Black and White’s Story – A genuine breakaway from formula?

Many know that Pokemon Black and White was billed as having a more intricate and engaging story compared to previous games, coupled with entertaining characters. And it is certainly true that in many aspects it is better. For instance, most of the gym leaders in this game actually had a hand in the main story, doing daring things like chase Plasma about, which is more than say the likes of Sabrina when Team Rocket ran riot in Sliph Co. Or for that matter most of the other gym leaders which had until recently been quite content sitting inside their gym, waiting for you to go beat them up on your quest to being the best. The rivals also had interesting personalities and their own hopes and dreams and conflicts.

But what about examining it all in depth?

Let’s begin with the general gist of Plasma’s goals. Plasma members wanted to free Pokemon from their abusive trainers, who were supposedly treating them as slaves, or as nothing better than a pile of trash. Sort of like a real life PETA only with better outfits and somewhat less crazy. Naturally the game shows us the validity of their points by having Plasma members kidnap Pokemon from rouge citizens such as young children and Bianca!

                       
Under that hat is a true menace.

…Only we know that Bianca is a caring character and it’s unlikely the young children were doing anything worse then maybe trying to pretend that their Pokemon were Ponyta. When it comes down to it in fact, there’s a key point missing in the story – as much as Plasma tries to tell us that Pokemon are mistreated, the game never shows us this fact. And that’s when their point falls flat. In fact, the only case we are shown Pokemon abuse is when two Plasma members kicked an innocent Munna about, which doesn’t do much beyond create a broken Aesop.

Despite the fact that the antagonists introduce a serious issue that has been overlooked until now by the series (that is, the concept of animal fights and abuse towards Pokemon), absolutely no attempts are made to show a balanced field from the point of view of the player. Basically, can you think of a single character in the game that isn’t part of Team Plasma that embodies the things that they claim to protest? A single character who admits to or knows about a Pokemon being mistreated?

Throughout the entire game, every trainer, gym leader, and random NPC makes a huge and anvil-dropping point that they LOVE THEIR POKEMON SO MUCH. It removes any sense of conflict from the story – the bad guys are bad, and that’s it. It’s very… Black and White.


YEEEAAAAAAH

The concept of ‘training Pokemon = ABUSE’ is never seen out either. After you beat the E4, you get to fight N in a battle involving giant dragons of doom (after of course N practically forces you to catch one!), and then you battle Ghetsis, the Big Bad. He is arrested, only to get away. N then flies off into the credits.. and that’s how the game ends. Nobody really considers N’s views – they just declare the Plasma is wrong, end of story.

There wouldn’t have been much wrong in giving some credibility to the claims that Plasma makes. It would give N a better position as a character in giving his claims some backing, the story more depth, and it would’ve allowed for actual growth of the characters, as opposed to everyone statically sitting on either side of the fence.

Not that you can blame them. N’s actions contribute to this problem. N had been brainwashed by Ghetsis (a neat aspect to the story), which would arguably make him a sympathetic character. He also said he was struggling to justify his stance at the end of the game in mentioning that all the Pokemon he had spoken to had been actually happy (which again is further proof that the game assumes that everything is perfect and none of Plasma’s ideals were valid). That would have been interesting to see, but it’s another aspect of the game that goes missing – we never see him see him struggling to justify it during the story, or any real sign that he was brainwashed by Ghetsis to begin with. The way he acts throughout the story can be summed as him insisting he will make everyone listen to him after losing to you by getting himself a giant dragon of legend to make people listen to him. There was no foreshadowing of Ghetsis’ role with N either – instead, Ghetsis’ parts were more around the sages than N himself. Maybe at least showing some more in the way of self doubt over that besides ‘Gee you beat me again’-esque comments would have helped. A lot of his behaviour just seemed redundant and creepy, and there wasn’t much shown in game to explain it and make him sympathetic. What’s implied by the few tidbits we actually see in game does not a character make.

As such, the player is never given a chance to pick a side, or be anything but the most innocent and wonderful trainer ever. Now, granted that this is a Pokemon game, for kids, and it’s supposed to preach good messages. However, what would’ve been the harm in letting there be some level of control over whether you are a good trainer or not? It forces a role of purity onto a trainer that may not actually reflect how they play the game. When a story in a game wants to be good, it has to tie in neatly with the mechanics and use both elements to create the experience for the player.

