Pokémon Black/White

Travel across the Unova region to become a Pokémon champion
SeriousGamer - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

Mild Cartoon Violence: Variety of mild cartoon-like attacks are seen, blows are heard, Pokemon series revolves around competitive fighting.

Spiritual Overtones: Pokemon and move groups include Psychic and Ghost, one Pokemon is described as being human in life, antagonists portrayed as cult-like.

Anti-Religious Content: Evolution is referenced.

Negative Themes: 'Dark' Type Pokemon/Moves portrayed as underhanded.

Gotta catch ’em all!

That catchphrase would begin a series of games that grew like grass. (Did you expect me to say wildfire?) Or I suppose grew like Grass Pokémon would be the more fitting statement. Never has one Nintendo franchise gained so much popularity and so much controversy at the same time, at least not that I’ve seen.

The Pokémon franchise got started way back when in 1996, and it shows no signs of stopping even now. If it’s not games, it’s the cards and the TV show. Kids seemed to gobble this series up like Rare Candy, but it came as a two-sided coin. Parents expressed concern over the nature and content of the franchise in all areas. As far as I know, this debate shows as many signs of ending as the series does; that is none. But not even all the controversy could keep this game franchise from fainting because the next titles in the series ended up hitting shores around the world in 2011.

Now, players can return to catch all sorts of new Pokémon in the twin DS titles Black and White. I’m sure players waited in lines like Black Friday at the stores to get a copy of this one. But the question is not is either title worth the wait, but is it appropriate for the discerning parent/player.

Plot

The series usually can’t slice their story in any new ways, but they seem to try. In the case of Black/White, I’d say they gave it a good shot.

This title begins like you would expect any Pokémon title to begin. It’s the same basic formula, but it has some new places along the way. You begin in your hometown of Nuvema in the Unova region. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce the names. Your character is an up-and-coming Pokémon trainer who, along with your two friends and rivals, Cheren and Bianca, is about to set out on a journey to become the Pokémon Master for the region. You don’t start out your journey alone though. Another friend, Juniper, gives you your very first Pokémon. Since she is also the resident professor, Juniper also gives you the Pokedex so that you can record the information of every Pokémon you catch. With your new friend by your side, you set out to beat the 8 Gyms of Unova and challenge the best of the best trainers in the Pokémon League.

Unfortunately, you also run into some pretty shady characters. Every region in the series is plagued by some form of crime syndicate, and Black/White is no exception. Your character makes an enemy in form of Team Plasma, a nasty bunch that is stealing Pokémon from their trainers, and they set their sights on yours too.

Looks like the journey to be the best isn’t as easy as you thought.

Gameplay

Pokémon really wasn’t a series that changed, and Black/White is not about to break the mold. If you’ve played any of the previous games, you’ll be in fine shape for this one. Controls are very much the same as they were for previous-generation games, and that includes battling as well. If you walk in tall grass, you’ll run into a wild Pokémon. If you weaken it enough, you can try to capture it. If you deplete its health, the Pokémon faints.

In major towns, you’ll usually find a Gym. Play through the Gym and defeat the leader of it, and you walk out with a shiny new badge that earns you the respect of high level Pokémon.

What’s new in Black/White is the addition of seasons. Each month, the season changes and as a result, Pokémon will change form and places previously out of reach will become accessible. Besides that, you can also sink your teeth into Double, Triple, and Rotation Battles.

And may I also say that, even for the DS, the graphics are amazing, especially when you cross this one bridge, but you’ll have to see that for yourself.

Offensive Content

Mild Cartoon Violence

One of the concerns parents have with the Pokémon series is the fighting. It’s true that Pokémon do engage in battles with other Pokémon often for competition. In fact, the Pokémon League is centered on Pokémon battles. At first glance, this does have all the makings of a virtual cockfight. Of course, a rooster wouldn’t stand much chance against a Pokémon.

Battles, though frequent are not intense, so that could bring some reassurance to parents. Pokémon fight with a variety of moves, including scratches, punches, kicks, shots of fire, tidal waves, and other such attacks. We never see contact, even when the move involves physical combat. A line or fist appears over the opponent’s Pokémon and in some cases, we do hear the distinct sounds of blows being delivered. Pokémon also don’t die but merely faint and it’s assumed that they are healed afterwards, especially in trainer battles. Pokémon can also inflict status conditions like poison and burn on their fellow combatants. None of these are terribly graphic, however, and as I said, it’s assumed that trainers heal their Pokémon afterwards.

I believe it was established in a previous game that Pokémon enjoy fighting with their trainers, so that also tones the effect of the violence down a notch. Still it is a fair concern for parents, especially if they think that their children are apt to start fighting for the fun of it.

Spiritual Overtones

This is yet another hot topic for parents and for Pokémon fans. Pokémon are sorted into groups as are their moves, and some of these categories include Psychic and Ghost. Some of the Psychic movies include waves shot from the head, as well as the aptly named Hypnosis that will put a Pokémon to sleep. Another attack is Future Sight, in which the attacking Pokémon ‘foresees’ an attack that is delivered later. Clearly all of these would stand in direct opposition to what the Bible says about psychic abilities. But it is also established that many of these Pokémon gain their powers from their biological makeup; a scientific explanation is given for the appearance of these powers. In many cases, it’s assumed that the Psychic Pokémon have larger and more advanced brains than others. Still, the presence of these abilities could cause some confusion. One Psychic type Pokémon is described as eating dreams, but it also resembles a floating pillow, so it could be just how it feeds itself.

