The Naysayers Were Wrong About Pokemon Black and White

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I recently set out to add another installment to my series on The Right Way to Play Pokemon, this time focusing on Pokemon Black and White. It had been a few years since I’ve picked up and played either game. But from what I remember, this game was pretty big, and the selection of pokemon was immense, so I carefully researched recommended team members and even went as far as doing damage calculations to ensure that these team choices would work well. Then, I set out to test my findings on a copy of Pokemon Black.

I have fond memories of Pokemon Black and White. In spite of this, the fifth generation of Pokemon receives a disproportionate amount of hate from certain segments of the community. If they were to be believed, gen 5 was the worst generation of Pokemon, and a person would be better off spending their money on something different.

Hearing all these complaints, it sounded as though they were talking about a different game than I remembered. But then again, it had been years since I’ve played the games, so maybe I remembered them wrong. But as I did my research for to prepare my article, the complaints didn’t match what I was actually seeing.

These games seemed fantastic.

For starters, the selection of Pokemon just for the playthrough was huge. Not only that, the game was intentionally designed so that only new pokemon were available for the player to capture prior to the post-game, making players come out of their comfort zones and try something new.

Because, you know, Pokemon. That game series that’s known for its themes of science, technology, exploration, and making new discoveries? These versions in particular even went as far as to ensure that the games didn’t just boil down to the typical old experience of picking Charmander, catching Pikachu, then playing through the game with the same-ol’-same-ol’.

Video games are about challenge, after all. It’s not much of a game if what you’re playing is the same comfortable experience every time. We decide we want something new eventually, so the Pokemon series is only going to get so far by repeatedly pandering to a sense of nostalgia. Life isn’t just about looking back, it’s more about looking forward.

Not only that, the experience was very balanced. Just from researching team selections, one would get the idea that GameFreak saw to it. These games were packed with pokemon that would have made excellent team choices. The starter pokemon, as well as many pokemon you can catch, were varying degrees of great. Lillipup? That’s a great pokemon, available at the outset. Drilbur? Great pokemon. Sigilyph? Scraggy? Joltick? Archen? Petilil? There are so many pokemon that would make great team choices, that narrowing down the selection to just a few was a challenging task.

To make things more interesting, GameFreak redid the exp. formula so that low-leveled pokemon gained more, while pokemon that were higher-leveled gained less. This meant that freshly-caught pokemon could easily catch up with the rest of your team, making it harder to dismiss certain pokemon by reason of not already being a member of a team for a long time. It also made it less likely that pokemon that haven’t been performing as well would fall behind. Better yet, it also helped to keep your team from becoming overly centralized around just a couple battlers that would otherwise continually get high amounts of exp. because they’d win every battle. And to make it easy for lower-level pokemon to catch up, it’s easy to gain levels from wild Audino, which frequently appear.

Then there are the themes. To start with, the game opens up with a coronation:

 

I don’t know about you, but that intro really makes me want to play the game. Who is the guy in the freakish robe? Who are the sage-looking guys who look on? Who are those two women who also seem well-designed enough to be of significance? Who is the green-haired kid, and why is he being declared king? What is going on? If you want to find out, keep playing the game!

Pokemon Black and White actually have a story. I’m usually pretty cynical about stories in video games, as they usually amount to hack fiction that serves as little more than a pretext to continue playing the game, as though the game mechanics didn’t do a good enough job. Pokemon games usually don’t have much in the way of story outside of “you’re a boy in a red hat who beats up an evil team on the way to becoming champion”, so it’s a change of pace to see a Pokemon game that has a story, and a surprisingly well-developed one.

The source of conflict is a man who runs an organization that sets out to free pokemon from humans. He sets up someone else as leader so he’ll have someone to hide behind and act through as the man behind the scenes. His organization also challenges what players have been doing in Pokemon games for years, making them think about what they’ve been doing all this time. It’s more complex than just a case of “bad guy wants to take over the world”.

