So you're on board with Pokemon battling. Even if you don't plan on becoming the worlds #1 Pokemon master of all time, you still need to learn quite a large set of complexities. If you access the Professor's PC on the terminal at your local Pokemon Center, you'll receive some helpful gameplay tips. The following are my tips on how to get more enjoyment out of your Pokemon B/W experience.
Set yourself Butterfree!
A Wealth of Complexities
If you only stay inside of the game for your entire Pokemon experience you're not doing it right. I advise the same approach that I devised as a 12 year old, which is to use as many Poke-sources as you can to expose yourself to different ideas and Pokemon. You must take on the attitude that there are no spoilers. When I see a Pokemon on the TV show, I learn about its general type and move set. When I see a Pokemon in a competitive battle, I learn how it can be used effectively. When I encounter a wild Pokemon in the game, I look up additional information online. When someone tells me about a particular Pokemon I ask him/her questions. There's simply too much to learn to try to get it all from the game alone, which doesn't do the best job explaining all of its mechanics and features.
Let's look at the Pokemon Pikachu on the serebii.net page. Almost every bit of data on this page is useful, but not to all players at all times. The best way to learn what the data means is in context. And as I've been explaining, battling is the best kind of context in the game. Honestly, if I can't use a piece of information to help me battle now, then I don't even want to think about it.
Learning is hard enough. Learning is slow. And learning is also highly efficient when powered by genuine motivation and challenges that create clear context (situated meaning). As you know from the first part of this article series, I'm quite a Pokefan. Yet, can you believe that I didnt' even know the Pokemon type matchups well until recently. And this is after 4 generations of playing through the RPG games. It wasn't until I set my sights for a higher level of battling that I began to really learn how to play. It took me 13 hours into Pokemon B/W until I looked up the matchup chart. Until about 14 hours of gameplay I completely ignored the stat summary pages of my team. 15 hours in I started to pay close attention to how much my stats changed per Pokemon as they leveled up. And at 20 hours, I completely restructured my team to develop more powerful strategies.
I needed the resources, the community, and the inspiration to accelerate my growth. With these things I not only learned faster, but the knoweldge helped me make the game easier. This brings us to the topic of difficulty.
The issue of Pokemon B/W's difficulty is a complex one. Many have claimed that the main campaign is and always has been too easy. They claim that they steam roll through all of the battles in the game by spamming powerful attacks from their starter Pokemon. The reality is Pokemon is an RPG, which allows for players to over level their Pokemon to make challenges easier. Along with the free use of items, it's easy to eventually beat the main campaign. I've seen 10 year olds brute force their way through the game like this. Because levels make a big difference in battle, victory is never farther away than a player is willing to grind.
With that said, I hate grinding about as much as I hate battle systems with dominant attack-attack-heal tactics. Grinding is the worst when it's mandatory to gain levels to overcome obstacles by using repetitive, low level tactics. In other words, it's like doing a lot of work to be able to turn you mind off until you achieve victory.
Fortunately, Pokemon B/W is designed in such a way that makes grinding completely unnecessary. There's a catch, though. The trick is understanding the dynamic between strategy and RPG; or should I say playing to all the different interplay systems versus playing the brute numbers game. The smarter you play, the less raw numbers you need behind your, and visa versa. Consider two things that we know about the Pokemon battle system; it's deep and incredibly varied. Put another way, there is no linear, predictable, determined way to win battles. With such a design you can trust if you start shaping your team in one way that, if you're skilled enough, you'll be able to create a successful strategy. You'll never have a moment where you're halfway through building your team and realize "Oh no, fire Pokemon are completely useless. I wasted my time investing in Charizard!"
The more knowledge you have of the battle system the more flexibility you can use in your strategies. Even being underleveled is no insurmountable challenge. Think outside the attack-attack-heal box, study a few online strategies, or perhaps seek some advice from your friends, and you never have to worry about grinding. If you don't believe how powerful strategy is check out this video of a player defeating one of the strongest trainers in the game with all level 1 Pokemon! (note: the commentary refers to these techniques as flaws, which they are not).
Why level? Well, if you only play against people in person using the IR communications, you're in luck. There are options that automatically level up/down all Pokemon to 50. So it's not necessary to level up your Pokemon to compete. You might want to level up your Pokemon so that they learn specific attacks. But for the most part, a few TMs or HMs can instantly make a Pokemon a viable part of your team strategy.
