Review by noir_maou
"This Pokemon giveth, but mostly taketh away"
The latest generation is finally here. I might stall a bit in getting the games for various reasons and not always pick up the games immediately right off the bat, but eventually I seem to do it. It also helps that they released this one on the same system as the previous one. The 4th gen, of which I played Platinum, made up for the disappointing 3rd gen. I quite enjoyed Platinum, despite some small complaints like the ever present and bothersome EV/IV system and redundant type pairings. Does anything improve or change here? Well, yes. However this game overall was a downgrade.
For anyone who is new to this, welcome to the world of pokemon. You are a trainer starting out on a journey and are allowed up to six total pokemon in your travel party at a time, which generally must be caught from the random encounters throughout the game. It uses turn based battles and other RPG elements like towns and an item inventory as it is literately an RPG, different in that you catch your own members. Things don't deviate much from the classic formula too much. Trainers who spot you will come rushing at you to issue a challenge, even if your team is half dead from exhaustion and eventually you must stop some type of team from completing their goals. They try to put this specific team in a grey area mind-set but I can't imagine how being overly pushy in your views of how things should be done is such a great thing. They may as well have brought in some corrupt religious sect which are all the rage these days in RPG land.
One of the most important aspects of a new gen is the new moves and new pokemon. The new moves don't disappoint. As for the new pokemon, it's quite a letdown and not just design wise though I despise some of the designs like Reuniclus or Garbodor. The balance tends to be really off in these games so I can't help but wonder why they continue to keep making underwhelming pokemon. This was very clear when they had to bring out evolutions for how many pokemon in the 4th gen so why do they continue to make the same mistake? Of course, half of those didn't even need evolutions, like Electabuzz and Magmar so it makes me wonder if they even know what they're doing. Seriously, pokemon like Swoobat and Emolga are pretty lacking in only but one area. We already have a backlist of Pokemon like Ariados and Corsola who need to evolve. Also worth noting that until you beat the main game, you'll only see creatures from the Unova pokedex but because you'll only see the 150 monsters from this region, expect to see many of the same monsters over and over early on. At the very least, they make up some interesting new type pairings like Bug/Electric and Dark/Fighting.
Of course, there are plenty of been there, done that things as well. How many more Normal/Flying pairings do we need? It's just downright sickening by now and makes me almost not even want to look at them. Also, we have the Grass/Fire/Water starters. If that isn't getting a bit old, they slap the same abilities on them as the other starters. Wow, now that really is old. Wait, what's that? I can get them with a different ability by using a new feature, the Dream World, not available until nearly a month after the game's launch? Seeing as you would probably play the game by then if you had brought it at launch like I did, I suppose you will you have to start your starter all over if you wanted something more unique. Since there isn't a darn thing you can do about this at the start, why not introduce a way to switch your ability? No amount of re-rolling will change the ability. Despite the series claim of of pokemon being your eternal friends, you will probably eternally box or release one with set values (stats/ability) that aren't to your liking without a second thought.
Oh, yes, that brings up our next topic of discussion: re-rolling. Pokemon basically have stats that fluctuate among the same species called Individual Values(IVs). In other words, your Snivy might have good strength and speed while your friend's has better HP and special defense. Or you could have a complete dud, much weaker in every way. A not so rare occurrence that does happen. Let's not forgot Effort Values(EVs). They are stat points awarded for battling pokemon, whether they are wild or trained. For example, defeating a pokemon with a high Defense stat like Roggenrola will give you a Defense point. By choosing which pokemon your pokemon defeats, you can essentially choose how it grows to a certain point as there is a limit.
For anyone in the know, they will be prepared to re-roll for that pokemon with decent stats and choose which EVs their pokemon gets to give them the edge while you may naively set out with your dud Snivy and catch your possibly dud mons while just knocking anyone out. Really, does your Liligant, who's SP ATK is twice her attack, need Attack EVs? Nope, but unless you know about it, you've probably invested how many into her Attack stat. Seriously, half the pokemon in this game give out Attack EVs, so unless you know to run and keep running until you see what you want to defeat, then you know nothing.
Even worse when you trade, you might offer a average to good IV pokemon to a stranger while they're just dumping off a weakling in hopes of something better as nothing is weaker than this thing they have. It's questionable how it survived in the wild to hit lv 30 until a trainer snagged it...much to their horror. They should set a good, fixed amount that the points should add up to so whether you take the first pick of a wild pokemon or get something in a trade, it will at least be proficient in some way and not give someone a big advantage who's willing to breed and reload and wait all day. Personally I aim for higher stats myself but wish I didn't have to be bothered so much. I mean, not let's not forget the nature and ability. I finally breed a Joltik with good IVs, and a good nature for it...but he has Unnerve instead of Compound Eyes...sigh, re-roll.
They also didn't change the default GTS system which is the online trading component. People still ask for unbalanced trades like legends for commonplace pokemon they scooped up from the wild in less than a minute. I was trying to get something simple like a Foongus from another country. I had to cycle through how many people asking for teh Zekromz and teh legandz. It took me two hours to get something that can easily be caught in the wild. They introduced a negotiating system but people will generally give you the unhappy face if you have nothing good to offer. There should be a rarity balance where people can't ask for one-of-a-kind pokemon unless they are offering one or at least a filter that blocks out said offers unless specified so you don't have to even see them. I'd also like a casual trade area where people are there just to trade for the fun of it and not so they can acquire rares, shinies, or legends.
Surprisingly, there's more as so many new features/changes are up and about-many of which suck. The before mentioned Dream World: why isn't it available offline as well? I remember that in my Platinum version, despite not being hooked up online, I could access the Underground feature. Why couldn't some aspects of the Dream World be available offline? This seems to be the only way to get berries so why make it so difficult to use?
