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July 15, 2016

Pokémon White (Part 1)

On my first year, I reviewed Generation 3’s Pokémon FireRed and a bunch of additional Pokémon games, like Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Rumble. Last year, I reviewed Generation 4’s PokémonHeartGold. This time, I’m getting into Generation 5, with Pokémon White. And off with the remakes, this time we’re discussing the real game of the Gen!

Original image here
Generation 5 wasn’t received all that well, for a number of reasons. It didn’t allow players to access Pokémon from any of the previous Gens until post-game, forcing them to play with the new creatures. I mean, it kind of makes sense, this was the biggest Generation to date with 156 Pokémon. Would be a shame never to try them, right? Oddly enough, that generation came under fire for the designs of its Pokémon. As if the design was all that mattered on a Pokémon, am I right? I mean, look at Garbodor, it may be a garbage bag; it’ll still kick your ass. Plus, there are many arguments that encourage a trash Pokémon. The ice cream Pokémon? I don’t mind it. Yamask is creepy? So what? How many previous Ghost-types were creepy? The cell/fetus Pokémon? Unexpected, off, but creative. Alomomola? Design too close to Luvdisc, I’ll give you that, but WAY better than Luvdisc in battle. The giant snowflake, the ground fish, the candle? I trust the people at Game Freak with the designs. They know their stuff. These may be weird Pokémon, at least they’re not gimmick Pokémon who live only for their gimmick and aren’t worth crap in battle. Looking at you, Farfetch’d, Spinda, Delibird.

Good thing they didn't use a
lys flower in their logo, or I
would have gone to kill them.
Pokémon Black and White are also known as that time Game Freak started digging into their own clichés and building stories around the concepts we had been taking for granted since the beginning. Any series that goes far enough will start doing that; you’ve seen the world, you’ve seen enemies, you’ve seen situations, now we’re deconstructing. They’re toying with the inner workings and taking piece after piece. And then they rebuild the same thing with stronger bricks. It’s said that the first three Pokémon films each deconstructed a key element of the series: Mewtwo Strikes Back observed the role of Pokémon as fighters. Pokémon the Movie 2000 looked at how we treat them like collectibles. The third movie analyzed their role as companions. It took Gen 4 before the game series started checking certain elements in the franchise in greater depth. Diamond and Pearl observed the roles of Legendary Pokémon, when these powers the Pokédex brags about are real and these mighty creatures really do control time and space, and all the trouble this causes for the humans - amd Team Galactic's plan is all about harnessing the insane power of these Legendary Pokémon who control time or space. Gen 5 deconstructed Pokémon as battlers once again, coupling it with a nasty critique of censorship. Gen 6, while not deconstructing much, did improve on the Trainer-Pokémon relationship, an odd case of reconstruction without previous deconstruction. I hope Gen 7 comes up with an interesting story as well.

By this point, you know the deal; eight gyms, Elite 4, champion, villainous team, rival(s), a lot of exploration, etc. Just because the formula was shaken a bit doesn’t mean said formula changed all that much. And it will be very interesting to see how this formula evolves with the story they’re presenting this time around. We’re heading into Unova, right now!

We start this grand adventure in Nuvema Town. As usual, you define a gender and name for your character (Let’s call him… Nick, because I hate wasting time on a character name), then we get a nice exchange between friends: This is the big day!

Eh... that title isn't all that special. There's at least 6 other people out
there who have it.

Choose wisely. And
don't hate on them
before you try them.
Nick, Cheren and Bianca are beginning their journey! Juniper, the regional Professor (Yay, a woman as Professor! Awesome), has given them a box containing the three Starter Pokémon: Snivy, Tepig and Oshawott. You pick one, then Cheren picks the one that has a type advantage against yours and Bianca picks the remaining one. This immediately sets up their roles in the game: Cheren, being your friend and rival, is the one who makes competitive choices and seeks out strength, while Bianca is in it more to take care of the Pokémon she collects and doesn't worry as much about fighting.