If you play online, the options are less generous. For some reason, which I'll discuss in more detail in part 6, the developers have removed the feature that levels up your Pokemon to 100 when battling online. So now, to play people from around the world on the same level you have to invest some time in leveling up. So depending on the types of battles you'll participate in, the following information should be of great interest to you.
There are many subtle and no so subtle features and options available that greatly influence how many experience points your Pokemon will receive and therefore how much, if any, grinding you must do.
- Some Pokemon gain experience, or grow, a lot faster than others. In Pokemon B/W the starter Pokemon all gain experience very slowly. This is because players tend to keep their starters throughout the whole game. This features keeps their levels from out racing all other Pokemon. So for all the players who think they're so good and the Pokemon games are too easy because they only use their starter Pokemon throughout, this feature makes the game a bit harder.
- Fighting a wild Pokemon doesn't give you much experience. However, fighting a trainer Pokemon gives you 1.5x the points the Pokemon would give you in the wild!
- When defeating higher level Pokemon, you gain more experience points the wider the level gap. This is a fantastic new feature added in Pokemon B/W. This means if you ever fall behind in levels (because you skipped all random battles with max repels perhaps you will catch back up because of the rubber band effect.
- Traded Pokemon get 1.5x experience boost. With boosted experience from traded Pokemon, it's a good idea to find someone to trade with, trade often (even for the same Pokemon), and trade permanently.
- Internationally traded Pokemon get a 2.0x experience boost instead of the 1.5x trade boost. This is a bit harder to achieve without using the in game Pokemon Global Trade Station. It's like eBay. You search for a Pokemon you want. If you find an offer and have the Pokemon they want, you can trade for it.
- Pokemon holding a lucky egg get a 1.5x experience boost. Yes, these boosts do stack with the trade boosts. About half way through the main campaign players are given this item free of charge.
- Experience Point Share is an item that spreads the exp from the winning Pokemon around to others. Using this item saves time and keeps the weaker Pokemon safe.
- The Pokemon Day Care raises your Pokemon based on the number of steps you take. They charge for their service, but it isn't much. The up side is all of this leveling happens completely in the background of your normal gameplay.
- With your C-Gear turned on, as most palyers do by default, your game world is open for other players to enter and run missions. Some missions allow players to give you a special EXP boosting Pass Powers that lasts for 30 minutes. The boost is about 1.5x-3x, but you can stack then on top of each other and the previously mentioned boosts. If you aren't lucky enough to depend on the generosity of strangers, then you can enter other games and earn points to buy your own boosts. Plus, if you boost yourself the boosting power is wirelessly projected to any nearby players. So, hang out in groups and power up!
- If you find yourself underleveled, there's always the option of catching new Pokemon. The wild Pokemon increase in level throughout the game. Sometimes they're an even higher level than your team! Using these Pokemon requires you to rework your team. If you're set in your ways, then deal with the consequences of inflexibility.
Put it all together, and you can gain about 50+ levels in a single trainer battle! Of course I tested this. I traded for a Canadian Sandile, gave it Exp. Share, handed my lucky egg to my Mewtwo (traded up from Fire Red to Diamond to Black) and marched through a single battle in the Elite Four. In just a few minutes Sandile leveled up to 48 and evolved. If the worst parts about grinding are the lack of intellectual stimulation and large time commitments, then certainly these Pokemon B/W features have nullified these drawbacks.
So the difficulty of the main campaign of Pokemon B/W is highly flexible and largely dependent on player skill. This is not so unique of a quality. I could say the same for many games, but not many RPGs. Also unlike other RPGs, it's notable how little players are punished for losing battles in Pokemon B/W. Ultimately, the most you lose from losing is a bit of money and travel time. All the experience and items you gain are still with you when the game moves your location back to the last Pokemon Center you visited. And considering that the non-battle puzzles have been simplified or otherwise removed from the game compared to previous titles in the series, beating Pokemon is both easier and harder than before depending on your playstyle and skill level.
I will say that without the help from the internet and various communities both local and online my experience with Pokemon Black would not have been nearly as enjoyable. I would have had more frustrations, unanswered questions, and less inspiration. Pokemon B/W is such a massive game that you must be tapped into some kind of external source of information or support. And if you don't focus on battling the rest of the game may seem quite lackluster. Honestly, I love the way the game looks and the scope of the world. But if you think about all the ways you interact outside of battle, the imagination, complexity, and variation pale in comparison to battling.
In part 6 we'll look at repairing the Pokemon RPG. As much as I love Pokemon B/W, it's not perfect.