the actual fusion process, Kyurem uses only one item to fuse so you can only have Black OR White Kyurem in your game at any given time. The two Necrozma formes each have their own item for fusion, so you can have both Dawn Wings AND Dusk Mane Necrozma. Overall, in practice this is only a minor difference between Necrozma and Kyurem, so it isn't as exciting as it could be. I would have rather had these formes been attributed to Lunala or Solgaleo and Necrozma performed more as a "power-up" for them rather than them powering up Necrozma. This game tries to put Necrozma out there as the new "big bad" legendary. Anyone who got Necrozma in SM likely found this hard to believe. Necrozma in its base form just isn't that great. The formes try to make it seem like it is tough enough to take on Solgaleo or Lunala, but that is tough to imagine.

The story of Necrozma presented by the Ultra Recon Squad (more on them later) at least helps solve this a little. Apparently the Necrozma we were familiar with from SM was a "broken" or incomplete forme. Again, this seems to mirror Kyurem. However, unlike Kyurem apparently Necrozma is in no way related to the legendaries it can fuse with. It just so happens it can because it can absorb light, and they are light based legendaries. The most interesting implication with this is, hypothetically, if other light based legendaries were released, Necrozma could potentially absorb them too. This does make it more of a threat than one would have anticipated. In addition to that, Necrozma can use Z-power to change into an even more powerful forme via "Ultra Burst". Similar to Mega Evolution, if Necrozma is in a merged state and is holding Ultranecrozium Z it can change into Ultra Necrozma for the extent of the battle. Apparently Ultra Necrozma is the "true" Necrozma. Unlike a Mega, after going Ultra it can use the Z-Crsytal again to use its signature Z move, Light that Burns the Sky.

There are videos of this thing on YouTube just destroying Wingulls. Why does it hate Wingull so much?
I like the design of Ultra Necrozma over the hodgepodge of its other formes, but it still seems rather weird to look at. Most of its body is light, so it has very little detail. So, like most of Necrozma's whole "deal", it's weird. The main aspect that bothers me is that Ultra Necrozma doesn't retain any characteristics of Lunala or Solgaleo so it doesn't matter which one Ultra Bursts. It will still end up being this Psychic/Dragon. I'm bothered by the fact I don't know where Nebby went, I guess. I assume it is not in the bag though. Regardless, as a fighter, the fused formes of Necrozma are better than the base form in terms of stats, although a standard Lunala is better than Dawn Wings Necrozma. Although they share the same types, DW Necrozma retains Prism Armor as an ability rather than Shadow Shield from Lunala, which is the better ability. On a side note, if we're lucky, in some Black/White remake in the future Game Freak will add a "true" Kyruem where it is merged with Zekrom AND Reshiram like its lore states it once was.

High Point: The Scenery and Characters
This was true of Sun and Moon, but even more so in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. We actually see Hau and Lillie develop more as individuals. Even Guzma goes through more character growth. The Ultra Recon Squad was a neat addition as people from Ultra Space, but their inclusion didn't feel as deep. In fact, I was a little bothered by the fact people weren't bothered more by blue skin people in space suits. Some NPCs made off hand comments about how they dressed weird, but then again, there are lots of people who dress weird in Pokémon games so maybe the NPCs just assumed it was cosplay.  Overall though, I was invested in all of the characters and actually liked meeting up with all of them at various times in the game. Sure, it meant there was a lot of text, but I don't mind cut scenes and dialog. I also like books, so having to read isn't going to change my opinion of a game.

Low Point: The Story
The main problem I had with the game was how long it took for the story to diverge. The only reason this hits me so hard is because of how much these games were presented as NOT being like Emerald or Platinum. I feel that's not accurate. It falls right in line with how those games were. Basically, things started to divert around the time the legendaries were becoming a major part of the plot. The same can be said for Platinum and Emerald.

