Pokémon Black 2: So Many Pokémon, So Much To Do
The time has come again to start obsessing over natures, IVs, EVs, Eevees and all the other intricate details that factor into important Pokémon decisions. Pokémon Black/White 2 take players to the Unova region once again, with a new story and Pokémon. As the first direct sequel, it’s clearly a game designed with Pokémon Black/White players in mind, as it expounds on the original game and offers a bit more of a challenge than the previous titles.
Pokémon Black 2 begins as all Pokémon games do. You are a teenage man or woman who’s reached the age at which parents kick you out of the house and send you around a whole continent to look for Pokémon, fight gym leaders and do the work of some Pokémon professor who should probably be out doing his or her own research instead of sending kids to do it for them.
In this case, you’re a young man or woman from Aspertia City whose mother, a former Pokémon Center nurse, happens to be friends with Professor Juniper. Professor Juniper calls your mom to enlist you as her newest gopher. She’s already decided that you want to explore the world with Pokémon (saying you aren’t interested to your mother prompts her to press the issue until you say yes) and has sent her assistant Bianca to drop off a Pokédex so you can begin your journey.
Of course, you aren’t alone in your quest. A childhood friend named Hugh (or whatever you wish to call him) is also determined to explore the Unova region for his own reasons. Both of you receive Pokédexes from Bianca and set out on your quest. Naturally, this involves battling tons of wild Pokémon, fighting gym leaders and bouts against a branch of Team Plasma led by Ghetsis with the goal of stealing Pokémon and taking over Unova… and the WORLD.
Yes, Pokémon Black 2 has abandoned the three-friends-on-a-journey formula and maybe-not-evil Team Plasma from Pokémon Black to go back to the Pokémon tropes of one rival and one actually-evil team.
You can’t talk about Pokémon Black 2 without talking about how Unova has changed, so let’s start there. The region has expanded and almost every existing city is somewhat different. The general paths are all the same, as are a few of the dungeons, but there’s enough new to show how time has passed. The biggest change are five new cities, a few of which players encounter quite quickly. Others have been improved, as Driftveil is now more of a tourist trap and Nimbasa is even bigger than it was before. Not to mention the area between Castelia and Nimbasa is now actually developers with homes and houses, making it more of a suburb than an actual route your character passes through. Yes, you can still visit the desert and the Relic Castle, but you can see that the construction that began in Pokémon Black is wrapping up and now that stretch of land is a developed area.
There also appears to have been some kind of mass migration, because there are tons of Pokémon in Unova that weren’t there before (Hence Professor Juniper’s new research). There is an extraordinary number of Pokémon in Pokémon Black 2. The official number is just over 300. When you’re used to seeing about half that in a game, having twice as many is just going to offer too many options and possibilities. I have a whole box filled with Pokémon that I absolutely, 100% intended to use, but have never taken out of the computer (Not even to heal them after catching them!). I’m so attached to my main party of powerhouses that I can’t even bring myself to keep a flying type in my party so I can Fly around Unova to revisit past areas on a whim.
I think part of the problem is the Habitat List feature of the Pokedex. The game keeps track of which Pokémon you’ve encountered in each area and there is often someone near by who will reward you for dutifully battling each Pokémon in that area to create a list of which Pokémon live in that habitat. I’d like to say that this is a devious move on Game Freak’s part, since most people who play Pokémon already have some kind of obsessive-compulsive tendency (“Gotta catch ‘em all!”) and providing another form of collecting inside a game that already promotes collecting is criminal. Up until Nimbasa, I was actually going around and completing every Habitat List possible, which meant I ended up catching a lot more Pokémon than I intended.
With that many Pokémon, it means you’re going to spend a lot of time leveling up your favorites to ensure they’re ready battle. Fortunately, it feels like there are more opportunities to level grind in Pokémon Black 2. I’ll admit that in other Pokémon games, I would get lazy. I’d do the minimum amount of leveling to get by a certain gym leader and proceed. I couldn’t get away with that in Pokémon Black 2. The AI for the gym leaders and even general trainers is better. They’re more likely to use buffs efficiently and follow up with attack skills that would put the hurt on whatever Pokémon you’re using. I have never died to a normal gym leader before this entry, yet Cheren the Normal gym leader and Clay the Ground gym leader both beat me the first time around.
The abundant level-grinding opporunities are part of a larger Pokémon Black 2 plot. When it comes to Pokémon, I usually play until I beat the Elite 4, pretend I’m going to keep playing after that and usually end up actually breaking out the game whenever a new legendary is distributed over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case for a lot of Pokémon players. The number of things you can do after the main game in Pokémon Black 2 is almost ridiculous. Pokémon musicals return and are joined by Pokestar Studios, which allows you to go through scripted events to attempt to garner a loyal fanbase. It’s fun and quick, especially if you look ahead of time and make sure you have the right Pokémon for the battles. You can manage your own Join Avenue mini-mall. After you beat the game, you can swap “Keys” with people to make the games’ trainers easier or harder. Most importantly, there’s the Pokémon World Tournament.
The Pokémon World Tournament is an incredible extra resource that is designed to help you perfect your battling style and Pokémon team. You basically get to go through a wide assortment of tournaments against both new and familiar trainers in an attempt to earn Battle Points for goods and become the champion. You don’t get experience points for the Pokémon competing, but it’s still a good experience. To keep it fresh, Nintendo is even offering downloadable tournaments to offer a little extra variety. The first one won’t be available in North America until October 22, 2012 though, so unfortunately I didn’t get to experience any downloadable battles.
I did, however, go through some standard tournaments and found they’re about as challenging as gym leader battles, which helps you practice strategies for fighting against more powerful AI or real world trainers.
Basically, Pokémon Black 2 is a game for people who already like Pokémon, are familiar with the world and want another, more challenging, go at the Unova region. The best way to describe it is that Game Freak has given us more of what we already know we like, and it’s up to use to make the most of it. It’s probably not the best place for Pokémon beginners to start, but it’s a great adventure for people who already know what to expect from the series.
Food for Thought:
1. I really dug the trainer animations at the beginning, but it’s one of those things that are neat the first time you see them, but you gloss over after the first half hour of play.
2. Game Freak did a pretty good job of making sure you have the option of building a well-rounded team by the third gym leader.
3. I would have liked to have seen a little more interaction with Join Avenue. I think making it more of a full fledged mall management sim would have been a better addition than the retention of Pokémon Musicals.
4. I preferred the relationship between the player, Cheren and Bianca in Pokémon Black to that of the player and Hugh. I just never cared about his storyline and it felt like he was there to boss my character around.
5. I highly recommend using the Unova Link to transfer over Pokémon Black/White data. The extra memory sequences are a nice extra and worth the trouble of either going online or finding an extra DS to borrow.