Hey there! As usual, it’s been a long time (half a year, actually) since my last post. Over these six months I have been up to various things, moving workplaces, setting up a new blog, getting married, moving in together, settling in, as well as the usual playing games. In this post, I would like to give a review on the newly released game Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 for Nintendo DS.
I apologise for the delay on updating the review. This review is now finished.
Instead of having an enhanced third version like they always had, Game Freak (that is, the developer of Pokémon games) decided to go for a sequel this time with Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, and try to incorporate the enhancements found in the so-called third versions in the sequel. This is an interesting take on a matured and already established franchise, and not to mention that it is a bit risky.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 takes place approximately 2 (two) years after the events of the original Pokémon Black and White. Within this 2 years gap, a lot has changed in the Unova region, allowing more Pokémon from other regions (in case you forgot: Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh) to exist alongside the native Pokémon of the Unova region. As a result from this change, the Unova regional Pokédex is updated with up to 300 Pokémon data. In my opinion, it would be interesting to see the effect of this migration on the Unova region Pokémon ecosystem (since they were closed off from other regions in the first games), however I have yet to see anything except from a comment from Bianca regarding the addition of Pokémon.
One of the nice feature of the game, story-wise is the ability to perform memory link to the original games. Depending on your progress in the original games, you will get flashbacks regarding the events in Pokémon Black and White from different perspective. However, if you do not play the original games, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 did a good job of filling the details in on what happened two years before the story.
Instead of having the antagonists say upfront what they wanted to do, like in the original games, the new Team Plasma now operates in secrecy, at least for the most part. Team Plasma itself is now separated into two factions, one who supported N and trying to atone for their crimes, and the other is the one who still carrying their plans to try to take over the world. There are probably few events where they clashed, but it is good and adds depth to the story. Finally a Pokémon game with some substance to the story.
However, there are also some bad points and shortfalls on the story when I finally finished the main campaign. Without giving too much detail (in respect of being spoiler-free), there are certain points in the game that you feel that the story could have been better, and suddenly it just doesn’t make sense at all, or very shallow. It’s quite annoying to see these story points (although only few of them) that could have been a good climax, but then it’s not actually a climax.
Because of the actually-could-have-been-better approach that the game has actually taken, I’d give it a 7 out of 10. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is pretty good in the first couple of hours playing the game, but the further you get into the game, that’s when the story fell short.
Aside from the change in the number of Pokémon available (and the version exclusives, of course), the game also brings new protagonists, as well new rivals. The new protagonists are not as silent as the first games’ protagonists (at the very least, they don’t look that silent and serious), and the new rival is a great addition, because finally you get a rival that helps you to become a better Pokémon trainer by actually supporting you instead of mocking you in a I-know-what-I’m-doing-and-you-don’t and I’m-so-much-better-than-you type of personality. I can’t comment on the antagonists part as I have yet to see them. The game also starts at a different city from the first games, allowing a change in the storyline, as well as introducing new cities, characters, landscape and the opportunity to explore!
The other change is that the game now starts in an entirely different city compared to the original games. This allows a separate, yet interconnected story with the original games, as well as new gyms instead of repurposing the old one with newer newer (like Juan taking Wallace’s gym). The existence of gyms other than the original 8 in a region has existed long in the anime, but it has only been confirmed, as far as I know, with this entry. Some of the cities accessible again in the games received an upgrade to show the progress that had been made during the two-year gap, although the “more natural” theme of White 2 and “more technological” theme of Black 2 can be seen, such as in Route 4.
Not much has changed in terms of the game mechanic, it is still the same-old Pokémon game mechanics, bringing the improvements from the original Black and White versions, while adding a couple of new features. One of the new features are the PokéStar Studios, an alternative to Musicals (which I don’t quite enjoy), in which you can play as an actor for the silver screen. You can go with either your own Pokémon, or a rented one. Using a rented one will automatically pairs you with the most suitable Pokémon, along with the most suitable moveset. Each movies has their own good, bad, and strange endings, depending on what lines and moves that you use, or whether you follow the script or not. The script itself gets trickier over time, since it’ll only give vague hints (such as “Swap items with your enemy”) later in the movie series. Of course, there will be fans rooting for you (and giving you items!).