The C-Gear doesn't seem to get much use. I used to leave it on but after little to no results, got tired of it sucking up my battery life. Why can't I leave my dowsing machine on instead of that black screen? Seriously, the bottom screen is usually wasted when the Poketch or whatever it was named did so much more. I could check to see if my Pokemon at the daycare were breeding halfway across the world from me or check their friendship at any given moment. Now all I can do is stare into the depths of nothingness. Oh wait, it tells you the time and your battery life. I already have ways of checking the time and my system already tells me when it is running low so no point there. They rearranged the inventory, mainly to your annoyance. Why are the Pokeballs mixed in with your regular items? Everything is just a mess.
They also changed the exp system to reward you based on your level compared to the opponent's. Great when you are underleveled but not so great if you're over. If you just caught a fresh pokemon and are trying to strengthen it on slightly weaker opponents, you'll be getting less for your work. You'll have to keep sacking wild Audino in shaking grass whose exp yield seems to be there specifically as an equalizer. They should have given the exp increase when you were under their level, but leveled it off when you were at the same level of your opponent and not go any lower.
It's also worth mentioning that the random encounter rate is insane. You can get into a battle for taking two steps through a cave or wild grass, which they still put all over a path in an unavoidable matter. You can even turn in place to turn around and it will count as a movement. Bring some repels or you'll be constantly running to save your strength from the constant wild cousins of Geoudude and Zubat, Boldore and Woobat. Luckily they now added a healer about midway in nearly every dungeon, which is nice for grinding and trying to make a capture, as sometimes your guys get beat up in doing so. Seriously, how could Team Plasma suggest not having pokemon when other pokemon keep attacking so fiendishly? You'd need a way to defend yourself if running wasn't an option and I think attacking pokemon with a weapon might be worse than battling. Of course, pokemon shoot fire, rain thunder, and even explode, so that would be debatable.
After getting a bit familiar with Contests in the last game, winning in the highest rank, I wanted to see how the musicals were. I thought the contests were hard to prepare for and get into generally as your moveset would be different generally than a battle moveset. I tried out the musicals only to find them even more confusing than the Contest. I really had no idea what the hell I was doing or what I was supposed to do. So much for enticing new players. Turns out you aren't supposed to do much of anything. I have to admit, the Contests had issue but their replacement is even worse. Oh, can't forget the season changes. Every month in real-time, a season will progress. Of course, this means that you may beat the game in one season and be putting it back in the box before the second is out. Perhaps they should have made it every week. Did they they think it would harm the realm of pseudo-reality if seasons went by so fast? Hopefully you won't have to wait three months if they have missables per season.
Don't want to sound completely ungrateful as I do like some aspects like the shaking grass. I just wish you didn't nearly always find an Audino in it on every cursed route in the game. The re-use of TMs adds much to the game as it widens your options. Want to reuse that Scald TM so you can temporarily switch it out for Surf and then back later? You go right ahead, sir. HMs are still generally only average sans the Water-type ones. Why not make Cut, a Normal type attack, do double damage against Grass types or give it something? Seriously, a normal-type move with 50 attack, 95 accuracy with no added bonuses? You think I want this taking up a slot on any of my pokemon? Luckily you don't always need them as often as they keep obstacles like small trees and rocks out of the way. You no longer need your trusty HM slave...er, HM pokemon, wasting a slot on your adventure like last time.
Overall, the the game has gotten an upgrade visually. They use the 3-D to better effect here. I'm more of a 2-D purist as I like no 3-D in my 2-D but I could see them using it to greater advantage than last gen like using various camera angles, such as rotating around as you move. Things seem to be pixalated here and there but the DS games aren't known for the best graphics necessarily. In battle and your status screen, your pokemon move around, adding a lot to their personality. I wasn't originally impressed with the water starter's forms but after seeing Duwott's movements, I was actually reluctant to evolve him. Didn't help that I didn't like the final form's design but after watching him move around a bit, it grew on me (not like Duwott-shame he had no good moves to learn earlier by being pre-evolved or I would have delayed it).
Music so far has been alright. Nothing ever really stayed in my mind much. In Platinum, I remember taking a quick liking to Team Galactic's short upbeat, jazzy song upon first hearing it, the bass of the Gym leader battle, route 216s quiet wintery feel turning into a happy holiday song and the nearby mountain's dramatic, impending feeling of danger and excitement. For some reason, nothing much has stuck with me here.
In conclusion, all I can say is not bad, but not so good either. As much as I have always enjoyed the franchise but thought it could be better (mainly the balancing), there were just too many errors here to count. They took out good features like the Poketch and Underground and didn't seem to give as much back. They also continue to make filler pokemon, pokemon with poor stats or available moves and poor designs. That right there takes out half the fun for me. With nothing else to make up for it, it left the experience somewhat lacking.
Still, I like the unlimited TM use. When a character in the game said I could use them as much as I want, I thought it was a horrid typo of HM but was pleasantly surprised. Despite their talk of making this game more accessible, will most people new to it know about IVs and EVs? This game, like the others, certainly doesn't mention these all too important things. They either need to put emphasis on them or alter the system so new people won't raise their teams improperly without even knowing it. Even someone like me, who has played since the first generation, has to look things up constantly. Would someone new to the game ever think to catch several of the same pokemon species and compare them? It still feels like you're either in or you're out. If you're in, I can't say they make you feel completely welcome.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 06/03/11
Game Release: Pokemon Black Version (US, 03/06/11)
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