My In-Depth B2/W2 Review
Some notes before the review: Despite my comments in a previous entry (after my first W2 game's data got wiped out), I did eventually restart and play the game over again to completion. So this review is based on a complete play of the main game, most of the post game, and several of the major optional sidequests.
And yes, I do lay criticisms on certain characters and Pokemon who appear in-game, but as the inclusion of said elements did affect my enjoyment of the game, I do feel I am justified in bringing them up.
Finally, I can almost guarantee you that this will be the only review of B2/W2 that will reference two different automobiles that have been out of production for over 20 years. With that said, I present...
The Elite Overlord's In-Depth Review of Pokemon Black 2/White 2
Recently the Pokemon franchise has strayed far off course, after such disappointments as Heart Gold/Soul Silver and the original Black/White. But the Pokemon train keeps rolling with the introduction of Black 2 and White 2, the first true numbered sequel games in the main series of games. With these games, will Pokemon finally be put back on track?
B2/W2 returns gamers to everyone's favorite region named after Chevrolet's venerable compact car of the 1970's. Sadly, still no monument to the Chevy Nova exists anywhere in-game. The first hint of good news is that the female protagonist looks much better than in the two games previous, sporting stylish black tights and a funky Sailor Moon-inspired twin-bun hairdo. Only issue I have is her weird short-things... if they gave her a proper skirt, she might have replaced the girl protagonist from Leaf Green as my favorite Pokemon girl. The guy protagonist is unattractive as expected, though that's become par for the course.
So, what's new? It is now two years after the events in B/W. Despite taking place once again in Unova, there are several new areas to explore, including the trainer's starting city (yes, that's city, and not random backwoods town like in every other Pokemon game to date) and the area encompassing the first two Gyms. There are also new areas in the northeast part of the region and the order in which you explore some areas is different from the preceding games. For example, the areas you explored first in B/W are now not accessible until you beat the game. There are new Gym Leaders, two all-new characters and a third who's a familiar face in a new role. The three who were replaced still play minor roles in the game, so you'll still see them. There are new activities and sidequests to do, some of which were better executed than others. And remember all the warnings about not introducing foreign species into an unfamiliar environment? Apparently someone didn't get the memo since a number of Pokemon from previous games now run wild in the region. This does allow for more flexible team-building... if you can find Pokemon you like from among the included crew.
If you've played Pokemon before, you know the drill. Level up your Pokemon, collect badges, beat the organized group of ne'er-do-wells, and battle to become Champion. Thankfully, that task is less of a hassle than it was in B/W. The system has reverted to placing newly acquired items at the bottom of the inventory list (B/W had new items go to the top of the list, which proved to be a major inconvenience.) There's even a "Free Space" to separate commonly used items. And when a Repel runs out, the game now asks you if you want to use another, saving you from having to fish through your bag to manually use it.
Like in B/W, experience points are dished out based on experience. If you're lower, you get more points; if you're higher, you get less. This can be a double-edged sword. While this system makes it possible to quickly level up newly hatched Pokemon (you can get one to grow 25-30 levels in one shot if you play your cards right), it also means that your stronger Pokemon will exponentially find it harder to gain levels. This is most noticeable before the first Gym; after that you get the opportunity to battle Audino for large amounts of experience, which makes the process more tolerable. The Lucky Egg you get later on also considerably improves things. Also certain trainers on routes now rematch every time you re-enter their area (whether you want them to or not). While I would have much preferred the awesome Vs. Seeker to control who and when I rematch, this system is serviceable and a distinct improvement over B/W, which at best only had once-a-day rematches.
Speaking of levels, the horrible post-game level imbalance in B/W has been all but eliminated. In B/W, the trainers you fought after the Elite Four were a good 15-20 levels higher than the Elite Four themselves, leaving you with little opportunity to prepare yourself level-wise for the level 65-70 Pokemon that immediately followed the level 50 Elite Four. In B2/W2, the Elite Four are nearly 10 levels higher and the trainers post Elite Four are mostly in the 60-65 range, with only a few going higher than that.
Similar to B/W, these games are the most graphically pleasing to date, at least in the overworld. Environments are well animated, colors are vivid, and the DS 3-D modeling effects are put to use in several places - the most notable showpieces are the Skyarrow Bridge and cruises on the Royal Unova cruise ship. Audio-wise, it's what you expect from a Pokemon game... decent music, but nothing special, and some of the sound effects (menu selections, wild Pokemon appearing, etc.) are pretty much the same as in all the past games. Honestly, I have the sound muted and my MP3 player running while I play most of the time. I've found out that late 80's rock music makes an intense a battle theme as anything actually programmed in the game.
