Pocket Monsters Black Import Review (DS)

 

The fifth generation of Pokémon arrives on the DS

 

Last year, I imported Pocket Monsters HeartGold and reviewed it far before it was localized. This year I continue the trend with the newly released Pocket Monsters Black version. Keep in mind I am not completely fluent in Japanese, so some errors may spring up. This is the impressions and opinions of a long time western fan of the series and nothing else. While I am covering the Black version, all that I state here should apply to the White version as well.

Fifteen years ago, the first pair of Pokémon games, Red and Green, were released in Japan and became massive hits. Since then, Pokemon had grown into a huge fad that has subsided somewhat since the turn of the millennium. Nevertheless, those who have stuck with the games for the long haul have continually found many reasons to return to the new titles again and again even though the fundamental basics of each new game remain untouched since the days of the black-and-white Gameboy.

Last year, Game Freak gave us fantastic remakes of the two best games in the series, Gold and Silver, with Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. These updates featured many incredible enhancements, most notably vastly superior audio and visuals to any game in the series before it.

This year, Game Freak gives us a brand new pair of Pokémon games, the first two in what is being called Generation 5, as it is the fifth time new, never before seen Pokemon had been added and await eager trainers worldwide.

By now, it’s an absolute foregone conclusion that these games will receive fantastic reviews and sell boatloads when they are localized. The question for the moment however, is if you should import one of these Japanese text-heavy RPGs or wait for the western release. Read on to find out.

Story

Black and White have just as much story (or lack thereof) as any previous games. You start out in your small village and receive a beginner Pokémon and set out on a journey to become a Pokémon Master by challenging and defeating other trainers, gym leaders and eventually the elite four and current champion.

Along the way, you will encounter yet another evil organization, Team Plasma, whose goals involve “freeing” Pokémon from their human trainers. Of course, you being a lone beginning trainer will eventually defeat and disband the evil PETA wannabes, but let’s pretend for now that they’re imposing and mysterious. Seriously. Their leader is a guy named “N”! I wonder what his name in the English version will be? Ah well. Did someone say smooth criminal?

Graphics

At first glance, the graphical upgrades for Black and White over those from previous games are minor. By and large, the game still basically looks the same it always has as far back as generation 1 on the original Gameboy.

The game is still has a square title based overworld where everyone moves like chess pieces and cannot travel on angles. Pokémon still face off in battle as they always have with yours in the lower left and the foe’s in the upper right.

That said, this is without a doubt the best looking set of Pokémon games ever. The overworld is now rendered completely in 3D, making every location look as the special 3D areas from Platinum and HeartGold/SoulSilver. On the overworld, there are many new effects, such as light shimmering on the surface of water, leaves flying through the air, water dripping from walls and ceilings of caves, and much more. In addition to those changes, many areas now feature fully three dimensional spaces and do some interesting camera angles as you twist up a large bridge, the interior of builds or climb a spiral staircase.

Pokémon are still sprite based, but are no longer static. In battle, all Pokemon now animate as they did in Pokemon Crystal, but to a much greater degree. Now, Pokemon has no idle sprites whatsoever. Even in battle, the screen will pan around when no input is made, making the battle seem much more alive and in tune with battle scenes in other modern RPGs.

Something else I feel I should point out is for the first time, the games now make full use of Japanese Kanji. In every previous game, Hiragana and Katakana were used exclusively, allowing Japanese children who had not learned many Kanji characters to easily play the game. As a student of the language myself, this change is very off-putting as the game doesn’t sublimate the Kanji with the Furigana aid. You can change this off in the options, but by default, expect to see many Kanji characters this time around in the import versions.

On a technical note, for those who were hoping it would be fixed from HeartGold/SoulSilver, I’m sorry to have to inform you Black and White operate in 30 frames per second as the previous Gen 4 games did. As such, expect occasional jerkiness and slowdown when accessing areas with high polygon counts.

Audio

For the most part, the audio this time around is quite strong. The bump in quality isn’t as pronounced as it was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, but I’m still really enjoying the score thus far. That said, many of the early tracks remind me of Diamond & Pearl’s somewhat forgettable tracks. Nothing is standing out overly bad, but as of the writing of this review, I have not encountered any tracks that have compelled me enough to wear headphones as HeartGold and SoulSilver’s tracks did.

Even with gen 5’s visual updates, the sound effects still seem primitive. As always, Pokémon shout their 8-bit cries rather than scream their names as in the anime. Considering what an amazing job GameFreak did arranging the music, it’s sad to hear the 8-bit screeches that play during it. I still hope that someday this changes. New cries sound just as primitive as those of the first 151. Ouch Game Freak!

Gameplay

The heart and soul of every Pokémon game is the gameplay, and Black & White are no different.

Part of what makes Pokemon so good is that there are layers and layers of depth if you choose to explore.

Among the new changes, you can now encounter two wild Pokemon at once. However, you still can’t catch a Pokémon until one of the two wild Pokemon have fainted. This works like any other double battle, but it’s a cool concept that shakes things up a bit. There’s even a three on three battle which is quite speedier than multiple one-on-one battles.

