Review by Cenedarprime
"This return to Unova begs a question..."
...and that question is, "Where was all this cool stuff in Unova the FIRST time?"
Game Freak is seeking to change up the Pokemon main formula, by releasing a numbered sequel to the fifth generation of games as opposed to choosing a different color for the stereotypical "third game" (such as Crystal, Emerald, or Platinum). And it would seem this new take on a typical Pokemon "sequel" is working in the game's favor. The updated aesthetics of Black and White 1 (henceforth to be referred to as BW1) have returned in BW2, and even been expanded more in certain respects. The tried and true gameplay of Pokemon returns in full force with all the bells and whistles that have been slowly piling up over five generations of battling and catching. And with an unprecedented amount of post-story content, on par with HeartGold and SoulSilver, Pokemon Black and White 2 becomes one of, if not the most well-rounded and robust adventures the series has ever seen.
If you have played any Pokemon game before, especially if you've played BW1, then you know how BW2 works. It is a turn based RPG where trainers give their Pokemon orders to attack opposing Pokemon, and the last trainer with Pokemon standing wins. It's a simple system that has been built upon and refined over the years, and the result is a surprisingly easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master combat system that intuitively uses simple strategy with more complex moves. Pokemon are divided among 17 types such as Fire, Water, and Grass, with each type having advantages over certain other types while also being vulnerable to others (For example: Water type attacks are really effective against Rock, Ground, and Fire types, but is also weak against Grass and Electric types). All Pokemon also have passive abilities that affect everything from battle to how they meet wild Pokemon in the overworld. Pokemon can learn moves simply by levelling up, but can also be manually taught moves through Technical Machines (TMs), through breeding, or even through select tutors located at all four corners of Unova, so to speak. Almost everything you do in the game serves the purpose of increasing the strength and effectiveness of your squad of 6 Pokemon champs. It's very much standard Pokemon fare in terms of exploring the overworld and battling wild Pokemon and trainers, but at the same time it is a cumulation of all the additions and tweaks over 5 generations of games. There is a reason the games are so addictive.
At the same time while gameplay is solid and fun, it is beginning to show it's age a little more each generation. So many developers have moved away from the simple turn based RPG that Pokemon strictly adheres to, and there are still some quirks about battle that can rub people the wrong way. For example, if you are up against a tough opponent and need to heal your Pokemon mid-match, you often get caught in a loop of healing, getting knocked down to the tiniest sliver of your health meter, healing again and repeating the process ad infinitum. Given, sometimes switching your Pokemon can alleviate this problem, but it does break the balance of the game a little bit. Maybe next generation we can heal and attack in the same turn? It would liven up the pace of certain battles. While the gameplay does show its age every now and again, it is still as fun as it was back on the original Game Boy and is very much worth the price of admission.
The story of each Pokemon game is probably the least changed element from the original Red and Blue versions, and BW1 didn't deviate too far from that tradition. Given, Team Plasma had far greater numbers and a far less "classic nefarious villain" feel, but ultimately their seemingly noble crusade to liberate the Pokemon of the world ended up being a cheap mask over Ghetsis' true goal, release all trainer's Pokemon until only Team Plasma have them and take over the world (cue dramatic fear-inducing organ music). But for the first time since Gold and Silver (generation 2), we see the fallout of what happens to a criminal organization after they are dismantled. Fast forward 2 years from BW1, and we find ourselves starting in a new town, Aspertia City, with a new main protagonist and rival, bright eyed and ready to take on the world. You see parts of Unova you never even knew existed in BW1, with new gym leaders amidst returning favorites. But by far the most intruiging part of the story in BW2 is the aforementioned fallout of Team Plasma. The organization has split into two factions, one still faithful to the ideas of N and attempting to repent for their crimes, and one faithful to Ghetsis that has abandoned all pretense of "Pokemon liberty" and simply wants to take over the world. And for some reason, your rival (initially named Hugh) has a score to settle with Team Plasma...but that gets explored in the game and I won't spoil it here. While the story does not throw many curveballs or surprise reveals, it is nice seeing how Unova and the characters within it have changed and matured in the two year difference. The old rivals from BW1, have followed their paths and become a gym leader (Cheren) and an assisstant to Professor Juniper (Bianca). And there are plenty of tidbits that reference BW1 that serve to further flesh out the world.