It would appear that Game Freak has learned from the grave mistakes of HG/SS with the Memory Link function of the Unova Link. This allows you to sync your B2/W2 save file with your previous B/W save file to trigger events, such as skits, and have your previous character's name show up in conversation. This is exactly what HG/SS needed desperately (linking with FR/LG) to address one of that game's most critical flaws. Now, you can't battle your old B/W character in game, but considering how horribly Game Freak has botched that up in the past (again, see the Johto games) that might be for the best.
Join Avenue is arguably B2/W2's most enjoyable and engaging new feature. Here, you're tasked with developing a shopping district. You'll accost visitors and either have them open up shop, or recommend them to visit an existing shop. Doing the latter builds up the level of both the individual shop, and the level of the avenue as a whole. A few NPC's will visit the avenue each day; however, the fastest way to build it up is to link with other games in the B/W series or through the GTS; the trainers from those games will also visit along with the NPC's and give you more chances to develop the facility. The shops themselves offer a variety of products and services, which help you to buy items in bulk, raise a Pokemon's level or an individual stat, get your hands on rare items, or increase friendship ratings or assist in egg hatching, among other things. The higher the level of the shop, the more buying options you have; and the higher in level your avenue, the more affordable their prices get. It is actually quite fun to try to level up your avenue and customize it to your liking.
PokeStar Studios, to be honest, didn't excite me when I first heard about it. But after giving a few movies a try, it surprised me. Here, you film movies by having mock battles in front of the studio's green screen. You'll have a goal to accomplish and a certain number of turns to do it in. You're not always going for an outright win. Sometimes you'll need to knock out only specific opponents, deliver the finishing blow with a certain attack, make sure both you and your opponent are standing at the end, and sometimes, you'll even be required to throw a fight. It requires a good deal of strategy. You'll also need to choose a specific line to say during the movie, which can dictate how your opponent will attack, making things easier or harder depending on whether you chose the correct line to say. Afterwards, you'll go to the viewing room to see how your movie turned out and how your battle actions and words fit into the finished product's overall plot. Besides requiring the element of strategy, I liked it because you as the trainer, along with the Pokemon, get to be the stars this time. In the previous similar "sidequests" (Contests, Musicals, etc.) the Pokemon took center stage while the trainer sat on the sidelines. This time, your character also gets to be in the limelight.
I'm divided about the plot of B2/W2. You may recall that in B/W, Team Plasma claimed their nefarious deeds were for the good of Pokemon. Leader Ghetsis cleverly concealed his true intentions under the facade of "liberation," and his convincing and charismatic public speeches were chillingly reminiscent of cult leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh. The populace, at least, was left wondering whether Team Plasma was truly evil or simply pursuing a noble goal in a strong-arm fashion. Since then, Plasma split into two factions. One, led by former sage Rood, are seeking to atone for their actions and wear the old team uniform. Another splinter group is still under the influence of Ghetsis' Kool-Aid, and continue to stir up trouble.
It is this latter group that you face in B2/W2. This time around though, there is no attempt to hide their true intentions, no attempt to psychologically manipulate the masses. They want to take control of the region and they're not shy to proclaim it. In this way, the team has become more like Team Rocket with cooler toys and technology (they're even sporting black outfits and using Team Rocket staples like Rattata, Golbat, and Koffing). While I do appreciate Team Plasma being more upfront and honest about their goals (and the interactions between the two factions of the former team are quite interesting), and Plasma this time around was done well enough, overall the old Team Plasma from B/W, using manipulation and mind control, seemed like the more interesting bunch.
I mentioned before the presence of Pokemon from previous generations in the game. While this overall does benefit team-building, it also seems to be an exercise in "quantity over quality" and "picking names randomly out of a hat." Really good Pokemon seem few and far between, and don't even begin showing up until Castelia City. A number of Pokemon I truly despise were included (though mercifully, my single most hated Pokemon didn't make the cut), many of my favorites were not, and the inclusion of some (Dunsparce? Skitty? Rattata?) truly boggle the mind. I was able to assemble a serviceable team in-game (Samurott, Ampharos, Liepard, Flygon, Espeon, Vespiquen) but both Ampharos and Liepard were "second choice" Pokemon, where I would have preferred Electrode and Persian in their places, respectively. But this can be an area that is highly subjective, and your mileage may vary with regards to the included Pokemon. And hey, I'm really glad that Flygon made it into the game... it's my favorite Ground-type to use.
