Pokémon White Version 2 review
Another Excellent Catch
Pokemon "third versions". The trend started with Pokemon Yellow, altering the original games enough to include elements from the anime. It was a cool concept and it marked my first taste of the series. After that, Nintendo and Game Freak saw fit to continue releasing third versions to every set of games that weren't remakes. The result was the general thought of cashing in even moreso than usual and really put me off the idea. Everyone expected a similar entry for Black and White. To everyone's surprise, they announced not a third version but direct sequels instead. As news dripped out excitement grew. Could they finally buck the trend of slightly modified versions and deliver an actual proper sequel in the same region?
The most obvious thing to point out is that, yes, White 2 reuses many of the assets of the original Black and White games. There have been a few major tweaks to ensure the presentation doesn't run stale though, which should be a bit of good news for long term fans.
The battle scenes - prior to White being one of the weakest areas visually - return in all their glory here. The game keeps onscreen pokemon moving at all times, which is done mostly through limited animation showing pokemon shifting stances but it's enough to avoid the feeling that you're watching cardboard cutouts exchanging cries. The animations on show are quite fluid too, showing a great deal of care going into them. The actual fighting is made relatively exciting thanks to the dynamic camera that moves around the battlefield as attacks are fired off. The actual effects are layered over the sprites but the combination of the camera and the excellent style used on them. Still waiting for the time when they start drawing up proper battlefields to fight in though. Sure, there's a good use of colour and a little detail that provides a vague idea of the kind of area you're fighting in, but it's not quite the same thing.
One key change to these games are the trainer sprites. As before, there's quite a few of them in game, including a handful of new trainer designs to see. A massive improvement is that all trainer sprites are animated instead of only a handful. It's one thing that had seemingly been missed from before so it's welcome to see them return fully.
The overworld hasn't seen much in the way of significant changes. The game uses a combination of sprites and polygons to craft an interesting world. Special effects like leaves swaying in the wind or rain lashing the land lend themselves well. Some clever use of the camera can also give a great sense of the scale of some areas such as Castelia City. The different areas have been well designed and it's nice to see the few additional areas implemented into the game.
The designs of the characters and pokemon are great. Chances are if you thought the protagonist designs were a little on the wacky side in the original Black and White then you'll consider these new characters even more strange. Other unique characters make there appearance and certainly stand out. There are few new pokemon designs around though, limited to a few new forms for a select few pokemon. Again you'll find some you'll love and some you'll outright hate.
The music is still an excellent standout point for the game. Battle music is certainly fantastic and a few new tunes compliment the existing selection well. Of particular note is the new Champion battle theme that fits the setting perfectly and serves as a perfect climatic audio compliment to the epic battle you'll face.
Sound effects, such as the crashing of lightning on an enemy or the various cries of the pokemon, are good too, giving the battles a sense of life to them.
The story takes place 2 years after the events of the original games. Team Plasma had officially disbanded and both the protagonist and N have disappeared along with their respective dragon pokemon. You take control of a new character starting out on their own pokemon journey, but soon you find out that certain rogue members of Team Plasma are acting up again.
The plot this time isn't anywhere near the scope of the original story. I really liked how the previous games playing on a number of themes and emotions with the way their story played out. By comparison, White 2 has some good moments too but seems to go more for set pieces and a more simple "rule the world" theme than before. That is not to say it's bad by any means but I feel like we took a step back to the storylines of the older Pokemon games, once again making it probably the weakest element of the game.
Still, I have to admire the sense of nostalgia when crossing paths with many characters from the previous games. It's interesting to see what two years have done to the likes of Cheren and Bianca. Stories of the previous player character also echo around Unova - moreso if players use the memory link to connect their Black/White with their Black 2/White 2.
So nothing's really changed in terms of the core battle mechanics in the game since the last pair of games but here's what you can expect should you be new to the series. Pokemon is a turn based game where pokemon on each side exchange attacks in order based largely on their speed stats until one side is defeated.
