"It Is Time for Pokémon to Stop Making Excuses"
Pokemon is the epitome of the saying, “If it ain't broke don’t fix it” a saying that its most adamant of fans will quote ad-nauseam. Every four years we see the release of the exact same game with barely any changes to the core formula that gives the games their addictive nature. From a business perspective I honestly cannot blame Game Freak and Nintendo, a million new copies sold on the first day is hard to do for any game developer. Yet I cannot help but wonder is this truly what is best for the series, any good developer would take consideration of its entire market yet Pokemon is clearly geared toward the eastern audience (aka. Japan). As it may not be entirely well known allow me to explain the Western audience will encourage developers to change to prevent stagnation the eastern audience on the other hand will want more of the same. Now there have been eastern developers that have managed to find a great level balance appealing to the sensibilities of both sides such as Level 5 and Atlus. Game Freak on other hand is content to describe Pokemon Black and White 2 as a sequel implying that the games are a continuation of the original two games. The short answer is no these games are not truly sequels they are more or less expansions with the story of the game pushing the sequel mantra. As for the long one you will have to keep reading this review to find out what they added that works and what doesn't. But ultimately it’s time for both the fans and developers to stop making excuses.
A Note to the Subject of Graphics and Design:
I figure I should at least mention the graphics and design of the game. Overall they are very well done using camera angles to give the illusion of 3D models. The animations are also very well done with each individual Pokemon having their own animation. However since this game uses the same engine as the first games there is not much more that can be said so I will not be including this particular subject with my final score.
New Content that is Always Good.
If there is one thing this game does not skimp on is making it worth the amount of money you pay for it. Pokemon Black and White 2 have lots of things for the player to do its pretty extensive but for the sake of not writing another review I will only go over four of my personal favorites. First is the Join Avenue if you connect with another player through either local wireless or Wi-Fi from any fifth generation game (including players from the Dreamworld) they will appear in your particular Join Avenue. You can then either have those people open shops or recommend current shops to improve price/item selection. The shops in general provide incredibly useful functions ranging from buyable ethers, to helping with EV training. Another great new addition is the Pokemon World Tournament which takes the place of the Battle Frontier from previous generations. The main and most unique draw is that you can face gym leaders and champions from previous generations (which will be incredibly nostalgic for older players). The next big addition is Pokestar Studios where you do Pokemon battles to a script in order to make movies. While nothing really revolutionary it does offer the player a great distraction from the main game and honestly the movies you make can be pretty ridiculous at times. The final feature I will go over are this games achievements given to you in the form of medals there are over two hundred of these to collect. The most novel feature is that you can actually see other people’s achievements through Pokemon Global Link of course collecting all of them will be a challenge for even for the most ardent of achievement hunters. Overall there is enough content to satisfy any player, oh and the game asks if you want to use another repel after the old one is used up that is also awesome.
An Exceptional Soundtrack.
If there is one thing no one can complain about it’s the quality of the soundtrack. Pokemon has always had an exceptional soundtrack. Whether its the catchy town themes or the fast paced battles music each piece is unique and has quite a bit of depth to it (with the exception of Castellia City at least for me anyway hey I am allowed at least one dislike). Plus the musical variations are incredibly versatile as they change based upon the player’s actions. The most notable new pieces are the gym themes which change to reflect each gym leaders’ personalities and type of Pokemon they use. Whether it be the grandiose trumpets of Drayden’s Dragon gym to the punk rock setting of Roxie’s Poison Gym. Overall the music for Pokemon has remained a constant pleasure to my ears.
The Same Old Simple Gameplay:
Of course we get to the subject that sells these games the gameplay and this aspect can be viewed two ways positive and negative. In all honesty I have enjoyed many a turn based rpg but Pokemon is pure simple fun, battles offer a large strategic element that is rarely seen in most rpgs. Plus there is the joy of creating a Pokemon team that can overcome every single obstacle and rising to meet each new obstacles that stands in your path from becoming the champion. Plus since the player can acquire Pokemon from older generations early on it adds a great level of variety from the very beginning (I know I was happy when I could catch a riolu early on). All in all you would think this would be perfect but unfortunately it is a problem as well. Pokemon core gameplay has literally remained unchanged don’t get me wrong its fun but when I look at other rpgs including ones that have been around longer than Pokemon it is very disheartening. Other developers adapt they change in a sense evolve (see what I did there) to appeal to the market yet Pokemon has grown complacent. The battle mechanics have not made significant change since the first game oh they have been tweaked and improved upon but never had any drastic changes to the core concept. You would think that the developers would put emphasis on improving this aspect for the better but that is not even the scariest part apparently the core concept of Pokemon isn’t battling its trading! In an interview on the subject of Black and White 2 with Christian Nutt of Gamasutra Junichi Masuda, one the key developers of Pokemon, said:
“Trading is really the core concept behind the Pokemon games; it's really the core idea that birthed the Pokemon games, and everything really exists to facilitate trading.”
I am sorry Masuda but that is a half truth while trading is an important aspect of the games it is not the core concept, the core concept is battling. Why do you catch Pokemon? To have them fight other Pokemon. Why do you breed Pokemon? The purpose of breeding is to gain Pokemon with better abilities, natures, and statistics. Why do you trade Pokemon? To supplement your battle potential through trade evolution or acquiring Pokemon who are potentially better than the other types available. Clearly the developers of Pokemon are a bit misguided if I am to believe everything I am doing in my games is just so I can trade Pokemon to another person. Yet I cannot help but think there is some merit to that particular statement if this is truly the core concept of Pokemon then why not just drop the battling in favor of a game focused on filling up the Pokedex. Because the reality is that the entire game would be entirely pointless. Without battles there is no gameplay to hold it together. As an example why collect trading cards if you aren't going to play a game with them. In fact I could easily just play a different game in the Pokemon franchise and get the exact same experience. It is time to stop avoiding the subject of change and instead embrace it as Pokemon has much to gain and literally nothing to lose.