Two additional new features, I'm also divided about. There's a "medal" system where you collect them for achieving certain accomplishments in game. Sounds like a good idea, but some of them are near-impossible to earn, with completely ridiculous and unreasonable requirements. I know for a fact I'm not gonna be able to get all of them, and I'm not even trying, despite being known for being a game completionist back in the days of Platinum. This medal system just makes it too hard to achieve 100% completion. The second is the White Forest/Black City optional dungeon, accessible post-game. It's a series of randomly generated dungeons with trainers who get harder as you proceed. You earn money and experience from these fights too. You can also save the game in here. Overall, I thought the whole concept was a bit strange (and the saving ability does make it easy to beat if you're inclined to constant soft-resettings) but if you go all out and beat every other trainer you run into, it does net you some very nice amounts of experience and money, so it's really hard to complain too much.
While at this point I'd like to end the review by saying that B2/W2 got most everything right, sadly, I cannot. I'm reminded of Consumer Reports magazine's January 1985 test of the '85 Chrysler Fifth Avenue: "While the car did well enough in our tests, the many design faults... left us with a general sense of irritation." (p. 39) This statement (replacing "car" with "game") sums up HG/SS and B/W quite well, and while B2/W2 corrects some of the design faults inherent in its predecessors, it leaves others untouched and introduces still others into the mix. There is still a sense of irritation with these new games, though not as much as with the previous games I mentioned.
The games introduce a "world tournament" which is perhaps the biggest disappointment in the game. Here you battle "Gym Leaders" and "Champions" from past games in, well, a tournament format. It appears to be a good idea on paper, but its execution leaves much to be desired. Certain characters (Elite Four, as one example) are notably absent, while at least one other seems thrown in at random (neither champion nor Gym leader) and fields a team vastly inferior to everyone else's. As for the tournament itself, it's supposed to replace the Battle Frontier (even has that arena's same 3 vs. 3, CPU has extremely good luck battle engine) but doesn't come close to offering the Frontier's variety of battling styles. Heck, it barely has more than the much-maligned Battle Subway, which I actually prefer (and in the days of B/W I never thought I'd ever utter those words). Even if the place made no other changes other than making these fights full 6 on 6 affairs, that would have at least shown some initiative to differentiate it from the Frontiers and Towers of old. Sadly, this is not the case. Oh, and did I mention that you can't link up with another player to take on these guys, or even record your bouts here? Talk about your stripped-down, bargain basement battle facilities!
Like one of the tournament's participants himself, the thing in general seems to be blatant fan-pandering at the expense of a fully-developed, high quality gaming experience - which is the worst kind of in-game fan service, in my opinion. Peel off the glitz and the retro appeal of past trainers, and it becomes clear this is a lazy, half-hearted excuse for a Battle Frontier. Sure, the place does its job well enough, but one can't help but wonder if this place could have been much better had more effort been put into it. There's simply not enough to do here and it gets boring quickly. I must say though, that old Gym Leaders make for an interesting type of lipstick to be applied to a pig. Now, I enjoyed seeing some old foes again, but quite frankly, there were at least as many others that I wouldn't have minded never seeing again. (And meanwhile, up and coming trainers in other regions are forced to battle each Gym's administrative assistant or chief sanitation engineer for their badge because the leaders are off fooling around in Unova.)
But the tournament is optional. One design flaw that is not optional, and is a carryover from B/W is the way the C-Gear is executed. This should've been treated as a Key Item that you activate from the menu if you so choose. Instead, every time you start the game, you must wade through the equivalent of an automated customer service voice menu. Select your save file, tell the game, "No, I don't want to start the battery-draining C-Gear up", tell the game, "Yes, I'm sure I don't want to start the battery-draining C-Gear up!", sit through a black screen that advertises the current in-game season, then FINALLY get to the actual game. And I again stress, you must do this EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Another thing (person) you're required to put up with is your rival. The whole tired old "friendly rival" (does that even make logical sense?) thing is bad enough, but this time around, he's a "friend" AND he's got major anger management and control issues. Anger management issues because he's got a beef with Team Plasma and he blows the issue completely out of proportion. Every time he opens his mouth it's to express his uncontrollable rage, and he quickly begins to sound like a broken record. And those control issues stem from the fact that he sees you and your team of strong Pokemon as weapons to be used at his discretion to further his agenda of vengeance. He practically forces you into fighting with Team Plasma, ordering you around like a drill sergeant at basic training. While I guess I can appreciate the attempts to create a unique character, they went overboard with this kid and he seriously needs to seek some professional, psychiatric help. Heaven forbid, I actually prefer Bianca's ditziness over this rival's psychotic obsession with revenge. Now, if I want the rival in my game obsessed with destroying anyone, I'd want him to be obsessed with destroying MY character. That would at least give him motivation to be a "rival" in the true sense of the word.
