The 20-year-old Pokémon franchise seemed content with slowly evolving the series, but keeping many key elements such collecting badges to eventually challenge the Elite Four and teaching HMs to Pokémon in order to travel through the wilderness. The main games had a predictable formula, which made some gamers bored. For its seventh generation, Pokémon Sun & Moon, however, it has surprised many long-time players. The new Alola region does not have a typical Pokémon League challenge, mixing things up with the Island Challenge. Though facing strong trainers is still an important part of the Island Challenge, there are also different trials to undertake such as finding specific items or testing one's knowledge. Trainers must also face Totem Pokémon, which are super-powerful individual monsters that pose a surprising challenge. HMs are also gone, replaced with Ride Pokémon that can be summoned at just about any time. Players no longer have to teach usually weak HM moves to their creatures to get around. Instead, they can summon a Charizard to fly from place to place or a Tauros to smash boulders.
Even barring these shake-ups to the formula, Pokémon Sun & Moon are very strong games on their own. The Alola region somehow both feels like the smallest and the largest setting in the Pokémon world at the same time. The Hawaiian vibe makes it especially unique in the series. Although there a fewer new Pokémon species than most generations, they are largely well-designed and unique. Sun & Moon also introduce regional variants, in which some first generation Pokémon like Rattata and Raichu have special Alolan forms that change their appearances, Types, and Abilities. Regional variants are a fun twist on some old favorites and they feel more natural to the series than the sixth generation's Mega Evolutions. Sun & Moon also have a stronger story and characters than X & Y, with many NPCs having pronounced personalities and a few characters undergoing their own development arcs. The series has never looked better, with character models being at their most expressive yet and the enviroments looking very nice. Sun & Moon are amongst of the best games in the series, beating out some other great 3DS games from 2016.
Bravely Second: End Layer is an excellent follow-up to Bravely Default. The game retains almost everything that was loved in the original, keeping its stellar battle system going fresh with a host of new jobs, as well as learning from some of the less appreciated parts of the first game. The new cast members are a delight, and well supported by those who did return. A great title all-around, hopefully we get to a third entry in the not-too-distant future.
Coming off the heels of the very popular Fire Emblem: Awakening, Fire Emblem Fates not only had to live up to its predecessor, but also address the game's criticisms. The solution Nintendo and Intelligent Systems came up with was to have Fates be made up of three game-sized campaigns: Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation. Their main difference other than stories was in gameplay, with Birthright being the easiest and most similar to Awakening with the ability to grind easily; Conquest being most similar to earlier games in the series with limited resources and providing more of a challenge; and Revelation walking the line between with battles that are rather unique to the series, being almost puzzle-like. In their attempt to cater to everyone, though, some players felt that each of the individual games are lacking and that Fates as a whole is kind of disjointed. That may be why despite being voted RPGamer's most anticipated RPG at the beginning of 2016, in retrospect it didn't quite reach that level.
Even so, Fire Emblem Fates is still a well-made set of games. The graphics look especially nice for the 3DS, and the music is excellent. The maps in Conquest and Revelation are quite engaging and challenging, with a variety of win conditions. Though Birthright is rather straightforward, the new classes are fun to use and feel unique, despite many being variations of older vocations. The huge cast of potential recruits contains many engaging and likable characters, though people could argue that one version's characters are better than the other. The base-like My Castle feature is fun to play around in, even if certain aspects of it are awkward. One can't help but wonder what sort of game we might have gotten if one of the campaigns was taken and expanded upon fully, but regardless, Fire Emblem Fates is still rather enjoyable.
by Cassandra Ramos, Alex Fuller