Review by Etrurianmage
"The Soul of Pokemon Reborn."
Written after about five hours of playing on March 6, 2011. Will update in due time.
What is there to say about the Pokemon franchise? I think that we all have fond memories of playing Red or Blue and Gold or Crystal back in the day, but have since only continued out of affection for the brand name and nostalgia of our childhoods. While R/S/E and D/P/Pt may have been fun games, one would be hard-pressed to argue that they had a sliver of programming sense or desire to recognize the potential of the series within them. And out comes Pokemon Black and White. I, like many gamers, had sworn off Pokemon after what had been one too many mediocre installments. However, as the release date drew near, press stories of innovations in the franchise and my inner fanbody did force me to preorder. And how did that end for me? Bloodly marvelously.
Allow me to elaborate on these "Innovations." Please, do not go into this game expecting a difference on the scale of, say, one Final Fantasy game to the next. As always, you are collecting Pokemon, defeating gym leaders, challenging the Elite Four, etc. Where the differences enter, for one thing, begins with the story. Instead of a rival, as in every Pokemon game to date, your peer trainers are your two best friends: each of whom carries their own original personality and acts as a notable character within the plot rather than just the sneering arrogant kid that we have seen thus far as the player's rival. Also, the adversary team, Team Plasma, is more politically-driven and functions in less of a generic sense of evil than any enemy teams of the past. While these may seems like somewhat minimal differences, they go a long way to breathing life into the story of the game, such as to the point where it ceases to be an issue that the core structure remains unchanged.
And, of course, innovations (as well as just general good design) in gameplay stand significant as well. A number of tune-ups have been made to the core interface and functionality of the game so as to improve general fluidity and ultimately make the final product much easier to enjoy. General design and balance are well-developed, and I never felt that the game was being too easy or unfair in the least. World design is well-made, and I often find myself exploring for the pure sake of my enjoyment and performing a large number of optional battles and whatnot out of sheer interest: something that rarely if ever happened in previous Pokemon games. A very nice touch is in the game's visual design, which includes very nice pseudo-3D effect on the world map and detailed animations in battles. Pokemon Black and White is truly the greatest visual realization of Pokemon that we could see from the Nintendo DS. All in all, the gameplay is just much more fluid and easy to enjoy than it has been in Pokemon up to this point. However, I can't forget what is easily my favorite new feature...
The exclusion of all Pokemon from previous generations until the game is finished!
It seems like such a natural idea. You would think it'd be done before now, but I'm not complaining. Gamefreak finally excluded all 493 Pokemon from Generations 1-4 prior to the game's completion, which makes gameplay so much simpler; I probably can't even accurately describe how much more coherent the experience is for this factor. However, the greater effect of this is in how it returns the series to its roots in Red and Blue. Honestly, I think this is the closest that can ever be reached to being six years old again and making that first trip from Pallet Town to Viridian City. While nostalgia will always be just that, Pokemon Black and White's simplification to only the yet-unknown Pokemon adds a degree of mystery and freshness to the mix that I can't help but love. It's the first original Pokemon experience in thirteen years, and I couldn't be happier with it.
All in all, if you're on the fence about this game (which I would imagine that you are given that you're reading this review,) do try and give this new iteration of the classic franchise a try. It feels like the first honest effort to make a quality Pokemon game in almost a decade, and that is great!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/07/11
Game Release: Pokemon White Version (US, 03/06/11)
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