Unfortunately, there’s only a handful of triple battles in the entire game and double battles seem to be missing entirely. Expect to see the same ol’ one-on-one encounters as always.

The Battle Menu is arranged in the same manner HeartGold and SoulSilver’s was, with a large fight option up top with the items bag, run and switch Pokemon options below. Game Freak even went to the effort to label them in English. How swell.

Control

Very little has changed from the Gen 4 games:

D-pad: Movement

Touchscreen: c-gear menu, options

A: Confirm selections
B: Cancel selections
Y: Item shortcut
X: Menu
L: Cycle menus left
R: Cycle menus right
Start: No function
Select: Reorganize items

The only real difference from HeartGold and SoulSilver is this time around, the touch screen is used to run the c-gear, which, from what I can tell, is a mode that allow other players to be able to see you’re online and offer trades and battles at any time, no matter if  you’re in a Pokemon Center or not. Of course, having Wifi enabled all the time severely hampers battery life, so I play with c-gear off. In the top left corner, there is a digital 12-hour clock, even in battles!

Outside of battle, the  Y button can now be used to cycle through several shortcuts for everything from using items to checking the Pokedex. When deep in menus, the X button acts as a “cancel all” command, equivalent to pressing B several times.

Frustration

The game’s frustration depends largely on your proficiency with reading Japanese and ability to solve simple logic problems. I have read many comments for people getting stuck in the third town early on. The game tells you perfectly clearly where to proceed, but for those who cannot read Japanese, expect to get lost without the aid of a walkthrough. As you progress, you will find the gyms all have their leaders missing and you will have to go off and find them before you can even enter their gym!

Also point of frustration is that none of the previous Pokemon appear at all until you’ve beaten the elite four, meaning you will have to use new Pokemon and expose yourself to the risks involved of raising creates you don’t know.

Availability & Price

Pocket Monsters Black and White are only available in Japan right now. Import prices vary, but don’t expect to pay less than at least $50 USD for a copy. Pokemon games usually sell for more than other imports.

Keep in mind that the original DS and the DS Lite are region-free, but Black and White will only play on the Japanese DSi and DSi LL.

Import Friendliness

As the games are completely in Japanese, they are for the most part easy to figure out. Being able to read and understand basic Japanese kana definitely helps, but is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the game. Remember these are children’s games, so they shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out even if you can’t read a word of Japanese.

History

As these games are brand new in Japan, there isn’t too much for me to put here. What I can say is that these games are evolutions of Diamond and Pearl – they look basically the same, but are greatly expanded. If Diamond & Pearl were remade with Black and White’s engine, you’d see some pretty crazy stuff. I can only hope Game Freak will use this engine for Gen III remakes of Ruby and Sapphire, but something tells me they won’t. Bastards.

Overall

Good

-It’s Pokemon!

-Highly impressive Visuals…in a Pokemon game!

-TMs can be used infinitely

-Incredibly lengthy game at around….500 hours? No joke.

Bad

-You will occasionally still need to carry around an HM slave. C’mon GameFreak, this this flaw already. HM use out of battle should be done with key items, not moves!

-You won’t see any of your favorites until after you beat the game for the first time.

Conclusion

The Legacy of Pokémon stretches back nearly two decades, back on the original Gameboy. Since then, the turn based strategy games with unbelievable personalization, hidden depth and replay value have continued to evolve, offering many slight changes to better the experience. The resulting games in Black and White are every bit as much finely crafted works of art as they are entertaining videogames. The legacy of Pokemon is grand indeed. I can’t recommend these games enough. They are easily better than even HeartGold and SoulSilver. If you had asked me last year, I wouldn’t have said such a thing was even possible. I’m still shocked, in fact. Black and White are just that incredible. Import one of these. Now.

Data

Platform: Nintendo DS, DSi

Genre: Turn Based RPG

Release Date: September 19, 2010

Developer: GameFreak

Publisher: Nintendo

Also from the developer: Pokémon HeartGold/Soul Silver, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

Game Length: ~500 hours+

CERO Rating: A

Import or wait: Import

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4 Responses to “Pocket Monsters Black Import Review (DS)”

  1. So you say you are “not completely fluent in Japanese” which leads readers to believe that you are pretty advanced, just not fluent. Why is it that I see you asking pretty rudimentary grammatical questions to Manuel on the Famicom boards? I smell BS.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Most of what I ask him I asked a long time ago, and mostly as confirmation of things I already knew since the guy makes a living off translations, I figure he’s a great source of info.

  2. Though I appreciate the updates the series has received, it still doesn’t feel like a significant enough leap from Gen 4. HM Slaves, a 4 move limit, grid based movement, poorly sampled Pokemon cries, are all things I would have thought would have been ironed out by now. I will most likely sit this generation out (been playing since Red/Blue came out in 1998), mostly to avoid burnout of playing the same game over and over again.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      This is how Pokemon has always been. I wouldn’t be surprised if generation 6 on the 3DS will be from the exact same mold. Why do we play these games? Because even with minor changes, each successive generation is better than the last.

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