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Pokémon Black and White Versions - Review

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by , 18th March 2011 at 03:01 AM (768 Views)
Pokémon Black and White Versions - Review
A Brand New Adventure For All
Written by ♪Twiggy♪

A New Generation

It's time to say hi to the new generation!

It's been a long time since the release of the first Generation IV games, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Versions. The old generation is about to come to an end with the release of the first Generation V games worldwide. This will mark the end of Generation IV for early adopters - and eventually, everyone will have moved on the Generation V. It's time for Pokémon Black and White Versions to make itself stand out - and it does a great job in doing so. Game Freak has poured a lot of effort to these games. Let's take a deeper look at the new titles, shall we?

New Locations, New Appearance, New Graphics
A new, beautiful and smooth experience!

I put the game into my DS and booted it up. After the expected opening stuff... I have to say, even the opening is impressive in its own way. This also marks the first time the main series handheld Pokémon games used premade video - the opening is a video. The video quality is as good as ever, compared to most other DS games with video. No noticable compression artifacts, aside from colour banding caused by the limited bit depth of the DS's screen and GPU. Whatever video codec they were using must be made allowed to be used by other parties!

With the new games, comes a new region - the Unova region. (known as the Isshu region in the Japanese versions and names vary by language) The Unova region has a great amount of variety, and it shows. From the rural town of Nuvema, to the big city of Castelia - all the locations show the uniqueness of the locations themselves, thanks to upgraded graphics. Game Freak has decided to improve on the graphics used by the DS Pokémon games in more than one way - building variance, texturing, modeling and image quality.

Buildings are more varied than ever, and there is actually a city that looks like a city this time around. The textures used on the world do not look like they were warped pixel art anymore. Cliffs look like cliffs. Buildings themselves have interesting things going on. The border pixel issue that has plagued the Generation IV games were gone with a different rendering method - only polygons that need to be marked will be marked, and not all polygons. Trees aren't sprites anymore. (Or 4-5 sprites taped together in 8-10 polygons.)

The best thing out of all the graphical improvements are the breathtaking views of the bridges. Going through the Skyarrow Bridge is an experience you'll never forget. It shows off the improvements really well that it makes Pokémon Platinum Version look dated. Very dated. And that's putting it quite nicely.

Besides that, many of the cities have their own unique themes going on for them. Some places also have their backstory, explaining why it is like that. The seasons, while a minor addition, also adds to the experince by introducing new graphical effects and variance to the Pokémon world and make it look prettier than ever.

Battle transistions have entered the new era, too. Now it doesn't look out of place compared to the rest of the game. Some of the new battle transistions do look rather funky. Well, it's better for the whole package, huh? It no longer looks like they came out of a Game Boy Advance game anymore.

As for the battle graphics, it was improved upon the Generation IV games. Pokémon Black and White introduces a dynamic camera in battles - now, the camera can now move around in battles. It sure makes battles look better! Most of the battle effects are reused from the Generation IV games with tweaks so that they run faster and cleaner.

But, wait, there's more! Permanent Pokémon animations - not just entrance animations - are now finally introduced into the main series games! Pokémon are now animated in battles. Well-animated, in fact! Instead of creating individual frames by hand, Game Freak decided to split a Pokémon into multiple parts and animate them separately. This makes for smooth animation with a lot of frames without taking too much effort and storage space. Now your Pokémon are not statues anymore! Some of the animations are quite funny, too! Scraggy, anyone?

Most of the interface is cleaned up, too. Compared to the Generation IV games, the new games does away with most of the clutter, prefering to put everything nicely. Of course, it's still based on the interface of the Generation IV games, so it won't look too new. Better than suddenly having to relearn everything, eh?

Aural Bliss
Get your headphones/external speakers ready!

The audio has also caught up with the new games. Game Freak decided to include some music which changes depending on the situation, enabling and disabling music layers on-the-fly. Even the old beeping noise when your HP is low was replaced with an all-new tune! Battle sound effects are as good as ever, as good as the DS can manage. However, I did notice some audio dropouts during battles - maximizing audio channels sometimes cause music tracks to drop out when a sound effect is played. The themes for some locations, as well as the battle themes, are catchy as ever. Props to the music composer for that! (Oh, and the audio hardware!)

Older Pokémon still keep their old cries. While Generation III and IV Pokémon fits in there properly with PCM cries, the Generation I and II Pokémon cries are from the old Game Boy days, and it sounded out of place in Pokémon Black and White Versions. This is understandable, as it's for consistency's sake.

The music is very fitting, as well as catchy. Pokémon Black and White Versions has fitting music for most situations, due to more reliance on its story. All cities and towns have their own music this time around - no two towns or cities share the same music. Route music is catchy as ever and conveys the feeling of being in an adventure well.

A lot of people you meet have their own themes. Some of the music found in the games will remind you of other RPGs. Looks like the composer has taken some notes from other games. There are unique battle themes for certain important characters and Pokémon, and I have to say that these themes are also the best of them.

Speed Up!
No such thing as slow!

