(Slight spoilers ahead if you have not yet played the games.)

The long wait is now over, and the newest generation of Pokémon has arrived: Sun and Moon! The so-named seventh generation of Pokémon (each iteration is called a ‘generation’), as with all new generations before it, introduces new Pokémon creatures, new people, new moves, and a new region. This time, the region is Alola, based on Hawaii – a tropical paradise comprised of four islands, with a fifth being man-made.

Map of the Alola Region

The player’s character moves to Alola from the Kanto region, ending up rather jet-lagged (or rather ship-lagged) but excited to start their new adventures as a Pokémon Trainer in Alola. Soon after making their new home in paradise, he or she meets their rival Hau, an 11-year-old boy who is the grandson of the ‘Island Kahuna’ Hala, Lillie, a mysterious girl who is living in the Pokémon Laboratory with the Psychic-type Pokémon Cosmog (or ‘Nebby’, as she nicknames him), and the regional Professor Kukui. In Iki Town, near the player’s new home, Hala gives out a choice from one of the three regional starter Pokémon: the Grass/Flying-type owl Rowlet, the Fire-type cat Litten, and the Water-type seal Popplio.

The Alolan starter Pokémon (left-right): Rowlet, Litten and Popplio

Naturally, since I nearly always choose the Fire-type starter (with the exception of Silver and SoulSilver, where I chose Totodile and Chikorita respectively), my mind was set on Litten ever since Sun & Moon were first announced way back in May this year. I did not hesitate when the three starters were presented to me, immediately picking up Litten to be my first new Pokémon partner in the Alola region. (In case you chose Rowlet or Popplio instead, here’s a chart showing all three starters’ evolutions. Since I chose Litten, he – yes, he – evolved into Torracat and finally Incineroar, which he is now.)

Rowlet’s evolution line (left-right): Rowlet (Grass/Flying), Dartrix (Grass/Flying), Decidueye (Grass/Ghost)
Litten’s evolution line (left-right): Litten (Fire), Torracat (Fire), Incineroar (Fire/Dark)
Popplio’s evolution line (left-right): Popplio (Water), Brionne (Water), Primarina (Water/Fairy)

Unlike previous Pokémon games, Sun and Moon do not seem to have the usual Pokémon Gyms and Gym Leaders. Instead, whenever someone turns 11 years old, as with Hau, they go through an Alolan tradition called the ‘island challenge’. Somewhat similar to the League quests of previous generations, the island challenge consists of travelling to all four islands and take on what are called ‘trials’ – a set of tasks designated by a ‘trial captain’ which the player must complete. At the end of a trial, a very powerful boss Pokémon – called a ‘Totem’ Pokémon – must be defeated. These Totem Pokémon make great use of a new battle mechanic in the seventh generation called SOS Battles, where they will periodically call for help from ally Pokémon, essentially turning into a Double Battle, except it is 2-on-1. When all trials on a particular island have been completed, the player battles an Island Kahuna, who are similar to Gym Leaders and are chosen by the Tapus, the island guardian Pokémon.

Sun and Moon, therefore, has taken the Pokémon game series in a whole new unexpected direction, which makes for a welcome change from the usual formula, though it still remains in its most basic form. They also give a twist to some of the Pokémon we’ve known and loved since its beginnings 20 years ago, like Raichu and Meowth, by giving them regional variants or Alolan Forms. These change the original designs slightly and give them a new or additional type, such as Alolan Raichu being Electric/Psychic and Alolan Meowth being Dark-type. (This would technically make Alolan Rattata/Raticate, Alolan Meowth/Persian and Mega Gyarados to be the first Dark-type Pokémon even before the Dark type itself was introduced in Gold and Silver.)

Alolan Rattata (Dark/Normal)
Alolan Raichu (Electric/Psychic)
Alolan Meowth (Dark)

(And I just so happen to have an Alolan Raichu on my Sun team!)

Another new battle mechanic Sun and Moon introduces are Z-Moves. These are very powerful moves which are upgraded versions of a Pokémon’s particular move, but due to their sheer power, they can only be used once per battle. Z-Moves can be used whenever the player and one of their Pokémon holds a Z-Crystal, of which there are one for every type. Their power depends on the move they are based on. Z-Crystals are given out by the trial captains when a trial has been completed, or they can be found around the islands alone, usually in hidden places.

Some examples of Z-Moves

There are also Ride Pokémon, who can be called upon to traverse tricky areas, reach hidden coves, or search out items hiding from plain sight. These take over the role of Hidden Machines, or HMs, from the previous generations, thus making HMs redundant in Alola. So no more having to visit the Move Deleter, and no more wasted move spaces!

(It’s not really a new feature in Sun and Moon, though – the previous generation, X and Y, introduced being able to ride on Pokémon, but they were not yet used for the purpose that HMs had.)

Surfing upon a Lapras

As you can see, Alola likes to do things a little bit differently from all the other Pokémon regions. Even their own Pokémon League has only recently been established by no other than Professor Kukui himself, whereas previously challengers had to defeat all four Island Kahunas in a row. But Kukui decided to rise up and follow what the other regions have, choosing a few of the Island Kahunas and trial captains to act as Alola’s Elite Four. You don’t become Champion straight after beating all four, though – Kukui has a bit of a surprise before you claim the rightful title…

Pokémon Sun and Moon come just in time for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, and they represent the starting point of a brand-new pathway for the Pokémon games. Wherever next for our favourite Pocket Monsters?