The strategy in the games goes a lot deeper than the unassuming appearances might lead you to think. There are loads of moves in the game to choose from, although each pokemon is limited to only knowing four moves at a time. Direct damage attacks will likely form the main part of your choices and are influenced by their elemental and combat types. This ties into the game's rock-paper-scissors system where each type is strong and weak against certain other types. Taking advantage of this system is critical and requires some solid thinking on your part to succeed. There are also a number of status moves in the game that can do things like inflict negative status on the opponent such as poison or sleep, alter the weather or apply temporary changes to stats. While the majority of these status moves seem to lack the importance of the direct damage moves in the main storyline, they become significantly more important in some of the post game content and in multiplayer modes.
The choice of pokemon can also be important. Each species varies in their base stats of course, but they also come with a variety of other aspects. A pokemon can be a single or dual type which affects how effective moves are on it and which of its own moves receive a power boost. Every pokemon also has an ability that works under set conditions, such as levitate causing all ground type moves to miss or swift swim boosting speed during rain. As you can have a team of six pokemon with you during the adventure then choices here can be very important. During the single player game you can use items like potions or berries to help your team out. This is handy for players who may find a certain challenge a bit tricky. Pokemon can also hold and automatically use items in all modes for extra effects.
There are four main styles of battle styles you'll get to experience during the game. Singles (1 vs 1) is the most dominant style so you'll see this the most, where each side has one pokemon on the field at a time. Doubles (2 vs 2) and triple (3 vs 3) increase the number of pokemon on each side and alters how some moves function, like earthquake will hit everyone apart from the user and anyone immune to the attack. The position of pokemon in triple battles are a lot more important too as it can affect who they can target and who can target them. All these are rather fun options to play around with, although you won't see much of triple battles during the main game. Double battles do seem to be used a bit more than before so that's good but it still takes a backseat to single battling style. Rotation battles also return, where you have three pokemon on the field but only one active at a given time. During each turn you can rotate one of the other field pokemon into active duty and get them to fire a move off. I don't feel like this mode works quite as well due to the sheer amount of guesswork compared to the other modes, so in a way I'm more thankful that this is quite limited in the main game.
Sadly, I do think the overall challenge of the main game is a lot easier than it was in the original Black and White. During my first journey through Unova there were multiple times that I found myself struggling, yet I rarely found that to be the case this time around. The game has an overall higher average level this time around so that may contribute to it. Still, for those seeking a more genuinely challenging experience may wish to look to the extra content. The Battle Subway returns, offering BP in exchange for winning streaks against trainers that can progressively harder. As you're limited to a team of 3 and no using items from the bag then it can be quite tricky. Working from this is the Pokemon World Tournament. This area is basically a huge nostalgia trip for long term fans as important trainers from throughout the series appear as challengers, but it's also worth noting that it is pretty hard to take on. White Hollow (or Black Tower) is another area presenting a solid challenge, tasking you to try and locate a boss trainer while having limited means of healing your team.
Unova itself has seen quite a few changes from before. A number of new areas have appeared, such as the new starting location Aspertia City and the water themed Humilau City. A number of existing locations have also been changed up to provide a slightly fresher experience, although there is still a sense of familiarity if you've explored Unova before. This includes the old gyms that have new layouts to challenge players, although I must admit that some of them seem to have ditched the puzzle side of things. Going into the Nimbasa gym and not having any tricky puzzle to figure out was a bit of a let down. Unova was already a varied and interesting place to explore so it's nice to have these extra areas to visit.
HM moves can be taught to pokemon and used in the field such as cutting down small trees that block the path or using surf to cross bodies of water. The main story still manages to avoid relying too much on HM moves, which I'm quite thankful for as it allows players to avoid dragging a HM slave around. The system does feel a bit archaic though, since the game won't let you replace HM moves with another without visiting a designated NPC even though there is no longer any reason to prevent it. You do still require these moves for exploring a lot of the side content.
