The Pokémon series has a cycle it has run through since it began that Black/White 2 breaks, and I hope this becomes the new standard for the series. The cycle goes a pair of games with a few cosmetic and roster differences, Red/Blue or Diamond/Pearl. Those games are followed up by an improved third version of those games, Yellow or Emerald. Black/White 2 is something different. It is not the enhanced “Gray” edition to Black/White, it is a true sequel. There is a lot to the game for those who bought Black or White but who are not buying every Pokémon game because Pokémon. While it does push the boundaries with the incremental improvements, it does push against some problems that the series has mostly avoided until now, and for the first time gives me some concern for the direction this series is taking. Still, the massive amount of content lets me comfortably say that this is the best Pokémon game yet.
One of B/W’s biggest selling points was its regional Pokédex. B/W2’s is also a highlight, but for a different reason. Much of B/W’s charm was in how the Pokémon available in the main game were limited to just the ones new to this entry in the series. As a result it was the freshest Pokémon experience is some time, and it gave players a chance to get to know the new ‘mons that hasn’t existed since Red/Blue. B/W2 could not repeat that without a regions worth of new Pokémon, so Game Freak went the opposite way with it. B/W2’s regional Pokedex has around 300 critters in it. Each area has tons of Pokémon. While many of the routes are the same as they were in the last game, the new monsters make them a different experience. One of the best parts is that I’ve discovered that the Gen. 5 Pokémon are probably my favorite since the original 150.
While there are few improvements to the system, there are plenty of new frills. Pokestar studio makes the usual pageant-esque mini-game fun. Each movie is like a puzzle battle that must be solved. There is an achievement system in the way of medals. The new areas are mostly well designed, with straightforward main paths and plenty of side trails. There is really just a lot to this game beyond the usual collect the badges quest. I do need to make sure to note that the player character designs are just awful
B/W2’s biggest deviation from the formula is in its story. It is a sequel, and a sequel to a game that already focused more on story than any Pokémon game before it. The structure is still the same, with badges to collect and an Elite 4 to battle, but there is a lot more going on around it. Team Plasma has split into two factions, with one attempting to atone for their crimes in the previous game and the other dropping the “free the Pokémon” rhetoric and just flat out focusing on conquering the world. The problem is that with the increased focus on story, the player characters remain nonentities. To keep the one of the series biggest draws, the player characters must remain nonentities. So the game has to balance the big role the player must play in the story, with the fact that they can’t really be an active participant. It is the old problem of the silent protagonist. I have no problem with a silent protagonist, not when the game calls for it. When the main character is supposed to be the player, like Pokemon, then it only makes sense not to give them a set personality. Even giving options isn’t perfect, unless someone thinks Sheppard from Mass Effect accurately spoke for them. The Pokémon series has long succeeded in making it feel like the players Pokémon adventure, that is a big part of more personal attachment to the players own caught and chosen Pokémon. In Black/White2, the rival trainer gets to be the hero; he is the one with grudge against Team Plasma and is trying to stop them. The player just shows up and helps. The trouble also shows up with the returning characters. Cheren and Bianca are both around, Cheren now being a Gym leader and Bianca helping out the Professor, but the player character is nowhere to be found. I don’t have much of a problem with where the storytelling in Pokemon is right now. It is strange that the story is becoming more important, but the player is at best a side character. I just hope that the series doesn’t continue down this road. That would force them either abandoning the conceit that the player is the main character or making the main character take an even lesser role in his own story.
I thoroughly enjoyed White 2, and I can see myself returning before too long to catch all those legendaries available in the post-game. This is Pokemon, even with the slight changes everyone should know what they are getting into. Pokemon White 2 is the perfect way to cap off the DS’s life.