Also of note is the story involving the character of Bianca:

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As cheerful as Bianca looks, her story isn’t as cheerful. While most characters in Pokemon have the support of their parents, Bianca set out on her Pokemon journey against the wishes of her dad. While it’s easy to write him off as a stodgy curmudgeon, he is actually very protective of her, and considering that she projects vulnerability all over the place, it’s easy to see why.

If you’re used to chasing dreams because of so many games and movies that encourage you to do so, the conclusion of Bianca’s story hits like a dose of reality. Bianca finds out that she’s not well-suited to her goals, and that her endeavors were almost certain to end in failure, however enthusiastically she may have tried. For how cheerful the Pokemon games usually are, that’s a difficult lesson to have to contemplate. Oftentimes, people learn the hard way that they’re not well-suited to their career choices, and a person might not end up doing what they want to do, however much they may have wanted to do so.

Adding to the replay value is the fact that the seasons in Pokemon Black and White change depending on the month you’re playing the games. This can change the accessibility of certain areas and items depending on when you’re playing, and can make things slightly more or less convenient. A player can actually stand on a snow bank that otherwise wouldn’t be there if it weren’t winter in-game! Not only that, there’s a different tileset for most overworld locations depending on when you’re playing.

That’s well beyond what’s necessary for a game that’s already huge, and adds yet more replay value to a game that was already gushing with it.

Conveniently, there’s a battery indicator on the HUD on the bottom screen. As in, an indicator of the battery level of the system you’re playing on. That’s such a great convenience, that I wonder why more games didn’t implement it, and why more games don’t do it now. And not only that, it tells the time. And the strength of your wireless connection.

Come to think of it, why do these games get dumped on so heavily? When was it that these games came out? What does the Wikipedia article say?

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Oh. That explains it. Pokemon Black and White were released when the hipster movement was in full-swing, and it was considered trendy to dump on anything mainstream, regardless of how high-quality the products may have been.

But hey hipsters, you got to dress in trashy clothes and bash on stuff that was actually great. That’s what you were going for, right? If so, mission accomplished, you missed out on some excellent games just so you can be a snot.

Stop hating on things just because a bunch of other people have arbitrarily decided with one accord to bash on it. You have a brain, use it.

So far, this article has only considered the first Black and White games. After these games were released, there would be direct sequels. While Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were basically re-tiles of Sun and Moon, and GameFreak is famous for releasing  Kanto remakes, with Black 2 and White 2, new areas have been woven into the setting, which made the games feel like a new experience, even though the setting was the same as in the previous games. What’s more, the pokemon selection has been amped up by integrating older pokemon before getting into the post-game. Lucario fans, rejoice.

While most Pokemon games start you off in a small town without a pokecenter or gym, but with a convenient professor’s lab, BW2 starts you off in a decent-size town with it’s own gym and pokemon center, and the professor’s lab is located somewhere far off. That’s right, Pokemon actually tried something different. Not only that, the main character’s mom is a retired pokemon center nurse, so there’s an explanation for why she’s able to heal your pokemon that goes beyond mere game mechanic convenience.

Also, Challenge Mode. The sequels give you the option to play a harder game. That’s great for players like me who wanted an additional challenge. The only complaint would be that it’s only available in one of the two versions, and not before the post game, but the sharing of unlock information can make this available to players with the other version regardless of whether they’ve made it to post-game.

That’s right, there’s a feature that enables the sharing of version-exclusive features with someone who has the other version. That’s another feature that hasn’t been implemented into a Pokemon game since the fifth generation, probably because a lot of petty naysayers dumped on its many attempts at innovation, resulting in the GameFreak that we see today that seems hesitant to try anything new.

There’s also Pokemon Dream Radar, which allowed players of BW2 to have tons of items, pokemon with hidden abilities, and legendary pokemon, right at the game’s outset if they so choose.

So many exciting features, and such well-made games that are packed with content. Why does anyone pick on the fifth generation of Pokemon?

Oh yeah, the hipster movement. That’s another one of those fads that I’m glad is over.

If you’ve made the choice to actually play Pokemon Black or White, you have chosen well, and you’ve done well to resist the discouragement that comes with all the undeserved hate that these games get. If you’ve yet to give them a try, you’ll find that they are true gems in the 3DS library.

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