Part II: The Chapters of Unova

For the anniversary of the release of Pokémon Black and White, we continue our tribute to the games. Part II focuses on the main storyline and its synthesis of narrative and gameplay.

Establishing Strong Foundations

Your first Gym battle is just over the horizon—the Striaton City Gym, with three individual Gym Leaders. You’ll challenge the one whose type specialty is advantageous over your chosen first partner Pokémon. It feels as though this Gym could have taken advantage of Triple or Rotation Battles, the new battle styles introduced in Black and White, but that would force the player to capture and train three or more Pokémon at this very early stage of the game. Not only does that force a specific playstyle upon players, but with Black and White‘s experience system—which scales lower the higher your Pokémon’s level is—training many Pokémon this early on would prove to be a huge inconvenience. Instead, by opting for a single battle against the Gym Leader who is advantageous against your starter, players are still given an appropriate challenge while new Trainers can learn about type advantages. You’re simultaneously rewarded for exploring, as players who visit the nearby Dreamyard may receive a Pokémon there whose type trumps the Gym Leader they will face, as well as boasting an Ability that works in tandem with the berries Cheren will have recently gifted you.

Whether players visit the Dreamyard prior to their Gym battle or not, Fennel, a researcher and Juniper’s friend from college, requests they head in that direction after earning the Trio Badge to get some mist from a Munna. She grants you the Hidden Machine for Cut, as a small tree is blocking the way further in. This is the only time in the entire game that an HM move is required for progression, and any of the elemental monkeys can learn it, giving the gift simian another special role. Although HMs can only be forgotten through the Move Deleter later, the monkeys will never learn a stronger Normal-type move naturally, so players who want to keep the monkey on their team can afford to teach it Cut for now.

For new players, this entire scenario is the most unobtrusive tutorial they could ask for, and all-in-all is the most seamless the series has ever seen. All at once players are rewarded for exploring and talking to NPCs, and learn about type advantages, held items, Abilities, and HMs’ use on the overworld. As HMs will never be required again after this, it is in fact important that players new to Pokémon are given the opportunity to try them out for themselves—because from here on out, players are on their own.

After you and Bianca encounter Team Plasma Grunts in the Dreamyard and stop them from harming a Munna, Fennel invites the player back to her house while Bianca stays behind, intent on finding a Munna of her own. Back at her house, the researcher provides the player with the C-Gear, the precursor to X and Y‘s PSS. Online and multiplayer communication now opens up to the player, and they are free to leave Striaton towards Route 3.

After an unavoidable double battle, Cheren catches up to you—he’s earned the Trio Badge as well, and would like to compare his progress against yours. After your clash, a duo of Team Plasma Grunts rush past, with Bianca and a little child struggling to catch up. Those grunts stole this little girl’s Pokémon! Cheren takes the opportunity to rush ahead, while Bianca stays behind to comfort the girl. After her own encounter with Team Plasma, Bianca takes a backseat to give Cheren the opportunity to confront them. This back-and-forth continues throughout the entire game. Instead of every character being involved in every scene, each character has the chance to grow considerably and at their own pace, without stepping on each other’s toes. Your friends step in only when absolutely necessary, making sure events don’t take longer than they need to, and all occurrences are meaningful.

You and Cheren manage to catch up to the troublesome group inside the Wellspring Cave. After sweeping up one of the grunts, two more appear and the player has their first multi battle alongside Cheren—a natural progression from the mandatory double battle earlier on Route 3. After their loss, the grunts take the opportunity to say that Trainers like us “are making Pokémon suffer.” As such, Team Plasma must do whatever it takes to liberate them—even if it means stealing from the weak.

Cheren takes the retrieved Pokémon back to the young girl and leaves you to your own devices. Plenty of exploration opportunities arise as the route weaves behind trees and dives southward, introducing dark tall grass. In the darker grass, wild Pokémon are stronger and may even jump you in a double battle like the ones you just had with various Trainers. Observant players might see rippling waves upon the water. Although they can’t inspect them any closer for the time being, they can traverse rustling grass they find in the meantime, giving them an idea of what they’ll be able to find later when they have a way to cross the water.

Without so much as a “hello,” Cheren practically drags you out from the gate once you enter Nacrene City. He shows you where the Pokémon Center is and gifts you some more berries. While he may not have defeated you in battle yet, he can still fall back on his knowledge. He even knows a Normal-type Gym Leader is up next, so Fighting-types will be of use. Whether you head over to the Pinwheel Forest exterior or go directly to the Gym, you aren’t able to see the Gym Leader Lenora right away. The mysterious young man N steps out of the Gym just as you’re about to enter.

He says he wants to see things no one can see, which sounds awkward but may be possible, considering he already claims he can hear things no one can hear—the voices of Pokémon. Specifically, he wants to see “a future where Pokémon have become perfect.” He challenges you to a battle to see if you’re capable of seeing this future, too. His lone Purrloin from not too long ago is completely absent, and he instead fights alongside a team of Pokémon from the nearby routes. After his defeat, N utters the name of a legendary Pokémon—”The legendary Pokémon that, along with the hero, created the Unova region. It’s my turn to become that hero—and [the dragon] and I will be friends!” N’s goals are quickly established, giving him ample time to develop as the rest of the game unfolds. At this, he leaves westward.

When you finally enter the Nacrene Gym, Lenora’s husband Hawes gives you a quick tour of the museum entrance. He cleverly only introduces you to the more relevant exhibitions—a dragon skeleton, a meteorite, and an “ordinary old stone”—although you can check out the rest at your leisure if you please. As ordinary as that stone is, you can’t help but feel it will play a crucial role in the future, and that dragon skeleton commands quite the attention. The meteorite holds no narrative purpose but a mechanical one: if players come across a Deoxys, a Mythical Pokémon from previous generations, this meteorite allows it to change between its different formes. After exploring the museum and library, players are free to challenge Lenora, whose team cleverly works around Fighting-types by starting off with an Attack-dropping Intimidate Herdier. Gym Leaders’ teams use clever strategies that keep the challenge reasonable without making the game feel inaccessible.

Once you’ve earned the Basic Badge, Hawes runs in, shaking. Team Plasma is trying to steal the skull from the dragon skeleton! You, Lenora, Cheren, Bianca, and a new character—a Gym Leader called Burgh—swiftly split up in search of Team Plasma. You and Burgh tackle the Pinwheel Forest interior. After some contention in the circuitous woods, you manage to retrieve the Dragon Skull from a grunt and one of Team Plasma’s “Seven Sages”—of which Ghetsis himself is a part—and return it to Lenora. Exiting the forest, players step onto their first major bridge: the Skyarrow Bridge. Looping around and connecting the more suburban cities to the major Castelia, a swooping dynamic camera gives players a thorough look all around them at the vast river, surrounding forest, traveling trucks and ships, and a sneak peek at the upcoming city. Thus far, Black and White have been establishing a strong foundation, both narratively and in terms of game design. Now, the Castelia City skyline looms overhead, ushering in the next major segment of your adventure. Welcome to mainland Unova.