One of the more common complaints about Generation IV games is the fact that the battles are rather slow compared to the Generation III games. Well, no longer. Pokémon Black and White Versions definitely sped up the game. Instead of 30 FPS as the Generation IV games use in battles, the battles now run in 60 FPS - ensuring smooth and fast action, compared to the minor stuttering in the Generation IV games. The massive amount of microloading in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Versions which caused the pauses during battles are no longer present. The menus are more responsive in the new games, thanks to the fact that the games are no longer locked to 30 FPS - the games now run as fast as possible. 2D menus run at 60 FPS, allowing for faster responses. While the overworld is still at 30 FPS, the amount of slowdown, especially at large cities or interesting locations, is almost nonexistant. The choppiness of biking at Hearthome City is now a distant memory!

The actual battle processing is also way, way faster than any of the Generation IV games, with speed comparable to the Generation III games, sometimes even surpassing them. Game Freak has adjusted the text speed so that what used to be Fast is now even faster than before. Before Pokémon Black and White Versions, the normal text speed is too slow, even in the Japanese version of the games. However, this time around, sometimes, "Fast" feels too fast! (And let's not get started on N's hyperfast text. That's a broken fourth wall for you!) Well, at least it's better for the game speed. Much better. I definitely would have preferred that kind of speed!

Actual Plot, For Once
Game Freak did it, for once.

The opening of the games will draw you in. Especially the plot. While Pokémon Platinum Version introduced a proper plot for the first time in a main series handheld Pokémon game, it wasn't until Pokémon Black and White Versions that the plot is important to the game. While players will not miss out on features for not following the plot, this time around, the plot will get people thinking about it. There are now interesting things about people you meet. The plot actually kickstarts within 30 minutes of your first adventure. I'll not talk anymore to prevent spoiling the game.

When you play through the whole game, you'll find yourself pondering about the stuff that happened in the game. This has not occured in any other main series Pokémon game before this set of games. Also, let me tell you, you might want to get prepared for certain stuff that you might not expect in the games.

Nice Way of Translating Things
As usual, excellent localization.

The localizers at The Pokémon Company International (hereafter referred to as TPCi) did a great job at localizing the Pokémon, move and location names. All the names are meaningful in a way or another. For location names, they started to use theme naming again - this time, clouds. Theme naming wasn't really present in the Generation III and IV games.

TPCi also did a great job in localizing the puns in the Japanese names of the Pokémon... or changing them into relevant puns in the English language. All these changes are necessary so that it is understood by international players.

Of course, I also find some Pokédex entries a bit funny. You'll have to see it to believe it! TPCi really went for the extra mile with that, right? At least they are still in the realm of "pretty good" quality.

Although the telltale signs of Nob Ogasawara's translation in past Pokémon works are now absent, thanks to a completely different translator working, the quality is still excellent. This time, the dialogue is mostly translated faithfully. Sometimes, a bit too faithfully. "The communication channel must be to be opened to receive Mystery Gifts." Kinda literal, eh? Still, at least, now that we get to experience a different kind of translation work... I'm impressed.

All Your Pokémon Design Needs Covered
There will be one for you!

The Unova region is home to a lot of unique Pokémon never seen before. You thought 151 was a lot? Move over, Generation I - this time around, the Generation V games introduces us to more Pokémon than ever!

What's a new generation without new Pokémon? This time, with the new generation, comes new Pokémon for you to choose from, to be your partners in your Pokémon journey. It's obvious that Game Freak is trying to break the mold and change things up in the new generation. Even though some of the Pokémon designs might look silly or something, you should give them a chance. Give it some time, and you'll find yourself loving them. Cute Pokémon, cool Pokémon, tough Pokémon, scary Pokémon, mysterious Pokémon... They have all of them, and there's lots of variety. I'll bet that you will find something that you like, no matter when you started Pokémon - or whether you started Pokémon or not.

Take Oshawott for example. You see, when this Pokémon was first revealed, it's pretty much the most hated starter Pokémon due to its... awkward design. But no longer. It's pretty much an adorable Pokémon... that eventually pays you off with awesomeness that is Samurott when you evolve it. Also, it's so cute that you'll probably be going to hug him so hard that it'd have trouble breathing.

It's like that for most Pokémon introduced in this new generation. You may not like it in the first sight, but when you give them time, suddenly, you'll be loving them. Loving them a lot. I personally love Snivy, Tepig, Oshawott, Axew and Zekrom. What's your favourite this time around? You'll find something you like. I did.

In case you were wondering, yes, there are no old Pokémon in the game until postgame. It's good for a change - they want you to try out all the new Pokémon in the games. Give them a try! Oh, and if you do still want them, you can do so postgame. Or get someone to help you trade them over. Whatever method that suits you. However, the Unova-specific Pokémon are definitely in the limelight!

Battle-ready Pokémon On the Go!
Fight with your favourites!

Hey, what about their battling capabilities? Not to worry! The Pokémon introduced in the new generation is also battle-worthy. Perhaps even better than their older counterparts. And even if it's Pokémon from the previous generations, not to worry! New moves, new strategies, new battle modes and new abilities, granted by the access to Dream World Pokémon will make them shine again.