I hope they didn't break my Wii!
Or else you owe me one!
After each child has chosen, Bianca will engage the player in battle; the ensuing fight makes a mess of the protagonist’s bedroom. So wait, if a simple fight between LV5 Starters can do this much in a little bedroom, then why the Hell do these battles cause no such thing anywhere else? Oh good, if the Pokémon really do affect their environment now, I half-expect my next Snorlax to crash through floors when I use him to fight in a building. And that’s saying nothing of any Pokémon over 9 feet tall, or those too large to be in most rooms! Looking at you, Wailord.

Ah, parents...
After the fight against Bianca, Cheren steps in, heals the two Pokémon, and challenges the player. Depending on whether you win or lose, Cheren’s comment will differ, with a subtle hint of his personality. Afterwards, the three should head towards the lab in Nuvema Town – passing by Nick’s mother to apologize for the mess, because obviously these kids will be too busy to clean it up. The player character passes by Bianca’s house where he sees her in an argument with her father about her going on a Pokémon journey. I feel sorry for her now… though once again, we get characters set up, and that’s a key element in writing a story.

Do you really think children should be trusted with the
writing of an encyclopaedia? Just the thought of all
these spelling mistakes gives me shivers.
The three enter the lab and meet Prof Juniper, who allows them to nickname their Pokémon. She also gives them their Pokédex, and then brings them to Route 1 to teach them how to catch a Pokémon. You know… I see the point of that particular tutorial for starting players, but in-story, shouldn’t “how to catch a Pokémon” be fairly common knowledge? Much of the economy revolves around Pokémon, there are Pokémon shows on television. No doubt these kids have already seen someone catch a Pokémon on TV? I’m just rambling right now, aren’t I?

We also get a town map from the protagonist’s mother. Bye, mom! Have fun cleaning my room! Off we go, taking out first steps in the vast world of Unova, which was partly based on the United States. Okay, we had US, France, we'll have Hawaii… Game Freak, Can Gen 8 be in a Canada lookalike? Pretty please with seven hundred and twenty-one pounds of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips and cherries on top? I’ll buy that!

Looks pretty autumn-y if you ask me.
Alright, so Route 1 shows some of the new mechanics Gen 5 brought forth. You know how it is, things change from a gen to the other. This generation brought to us seasons: Every new real-life month brings a new season in the game, with three full cycles in a real-life year (January is Spring, February is Summer, March is Fall, April is Winter, May is Spring, and so on). Routes and towns change color, some in-game events also differ… Deerling and Sawsbuck have a different style for every season… Oh yes, by the way, seasons didn’t return in Gen 6, so that Pokémon family lost its gimmick. That’s the trouble with Generation gimmicks in Pokémon; in some cases, gimmicks no longer apply from a Generation to the other. Gen 2 was big on day and night, and it remains the only major example of a game in the series where most Routes had different wild Pokémon encounter rates depending on the current time. Same for seasons, so if you want your four Deerling and your four Sawsbuck, you better work. This Generation also brings rustling glass, a mechanic where a random patch of grass may be shaking when the player passes by it. This rustling grass, if you get to it, will (most of the time) hold an Audino, a Pokémon who’s extremely useful because it gives plenty of EXP when defeated. I’ll go back on EXP for this game later. Rustling grass can also have rarer Pokémon that are a part of Unova fauna, but chances are you’re mostly gonna find Audino. Which is far from bad, it’s a very versatile Pokémon; it’s just more useful when it faints. Similar to this, aquatic locations have rippling water, while caves have dust clouds, and bridges have shadows. Last but not least, many Routes in this game have normal grass and darker grass; in the darker grass, slightly stronger Pokémon await and you can have a chance at catching something better. On the other hand, dark grass means you may also wind up facing not one, but two wild Pokémon at once. Like a prototype of Swarms from Pokémon X and Y. Just be careful not to lose against these wild Pokémon and you should get some sweet experience from them.