The graphical and aesthetic presentation of BW2 are very much in sync with the previous games. The overworld you explore has a sort of blended 2D/3D look to it with characters and ground being 2D with buildings and natural objects that rise up in a psuedo-3D style. Battles still uses 2D sprites for trainers and Pokemon, but all those sprites have a degree of animation to them now. Pokemon still only have idle animations (no special ones for attacks or being hit) but it still helps to flesh them out as actual living creatures instead of cardboard targets.
Graphically this is still very much a DS game, which makes sense considering the game is made for the original DS. But the style has been around long enough now that people are really itching to see a fully 3D Pokemon game. It is definitely possible, the 3D models for all the Pokemon have already been made and can be seen in the Pokedex 3D Pro app on the 3DS. While providing one last rollicking adventure for the DS was a good way to give the handheld the glorious send-off it deserves, it is time for Game Freak to move onto the 3DS for it's next main adventure. Music is still the catchy tune pool that Pokemon is known for, but all the creatures still speak with those ridiculously outdated MIDI roars and cries, and NOBODY actually talks in the game. For a series as established and open ended in post-game as Pokemon is, voice acting could be used to great effect.
All this said, this is by no means a bad-looking game, or a bad story. It's just more of what we've seen already, which is fine when it is this good. But perhaps now Game Freak can move into new territory with the presentation, the 3DS is more than capable of it.
If Pokemon does one thing right, it is definitely the post-story content. Unlike in BW1, where your options were limited outside of the Battle Subway, BW2 has plenty to chew on outside and after the main storyline. Just south of Nimbasa City is a brand new stip mall known as "Join Avenue." When you come across it, the owner gives management powers over to you, and you can open up stores in your avenue by linking with other players for battles and trades. The game also sends through a certain number of randomly generated NPC's that you can hire to open stores as well. Some of these stores are wonderful resources to have as a trainer. For example, if somebody opens up a dojo in your avenue you can power-level your Pokemon or have them work out to increase their base stats. A nursery provides a warm place to hatch your Pokemon eggs super-fast, a garden shop can sell you rare berries you wouldn't find anywhere else. There are about a dozen such store ideas and each one can be leveled up by recommending them to passerby in your avenue. The more the shops are leveled up, the better their inventory and pricing will be. As your avenue becomes more popular you will eventually get more powers, like rearraging the position of all your shops, changing the color of the animated cieling, or even renaming your avenue.
In addition to Pokemon Musicals, Pokestar Studios has opened up in Unova. In the studios, you can create short films using rental Pokemon, and eventually your own. While this does not add to your battle capabilities, or even affects the story, it is a fun diversion and one of your Pokemon that makes a big splash in films can get a little extra animation whenever appearing in battle.
Joining the Battle Subway this time around is the Pokemon World Tournament, where trainers of all levels around the world gather to comete for glory and Battle Points. One of the big draws of the PWT is the fact that a good 75% of the tournament options pit you against not only Unova gym leaders, but gym leaders from every generation of Pokemon games. Eventually you will even open up a champions tournament where you can take on any champion from the previous games. Each tournament is a round of three battles, winning the whole thing gets you battle points, and losing will earn you shards. Battle Points can be used to buy TM's and valuable items at the PWT and Battle Subway, and shards allow you to teach your Pokemon moves they would not normally learn through the move tutors around Unova.
Even if none of these appeals to you so much, there are still over 600 Pokemon to catch and train, and plenty of players to trade and battle with over wi-fi or local DS wireless. Short of having a second region, like HeartGold and SoulSilver, this is the most post-game content ever seen in a Pokemon game. Chances are you will be playing this one up through the next generation of games.
Pokemon Black and White 2 expand upon the original games in ways never seen in a single generation of the RPG titles. With easier linking to other players, a solid story and gameplay and loads of post-story content, BW2 will having trainers battling and trading till the sun explodes in the sky...or until the next generation of games is released.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/13
Game Release: Pokemon Black Version 2 (US, 10/07/12)
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