The Greatest Games: Pokemon Black and White (2011)

Pokemon Black and White (2011)
Developed by Game Freak

The Pokemon series is one of the hardest to consider in comparison to itself. Red and Blue got the ball rolling and established the formula which would define the rest of the series, but shoddy programming and simplistic combat left much to be desired. Gold and Silver fixed the technical errors while taking the battle system up another notch by splitting the special stat and introducing two new types. Ruby and Sapphire added another layer to combat with abilities, but was bogged down with an overdeveloped world which was tedious to explore. Diamond and Pearl made the final essential gameplay change; where each type was previously associated with either attack or special attack, this now depended on the individual move. But yet again, the world itself was not as fun to explore. Every game in the 3D era has brought its own problems, whether it be X/Y’s technical flaws, Sun and Moon’s overbearing narrative, or Sword and Shield cutting back despite being the first mainline console Pokemon.

This leaves the period after Diamond and Pearl but before the 3D era in the perfect sweet spot; Black and White has all the positives of its predecessors and tops it off with the best region since the earliest editions. What really made this generation special was being the first since Red and Blue to only offer new Pokemon during the main quest. While these 156 Pokemon may not be the most popular set, they really made Unova stand out as its own unique region.

In a series where the plot tends to be an excuse and the villains are largely cartoonish, Black and White achieved something special with N. Where others are selfish or misguided (what either team in Ruby and Sapphire thought they would accomplish is still completely beyond me), N’s goals seem perfectly reasonable. For whatever reason, Nintendo decided to actually confront the vague dogfighting tones present since the beginning. N stands against Pokemon battles, only pursuing that path in hopes of someday convincing others to give them up. His goals may ultimately be naïve, but there’s something great about a sympathetic villain who will actually listen to reason.

Of course, Pokemon is one of the rare JRPGs that sells itself more on its gameplay than the narrative presentation. After all the advancements of the series, Pokemon Black and White benefits from the most complex version of rock paper scissors. Now with eighteen types to choose from and hundreds of moves which hit in different ways, Pokemon is an infinitely variable series. The Nuzlocke challenge was born for a reason; tons of us are always looking for a new excuse to revisit these games. Even without any special rules, it’s fun to go back and try out a new team. Unova is an easy choice when considering which region to revisit, with Black and White 2 offering an excellent change in variety if you tire of seeing only the native Pokemon.

Pokemon is a series where everyone has their own favorite era. For me, the mechanics introduced in Generation 4 are absolutely essential, and anything beyond that depends on which particular regional qualities you prefer. From my perspective, the New York City-based Unova is simply the most inspired.

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