Aside from PokéStar, there is also the Pokémon World Tournament, taking place in Driftveil City as a replacement for the Cold Storage. This tournament will feature trainers from all over the world, literally. You can download real-world trainers and teams used in real-world Pokémon tournaments. As of this writing, I believe you can get the winner of 2012 tournaments via Nintendo WFC. You can also battle previous gym leaders from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh, on top of Unova’s in the tournament. Be warned though, they are quite tough. This is a really nice addition, and will enable the game to keep the challenge fresh with every downloadable content.
Speaking of battles, there is a new area called Black Tower or Whitetree Hollow (in their respective games), which features a climb-to-the-top similar like Battle Tower, albeit with a slight twist of dungeon maze thrown in it.
Then there is also Join Avenue, in which you can recruit people to open shops. And these shops are quite useful, some featured Pokémon training, such as raising base stats (useful for EV training), or raising a level (I’ve tried to use this to evolve a Pokémon, sadly it didn’t work), other shops provide berries and mulches, or even raise the happiness of a Pokémon. As usual, these kind of shops only works once a day. You can also recruit any nearby players who is currently opening their C-Gear, provided you also open yours.
Black 2 and White 2 also bring a lot of post-game goodies into the mix. There is now a system called Unova Link, in which you can activate “keys” to alter the game experience. The Memory Link mentioned before is part of this Unova Link (and is probably the only one that can be activated before post-game).
There is also what is called as Key Link mode. One of the keys are the “Challenge Mode” key (available in Black 2) and ”Easy Mode” key (available in White 2), which if activated, will alter the trainers in the game to have a higher level, or a lower level Pokémon, respectively (not too sure about the AI, but I’m going to assume that it is also altered slightly). Aside from Key Link, there is also Area Keys, which change Black City to White Forest and vice-versa, Ruins Key which made Regirock, Regice, and Registeel available, as well as 3DS Link to link to Dream Radar. You can transfer these keys to another gaming system, if you so desire (thus enabling White Forest in Black 2, for example).
Also, a welcome but not-so-useful addition is the game’s take on achievements, which is achieved (pun intended) through the medal collection. I personally don’t fancy easy achievements (“Starting a New Adventure”, really?), but I guess with all games basically just incorporating it, I don’t have much choice, do I?
For bringing new features, and making easy of some of the previous features (Black City and White Tree, I’m looking at you), I’d give an 8 out of 10.
GameFreak has done some pretty good job doing the remixes of the battle theme, particularly against gym leaders and Elite Four. One that stuck in my head was Elesa’s theme, Roxie’s band theme, and the new Champion’s theme. They’re cute, while prepping you up to battle them. You can try to YouTube them (apparently there are lots of them over there) and hear them out if you wish. However, just hearing the themes without actually seeing the setting (i.e. the gyms themselves) would just deter the experience, as the songs, I assume, were actually made to complement the gym.
Good job on this one, I’m giving it 8 out of 10.
There is much to be ranted about the graphics on the original games, namely the pixelated look. Sadly, although the Pokémon animation is smoother (due to having more frames), it is still sporting the same pixelated look as the original games. Although I fully understand that this might be partially due to the resolution of the Nintendo DS (or 3DS, for that matter), I believe they can improve on this one.
On the positive side, though, there are moments (Elesa’s gym comes to mind, that gym experience is simply… unique, to say the least) that this game truly try to get your attention by showing good graphics, such as during the opening sequence view from Aspertia City. Can’t really blame them for trying. For this I would give 7 out of 10 (in respect of DS’s pixel and hardware limitation).
Adding all the points up, it’ll be roughly 30 out of 40. In their own Black 2 and White 2 made for arguably the most complete Pokémon game experience that you will ever get in a handheld system. There are shortfalls, namely in graphics and disappointment tied to the storyline, but overall, it is a pretty good game, and good for killing time as well.