Game Freak has taken a lot of challenges to make all Pokémon usable in some way, and that has shaken up the metagame. The new Pokémon are also of some use ingame, so there's an incentive to use the new Pokémon and other neat things.

TMs are now reusable. Remember the time where you find it difficult to use the awesome Earthquake TM you have because you won't be able to use it again without obtaining another TM? No longer! This makes the life of most players, especially competitive battlers, much, much more easier. No such thing as drawbacks, aside from the raised TM cost...

...Raised TM cost? Don't worry, the games now allow you to carry 7-digit sums of money! You probably won't have to worry about hitting the money cap. Just as well, as there are items which are supposed to be sold at a high price, which is also its only purpose. The addition of special NPCs purchasing goods from you should make getting cash even easier. People that gather in the stadiums in Nimbasa City every day is even better for cash and experience - it's fast, it's reliable, and it's always there, unlike the not-so-reliable Vs. Seeker. Losing the Vs. Seeker is not a big loss after all!

Gameplay Advanced
Really meaty gameplay!

The Generation V games, Pokémon Black and White Versions, introduced not one, not two, but three new battle modes for players. The first one, Triple Battle, allows players to send out three Pokémon at once to battle. This reminded me of most other RPGs found on the system, where a 3-member party is common. Strategy is more important in this type of battle, as positioning now matters. A Pokémon located improperly won't be of much use in a battle. Moves are even adjusted to take advantage of the new battle system.

The second new battle mode is the Rotation Battle. It's a variant of the Single Battle mode, where you send in three Pokémon at once, but you can only use any one of the Pokémon sent out. This makes prediction important, as you will not know whether you will be hitting the right thing.

The third battle mode... Actually, it's more like an addition. The Wonder Launcher makes item usage possible in player-to-player battles, using points gained from battling. Now you can be something like those NPC trainers that constantly use items! As long as you have the points to spare, that is.)

The game has become more difficult for the new generation, however, the games do also offer some help. Healing spots are scattered throughout the Unova region, healing your Pokémon for free. It's not just resthouses or Pokémon Centers anymore. Doctors and nurses can, and will help to keep your Pokémon in tip-top condition. Opponent levels were increased relative to the older games, however, there is an experience adjustment formula to compensate for weaker Pokémon. Weaker Pokémon can now actually play catch up, and fast! And there's always Audino for you.

Gym Leaders are beefed up this time around. They will now take advantage of any given situation. They are not idiotic. They can pull something now. You'll be sorry if you think you can charge through the leaders with only one Pokémon. Before you say "level grinding", the experience adjustment will make your life difficult. The game now promotes variance on your party.

You only need one use of Cut to complete the story. Only purely optional areas require the use of HMs. HMs are not bound to badges (mostly), so if you manage to receive a Pokémon with earlier-than-usual HM moves through a trade, you can use them immediately most of the time.

Another new mechanic is the Critical Capture. Well, what does it do? When you throw a Poké Ball of any type, there is a chance that a Critical Capture will occur, dramatically increasing your chance of capturing the Pokémon. One shake is all it takes, compared to the usual three. Rarely a Pokémon with a very low catch rate will escape this. No escape for others!

Some Extra Neat Bits
Some bonus stuff you have to know!

I gotta love TPCi for making the English (and possibly international) versions region free on all systems, even though it's a DSi, DSi XL or 3DS. It sure makes things easier for import gamers and travelers. Also, the games will be able to communicate with games from another region. (Korean versions are not tested yet, as they are not released yet.)

Now the games come with a software QWERTY keyboard. Perfect for people who prefer keyboard typing. And it's more convienent, since you do not have to switch pages when you need to change capitalization. Makes typing much, much faster. The new phrase-character input system works like this - you start with a letter and then fill in the rest, looking for matches. There's always the group option, but that method will net you the word/phrase quicker.

Using Mystery Gift has become easier. It's even easier than Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions! You can access Mystery Gift even without a proper save file now. If you do have a save file, the maximum amount of Wonder Cards that you can have is now increased to 12! Wonder Card sorting is also introduced, so you'll never have to have a messy Wonder Card album anymore!

The Final Conclusion
To buy or not to buy? BUY BUY BUY!

The new games are, in my opinion, the best Pokémon games yet, no matter what - main series or considering all the other spinoff titles. The almost perfect Pokémon game. The slight blemishes on the game are a minor thing - its sheer amount of good points completely outweigh the bad.

Whether you're a die-hard Pokémon fan, just starting up, too nostalgic or even not touched a gaming system, Pokémon Black and White is a great choice. Have you become a Pokémon Trainer today? All the new things make this a brand new adventure. You should get started, too!

P.S. Certain online-only stuff will not be in the review due to Global Link being down.

Graphics 10/10
Music 9/10
Sound 8/10
Plot 6/10
Gameplay 10/10
Lasting Appeal 10/10

Final Score 10/10

*Note that Final Score is not an average of all scores.

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  1. Ivysaur's Avatar
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    Hey, you also submitted this for the PC Blog Competition, right? I don't necessarily agree with all of it (running away from wild Pokemon still takes far too long, and I found the translation much worse than DPPt's, for example) though. Nevertheless, it's a great review, Twiggy, and much more in-depth than my own.


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