Recently I penned an article on my wishes for Pokemon Stars, the theoretical third version of Sun and Moon that would be playable on the Nintendo Switch (is it still “penned” when you type it on a tablet?). The Pokemon Direct on Tuesday revealed that Pokemon Stars isn’t coming anytime soon – instead, we have Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. These games are not sequels but rather “alternate takes” on Sun and Moon, featuring a different storyline and Pokemon that weren’t in the previous games.
I mentioned in my reaction to the Pokemon Direct that I’m actually pretty okay with this – Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have the potential not only to make the changes I was hoping for in Stars, but to make changes to even more integral parts of the original story. Things I wanted to change but that didn’t feel possible to change in a “third version” actually make a lot of sense to change in an alternate storyline, so today I thought it would be fun to talk about the things I’d love to see in these upcoming titles.
HOPE #1: A NEW CAST
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I really hate Hau as a rival. He’s so freaking happy all the time. It’s awful! Happy people are the worst! Not really, but with this guy something about his carefree personality rubs me the wrong way. Literally all he cares about is malasada, and as a rival he’s a total waste of time. He never puts up a fight and I’d just as soon have Lilly as my rival than have to deal with this guy all the time.
Luckily, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon would be a perfect chance to switch things up. After all, Black 2 and White 2 changed your rival, and even though this game isn’t a sequel I think it would be nice for it to bring something different to the table. At the very least, if we HAVE to keep Hau, I want to see his personality change. This is an alternate take, right? So what if Hau wasn’t lazy, but actually acted on his buried desire to be better than his grandfather the kahuna? What if growing up in Hala’s shadow made him obsessed with being the best? This would be a Hau who wanted desperately to defeat you in combat to prove his worth, the kind of Hau who would choose the super-effective starter in the beginning just to have an edge against you. Combining this personality change with a scaled-up difficulty for Hau would be an awesome way to change up the rival for these games.
I think it’d be really interesting to see many of the cast members in the game change roles in this universe. Maybe Lillie is the villain we all first suspected her to be back when she was revealed before the games came out. Perhaps Hala is the professor instead of Kukui. Maybe Kukui is your father and for once in the Pokemon universe, you start with a single dad instead of a single mom. Maybe some of our trial captains are now kahunas, or they specialize in different types, or they’re part of the evil team and Guzma is a good guy.
Of course, adding new characters into the mix would be great too. While meeting a whole new version of existing cast members would certainly be compelling, I’d like to see some new folks in this alternate take too. Particularly when it comes to important roles like villains or elite four members, I think it’d be nice to have something totally new instead of a reskin of what we had before. Maybe as a foil to the goofy Team Skull we now have very serious and deadly villains to contend with. Perhaps in this timeline the kahunas of each island were resistant to the creation of an Alolan Pokemon League, and so the Elite Four consist of younger folks who are eager for change while the kahunas defend their old traditions. Having new characters in the game alongside shifting the roles of returning characters would do a lot to make these new versions of Sun and Moon feel fresh.
HOPE #2: NEW POKEMON FORMS
Sun and Moon introduced the phenomenon of Alolan forms – alternate takes on Pokemon who have been around since generation one. Now that these games are themselves alternate takes, I think this is an appropriate time to include more Alolan forms in the game. Particularly, I’d love to see Alolan forms of Pokemon from other generations. Some Pokemon seem incomplete in their current state, creatures like Dunsparce or Luvdisc with no evolution but also not enough power of their own to seem like fully-formed Pokemon. Perhaps the Alolan versions of such Pokemon could help them to reach completion.
Of course, the other way to handle that would be to add more of another type of form: Mega Evolutions. Seventh generation took a break from Mega Evolution in the sense that Sun and Moon didn’t add any new ones. Now that we’ve experienced seventh gen a bit and we’ve had time to learn the uniqueness of Alola, let Mega Evolution get the full game treatment and treat us to some new Megas. In particular, no sixth or seventh gen Pokemon have Mega Evolutions so this would be a good time to add those into the game.
Finally, the stretch that I consider to be the stretchiest of all – I would love to see alternate starter forms for Sun versus Moon. WAY back in the early days of the hype for Sun and Moon, GameFreak teased that there was going to be something special in common between Rockruff and the three starters. At first I suspected Z-Moves, but then it was confirmed that every Pokemon could use Z-Moves. Then when it was revealed that Rockruff evolves into different forms depending on the version of the game you are playing, I assumed the starters would work the same way – Pokemon Sun players would have a different final starter form than Pokemon Moon players. That didn’t turn out to be the case, and to this day I still haven’t figured out what the heck is supposed to be the special similarity between Rockruff and the starters (if anyone knows, feel free to tell us in the comment section).
What I think would be awesome is if the current three starter forms were split between the two versions and then three new starter forms were added, giving each starter a different final form depending on whether you play Ultra Sun or Ultra Moon. If it were to happen that way, I feel like Decidueye and Incineroar would be more appropriate for Ultra Moon and Primarina for Ultra Sun. They could call these Midday and Midnight forms just like Rockruff, and then add new forms: Midday forms for Rowlet and Litten, and a Midnight form for Popplio. This to me would make your choice of version more compelling and make starter choice something exciting again – otherwise, these three Pokemon will be exactly the same between the original Sun/Moon and their Ultra counterparts. Again, this is a hope: out of everything I’m saying in this article, I feel like this is the least likely thing to happen.