I’m an avid RPG gamer, and judging from the countless posts I’ve made mentioning this, I can assure you that. Lately, there’s only so much RPG games that you can play AND actually enjoy. The numbers are lower when it gets to traditional good ol’ RPG game. Things were a bit boring since I finished Dragon Quest IX, but then this game came out.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is the long awaited third instalment of the Golden Sun series. Obviously if you don’t play any handheld or portable games, you won’t know the series. But if you do, this series is the Final Fantasy for the handheld, minus all the complicated battle mechanics and technological weirdness.
The previous two games, Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age was made for GameBoy Advance, and it was deemed to be the best RPG for handheld at the time, and refreshing as well. So after many speculations and couple of years, the sequel finally came out. Since I played the two original games, I decided to buy the sequel and see how the sequel live up to its series’ reputation. Bear with me as we stroll along a lengthy review.
The game takes place in the concept of a flat world in which you can actually see the edge of the world falling off like waterfall. The world, called Weyard, comprises of several continents representing the real world continents.
The world of Weyard is being put together by four elements, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury representing earth, wind, fire, and water, respectively. These four elements, collectively called alchemy, were once in abundant, however several hundred years ago, people who are able to manipulate these elements, called Adepts, sealed it off because they feared that the abuse of these elements would crush Weyard.
Continents of Angara (top) and Gondowan (lower left) as seen in Dark Dawn
Sadly, they were wrong. Since these four elements were the elements that held Weyard, the world started to crumble. Islands started falling off the edge of the world, and many bizarre occurrences in the world happened. So, the protagonists set off to initiate the Golden Sun event, the event in which all the elements are unsealed and returns alchemy to the world. You can guess that finally the protagonists were able to unseal the elements. But those are the story of the first two games.
Dark Dawn is set roughly 30 years after the Golden Sun event, in which the event itself, even though it brings the alchemy back to the world, still have after-effects because the world was cut off from it for so many years. The game took place around the upper continent of Angara (as a homage to the Eurasia continent). The protagonists now are the children of the first two games’ protagonists. You play as Matthew, a Venus adept (the games ALWAYS start with a Venus adept…), the son of Isaac in the previous games as he travel around the world for obtaining a key item called Roc Feather.
As you might have guessed, although the journey seems straightforward at the first time, the protagonists got sidetracked and were led to a number of events that lead to the Grave Eclipse, in which the moon overtakes the sun and darkness will overcome Weyard. It is now up to the protagonists to stop the Grave Eclipse.
The story of the game itself is your standard typical the-only-one-who-can-save-the-world, however it does have some interesting quirks. The game stayed true to the previous two games by having the same world, the same battle sequences, and even some of the bosses from the previous two. One of the antagonist from the previous games returned in this sequel, although the role that the antagonist played is still hazy (even though I finished the game).
The only drawback from the game is that it lacked depth, and the conversations between characters are too light-hearted for the overall storyline. It really was annoying reading the characters saying stuffs that are obviously obvious. There are also several points of no return in the game, so you do have to be very thorough when exploring to not miss anything.
The previous two games told the story from both the protagonists and the antagonists perspective, and I can’t help but judging from the shortness of the story, there might just be a sequel for this. There might just be.
Overall, I would give 7 out of 10.
What the Dark Dawn messed up in the story part, it made up in the gameplay part. As I have previously stated, you play as adepts, who can freely manipulate the elements to your advantage. This manipulation, called Psynergy is an essential element in the game. You can actually use your psynergies (in your so-called standard RPG games, these would be magic) in the game world to solve puzzles! Venus adepts can grow vines to reach places, Jupiter adepts can blow whirlwind to steer your raft, Mars adepts can parch water puddles to access new areas, and Mercury adepts can freeze the water puddles to serve as a stepping stone. And of course the number of psynergies are extended further in the game.
Using the Cold Snap psynergy to create ice pillars
And that is not all the main feature of the Golden Sun series. The next one is the Djinn mechanics (singular: Djinni). Djinn are the purest incarnation of an element, and therefore carry the strength and nature of the element. These Djinn can be set to an adept, and will alter the status, psynergy setup, and possibly the character class of the adept according to the nature of the element (for example, Venus Djinni will most likely boost the HP and Defense). There exists different ways of setting Djinn, and one can mix-and-match the elements to get the best line-up.
