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.

Building Bridges

Nimbasa City can be considered the place where Unova splits, or as the place where its two halves converge. In either case, it’s a significant city indeed, as the three characters closest to you will have chance encounters here that will change the course of their futures forever. For one, this convergence will lead to deviation from their original path. For another, their meeting keeps them on the same path, although the path itself is still not quite clear. And for another still, the paths affected are unchanged, yet at once both entirely different and one and the same.

We begin with Bianca, who takes the opportunity to see Nimbasa’s spectacular sights. Not only will it be great fun, but it may even give her ideas of what she might want to do with her life. After a quick dress-up session in the Musical Theater, however, there’s some commotion—just outside, Bianca’s father has finally caught up to her. A somber, melancholic piano melody begins. Bianca’s father demands she return home, and Bianca, for the first time ever, stands up for herself, defying his wishes entirely.

As strings move in to accompany the piano, amidst the conflict a voice cuts through: “Sweetie, you keep going on your travels.” Bianca’s father is furious that a stranger would get involved in a family matter, but much like Bianca, the woman doesn’t back down—this is Elesa, the Nimbasa City Gym Leader whom you’ve heard so much about from NPCs throughout the region. Elesa admits that because there are many different people and different ways of thinking, it’s possible to end up getting hurt when going off on your own, and that’s precisely what Bianca’s father is worried about. But Elesa assures him that this is exactly why it’s so important to go out and see the world, so that one can discover themselves and what makes them different from everyone else—and that those differences are okay. Bianca steps up once again. She tells her father that she knows there will be pain, and it’s true. You’ve already seen her experience it. But there will be people around to help her, too—not just her childhood friends, but people like Iris, Burgh, and now even Elesa who will lend a helping hand when they see someone in need, all while granting her the chance to grow stronger.

At this, her father admits to changing his mind after hearing what Elesa had to say—people with differing opinions listening to one another to learn and grow, with no need for battle. Bridges have been built between the most unlikely of people through a chance encounter, and because Bianca has built bridges with many people along the way, her heart no longer wavers. As Bianca is finally free to continue her journey with approval from her father, you all go your separate ways.

Curious about Team Plasma, you may head towards the amusement park. Past the entrance archway is the mysterious N. He knows you seek Team Plasma and says they ran further in. He leads you all the way to the Rondez-View Ferris Wheel and suggests riding it to see if Team Plasma can be spotted from up high. As you both board and the cart makes its way into the cloud-littered sky, N speaks to you bluntly: “I am the king of Team Plasma.” The confirmation that N is not only a member of Team Plasma, but their king—the king whom Ghetsis claimed he and the other sages served back in Castelia City—is sudden and, for some, perhaps a bit obvious. But its impact hits like a truck. Speaking to you one-on-one in the little Ferris wheel cart, N divulges to you and only you his role in Team Plasma’s plot. He is laying the foundation of a bridge between you both.

As you land, the grunts arrive, relieved that their king is safe. Because these grunts were “brought in to help [Team Plasma] save the Pokémon,” N will protect them as well—and challenges you to a battle to allow them time to escape. N is a king who places himself on the frontlines, willing to protect his subjects in the name of Pokémon liberation just as Pokémon put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of their Trainers during battle. During your battle, N mumbles to himself that “Your Pokémon look happy.” If they do indeed look happy, why would N want to separate us? This hints at N’s reasons for revealing his true identity to you: he sees something in you that he does not see in anyone else. The slightest glimmer of a hint that perhaps, given enough time, N may in fact change his beliefs thanks to his encounters with you.

After defeating him, he approaches you to explain, as plainly as possible, what he intends to do to free all the Pokémon from their Trainers:

“I’ll defeat the Champion and become unbeatable, unlike any other! I’ll make all Trainers free their Pokémon! Just try and stop me! If you want to be together with Pokémon, your only hope is to collect the Badges from each area and head for the Pokémon League! Try and stop me there, if you dare!”

He leaves one last word—that your conviction must be ironclad in order to defeat him—before he departs. For the first time in Pokémon series history, the Gym challenge is a necessary component of the narrative. In order to defeat the evil team, players must succeed in acquiring all the badges and emerge victorious at the Pokémon League. And players have recently witnessed firsthand just how much influence a Gym Leader holds, managing to convince Bianca’s stubborn father to let her continue her adventures. Imagine, then, just how much influence the Champion holds—if N becomes Champion himself, he will surely succeed in his plan to convince the people of Unova to release their Pokémon. If you weren’t already encouraged to tackle the Gyms, you certainly are now.

