Pokemon Ultra Moon Review
Developer: Game Freak
Whenever I review a game, it is because I was interested or excited to check out a certain title and see whether or not it offers a worthwhile experience. However, I cannot in all honesty claim that was the case for Pokemon Ultra Moon. My fondness for the series along with my continued frustrations with it have both been well documented by now, and I honestly was not looking forward to playing this title when it finally came out, and continuously delayed my playthrough simply because, well, I have grown tired of the series in many respects.
Having gone through Pokemon X, Alpha Sapphire, and Moon all in four year span had given me major franchise fatigue and going through a slightly modified and improved version of the latest game was genuinely difficult for me to find enjoyment in. I still love the series and get excited for each major mainline entry, but my hype levels were at an all time low here, and I honestly was not in the mood for another Pokemon game, yet felt compelled to go through it until I reached the credits before putting it away.
I have not touched most of the post-game content, and honestly do not intend to. I have grown tired of the region of Alola, the act of catching the same legendaries over again, and going through the same old rigoramole that has been perpetuated throughout my entire gaming life, but especially throughout the past five years. There are so many minor yet massive problems I have with how the series handles the rather simple things it does that made it difficult for me to find enjoyability as I went through the game, and in all honesty, I did not want to play this game. It is still enjoyable, but it is also just a slightly improved version of an existing game that I already dumped 100 hours into a year ago, and did not want to do so again.
Pokemon Ultra Moon is yet another mainline entry in the seemingly unending Pokemon series that serves to remix and slightly alter the prior game, Pokemon Moon, in a manner that makes the game simply feel like an improved version of its predecessor more than anything else. It is a process that GameFreak have repeated for years with the “third version” title that were present for the first four generations, with Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum. By those standards, Ultra Moon is a perfectly fine and ultimately better game than what came before it with a welcome scattering of extra bits of content and some story changes that make the game an alternate tale, though certainly not a lesser one than what came before it.
From here, I could basically just copy over everything I said about Pokemon Moon, as the changes and improvements made are very minor, and for the most part, it is the same game as what came before it. The game still maintains the basic structure and gameplay that has been repeated since 1996. The story focus is appreciated and the characters are more enjoyable and interesting than those in prior entries, though even when counting in the scattering of new or fleshed out scenes for the cast of characters, they all still felt a bit flat by the standards of a traditional JRPG. I really wanted to like Lillie, Lusamine, Guzma, and the various Trial Captains that function as this game’s version of gym leaders, but there is still not quite enough for it all to feel worthwhile.
With regards to the core gameplay, the changes feel even more minor. There are new Pokemon to catch, some rebalanced sections, a few revised areas, some new battles, a new surfing mini-game that hurts my hands to play, and some new post-game content. It is all appreciated, but none of it was gripping enough for me to feel like I was ever truly playing a new game. It also reserves the same problems, such as the totem Pokemon boss battles being rather boring, the SOS system where wild Pokemon can call for backup being downright obnoxious, the Z-moves being not as big of a deal as the game wants them to be, and Mega Evolutions, a major new mechanic from the prior generation, being reduced to an afterthought.
Festival Plaza is still an uninteresting wash that lacks the simplicity of the PSS system from the sixth generation. I still really mix the now seemingly ingenious DexNav feature from Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Poke Pelago is completely unchanged, and is still pretty dull to use for the purposes of grinding up Pokemon and finding obnoxiously rare evolutionary stones. While the whole approach this game adopts to handling EVs and IVs makes me pine for the system to be properly upheaved to its simplest and easiest to manipulate form.
Regional variant still annoy me conceptually, and it is odd how there are no new ones in this game. The Rotom Pokedex that occupies the bottom of the screen is particularly annoying because it never seems to shut up and is always spouting some tutorial I learned 15 years ago. Though I do like the improved UI for battles, the inclusion of ride pokemon over HMs should remain a series mainstay, and there is a core intrinsic joy to the whole experience that has endured throughout the past 20+ years.
While I do want to say more about the game for the sake of this review, I have not and really have no desire to go through the post-game, and going through the more in depth details would feel like I am directly uplifting what I wrote about Pokemon Moon in 2016. Pokemon Ultra Moon is a good and quality title, but it is unambitious, does not do much interesting, and even when it does shake things up, it doesn’t shake them up much. Heck, everything new was basically already shown in the trailers. It is another Pokemon game, but after going through so many titles over the past 5 years, I am honestly worn out with the series at this point and really would like to see GameFreak take another year off to let the fanbase rest, the hype cycle die down, and for more of the minutia that has defined the series for far too long to be updated and improved.
I hate coming back from a hiatus with a review such as this, but I honestly have nothing more to say on the matter of Pokemon Ultra Moon that I have not already said before.
Also, I still hate being unable to use my own screenshots when reviewing handheld games.