But sadly, the game mechanics and the story clash heavily in general. I’m talking about things like the above, where you are automatically lauded as pure hearted without any effort or proof in game, as well as things like N being a rival and battling you. Now, N has supposedly been brainwashed to think that Pokemon used by trainers are suffering, and vows to change that. So why is he making Pokemon suffer in his eyes to continuously battle you? It’s never addressed in the game itself, and it makes no sense when you compare it to the story Black and White is trying to tell. It wouldn’t have taken much extra effort to, for example, show N befriend some local Pokemon to willingly battle you each time? Or to at least have a line or two somewhere that could’ve been cleverly utilised to further showcase how irrational N really is? But instead we just got N declare that enslaving was bad and that he’ll saying he’ll speak to your Pokemon to find out if they’re happy, and then send out his own Pokemon…from his own Pokeballs.

Certainly, the story is a step in the right direction, and still easier to believe than the likes of say Magma/Aqua thinking erupting volcanoes with the energy of a meteorite was helping the ecosystem. But it certainly has its flaws in the main theme alone.

Furthermore, not all characters are actually well developed. Sure, most gym leaders had their own impact – but what about Plasma’s side? The sages for instance got their own little bit in the post game, but it felt weird to just chase them and not actually battle them. And they arguably fared better than other characters. What about the Shadow Triad, the trio of ninjas? They have no backstory, and served no purpose other than to randomly appear and spy on you and at the end…give you the DPPt exclusive items that Ghetsis apparently had with him the whole time. And never mind those two women that are in the intro of B/W’s own opening intro cinematic to the game.


Remember these gals?

They’ve seemingly got some major role there, but in the game… they appear a grand total of one time. During that moment of fame, they heal your Pokemon, say a short bit on N, and that’s it. They are never seen again besides the one room they appear in, and never mentioned either. Stuff like this just felt odd and out of place, and let’s face it – if you removed them from the game, you wouldn’t have lost much of the story. Which may have been the case for some players given they were in an optional room.

Of course, the last part of the game gives off a large sense of being rushed. For instance, let’s begin with the castle appearing from the ground. Let’s follow with a legitimate question – how did they construct that whole thing without anybody noticing? Furthermore – why?

Inside there are a few Plasma scientists who also claim they have access to the PC system. Let’s consider this slowly. Plasma tell us they have achieved access to everyone’s Pokemon. Ghetsis is able to not only just release all the Pokemon in the PC (something they mention specifically), but just take them all for himself! So why didn’t he just do that in the first place? It’s a perfectly good plot idea to use, so mentioning it at the end of the game and not doing anything with it felt like a waste.

And then there’s this gem of a line from one of the Plasma grunts – ‘Team Galactic and Team Rocket drew too much attention to themselves. That’s why their plans were thwarted.’ What’s funny about it is that it is exactly what Plasma has done too! Who was going about stealing Pokemon, kicking Munna and harassing old daycare men? Team Plasma. Who went about to all the towns giving grand public speeches? Team Plasma. And who got the attention of the majority of the gym leaders and Champion? Team Plasma. At least they didn’t have the Elite Four members do anything in response…which is also odd given gym leaders on the other side of the region had managed to turn up. But regardless of that, why did he mention that line when it’s pretty clear that Plasma hasn’t been hiding in the shadows?

So although BW made several improvements to the story, there’s still a lot more Game Freak can arguably work on in their next project. Shades of grey morality need to be introduced, and furthermore shown in game instead of told at the end, and the player needs to have some responsibility for their actions, instead of being handed everything on a platter if Game Freak do indeed want an in depth story. And making sure that there aren’t any loose ends or contradicting statements and actions would help too.

Maybe these points will be addressed in B2W2, the sequel of BW that comes out in Japan in a few days. We know we’ll be seeing more of Plasma there after all, including the likes of N and co, but time will tell. Let’s hope so.
Written by bobandbill and Deenaa.

2 Responses to “Black and White’s Story – A genuine breakaway from formula?”

  1. Tiff Says:

    I just have to say that this is really well-written and hits on a lot of good points. I feel roughly the same way about Black and White’s story and feel like it was toned down to try to keep it from deviating too much from the safezone for Pokemon games or whatever.

    It’s better than previous stories in terms of its themes and whatnot, but it definitely had a lot of unmet potential.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Late, but cheers Tiff for the comment! Glad to hear that, and it was fun to write too, haha.

    At least it is an improvement and hopefully Game Freak will continue with it.

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