Naturally, there’s only one thing left to do: challenge the Gym Leader, Elesa. Her Gym doubles as a roller coaster in the amusement park, so people can enjoy high-speed rides and high-octane battles. One excursion through the dizzying drive later and you’re face to face with Elesa, whose two Emolga’s Volt Switch shenanigans can also leave your head spinning. Although the guide at the start of the Gym reassures you that Ground is effective against Electric, Elesa’s two Emolga are immune, leaving players to really consider not just the Gym’s primary type, but the way that type interacts and synthesizes with others—a synthesis similar to the one found between any two unlike things joining together to create something better.

Players who overcome this obstacle are given the Bolt Badge and are free to progress further on their journey. Elesa cheekily muses that you’re off to Driftveil City next because there’s a Gym there, but you remember that there’s more to the Gym challenge than just earning the chance to battle the League this time around: you’re on a mission to stop Team Plasma. Elesa asks you to wait for her on the route leading to Driftveil, Route 5. The drawbridge is up and needs lowering, and Elesa will be helping you get across.

But when you get to Route 5, Cheren is right on your heels. He now has his own Bolt Badge and wants to challenge you to see who among the two of you is stronger, as per usual. And you win, as per usual. Elesa approaches you after the battle and remarks that by competing with each other—even as friends—you’re both helping each other improve, which is absolutely correct. No matter how much the rival loses to the player, that loss allows the story to progress and subsequently moves the rival towards a stronger team. And the player gains literal experience from each battle won. While Cheren has difficulty coming to terms with continually losing against you, these battles benefit him and the player both.

As Elesa leads you towards the bridge, a figure stands out in the gathered crowd—an older man with flaming red hair and a unique garb who recognizes Elesa, not unlike how all the Gym Leaders know each other. This man has his own theme song, a beautiful melody of flutes encapsulating a breeze that carries both joy and sorrow fluttering above active strings and drums. Now that Bianca’s story has ended—although as a result her journey has really just begun—players are now introduced to the Champion of Unova, Alder. This is the person N will be looking to defeat in order to achieve his goals.

But Cheren is not amused. “Why would the Champion be goofing off in a place like this?” he asks after Elesa introduces them.

Alder dismisses the remark and calls Cheren quite judgmental. When Cheren introduces himself in return, he makes note that his goal is to become Champion himself. Alder finds traveling with a goal to be commendable, but still questions Cheren: “What do you plan to do after becoming the Champion?”

We know of another person who wants to become Champion—N. And we know what he will do after achieving that goal: decree that everyone in the Unova region release their Pokémon. He has a plan that goes beyond himself, and the strength he fights for is for the sake of his Pokémon friends—of all the Pokémon in the region.

Cheren, on the other hand, is simply confused by Alder’s interrogation. “What else is there other than striving to become stronger?”

Alder considers Cheren’s response, but still pushes him. “Becoming stronger … Is that alone enough of a goal?” Before Cheren can respond, Alder clarifies, “It’s not that I’m trying to say your way of thinking is wrong… In my travels, I’ve helped many people learn to love Pokémon. I think that’s important, too.” Yet this upsets Cheren by going against what he knows—the bridge Cheren thought existed between himself and Alder has crumbled, and the bridge built in its place is currently extremely shaky.

Before crossing your next bridge, Cheren remains steadfast in his mindset. “What I am is a Trainer,” he says. “I prove I’m right by getting stronger and winning in battle—even against the Champion.” He leaves to cross the bridge first, leaving you behind to think on his words. Although Cheren has been entirely dismissive of Team Plasma, their methods are the same: in the world of Pokémon, winning in battle is how you “prove you’re right.” That would mean by defeating the Champion, you are more “right” than anyone else. This logic is what will allow N to achieve his goals if he were to become Champion, but what about Cheren, who now questions what the Champion has told him?

The music on the Driftveil Drawbridge is somber, just periodic piano and bells, giving you time to reflect on all that has happened on your journey so far. Helicopters pass overhead and ships can be heard sailing nearby, life moving on despite the turbulence brewing. Cheren, who has been made to question his path. Bianca, who is now free to continue on her path, even though it’s not yet well-defined. And you and N, both on the same path as before—and on the same path as each other—yet with different destinations entirely.

In Nimbasa and its immediate surroundings, the story branches just as Unova does. Yet it also converges, as you all must cross this bridge.