In the history of the Pokemon series there has always been one complaint made in particular, this problem is the dreaded curse of repetition, as well as the fact that the series fails to evolve. For the latter complaint, Pokemon Black and White proved how the series could evolve delivering one of the best games in the entire series featuring a story that was actually memorable as well as acting like it was a reboot of the entire franchise. Come each Pokemon generation (this being the fifth) one major game turns up to tie in with the previous games, which is that dreaded third game. These games usually just add a new area or two to the already basic game that we have already played through, and while we have all played them and admittedly there are some interesting ideas that have been done they are still not a good thing. With Black and White 2 Game Freak has broken the trend and delivered a pair of new games that build on the story in its entirety instead of recycling the previous installment, hopefully breaking the trend for good.
While Pokemon Black and White 2 add a whole lot to what was established in Black and White, standard procedure does still apply. In this game you are given one of three Pokemon, much like Pokemon Black and White your choices still consist of the fire type Tepig, the water type Oshawatt, and the grass type Snivy. Unlike past games the real difference here is that the Pokemon are given to you by the professor’s assistant which is now our friend from Black and White, Bianca. But apart from this small point everything else is pretty standard, you are tasked with exploring the four corners of Unova to catch every Pokemon available as well as defeat all the regions gyms and eventually become the champion. It is business as usual with Black and White 2 but is that really so bad, why fix what isn’t broken.
What is more interesting is the changes that are present in the game with the changing of time. First the more exciting thing is seeing how the Unova region has changed over the course of two years as the game picks up after the events of the previous game. Along with this I was also quite pleased to see how the region itself had changed with its inhabitants, many of the major characters we met in the previous game have experienced changes. It was interesting to see how these characters had evolved and even see how characters I had close bonds with in the first game grow up and set themselves down different paths. Though one of the biggest changes made to Black and White 2 is the fact you start out in an entirely new section of the Unova region that never previously existed, as well as seeing the first town in the history of the series to house a Pokemon center.
Along with the evolutions comes the rival to your character. Unlike much of the previous games rivals the one we see in this game isn’t just around to be a nuisance or a test of skill, he actually has some greater purpose. Sure, he is not as sweet and kind hearted as Bianca, or as knowledgeable and helpful as Cheren but he has a certain feel of sincerity to him that acts as a big part of his drive. His goal in the story is to track down and recover his sisters Pokemon that was stolen by Team Plasma years before, this story is reasonably enjoyable and acts as a great drive to want to help his cause. It is refreshing to see a rival character have interests in the game beyond frequently wishing to battle, and instead carry out their own story, goal and journey.
Similarly, Team Plasma is also different as well, though they are still terrorizing the Unova region the team is now in two factions. One side of Team Plasma is trying to make amends for their past actions and return what they have stolen, meanwhile the other side is still up to no good with some slight change in motivation. Their story no longer calls for the freedom of Pokemon, now they act in a similar way to Team Rocket and just try to steal Pokemon for no good reason, though they are made somewhat enjoyable with a new underlying plot that surrounds them.
Two years has changed the Unova region, many of the places we visited in the previous game have been altered, and as a whole the region feels refreshing even for those who have played Pokemon Black and White extensively. One of the biggest changes that has happened is the entirely new sections of the region, one section of which now house the first two gyms, the other part being found towards the later sections of the game providing a much needed and really enjoyable change. But it is just new areas added that keep things interesting and show how the place has evolved, with even older areas having received changes. In some cases old areas are completely gone, while in other cases they have seen a complete overhaul, back in Black and White route 4 was a desert with construction underway, then depending on the version you’re playing you can see the fruits of their labor. Black 2 sees a very liveable area covered in a small selection of buildings, while White 2 shows off how development was unable to continue and instead some old ruins have been uncovered, similarly other towns and places found around the region have seen some similar changes providing a nice change.
Comparably, this makes a nice change from the standard third version which has been a big part of the past. Black 2 and White 2 deliver a much more ambitious world that continues to showcase Unova and show how the world can evolve delivering upon a wonderful world to see, as well as creating a truly unique Pokemon experience that stands on its own feet.
Though it isn’t just a region expansion that is brought in Black and White 2, the world has been expanded with a bigger variety being made available. This game removes the key reboot vibe which its predecessor boated and adds a wide variety of older Pokemon all across the region pushing the Pokedex numbers up to 301 in total through the story, making this Pokedex bigger then what has been available in any game prior to this one. It seems fitting that considering two years have passed that distribution will have changed and now rather just featuring Unova region creatures, the world now presents Pokemon from all four previous regions. After a couple of plays Black and White got a bit dull, but the sheer number of older Pokemon made available near the start of this game are refreshing and make for many enjoyable options. On the whole I liked the expansion to the Pokedex which was a major improvement over the previous game.
Beyond the world and Pokemon there are many other inclusions that Game Freak has lovingly added. Among these is the entirely new story, new gyms to battle and of course a whole lot of new side content, all of which expand and improve upon what we saw in the previous adventure.
