Is Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon Truly an Enhanced Version?

Upon release Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon really left the fanbase somewhat divided. Although we at PJN loved the remixed return to the Alola region, not everyone had the same opinion – it really seemed like a “you either love it or hate it” entry into the franchise. Whatever your stance, we can’t deny that at the end of the day USUM is made to be a “third” or “enhanced” version of Pokémon Sun & Moon. So did Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon really give an “enhanced” experience compared to their originals? To find out we’re going to look back at last year’s Things We Didn’t Like About Sun & Moon article, look over the gripes of the originals, and see if they truly have been improved upon in its enhanced version.

The Rotom Pokédex

In our original journey through Alola in Sun & Moon the biggest disappointment with the Rotom Pokédex was how useless it became and how much of a wasted opportunity it was overall. Although it was a cute concept and had some useful features like the pinpoint navigation during the main story, once you became the Champion Rotom quickly became relegated to spouting repetitive, generic phrases as you completed the Pokédex. So did its upgrades and changes fare well in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon? If you were to ask me that in the early hours of my adventure through USUM I would’ve responded with a resounding, “YES!” – however having completed the game my opinion has wavered a bit. Overall, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon rounded out the Rotom ‘Dex as a character by giving it much more personality and depth. And gave us, the player, much more opportunity to interact with it and benefit from doing so. Through some light petting and answering prompted questions about Rotom, yourself, and relevant events happening in game, we’re now able to build a stronger bond and connection with it. This can trigger change’s in Rotom’s dialogue and, more importantly, the occasional Roto Loto to receive Rotom Powers that help the player through the Island Trials. Rotom’s Z-Power tie in and inclusion of in game boosters are more than welcome upgrades to the age old Pokédex, however, the constant attention I needed to give the Rotom ‘Dex got real old, real quick. Normally I would just ignore features that aren’t required to move through the story if I don’t like it. But ignoring Rotom outright, for even a minute, prompts the ever present bottom screen to develop a sad, defeated expression. And as much as I just want to leave it be, it’s incredibly distracting to traverse through the lively, bright Alola with such annoyingly somber eyes lurking just a few centimeters below. Overall GameFreak brought some incredible upgrades to the Rotom ‘Dex, but they’re overshadowed by the blunder of making the relationship upkeep more of a constant distraction from the storyline first, and a useful feature second. Aaron Burr said it best, Rotom: “Talk less. Smile more.”

New Pokémon’s Low Encounter Rates

Despite what the title suggests, our biggest pet peeve wasn’t actually the low encounter rates themselves. Since we, and most people reading this, are hardcore fans and players of the series the low encounter rate brings a welcome challenge in completing the Pokédex. Despite it specifying where a Pokémon could be found down to the patch of grass in Sun & Moon, our biggest complaint was simply that the ‘Dex didn’t have any way to tell players if Pokémon could only be found through SOS battles. This made the hardcore players rely on third party databases, and caused the younger Pokémon audience to frustratingly search an area for hours without any luck. Luckily the Rotom Pokédex in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon now includes an Adrenaline Orb icon to denote whether or not you need to trigger an SOS battle to encounter a Pokémon! The low regular and SOS encounter rates are still prevalent in USUM, and that’s fine – but atleast we won’t be un-knowledgeably spending hours looking for a Mareanie and finding nothing but Corsola!

Protagonists Being Numb to Everything

There’s not much to say about this one. Despite adding several new cutscenes, and a completely shocking and robust new storyline in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, our protagonist still has that empty, dumbfounded smile no matter what’s happening in game: A hole leading to an alternate dimension opens up in the sky? Derpy empty smile. Lusamine wants to battle you after the reveal of her being the mother of Gladion and Lillie with the backdrop of cryogenically frozen Pokémon? Derpy empty smile. You literally get to travel on the back of a Legendary Pokémon through a highway of alternate dimensions to chase Necrozma and later encounter Ultra Beasts in their respective worlds? Derpy empty smile. The Pokémon franchise is known for their silent protagonists, but that doesn’t mean they have to be numb and seemingly detached from everything happening around them. The protagonists’ animation and expressions for Z-Moves are a wonderful example of how our avatar can remain silent and neutral, but keep a personality and react/emote appropriately to the situation. Hopefully GameFreak revisits the protagonist and how they react to the story as it unfolds around them when Pokémon makes their move to the Switch.