Neat, but they didn't really do THAT much in the story. Plus they only caught 2 pokémon... speaking of which... what happened to Furfrou?!
As with older games, the plot of the third legend was expanded on. The Ultra Recon Squad (URS) attempt to extend the lore of Necrozma, and they do an ok job of doing that, but I feel like once stuff hit the fan the plot progressed very quickly. It went from Necrozma showing up and fusing with Nebby, to fighting it, to following it to Ultra Space, to fighting its Ultra forme. I feel the pacing got too quick there. The overall plot was pretty similar to before, except rather than Lusamine trying to capture Ultra Beasts she tried to keep the world safe from Necrozma, which is confirmed to be a type of Ultra Beast. She's still creepy, kind of mean, and keeps pokémon frozen in her basement. Maybe if there had never been Sun and Moon games, and we went straight to USUM, then the story would have been a high point. The story wasn't bad, I just felt a lot of it was too familiar.

Mid Point: Team Rainbow Rocket
This may get me in some hot water, but I feel a little let down by the post-game. The return of Team Rocket was not quite as glorious as I had hoped. The main issue was the Team Rainbow Rocket episode was so contained. Seeing all the bosses from the other teams was great. Fighting against their respective legendaries and Megas was fantastic. The part that let me down was they were all in the same building just hanging out. I would have rather seen them spread to different areas of Alola trying to enact their various agendas. Why wasn't Maxie at Wela Volcano trying to expand the land? Why wasn't Ghetsis on Melemele trying to convince new trainers to release their pokémon? Why wasn't Cyrus taking over the Hokulani Observatory? I think that would have much more fun to play.

Admittedly, we've been waiting for this battle for a long time.
The puzzles and whatnot were fun, but again, it just seemed to contained. I would have thought Giovanni would have known better than concentrate his entire force to one singular building. That didn't work so well before. Send the other bosses as diversions while he took over Aether Paradise. Since it was so contained, it seemed less threatening. I did like seeing Lillie, Guzma, and Colress make a reappearances to help during this post game though. Getting to battle with Lillie and Guzma was definitely a high point.

High Point: Ultra Beasts

In my last blog I mentioned how I hoped Ultra Beasts would have a bigger role in USUM. Luckily for me, they did, if only a little bigger. Most of the Ultra Beast plot is tacked in with the Ultra Recon Squad, with their members using the newest UB, Poipole (aka UB Adhesive). Also, when an Ultra Wormhole is finally opened at the Aether Paradise, more than just two UBs show up. In fact, rather than just seeing a cut scene of a random wormhole opening on each island, we get to see actual UBs attack the kahunas of each island.

New UBS (left to right): Naganadel (evolves from Poipole when it knows Dragon Pulse), Stakataka, and Blacephalon.
Again, it isn't much, but it is more than SM. In fact, players actually get to grab Poipole before the Elite Four, so you get to at least get one UB before the post game. If you decide to mess around in the Ultra Warp Ride, you can even get more by visiting their worlds. The worlds themselves aren't that exciting, it would have been nice if there had been some puzzles or something, which Pheromosa's actually does have, but whatever. There is something to be said for just being able to go and catch the guy you want without a needless puzzle. Additionally, UBs are common in their own worlds, so you can return over and over to get more for extras to use in trades or to raise with different natures, moves, or EVs. Love 'em or hate 'em, UBs look to be a big part of the game for a while. We may or may not see new ones next gen, but at the very least it adds a deeper mechanic to the games. Now that we can travel to Ultra Space to get UBs, and even other legendaries, it will be a lot easier to add more strange pokémon while simultaneously allowing new players to travel to other dimensions for older legends they may not have.

High Point: Trials
I'm happy to report the trials are WAY better than they were in Sun and Moon. I'd even go so far as to say the battles with the Totem pokémon were more challenging than battling Gym Leaders. Often the Totem would call a helper that would utilize borderline competitive strategies to whoop me. In fact, I think I battled Kiawe's Totem Marowak three times before I beat it and that was with the Totem-sized Araquanid I had on my own team. I play without the Exp. Share, so I was constantly right at or slightly below the level of the Totem so it was a real challenge. The Totems also had moves to cover weaknesses and held useful items. Kiawe's Totem Marowak has a Thick Club for crying out loud! If anything, in terms of trials/gyms, this was the most challenging a pokémon game has been for me in a while. The game really holds your hand elsewhere, like always healing before a rival battle, but trials were no joke.

Verdict: Better than the Originals
Although some things were rehashed, USUM improves over their predecessors in every way. If you haven't picked up a Gen 7 game, for whatever reason, just skip Sun and Moon. You won't miss anything. Pick up USUM and play the vastly superior version.