The region of Alola is lush, vibrant, and diverse. One gets a deep sense that this is a living, breathing world as soon as you step off of your porch and venture out to become a master Pokémon trainer. While a lot of Pokémon Sun and Moon is quite familiar to those with experience in the classic series, the newest entries have changed things up a fair bit, and as a result, the games are considered to be some of the best Pokémon titles in recent memory. This is largely in part because of Alola itself and its amazing world-building.
The setting is a beautiful reimagining of Hawaii and the Galapagos islands. Palm trees sway in the breeze, and scrubby grass lines rocky cliffs that gradually recede into dramatic, cerulean surf. Modern cities with upscale hotels coexist on the same island alongside dusty country towns. Distinctly American pickup trucks line the streets, but wait until nightfall and residents come out to celebrate South Pacific festivals.
Alola was designed with great thought and care, and it draws us in immediately, not only in looks, but in music as well. The soundtrack is heavy on ukulele and Hawaiian rhythm that evoke all of the emotions we experience on this new adventure.
For the first time in the series, the new Pokémon seem to have evolved naturally to thrive in the region. Rather than random designs (I’m looking at you, Klefki), many of the new Pokémon look like they were meant for Alola’s tropical setting. Pikipek evolves into a sassy Toucan; Crabrawler, a crab, is perfectly befitting of the oceanic setting. Even Pokémon from previous generations have evolved over time to make Alola their home. Vulpix now dwells in icier regions, while Raichu surfs on its tail and Dugtrio has a beach bum hairdo.
The island trials, which have replaced the traditional Pokémon gyms, encourage players to delve into Alola’s natural settings to explore and interact with its diverse locales: steaming volcanoes, pollen-dusted meadows, and murky caves to name but a few. Breaking from a years-long tradition of the same formula, the island trials seek to engage players in new ways, but they needed a strong environment to pull it off. They succeeded with Alola.
The people you meet add to this feeling of a living world, embracing you from the get-go and following you along on your adventures. While they aren’t fully realized, deep characters (I mean, it’s still Pokémon), they all have a deep connection with Alola, and will remind you of this frequently. Everyone seems to know each other to some degree and enjoy sharing the subtle secrets of the region and teaching you about its nuances.
The story, too, is one of the most detailed in any Pokémon game, taking a careful look at the relationship between humans and Pokémon and whether or not a Pokémon’s place is in battle. Again, we can credit this to Alola, whose unique biodiversity encourages its inhabitants to protect and take pride in its unique qualities and Pokémon. It’s this attachment to the land that drives much of the characters’ motivations.
While Pokémon as a series has always had well-imagined regions, particularly with the Kanto and Johto regions, Pokémon Sun and Moon is truly a step above. Never has the world in a Pokémon game captivated and inspired fans so thoroughly. Alola itself is the best thing about Pokémon Sun and Moon.