Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Pokémon Black 2

Post-Launch "Review"
Pokémon Black 2
Developer: Game Freak
Released: June 2012 (Japan) / October 2012 (international)

The first true sequel in the main Pokémon franchise, Black 2 (and White 2) is set two years after the events of Black and White. The Unova region is seeing huge changes in the distribution of Pokémon wildlife, new developments are springing up across the region, and Team Plasma is back to take over the world using a third legendary dragon, Kyurem.

I had planned this to be a full review. I even played Black 2 for over 50 hours (10 more than the main story), which is normally plenty of time for me to write a full review. The problem is that I've played so many hours of Pokémon across so many different versions that I'm finding it much harder than usual to step back and look at the game objectively in terms of high-level design elements and the perspective of a new player.

So I figure I'll just talk about a few things that stuck out to me.
For the first time in any main series Pokémon game, you can link a save file and unlock more content in the sequel. There are no exclusive locations or Pokémon or anything - what you unlock are a series of cutscenes that show you some of the transitions or changes between the two games, depending on your level of progress in the first game at the time of the link, explaining why some of the characters have such different roles (for example, why Alder is no longer the Pokémon League Champion, or how the Team Plasma defectors split off from the new regime). You also get the pleasure of having your character from the first game referenced by name: instead of only being referred to as "that trainer from two years ago" I had people talking about Dom. It's not a big change, but it's nice to hear some stories on some of the big changes.

It's neat to see a true sequel and to see the world changing, but I don't find it to be as new and different as some people make it seem, because Gold/Silver basically did the same thing except for actually referencing your character from Red/Blue - you got to revisit the Kanto region and see how the region changed (though the changes weren't as extensive), and the Team Rocket plotline was a direct outcome and continuation of the one from Red/Blue.

Anyway, once you beat the Elite 4 for the first time (aka finished the "main" chunk of the game) you earn your first key. Keys are modifiers that you can activate to change the difficulty of trainer battles or choosing among certain areas (and Pokémon) to be accessible. Irritatingly - and this is my only point of contention with the key system - keys are version exclusive. You unlock challenge mode in Black 2 and easy mode in White 2. Seriously, easy mode? How many people defeat the Elite 4 and think "I wish I could earn less experience from battles"? Given that you unlock it in White 2 only, and only after you beat the game, the only practical use for easy mode is to use IR or wireless transfer to share the key with someone who's just starting the game, in order to make it easier or to blaze through the game faster on a replay. 

All that said, challenge mode is fantastic - it increases the level of trainers' Pokémon and improves their AI so they fight smarter. Higher level opponents means more battle XP, which means faster levelling for the hardcore trainers (like me!).

If Black 2 (or White 2) is your first ever Pokémon game, you might not notice the conspicuous absence of the fishing rod. Every past Pokémon game gives you a fishing rod at some point during your gym challenge. The exact point varies, but it tends to be roughly halfway, if I remember correctly. Black 2 still hasn't given me a fishing rod and I've finished the main story, beaten the Elite 4, and started wandering around previously locked areas. So where is it? Not that I really need it, with a 100% complete Pokédex in White, but... it's weird.

Speaking of items, there's a new bag slot called Free Space. You can transfer any item(s) into free space, which makes it very useful for keeping your most-used stuff accessible - for me, repels and EV-training items. It's a minor feature but a nice convenience so I don't have to scroll through or sort my bag all the time.

One thing that did occasionally annoy me is how often the game goes into "cutscene mode" where you can't move and it decides where you go. It's nice to have more of a story, but personally I don't really play Pokémon for the story. So when the game is constantly taking control when I just want to look around the new city, I get a little irritated.

So how do I feel about the game overall? It's quite a good Pokémon game, and it does a good job as a sequel to Black/White. It's very cool to see the region change so much, though I kind of feel like only 2 years isn't really long enough to see completely new cities and massive engineering projects. Then again, they have Pokémon to help out, so whatever, I guess. Anyway, taken together, B/W and B2/W2 serve as a very good starting point for new players to the series. I'd recommend starting with Black and then getting Black 2, if only for challenge mode, because easy mode is kind of garbage considering when it's unlocked - and you can share it anyway, so if you know someone else with easy mode unlocked, you can get it from them no matter which version you have.

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