While I think it would be interesting to see entire new Pokemon in these games, I find it very unlikely. Games like Emerald and Platinum rarely added more than maybe a couple of legendaries, and while this is more similar to Black 2 and White 2 it is my understanding that those didn’t exactly add a slew of new critters either. Ultimately I’m okay with that, though – if Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon make it so that we have a greater overall variety of Pokemon and also throws in new Alolan Pokemon and Mega Pokemon, it’ll be enough of a change to be satisfying in my view. Particularly if they fix the encounter rates so we can actually meet some of them!
HOPE #3: A NEW STRUCTURE
Sun and Moon made a dramatic change to the Pokemon formula by foregoing gyms in favor of the Island Trial system. This tradition focused on exploring the islands of Alola to face off against totem Pokemon, earning Z-Crystals from seven trial captains before ultimately facing off against the four island kahunas. It’s a definite change to the structure of Pokemon, and while a change to the formula is something sorely needed, I don’t think the way island trials work is necessarily the way to go about it.
Don’t get me wrong, island trials sound great in theory. Each challenge is totally different rather than the uniform similarity of Pokemon gyms. However, just because these challenges are unique doesn’t mean they are compelling. Most of the island trials were goofy minigames or fetch quests that didn’t offer the challenge of gym puzzles. And while totem battles were cool in concept, the constant summoning of allies and the technical failings of these battles made them more frustrating than cool. I know these are opinions and they aren’t opinions shared by all – there are definitely people who liked the island trials. But I personally felt that they left something to be desired.
In my view, the island trials weren’t trials; other than the totem battle, they never felt challenging. With gym puzzles, you had the challenge of navigating a specific area. There’s something to solve, or traps to fall in to that punish you with battles to fight. With island trials, your “challenge” is a simple dialogue or fetch quest that doesn’t really push you in any way. I think if the idea behind island trials – a unique challenge for each one rather than the same formula each time – was fused with legitimate challenges rather than goofy minigames, folks who agree with me would actually enjoy them and folks who liked them already would have even more fun.
Finally, I would love to see changes to the structure of “bosses” to make them more engaging. Gym leaders were pushovers, but there were eight of them to deal with. Kahunas are equally pathetic pushovers with half the numbers. While you could certainly make the case that the real “bosses” in Sun and Moon are the totem Pokemon rather than trainers, the structure of the game doesn’t reinforce that. When it comes to storytelling, the high points of the game’s story are still those where you face human opponents in battle. The kahunas, Guzma, the final villain, and the Elite Four and Champion are the big focus when it comes to battles, yet most of them fail to impress.
I think the common weakness that makes both gym leaders and kahunas so easy to defeat is the continued insistence on them using Pokemon of a single type. This has been standard practice since Red and Blue, but back then it made a lot more sense. People didn’t know the typing system of Pokemon at that time – additionally, there were so few Pokemon to choose from that you couldn’t build a balanced team right off of the bat. Each gym was a challenge because you didn’t know their weaknesses yet, which made exploring the town to talk to every NPC and exploring the environment to catch every Pokemon that much more important. The key to defeating a gym leader with a difficult new typing might be a Pokemon you didn’t catch from the last route.
Things don’t work that way anymore. You can have a full team of six Pokemon with balanced typings pretty early on in the games now – definitely by the time you face the first kahuna in Sun and Moon. Yet he still carries a team consisting only of one type, requiring you only to know the weaknesses of that type and carry one or two Pokemon that can capitalize on those weaknesses. While typings can be a point of challenge for the newest of newcomers, a lot of players understand them now and even an opponent who uses all Pokemon of a particularly tricky type will still not prove challenging for most players.
I’m not proposing that we make Pokemon this crazy difficult game where all of the bosses use strategies from competitive formats like Smogon or VGC in order to destroy you. I think the totem Pokemon are really good examples of the kind of strategies I’d like to see from human opponents. If what is essentially a particularly powerful wild Lurantis is smart enough to use Sunny Day in order to maximize Synthesis and Solar Beam, why can’t trainers instruct their Pokemon to do the same thing? If anything, I’d like to see intelligent strategies from trainers instead of wild Pokemon, particularly if trainers are going to continue to be the main bosses of the storyline.
If kahunas built their teams around an approach rather than a specific typing, I think they would make much more engaging opponents. Maybe one kahuna prefers set-up moves and you have to learn to play around the enhanced stats of their Pokemon. Then another uses defensive stall and you have to learn how to break down walls in combat. For players unused to such strategies, the NPCs all over the world suddenly become very valuable as points of instruction. Maybe the combat portion of each trial captain’s trial helps you to learn techniques to overcome these strategies, so that the trials themselves are actually equipping you to battle the kahunas successfully.
As a side note, if GameFreak is going to continue to push VGC as the official competitive format, they need to make double battles a more central part of the mainline Pokemon experience. Help players to learn the strategies of doubles during the gameplay so that when they develop an interest in playing competitively, they’ll already know the basics and can focus on learning the metagame. That’s a whole ‘nother bag of worms, though, and if they could just focus on making the difficulty of trainer battles line up with their significance in the story, that would be awesome.
Now I turn the conversation to you, adventurers. What are some things you’d like to see in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon? Do you agree with my desire to change the roles of cast members, add new Alolan forms, and theme kahunas around strategies rather than typing? Do you have your own ideas you would add to that? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!