The Ghost types are often more related to the supernatural. Case in point is the Pokémon Yamask. This creature was once apparently human and carries around its former face. It later becomes a living coffin. That is about as bad as it gets, as other Ghost types bear little resemblance to anything that would cause offense. One resembles a living candle for example. However, even in this case, they mention some supernatural connections to it, but it’s only mentioned never seen.

For the most part, the Ghost type moves are fairly tame. One however is called “Curse,” and it causes a Pokémon to lose health to attack. Of course, Pokémon don’t need to learn this move so it can be avoided unless a wild Pokémon knows it.

Items you can get also have names like ‘potion’ but these items are clearly medical. There’s nothing supernatural about them. Still, some may attach a negative connotation to the word.

Also, it used to be that the crime syndicates of the Pokémon world wanted to rule the world by exploiting Pokémon. For the most part, that’s true here, but there is one slight change to that.

***********Spoiler Alert*********************

Team Plasma also wants to rule the world, but they claim to be acting on behalf of the Pokémon. They believe that trainers abuse and exploit their Pokémon, and so they set about ‘liberating’ the critters by stealing them from their trainers. This only scratches the surface of their goals. They intend to create a new order in which Pokémon can live free of trainers. Their loyalty to their goal borders on fanaticism, and their mannerism could classify Team Plasma as some sort of cult. In addition, members of the organization wear outfits that closely resemble those worn by the Knights Templar.

***********Spoiler End*********************

The different Pokémon games also seem to have their own mythology, in that certain Pokémon are treated as legendary creatures, almost like our versions of the unicorn and the phoenix, or even deities. In this game, the legend of choice involves two Pokémon who fought alongside a hero to establish the Unova region. The weight that characters seem to give these two almost seems like worship.

Anti-Religious Content

Another issue many have is the presence of ‘evolution’ in which a Pokémon grows larger and changes form. However, this process is closer to that of metamorphosis. Pokémon don’t change species. In fact, they still resemble their original form but larger. Like I said, think of it as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

Negative Content

For the most part, Pokémon engage in fair moves, but some moves give impressions of low tactics. These moves are classified as ‘Dark.’ The worst of them is Thief, which lets you steal an item held by a Pokémon. You don’t need to teach a Pokémon this movie or any Dark type moves for that matter. You will run into Dark-type Pokémon, but that is unavoidable.

Commendable Material

The Pokémon series also has some positive values, and many times, they are loyalty and hard work. Pokémon are loyal to the trainers through thick and thin. No matter what, the animal will not leave the side of the trainer. In addition, players have to work hard to train their Pokémon in order to overcome obstacles. Players are also unable to steal Pokémon from other trainers, so they must do the harder work of catching them. Other characters see a reflection of strengthening their Pokémon as a reflection of trying to be stronger internally. One could almost interpret this journey as a journey to grow from teenager to adult. But that may be digging into messages that were never intended to be there.

Despite how it looks, the bond between Pokémon and their trainers is clearly defined by friendship. In fact, exploiting them is seen as, well, wrong.  At the start, Team Plasma gives their goal as preventing Pokémon from being exploited, although their methods are clearly wrong. This could  provide some discussion for parents on whether the end justifies the means.

I believe it was also established that Pokémon are also very good sports in battle. Despite their constant fighting, they abide by some basic ideas of fair play. If anything, it could be a nod back to older days when even sport fighting was fair and underhanded tactics were frowned upon.

*****************Spoiler Alert*******************

Innocence and devotion to ideals are also shown in a positive light in the form of Team Plasma’s leader, N. The game shows that he was raised only around Pokémon, and that he knows nothing of the bond between them and their trainers. He then assumes that people abuse their own Pokémon. However, in the same note, his innocence allows him to be manipulated by the true leader of Team Plasma and it leaves him oblivious to their true goals, which have nothing to do with liberating Pokémon at all. So while his ideals could be admirable, it could also be taken as a warning to be careful of who you allow to influence you. N, while misguided, is not portrayed as evil, though the company he keeps has influenced his thinking.

The importance of truth, not relative but absolute truth, is also portrayed positively in the final confrontation between you and N. It’s suggested that while idealism is a positive trait, it can lead you down the wrong road if those ideals are not grounded in truth.

*****************Spoiler End*******************

Conclusion

I was never much for Pokémon when it first came out. In fact, I outright hated it. Back in the day, if you even mentioned the series, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. I didn’t know anything about the series, but I knew I hated it and for many of the reasons that most object to even today. Then I decided to try the games out for myself and see what it was I really hated. I learned something then: sometimes all the controversy isn’t as warranted as most would think. I found myself a Pokémon fan, at least of the games anyway.

As a former hater, on the other hand, I can understand where most people are coming from when they still object to the series. There is a lot for parents to be concerned over, especially for impressionable kids.  The battles for fun and the nods to supernatural power certainly are worth mulling over before you get this game. Plus, the lines between right and wrong seemed a bit blurred in this title with the addition of Team Plasma. Previous titles saw outright criminals in Team Rocket and Team Galactic, but Plasma seems to fight for a worthy cause.  Team Plasma, for much of the game, presents itself as pursuing a good, even noble goal. I’d say that it’s worth noting that it seems the Pokémon series is delving into trickier areas.

However, all that aside, this is game that fans of the series will enjoy. Still, it might not be bad to keep your younger kids to earlier titles that didn’t blur the lines of morality so much, at least not right at the start.




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

About this game