Another flaw carried over from B/W: Outside of battle, these games look pretty nice. In battle, they look like something released in the mid-80's for the NES. The problem stems from trying to create a "3-D effect" battlefield using 2-D sprites. The viewpoint zooms in whenever an attack is launched or connects with the foe. Now, what happens in Paint or Photoshop when you zoom in on an image? It becomes pixelated. Same thing happens during these battle sequences. The end result is not very attractive to say the least. Unless a game is deliberately designed to have the 8-bit "retro" look, this level of sloppiness and unattractiveness should not have been acceptable.
Hey, folks, guess what! B2/W2 have varied difficulty levels! Here's the bad news, though: You need to play through the game (meaning beating the Champion) to access the difficulty change (it's part of the Unova Link's "Key" system), and then you only get the difficulty setting associated with your game version (W2 has easy; B2 has hard). Want both difficulty levels? You'll need access to both games. Want to play through the entire thing using an alternate difficulty? You'll need to play through another game copy once at the normal difficulty (or know someone who already has), then trade "keys" with the other game. Seriously, why must we jump through as many hoops as these just to unlock extra difficulty modes? Why aren't these options available from the start? And what's the point of making available the changed difficulty only after you've completed the bulk of the game? Hey, Game Freak, inquiring minds want to know!
Then there are other things, like the confusing and uninteresting Musicals and the ridiculous Dream World (if the goal of an RPG game is to immerse you in that game's world, then forcing you to turn off your game, go online, and visit a website to access a feature is counterproductive to that goal, for obvious reasons), carry over from B/W and continue to serve as reminders of questionable decision-making. There's still a lack of a feel of accomplishment - a flaw that has been present since the days of the original Pokemon games over a decade ago. Even after you become the Champion, very few NPC's in the game recognize you as such, and there's a general feeling of, "what was the point of beating the game if very little changes?" Fundamentally, the core gameplay Pokemon has changed little over the years. While it's still solid and enjoyable, and the basic formula still works, innovative is not the word to describe this franchise in general. I also think these games are getting way too preachy about friendships and stuff. Everyone talks about Pokemon as friends, partners, etc., and frankly it just gets annoying after about the 300th time an NPC brings the subject up.
Yes, those were quite a few flaws I pointed out with B2/W2, but honestly, B/W and HG/SS were even worse, and had fewer good/redeeming qualities to balance things out. With few exceptions, Pokemon B2/W2 are exactly the games that B/W should have been. The Unova originals surpass the sequels in only four areas: Better implementation of Team Plasma, better implementation of the rival(s), and B/W don't include my least favorite trainer or second least favorite Pokemon family. B2/W2 more than make up for these shortfalls with new elements they do bring to the table, like Join Avenue, PokeStar, and a much better-looking heroine. While the flaws in B2/W2 keep them from approaching the quality of the franchise's best - games like Platinum, Leaf Green, and XD Gale of Darkness - they are definitely a step in the right direction, and clearly superior to the two Pokemon game "pairs" that directly preceded it.
+Attractive playable heroine character (second best, in fact)
+Larger region with more areas to explore
+You start in a proper city this time
+More variety of Pokemon in-game
+Improved item storage system including free space
+Automatically re-use Repels!
+Stronger Elite Four
+Improved post-game level balance
+Limited (but welcome) additional rematch options
=Team Plasma storyline
=Some choices of included/excluded Pokemon
=Post game dungeon in Black City/White Forest
-Lazily-developed world tournament with questionable inclusions/exclusions
-Least liked trainer rears his ugly head again where it doesn't belong
-Pixelated in-battle graphics
-Annoying/mentally disturbed? rival
-C-Gear still a nuisance
-Overly complicated difficulty level feature (but at least we now get one)
-Still no Vs. Seeker
Overall Score: 7.75/10
Posted December 30th, 2012 at 2:50 PM by Ragnar Lothbrok
Posted December 31st, 2012 at 9:03 AM by Golurks Were Meant to Fly
Posted December 31st, 2012 at 2:09 PM by Elite Overlord LeSabre™
Posted January 1st, 2013 at 12:18 PM by Haruka of Hoenn
Posted January 2nd, 2013 at 6:05 AM by Elite Overlord LeSabre™