If we look back at the history of Pokemon games right to the beginning Gyms have been a cornerstone of the Pokemon experience. These places have acted as places to test our strength and skill along with our well trained Pokemon in a number of cleverly constructed gyms, but I think Gyms have never been better then in Black and White 2. These places seem to tie in more with the leaders career or interests as well match their overall personality, each one we visit has us walk the path of the leader and see how they think and feel. Whether you are strutting the catwalk of Elesa’s gym or exploring Burgh’s tangled web of silk to make way to his colorful nest, these are the most memorable experiences I have had with a gym in the entire series. It’s disappointing that in the making of these gyms that puzzle solving was sacrificed, but seeing the personality shine through returning gym leaders is a wonderful sacrifice I am happy to live with.
One of the better things though is how you can expand upon your general battle experience. The game offers the opportunity to show off the true strength of your Pokemon and the skill of yourself as you compete in one of the series greatest challenges only beaten by Emerald’s Battle Frontier, the Pokemon World Tournament. This in-game feature offers the opportunity to use your team and battle in a tournament that consists of battling Gym Leaders and champions of the past in a variety of tournaments. These particular battles don’t require it to be a certain time and can be done whenever you feel you are capable, and compete in a battle with the strongest foes that is a thrill every time. It is worth noting that until the main story is complete the Pokemon World Tournament is not fully available, though it is really worth the wait.
But it not all about battles in this game, in fact some of the most enjoyable experiences take place in the games much calmer side activities. A personal favorite experience of mine was the Join Avenue, in this little area you could direct people you met to start a shop which you had the ability to help grow by directing people to the shop. There is a certain satisfaction that can be found in the management side of this experience and a certain addiction that comes from helping this place grow as the benefits often helped with the main game.
The other side experience is in the Pokestar studios, with this activity you and your Pokemon can perform in a variety of movies. These movies have you able to select dialogue to react to enemy characters as well as breaking out of the reality of the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon are used to battle different things such as a robot which acts as an interesting change to what is generally offered. It is just unfortunate that this particular mode is not exactly fun and offers little excitement beyond the thrill of battling a robot and seeing the finished product.
One of the cooler new features added for this game is a new Pokedex feature. For enthusiasts aiming to catch every Pokemon you can look up each individual area of the region and discover which Pokemon live there for you to find. This overall makes things easier and a little bit less daunting helping me to renew my lost faith in catching them all.
Though what is more interesting is the addition of a reward system for the game utilizing a number of different medals. The medals offer a bit more incentive in the game to actually do more and try to reach certain milestones, but what is better is how it plays into the collector in us all. General achievements are nothing really that special, some are as simple as catching a certain number of Pokemon or as stupid as checking every bin in the region, but there is something that drove me to seek out as many of these as I could get. The only thing that seemed silly is that the medals don’t really reward anything actually skill based, instead offering only pointless things that you would do naturally in the game. Still, I would appreciate this feature returning in a future game.
For past players the game offers a bit more incentive that makes your past journey seem more relevant for you in this game. The events of Pokemon Black and White play stronger into this journey when you use this games Memory Link feature to add your past experience to the current game and make a few meaningful additions. While our original character may never show his face in this game, he or she is mentioned quite frequently in conversation about the past, alternatively for not using memory link you just called that trainer which makes it seem like you never had a part to play in this world. Another more interesting feature is to see little vignettes of selected characters in the game which show how certain events have marked certain decisions adding more connectivity to the greater story of the Unova region and the overall experience. To enjoy the game the use of this feature is not completely necessary, but to fully immerse yourself in this world and see the greater story play out this feature is a truly great one. The greater insight into characters makes for a more connected experience and extends upon the base knowledge that can be gathered in the story and provide more reasoning.
The game also features one of the franchises biggest steps forward, a new key system has been made available that after fulfilling certain base requirements a handful of keys can be earned which can be used to alter the games experience in a way that has never been possible. By collecting the right key you are able to change the games base difficulty, for the first time ever you can use a hard mode which makes major battles more difficult, alternatively you could make the game easy which is something I was not impressed by. Only certain keys are available in certain versions so much like with Pokemon both versions need to be used to unlock certain features, it seems like Game Freak is actively trying to ensure that people want both versions to see and experience everything. This difficulty movement shows promise for the future in offering a much deeper experience that makes the game better, Game Freak just needs to capitalize on this and build more on this idea in the future.
For all the great things in Black and White 2 one of the few weaknesses that truly bothered me was the story. While the game offers enjoyable features that help to grow and create a truly wonderful story much of what we get is more self-contained to a single character. Unlike the previous game that shared a truly deep and memorable tale asking some of the biggest philosophical questions, Black and White 2 fail to do much of this at all and barely provides a decent story which you could lose yourself in.
Even still Pokemon Black and White 2 are some of the best Pokemon experiences to date. In almost every way the games manage to exceed their predecessors and create a truly enjoyable and mostly memorable experience. There is enough features that it is easy to lose yourself for days and following the previous pseudo reboot of the franchise it is good to see the franchise continue in strength.