Djinn interface in Dark Dawn (Japanese)
And there’s more to the Djinn mechanics, the Djinn that are set to an adept can be called by that adept to use in battle, providing either offensive or defensive support. Sort of like magic as well. By calling out Djinn, you switch them from set to standby mode. The Djinn on standby mode can be again, called to conjure up various summons in the game. Think of the Djinn on standby mode as being in the pool where you can use them.
However, there is a drawback. Getting a Djinni into standby mode means that you will lose the any boost related to that Djinni, until you set it back to the adept. Furthermore, Djinn that already being used for summon go to recovery mode for several battle turns, before being set (luckily, they are set automatically) to the same adept again. This cycle of set-standby-recovery mode of Djinn is what made the gameplay so dynamic, as you do have to carefully plan whether you want to keep the boost, use the ability of the Djinni, or to use the powerful summons. Just for the note, there are 72 Djinn, and 30 summons in the game.
Eclipse summon in Dark Dawn (Japanese) requiring 3 Jupiter Djinn and 2 Mercury Djinn
There is also another yet overlooked mechanic that is similar, but yet different from most RPG games. Like RPG games, a character can equip weapons of certain types. There are two main stream of weapon in the game, the normal ones, which you can buy from the store, or artifacts, which you retrieved from the dungeons. Like any RPG games, there are also critical hits. In the case of normal weapons, you only get a normal critical hit. But in the case of artifacts, you get what the game called, unleash.
Megiddo unleash sequence in Dark Dawn (Japanese)
An unleash is basically an embedded magic inside the weapon, and you have no control over it, you can’t make the weapon unleash at any time you want, making the battle so interesting, because some unleash are so powerful (Megiddo, for example, guarantees 3x damage for single enemy), and some can be helpful (Psyphon Seal locks your enemy’s psynergy). Best of all, it does not require any magic points or whatsoever.
These game mechanics is what made the game so interesting and refreshing at the same time. And these mechanics are not new mechanics, meaning it was featured from the previous two games. In fact, these mechanics are exactly what differentiate the series from another RPG games. For being true and actually improving the standard mechanics, I give 9 out of 10.
Not like many other RPG, Dark Dawn did not include composer as great as the Final Fantasy series with Nobuo Uematsu. That, however, does not mean that it doesn’t have a great music. The battle music is pretty much suited with the pace, and the game world theme music is more than decent. I can’t really say much about the audio, because there is nothing special, however it is not bad either. For that reason I would give 6.5 out of 10.
The graphics of Dark Dawn is surprisingly more than good. Now remember, this is a handheld game that I’m talking about, and it’s being developed for Nintendo DS. Therefore you would expect that the game would return into the old 2D style like they did in the previous games.
That, however, was not true because Dark Dawn uses a fully 3D rendered image, albeit viewed in a top-down perspective. The top DS screen is used for informational, such as the map, number of Djinn on standby, or even the status of the party, while the lower screen displays the game world in 3D. And the colour palette is also colourful enough, making the game world quite enjoyable in your eyes.
Exploring the Passaj Mountain Climb
I gotta say, the graphics is more than you call good. If you had your chance to play Dragon Quest IX, then the graphics would be slightly (albeit arguably) better than DQIX. Not only that, the battle sequence is rendered in 3D as well, with all the summon sequences and unleash sequences also rendered in 3D. You would think with all these 3D stuffs, the battle would be lengthy, but it’s not. In fact it’s quite fast, let’s just say that a normal battle that wiped out 4 monsters in one turn would take more or less 10-15 seconds, 20 seconds max.
For a more-than-stunning graphics (of course in regards of being a handheld DS game), I would give 8.5 out of 10.
Dark Dawn is of course arguably one of the best classical RPG game. It differs from the traditional old-school RPG games by having a refreshing and interesting game mechanics, combined with the good graphics for a handheld game. Adding up the points, it would be 31 out of 40, and most of that points mainly goes for the game mechanics. This is surely one handheld game you don’t want to miss. And don’t worry if you don’t play the previous two games, Dark Dawn did a good job to fill you in with the details.