Now… Experience. Yes, let’s go into that subject. Pokémon Black and White do things a little different this time around, the Experience system has changed quite a bit. In this Generation, when your Pokémon battles another one, it gains EXP as usual, except the amount gained will change… depending on the opponent’s level. If your Pokémon defeated a lower-level Pokémon very easily (say there’s a 5-level difference), your Pokémon will get less experience; if the opponent Pokémon had the same level as the one you used, the EXP will be regular. You get much more Experience if you defeat Pokémon with levels higher than yours. This may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but since this system didn’t return in Gen 6, you can guess what happened; it was too troublesome. Especially late in the game, where increasing the level of a Pokémon became a real chore. …More so than ever before, in fact. When a point comes where the Elite 4 battles are the only ones that give significant experience…

Adding to this, Gen 5 may be the generation where Pokémon who evolved through leveling up did so at the highest levels. No less than 18 of them evolve past Level 40. Of those, 7 evolve past Level 50. Rufflet and Vullaby at Level 54, Larvesta at Level 59. Deino becomes Zweilous at Level 50 and Hydreigon at Level 64. Check the diagram; these are the Pokémon that evolve at the latest levels, and each species with an arrow next to it is from Gen 5. That's 16 out of these 30 Pokémon, and that's not counting the other evolution methods! None of this is made any simpler by this new way to earn Experience. Audino was supposed to help with that, but even fighting dozens of Audino didn’t make it any less tedious. So yes, I’m very happy that they changed the Experience system back to normal for Gen 6.

Okay, back to the story now!

Past Route 1 is Accumula Town. Prof. Juniper is waiting there, ready to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Pokémon Center and the Mart but were too afraid to ask. When the Trainers come out of the Pokémon Center, they see townspeople listening to a group of people in knight outfits. These fine gentlemen and gentlewomen call themselves Team Plasma. Ghetsis, a Plasma Sage, speaks to the audience about Team Plasma and their goal to free all Pokémon from humans! Um… You do realize major infrastructures of human society in the Pokémon universe rely on Pokémon, right? I’m not just talking Pokémon battles, I really mean most of the economy.

"Pokémon liberation"? My Pokémon are very happy with me, thank you very much.

Hey, look at that! I built a new joke out of an existing punchline!
Original joke comes from VGCats, by the way.

Nicolas used Logical Reasoning!
It's not very effective...
After Team Plasma leaves, the player is accosted by a mysterious teenager known as N (full name: Natural Harmonia Gropius. Yeah, with a final name that has the word “grope” in it, I would avoid mentioning it too), and upon learning that he’s on a journey to complete the Pokédex, N challenges the player. He doesn’t have strong Pokémon, just a Purrloin, but he seems to like it greatly. When he’s defeated, he takes it well, but says that he believes Pokémon are better off outside of their Pokéballs. Why? Because he speaks to Pokémon. No, really, he does! But there’s one thing he seems to forget: Many Pokémon are actually happy with their Trainers. What about those? I mean, his intentions are clearly good, but he’s not fighting the right battle.

At the moment I’m writing these lines, there’s a big debate in the province of Quebec over bulldogs, after one of them alledgedly killed a woman and other people were also harmed in unrelated events. The debate goes one of two ways: Either you blame the dog for the damage it does and ask the owner to put it down, or you look towards the owner who hasn’t trained their animal correctly. And this, for any reason: They’re people who want an angry animal to go with their own personality, or they want a nasty guard dog; they didn’t have time for training; they didn’t have the money for training; or they just didn’t care. Forbidding bulldogs will not solve the issue; problematic dog owners will just find another “nasty dog” type to do their work.

Natural oddities aside, Gyarados is one
example of a Pokémon who is very
dangerous in the wild.
Pokémon are the same. In the wild, they’re dangerous to wanderers and travelers, but every single species of Pokémon can be tamed. In the hands of a Trainer, they submit to what the Trainer wants of them. A Trainer only wants to fight for fun? The Pokémon will oblige, even if it’s a Hydreigon with a “bad” nature. A Trainer wants to use them as part of a scheme to do any sort of “evil” act? The Pokémon will oblige.

