Welcome to our in-depth coverage of Pokémon Black/White, kicking off with this first “diary entry” that touches upon the game’s first hour or so. The purpose of this ongoing series of articles is to provide a well-rounded account of what you can expect from Black/White without spoiling the actual experience for readers, regardless of whether you’re new to the series or a veteran Pokémon trainer. We hope you enjoy it!
I tiptoed into Pokémon Black with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was craving for new Pokémon, and our coverage of the new generation games had me excited about a lot of the changes, not the least of which was how they were supposed to feel like starting Pokémon all over again. Tweaks such as being able to use TMs multiple times and no old Pokémon appearing through the game only added to its appeal.
On the other, it was still Pokémon. Would it be similar enough to make me feel like it was a Pokémon game, yet different enough to not make me feel like I was playing the same game all over again?
Curious to find out, I turned the game on. Instead of taking me straight to the main menu, the game presented me with a short opening in watercolor-based art. I had no idea what was going on, but already it looked like there was going to be a heavier emphasis on story in this game — something to do with an ancient kingdom and its people. By the time the intro ended, I found my interest had risen, both in the story and to see just how different this game would be from its previous incarnations.
Following the unique (for the series) opening, Pokémon Black starts off much like any other Pokémon game. The professor, Professor Araragi, makes her appearance and introduces you to the world of Pokémon…except there’s also an option to avoid the entire conversation. I suppose the meeting with the Professor herself is one of those points mentioned that makes Pokémon “Pokémon,” but actually listening to the same old introduction once more is optional? Interesting.
The game officially kicks off. I find myself presented with some impressive camerawork and a fresh coat of detailing incorporated into the world. In the morning, Mamepato (the pigeon Pokémon) fly up into the sky as they awaken. At night, they’re replaced by Koromori (the fuzzy Psychic bat Pokémon). There’s a breeze blowing either flower petals or brown leaves over the screen, depending on the season. The houses are much more three-dimensional, and the camera changes angles each time you enter a house. Muddy screenshots and videos don’t do the game justice.
The camera finally settles on your room with your two friends standing behind you. One’s Cheren, and the other’s Belle. Already, just judging from the short conversation, I can tell that they’re going to be the personalities of this game. Perhaps they’ll act as your voice in the game? They’re dynamically different, so maybe that’s done to present the differing opinions on the events in Black? Cheren is the stern, bookworm type who is ambitious about becoming the best. Belle is the bouncy, bubbly type who just wants to get out of her stuffy home and stifling parents.
They urge you to open the gift box lying on the table in your room. Inside it are three balls. Whatever could these be?! Instinctively, I pick one; they take the other two. Next thing you know, it’s your first battle! What the…?! Once I’ve recovered from the surprise, I go through the familiar motions of battle for the very first time in Gen 5.
It…isn’t very exciting. After all, Tackle and Tail Whip/Leer don’t make for very exciting moves. But wait! The battle ends, and I’m returned to the setting of my room…which is completely trashed. My mom even comes up and comments on it. The incident serves no real purpose in the story, but it does delve a little deeper than I’m used to, under the bare surface of Pokémon. It’s a breath of fresh air.
After the incident, you’re asked to go to the Professor’s house and, right then and there, you receive the new Pokédex. No mini-quest making that requires you to complete an errand; it’s in my hands before I know it. You’re then handed a few Pokéballs and shooed out of the house, already on your way to the first city. I wonder if this no-nonsense feeling is going to persist through the rest of the game?
In the first town, Karakusa Town, you get your first glimpse of Team Plasma in the middle of one of their propaganda rallies. Their goal could actually be construed as noble — Release Pokémon! Stop the abuse of Pokémon! — except we all know there’s something off about any Pokémon organization starting with the word “Team.”
They march off (once again, with impressive attention to detail), and you’re approached by another boy named N. Apparently, N is concerned about your opinion and, after questioning you, confesses that he can hear the voices of Pokémon. He’s also your third rival. I find myself slightly excited by this prospect, and how he plays into the story.
Just a few steps out of the first town, the LiveCaster you received not long ago begins to ring. It’s your mom. The LiveCaster is interesting in that it shows characters’ faces as they speak to you. If you own a Nintendo DSi, you can also use it with the inbuilt camera to talk with your friends.
Seeing as how I only have an old DS, though, that option is unavailable to me. Upon summoning me back, “mom” hands me the familiar Running Shoes. I swear, Nintendo lets you suffer without them solely to let you appreciate the fact that you can run once you have them. Unfortunately, you don’t have an “On/off” button like in Heart Gold / Soul Silver.
Now that you can run, making your way to the next town is a lot more bearable. Unfortunately, the increased encounter rate hasn’t disappeared between generations. Once I’m there, I find that the gatehouse at the opening of the next town has a scrolling message board that reports the date, weather, and any messages of interest. Maybe this will be of some importance later on?
This third stop, Sanyou City, contains the first gym. The buildings are even more impressive, now that they’re multi-story. After I’m done exploring, I head straight for my first gym. The gym is in a restaurant-like theme, with an easy questionnaire at each entrance. The puzzle isn’t difficult, but it’s already more interactive than most first gyms in previous games. I enter.
Now, let’s talk about the battles. Granted, I’m so early in the game that there are probably several intricacies I’m missing as of this article, but I’ll try to mention what I can. First off, the Pokémon move. I love that they move.
It doesn’t matter that the animation makes the Pokémon appear incredibly pixelated because the animation itself is very detailed.
For example, after a bit, Tsutaaja (the Grass starter) taps its feet and crosses its arms with that perfectly smug look on its face. If you leave the game alone for a while, you’ll notice the camera moves and pans around. I’m not sure yet if that serves any actual purpose, but it is better than no movement at all in the previous games.
Also, for the first time, status effects affect the sprites. When your Pokémon is paralyzed, it turns yellow and moves at half-speed. When your Pokémon is asleep, the Pokémon moves slowly and its eyes close. Poisoned, the Pokémon turns purple. In fact, if your Pokémon is in the red range of HP, it starts moving slowly as well.
Another attention to detail? The music. There’s the regular battle music, the trainer music, the rival music, and (later) the gym battle music. But there’s also the Team Plasma music, the N music, the “weakened Pokémon” music that activates when your Pokémon is in the red, and the “last Pokémon” music that plays victoriously when you have one Pokémon left to defeat in the gym. Already so many additions, and I haven’t even gotten five hours into the game.
At the end of my first go with Pokémon Black, I find myself loving the effort put into the game. I’m growing fond of the Pokémon too. I never thought I’d start doting on that Minezumi (prairie dog Pokémon) with its crazy-eyes.
Food for Thought:
1. I am eternally grateful that Nintendo and Game Freak decided to offer kanji in addition to hiragana. It makes everything a lot easier to read.
2. There was a point at which I wanted to restart my game, but I realized that I couldn’t save over my game! (Unfortunately, this realization hit an hour after I’d started my new file.) Turns out, I have to press a few buttons at the start screen at the same time to completely delete the file. Maybe Game Freak was concerned about siblings accidentally erasing each other’s’ files?
3. On another note; whoa. Those Strength rocks are huge. For a change, they actually look like something that you wouldn’t be able to move without help from a Pokémon.