Back when Sun and Moon were still a few months from their release, and I didn’t know what the island trials were, I was pretty hyped about them. It was something new and different, rather than just another set of gyms. However, I’ve played the games now and the island trials are probably my least favourite thing. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon need to make a lot of improvements here.
When more information started coming out, I had this gut feeling about the island trials. They seemed like busy work, rather than a challenging puzzle or fight. When I finally got to play the games, I was very disappointed to find my gut feeling was right all along.
The island trials do get a few things right, though.
You have to give Gamefreak credit for trying something new, at the very least, and the island trials are certainly different and memorable. The fight with the Totem Wishiwashi stands out as a particularly cool moment.
So what do they get wrong?
Well, the trials are almost stupidly easy. Sun and Moon are pretty easy in general, with very few trainers possessing more than three Pokémon. However, the island trials are supposed to be difficulty spikes.
When you’re just starting out and you are still kind of weak, the first one or two challenges can be a struggle. After that, you’re kind of stomping right over the totem Pokémon to get your Z-crystal.
Hell, the last trial was a total anticlimax as my Ninetales moved first and blew the totem Kommo-o to hell with one move. If you can one-shot a boss enemy, that’s a shitty boss.
It’s also worth noting that, in terms of mechanics, there is nothing new or exclusive to island trials. For example, each gym typically had a very special puzzle or lay-out.
The islands trials are just like any other area and often things you have to do, like deal with Pokémon that pop out of holes in the wall or appear in a lake, is something that just occurs outside of that area too.
It’s not helped by the fact that the captain for the Fairy-type trial basically just throws the Z-crystal at your face without ever testing you. What was the point of that character?
That being said, the insistence on making you do busy work before the fight only makes them more annoying. Why am I looking for mushrooms in the forest? Why am I watching Marowak dance? This isn’t a puzzle. I just want my Z-crystal so can’t we just fight?
Some gyms are pretty easy, but most have a fair share of trainers and your team can be pretty tired by the time you finally reach a gym leader. That can feel like busy work too, but at least it’s more rewarding than looking for mushrooms.
Does that mean Gyms should come back?
Maybe, but I’m leaning towards no. A soft no, though.
They tried something new and sure, it didn’t really work, but that’s not because there’s so much wrong with the core concept. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water just yet.
Give the challenges actually unique areas or puzzles and make them a lot more challenging and you might have something a bit more interesting than the gyms we’ve gotten so used to.
The problem with the totem Pokémon is that while you can focus on the helpers it summons, you really only have to take the totem Pokémon itself.
No matter how easy a gym leader is, they typically at least have 2 or 3 Pokémon to deal with, which gives them more options and sometimes even a chance at basic strategy.
Maybe if there were multiple totem Pokémon these fights would be more of a challenge. Going a few rounds with the totem Pokémon with it getting stronger each round could also be good, if perhaps kind of repetitive.
You could even combine the two. Have a gym battle first and either make the totem Pokémon the main threat on the gym leader’s team or beat the gym leader first so you’re allowed to go and fight the totem Pokémon somewhere in the wilds.
Those were the only things I could think off to make it more challenging, though. If you have a better idea, be sure to mention it in the comments.
Is there a chance Gyms will be back?
Before we learned about the Alola Photo Club and the photo studios, I probably woul have said yes.
In Sun and Moon, pretty much every big city has a very conspicuous square building site undergoing construction.
Now, a few weeks ago I would have said that these were obviously going to be the spots where gyms would appear in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
It makes sense for the plot too. In Sun and Moon, you are one of if not the first challenger to the Alolan Pokémon League. The damn building is actually being built while you travel the region.
It makes sense that, now that the league has been created, a lot of challengers would come rushing in and Alola would need to set up gyms to weed out the weaklings.
However, then the latest trailer dropped and we got that video about the photography club.
As far as I can tell at time of writing from the trailer, these empty lots will actually be filled with photo studios for this glorified screenshot feature. Part of me is relieved that we don’t immediately fall back on gyms, but part of me is also really disappointed.
Of all the cool things that could have been put on these lots, they went with studios for a photography feature I’ll probably use once and then never again.