Disability Game Review: Pokémon Sun and Moon

Ever since DAGERS began in 2012, there seems to be one constant in the game industry regarding accessibility; the Pokémon games by Game Freak are always accessible. In fact, prior to getting Pokémon Sun, I joked that this review practically writes itself and could honestly be made up of other Pokémon game reviews cut up and published as a new article. But my confidence was replaced by shock once I turned on the game and saw what a radical departure Pokémon Sun and Moon represent from the original formula. The game is stuffed with new content and features, most of which is unsubstantial fluff, but a few things actually impact the accessibility and provide the slightest tarnish on Game Freak’s record for making barrier-free games.

Players with visual disabilities historically have had no problem accessing the Pokémon franchise. This is especially remarkable given the fact that the 3DS hardware puts the game on the smallest screen currently available in mainstream console gaming. Yet this was never a problem because nothing critical in the Pokémon games relied on color or fine detail. While this is the case, I did run into a few barriers with the text. In previous generations, the in-game text has been superfluous for all gamers that were familiar with the Pokémon franchise as they always gave the same information over and over again, albeit with new accents and emphases. This information could be summarized as: How to collect Pokémon, How to battle another trainer, How to get a badge, and finally, How to beat the elite 4 and capture legendary Pokémon, yet the largest portion of this formula has been completely rewritten as the badge system has been replaced by a spirit-quest type storyline in which players battle wild Pokémon that guard each island before defeating the chieftain, or Kahuna, of each island in a gym leader-style battle. As a result of this radical change players will have to read the text, and even without a visual disability, I found it hard to keep track of larger dialogs because they used such small text windows to explain more complex content. This means you may find yourself paging through a lot of text, and unlike previous Pokémon games, it is harder to skim through and therefore provides just the slightest barrier for the visually impaired.

The case is similar for players with fine motor impairments. In previous games, there was a minigame option to pet, groom, and otherwise coddle your Pokémon. This had the rarest of benefits in previous iterations, such as determining which evolution Eevee would take, but in Sun and Moon, the more a Pokémon likes you, the more powerful it becomes. This system allows Pokémon to take on special attributes. For example, if a Pokémon likes its trainer enough, a move that may have wiped out its entire health bar in a single shot will instead leave it with a single HP left, giving the trainer the opportunity to battle back by either healing or switching out their wounded partner. In order to access this feature, the user will have to use the 3DS stylus and touchpad, which may not be possible for players with more severe fine-motor impairments. While this is not a crucial feature in Pokémon Sun and Moon, it is disheartening to see Game Freak rewarding unimpaired players in a way that excludes those who are impaired. It seems that, and I may be wrong, while a Pokémon may be strong enough to beat the game if you never use the 3DS touch function, it will never be as strong as another player’s who did everything you did with the addition of the Pokémon Refresh system.

Perhaps the only area in which accessibility is unchanged is in the game’s auditory accessibility. Because this review is not based on the totally completed game, I am not confident giving Pokemon Sun and Moon an completely barrier-free rating for Auditory accessibility. To put it another way, Game Freak has changed so much in Sun and Moon that has impacted both the visual and fine-motor accessibility, I have no confidence that in some later point in the game, the ability to hear will be necessary, although it may just be for a frivolous side activity.
It probably seems as if I am nitpicking a lot in this review, but the fact is, for the past 20 years, Pokémon games have stood as a paragon of accessibility, showing that there are mainstream games that can be played and enjoyed by players with severe impairments without resorting to expensive hardware setups. When such a franchise this old and this accessible misses a step with regards to accessibility, it is crucial that DAGERS point it out and hopefully help developers reverse a negative trend before it starts.

Overall Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Visual Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Released For: 3DS
ESRB Rating: E

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