Soundtrack to Pokémon Black 2 and White 2

Indulgence week, part the sixth: in with the new, but also in with the same old same old.

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Again, the failings of the soundtrack are writ large — but not large enough to ruin the experience of Black 2 and White 2, GameFreak's well-crafted and accessible sequel. The storyline feels like a natural extension, and is to be commended on its focus.

In the wake of their aborted coup, Team Plasma has now split into two dueling factions: one apologetic for the hurt they caused and attempting to redress their errors, the other bent on destroying the first and taking over the region. N has not been seen since the day of the dragons' confrontation, and rumours abound. This new splinter group successfully locates and enslaves the cast-off husk of Unova's original dragon from which the aforementioned two split, tapping into its power to freeze whole cities solid to leverage their demands, culminating in N's heroic returning to plead with them to regain their sanity. The trap sprung, his beloved dragon companion is forcibly fused with the husk, and it is up to the player to defeat the horrific abomination. This confrontation marks a watershed moment in the history of the Pokémon games. It is the first time a villain has attempted to outright murder the player, who narrowly escapes being impaled by enormous ballistic icicles. After striking down the rebellion in the depths of Route 13's Giant Chasm, the player should be celebrating, but is instead distracted by a familiar tune. It is exactly the same mystical musing they have already heard at Dragonspiral Tower, where it emboldened the player through a series of disorienting architectural puzzles. But here it just feels like a placeholder, as if someone simply forgot to implement the actual Giant Chasm theme.

Improvements were made to the region and the soundtrack, to be sure. Extensive upgrades were appended to Unova's uninspired hexagon, soundtracked excitingly and diversely, but the glut of dull tunes from the earlier games was left largely untouched. The happy lilting melody of the shiny new routes in the southwest is charming enough, but after crossing the sea to the mainland, the Castelia docks still harass the player with the same shrill faux-saxophone.

On the other hand, Black 2 and White 2 sidestep a common criticism of Pokémon games, namely a population completely oblivious to the earthshattering machinations of the local villains. These games are acutely aware that Unova is healing after an attempted hostile takeover. Its citizens are rightly suspicious of any strange goings-on, stymying the atonement of Plasma's contrite faction, and necessitating the headquartering of the other aboard a secret flying totally badass pirate ship. The original path to the Pokémon League as well as the whole of Route 10 are now inaccessible, buried under landslides. A new Victory Road has been sluiced through the mountains in the northeast, twisting through the collapsed ruins of N's once-magnificent castle. It's a sobering late-game reminder (for the player and the people of Unova alike) of how far Team Plasma was willing to go to achieve their goals.

Among improvements made to the soundtrack is the reworking of the rousing theme that played identically within every gym to match the personality of each locale. A slinky, slithery arrangement accompanies the climb through the threads and cocoons of Castelia's bug-type gym. To the north in Nimbasa, you must challenge a gauntlet of models strutting along a catwalk to the screams of an adoring crowd, barely audible over the pounding synth-strobed club mix. When leaping across lilypads and lotuses in Humilau's aquatic zen garden, a correspondingly soothing loop of chilled-out guitar and relaxed vibraphone keeps you level-headed. Credit where it is due: this is a clever idea, and it's a crying shame GameFreak shelved it after a single release. But when stepping out of Nimbasa's club with a shiny new badge to your name, you are still assaulted with the same overcaffeinated horn section utterly failing in its attempts to be cheery.

The optional Pokémon World Tournament established in place of the Driftveil port's cold storage (has shipping to and from Unova declined so much that such a facility is economically unviable?) allows the player to battle all the gym leaders and league champions that existed, and their battle themes were all reworked accordingly. Veterans are sure to appreciate this little jolt of nostalgia, but leaving the arena to advance the plot means trudging through the odd pentatonic riffs broadcast across the city. Echoes of the Japanese influences incorporated in past games are strangely out of place here, unmoored, unsupported by any local architecture or characters.

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 are solid achievements in sequel writing and moving forward from past mistakes. The faults of the soundtrack are less abject, and detract from but do not ruin an engaging and worthwhile pair of games.