The Poké Finder

Another one of Game Freak’s amazing but poorly implemented ideas in Sun & Moon, the Poké Finder featured ridiculous slow down, boring and repetitive gameplay, and was used in game pretty haphazardly. Causing it to quickly became seen less as a new exciting feature, and more of thing you’re forced to use in order to get all the stamps on your Trainer Passport. Although the photo spots from Sun & Moon still remained mostly untouched and unchanged, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon introduced the Alola Photo Club! These club buildings scattered throughout the region allows you to take photos with your Pokémon and edit them to your hearts content using a plethora of poses, frames, stickers, and more! You might think that going from the concept of taking photos of what you experience along your adventure (The Poké Finder) to a stationary studio (Alola Photo Club) would be a step back, but the way it’s implemented, and the ridiculous amounts of photo customization brings the idea of taking pictures in game leaps and bounds forward. Unlocking backgrounds, frames and stickers naturally along your journey without ever having to ever visit the Photo Club in between (instead of unlocking more features through constant opening and use) puts the emphasis back on adventure and discovery. And having Rotom prompt you to take a commemorative photo whenever Pokémon evolves or levels ups, or when you clear a Trial or become Champion integrates the Photo Club wonderfully into the story and gives each photo meaning. And although the Poké Finder and Alola Photo Club are technically separate entities, the latter definitely built of off, and would not exist without, the former. If only you still didn’t have to unlock the Poké Finder Pro to complete your Trainer Passport…

Removal of Amazing Features From Past Generations

Even when the possibility of an enhanced version for Sun & Moon first came into the fanbase’s forefront with the rumored Pokémon Stars, I don’t think anyone expected we would see the return of previously lost, amazing features from the previous generation – and rightfully so. Unsurprisingly, in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon horde battles didn’t make a return, the connection features didn’t get any more convenient, and the clunky, universally hated Festival Plaza is still as prevalent as ever. Yes, some new, small “features” within the Plaza were added, but its not to the point were you can say the Festival Plaza is any better overall. However, I will give props to Game Freak for cunningly allowing the Rainbow Rocket storyline to take place in the Festival Plaza. Because now when I think of the PSS’ failed successor my epic battle with all of the franchise’s big baddies come to mind first, not the overall clunkiness. So I guess that’s something?

No Side Quest Tracker

Despite the main series Pokémon games being an RPG at its core, it wasn’t until 20 years into the franchise with Sun & Moon that we really began to see side quests implemented into the games. As part of the effort to breathe even more life into Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon’s Alola, dozens upon dozens of different side quests featuring new cut scenes and item rewards were beautifully added into the game. Only one problem: there’s still no way to easily keep track of ’em all! Currently the only way to note quest details and track your progress is by manually writing down them down yourself, or, once again, relying on third party databases. Although the depth of Pokémon as whole has the fanbase looking up info online pretty often, something as simple as side quest completion shouldn’t have to make you open up another device all together just to make sure you cleared it all. Now deep into the post game I have a yearning to finish up all the side quests, but with no formal tracker in game I haven’t the faintest clue which NPC to go to, much less what side quests I have ongoing. These quick diversions from the main plot are one of the most effective ways I’ve seen Game Freak bring depth and life to a region and it’s people, so I welcome the inclusion of side quests in future games with open arms…just add a tracker please.

By no means can you judge an enhanced version of a game based purely on what existing features it built upon – we haven’t even began to scratch the surface of the new moves, Pokémon, areas, characters, and story Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon brought to Alola – but that doesn’t mean the promise of it being “enhanced” can’t be dissected. Do you think Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon lived up to its “enhanced” promise? What are some of your favorite USUM enhanced features? Or do you have some things that you wish got the enhanced treatment?