Pokemon Musicals return and are as boring as before. You dress up pokemon then watch them dance and hit an onscreen icon about twice at most. The lack of interaction and the general uninteresting nature of it really doesn't appeal very well. The new addition of Pokestar Studios, on the other hand, works extremely well. Here you get to star in movies, using either rental or your own pokemon. The idea is to follow the script, but how you interpret that is up to you. I ended up wasting a lot of time at the studios making all sorts of movies because of how fun it was.
Multiplayer options remain largely the same. First is trading, where players can exchange pokemon with each other. This is somewhat necessary if you want to complete the pokedex, as some pokemon are only found in the wild in certain versions and some pokemon evolve via trading. There are also other bonuses like an increased experience gain. Trading can be done through local wireless or online. Exchanging friend codes and connecting that way is generally the most effective means of trading, although the game does try to offer a couple of faster alternatives that are sadly very lacking. GTS trading involves searching for a pokemon or offering your own. In theory it should work but the execution is very flawed since you can only look for pokemon you already have in your pokedex and that there are no real restrictions on what a person can ask for so you end up with loads of pokemon clogging up space where people ask for a Lv100 Mew in exchange for a Litwick. GTS Negotiations was supposed to address this by letting you interact with random people and negotiate. However, the completely vague categories you're forced to use such as cute or cool coupled with a lack of options when it comes to actually conveying your thoughts to the other trainer makes this a waste of time. There's also the option of transferring pokemon from one of the generation four games, although this does require access to 2 DS consoles.
All sorts of battling options are available. If you want full 6 vs 6 battles outside of triple and rotation then you need to go the friend code route, but the system is very solid and you can really enjoy fighting it out with friends. As well as all the battle modes previously mentioned there is the wonder launcher mode, where you gain points each turn that can be spent to use items in the battle. The random matchup system seems to have been tweaked a bit so that those that rage quit are barred from the service for a short period of time. Although this does also have the effect of penalising players whose battery may have run dry, it's probably a worthwhile trade-off. In random matchups you are limited to the number of pokemon you can send in (such as 3 for singles) and pokemon are levelled down to 50 for the duration of the battles. It would be nice to have random matchups with more depth to them but it's not a bad way to test new teams. Still, the competitive side of things isn't the easiest to get into. Some key mechanics have a great effect on things but are largely hidden from the players.
Entralink returns and can be discussed in two respects. The first are the funfest missions, which replace the Entralink missions of the previous games. These are where you are warped to specific areas in Unova to complete special tasks. It's great to see that these can actually be tackled in single player but it is still strange that when you do want other people to participate we are limited to local play only. Is it really that difficult to make these kinds of things an online experience too? Then there is the Dream World. By registering on the PGL website and syncing your game with the account you can visit the Dream World where you can decorate a house, plant berries and play minigames in order to befriend pokemon with special abilities. These pokemon can be sent back to your game. There are some new minigames on offer from the last time I went to the Dream World, but after a while it still manages to run into the rut of repetitiveness.
The last specific item I wish to discuss are the version exclusive elements. Like all the games before them, this pair of versions has exclusive pokemon to each game. In addition, certain features and areas are also technically exclusive. It's possible to unlock these things on the opposite game by linking and sending key data, so that the hard difficulty setting can be opened on White 2 as an example. Once again though, this is only possible through local wireless when it makes absolutely no sense to not include online functionality. It's also strange that the difficulty options - one of the key requests from fans for ages - aren't opened until you've cleared the main storyline unless someone transfers their key data to you.
Pokemon White Version 2 is not without its flaws but I've invested quite a few hours into it so there is a lot of good in this package. There is going to be a bit of deja vu if you've already played Black/White, but for once I think enough content is new and fresh that it is a worthwhile purchase even if you already have the previous games. It is definitely an improvement and brings about a lot of exciting content that pokemon fans should enjoy immensely.
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