The problem isn’t that Pokémon are being used, it’s that some humans will train them to follow what they want to do, which includes terrorism and other similar acts. There was a scene that went that way early on in the Pokémon anime (the episode titled "Island of Giant Pokémon!?"). Ash's Pokémon, lost in the wild with Team Rocket's Pokémon, ended up discussing around a campfire. Ekans and Koffing said they are simply obeying their masters, like all Pokémon do. They also seemed to greatly love their trainers, even if said Trainers were the (pitiful but) "evil" Jessie and James. It was the anime, I know, and it tended to contradict itself frequently, but that scene implied quite a bit about the Pokémon-Trainer relation, and the Pokémon games since seem to have confirmed most of it.

What's more, the group seemed to get along just fine after
all. In a way, it's true that hadn't Meowth and Pikachu been
on opposite sides, they could have been friends...

N, your crusade would be a lot more effective if you realized that most Trainers are actually decent people. The awful Trainers are the ones to look out for. The ones who have greater chances of using their Pokémon in nefarious ways. The Pokéballs are just the common means everyone uses to catch and train Pokémon – it’s the one using the Pokéball who may be the problem.

But I doubt I’ll convert N to my view on the issue. He’s clearly an important character in this story, and we’ll no doubt be seeing him a lot, so changing his point of view so early would make the rest of the game pretty boring.

I hope you won't be asking for
battles too often...
I can’t believe we’re still not at the first Gym! Let’s hurry there! We go through Route 2 and meet Bianca, who wants to battle the player. Sure! And even when she loses, she takes it in stride. Good to see her so happy! We continue into Striaton City, where we can meet Cheren in a classroom, leading to another rival battle. This fight is meant to set up that opponent Trainers in this game may be smarter than before, using more items on Pokémon, or equipping them with berries more frequently. When Cheren is defeated, he still takes it well. Okay, time to enter the Gym!

No thanks, I don't really need an elemental monkey.
Well, a lot of players used him against the Striaton
Brother, then dropped it in the PC, never to be used
again. I actually kept mine through the whole game.
This has to be one of the most peculiar gyms in the history of Pokémon: There are three Gym Leaders, and each one uses a monkey with a different type, based on the three starter types (Grass, Fire and Water). And you will be fighting against the brother who owns an elemental monkey with an element that defeats your Starter; this is meant to get into your head that enemies will be smarter this time around and you’ll need a varied team, even early on. To defeat this opponent, you need a Pokémon with a strength over the one the brother will be using; you find such a Pokémon in the nearby Dreamyard, someone there will give it to you. Welcome the new Panpour, Pansage or Pansear in your team! Now that we’re equipped, we can go in the Gym. It’s a shame you fight only one of the three brothers, it would have been fun to fight the other two at some point of the game. This fight also showcases some of the new attacks and mechanics here. After this fight, Nick earns the brother’s badge and can move forward in his adventure. We also get a new move, and going around town we find the move Cut, so we can explore the Dreamyard some more.

Well, when you start off with only two
Pokémon, it's normal for you to end up
with only one left.

What, you think it'll produce dream mist if you kick it? If I
kick you, will you produce Eau De Douche?
Inside the Dreamyard, Nick finds two Plasma grunts mistreating a Musharna to steal its dream energy. Hey! Weren’t you guys all about protecting Pokémon? Oh, I see, you’re taking lessons from PETA. After Nick defeats the grunts, they run away. Why were they trying to steal dream energy? Why, to try and spread their message through people’s dreams! I might not explain the Dream World feature that was introduced in this Generation, because that feature ended before I got the game, and therefore I couldn’t use it. I might still try to explain it at some point. Until then, we better keep an eye on these guys…

Anyway, I’d say we’ve had enough for today. See you next Monday for Part 2.