The Poor Simplistic Story
A lot of fans would say one thing about me putting an entire section towards the story of Pokemon Black and White 2 “oh the story isn’t important in Pokemon its gameplay *insert incessant whining here*” That seems to be their only defense of the plot of Pokemon however Black and White 2 (Black and White also included) have been acclaimed as great narrative works of art (by their fans of course) and been advertised as such, after all the sequel was clearly designed with this subject in mind. Well they are certainly an improvement over the standard plot of the previous games however the plots themselves play it very safe so as they are not designed to offend anyone. Really this is where the plot fails in every aspect while Black and White one presented the concept of Team Plasma as the ones with morally righteous viewpoints and the player as the antagonist who stands against them it ultimately fails to be very thought provoking as the plot never really gets past the idea it presents. Instead it shoehorns you into being the good guy and team plasma as the bad guys as their actions more or less justify that particular fact. In Black and White 2 there is no moral dilemma the player will ever truly contend with instead it focuses on what happens two years later. Team Plasma has disbanded and formed into two groups those who follow N their leader and those who follow Ghetsis. Unfortunately Team Plasma is largely portrayed throughout the entirety of the game as villains and the brunt of the plot is focused on your rival wanting revenge on them. Sorry Game Freak but this character is just lazy (especially because there was a much better revenge plot released six months ago but I digress) his character arc is all over the place and his motivations are incredibly unclear. That seems to be a recurring theme with Pokemon main characters they are not fleshed out very well and if the characters are not good then the plot will suffer as a result. Now a game can have a very simplistic plot but still be enjoyable if I can get behind the characters, but I simply cannot and yet there are other games that accomplish this feat flawlessly. Good characters make great games and turn simple cliche plotlines into epic character driven adventures if Game Freak spends time to slowly build up each character and if the plot is willing to step outside its comfort zone we could have a gem on our hands. But for now I ask is this a deep complex narrative with well developed three dimensional characters? No it just simply looks that way if you think the plot is great well bully for you I would highly recommend broadening your horizons and explore other rpg’s with far better stories.
The Greatest Insult Comes In the Form of Difficulty
By far the most insulting thing is the difficulty of these games. Now while Pokemon games are not really hard games they certainly have never been challenging. So over time players have created ways of playing these games in order to provide a challenge. That was all to change with the release with Black and White 2 as they were finally adding a difficulty option that would add more Pokemon for important trainers and improve the AI. Fans rejoiced at the news until they realized that the harder difficulty was exclusive to Black 2 as White 2 got only easy mode. Apparently the developers thought that instead of having these options available from the get-go, that players should unlock them by COMPLETING THE GAME FIRST WITH NO OPTION TO REPLAY THE GAMES AT ALL! Luckily players could use the key link system to transfer over the various keys that allow the difficulty options to be unlocked in another person’s game at any time throughout the playthrough. However there is a catch, its local wireless only and any keys transferred to another person’s game cannot be transferred to any other game. This is one of the most ludicrously designed options I have ever seen in a video game while harder difficulty options have been known to be unlocked after a playthrough on normal those games allow the player to replay the game from the beginning. These options should have been unlocked from the moment the player starts the game during the introductions sequence it could simply ask the player:
“How Experienced Are You At Pokemon?”
1. I don’t think I’m very good (starts the game on Easy)
2. I know quite a bit (starts the game on Normal)
3. I am already a Pokemon master (starts the game on Hard with no tutorials as an added bonus)
Afterwards the player will be allowed to change the difficulty at their whim from the main menu screen. I understand that Game Freak wants to improve the socializing aspect of Pokemon by using the Key Link system to allow players to add new stuff to their games but when it comes to difficulty options these are best left to the players own discretion. After all players love a good challenge and when we overcome those challenges it fills us with immense satisfaction. However just the simple concept of this feature is enough to send me into a rage. I just hope that next time they will do this system properly instead of the other option of leaving it out entirely.
Pokemon Black and White 2 are fun yet frustrating games. While the core formula is a lot of fun I cannot help but say this game could be so much more. Pokemon has a hidden untapped potential that the developers have yet to even realize. If I were to describe Pokemon I would say that it’s a lot like flat soda while it is sweet and tastes good to drink it doesn't leave you very satisfied afterwards. While Black and White 2 offer great new features and have an exceptionally well crafted soundtrack it does not excuse the poor storytelling and inexcusable difficulty options, along with the misguided developers opinions on the core gameplay concept of Pokemon. It is very clear that the Pokemon formula is starting to wear thin with each new entry the developers keep reusing every single element that has made their games a financial success. It is a wonder why this particular franchise is the exception to the rule. For every single negative aspect I can put forth toward this franchise when I play the games I have fun. It honestly baffles me somehow I enjoyed my second journey through Unova, more than the first. But I know that in the back of my mind I always tell myself this game can be so much better if they were to do something different, because sometimes the best games are the ones that stray from the current formula. The main Pokemon formula is starting to show its age and it is clear that Pokemon will eventually have to make drastic changes otherwise the series will grow stale. So I beseech you fans of Pokemon if you care for your games than I urge you to express the desire to see the series change for the better instead of hiding behind the excuse of, “if it ain't broke don’t fix it” because the best time to fix a bridge is not when it breaks but before it even happens. After all the longer you wait the more likely it will soon come crumbling down.
Overall rating 3.5 - Better Than Average