In each Pokémon game since the original, there is some organization of criminals who are trying to capture Pokémon for nefarious purposes—mainly world domination. But in the original Black and White, we have Team Plasma, whose goal is to free all Pokémon from their trainers.
On one level, Pokémon battles can be looked at as a glorified version of non-lethal dog fighting. After all, humans train these generally peaceful animals to fight—and win fame and fortune for it. So right off the bat an argument against animal cruelty could be used to support Team Plasma's actions.
Of course, that view discounts the game-changing fact that Pokémon have language. And I don't just mean language between those of the same species. It seems that all Pokémon understand English to some degree (or else how could you command them in battle) and, moreover, some of them are even capable of learning and speaking English. At that point—the point where you can truly communicate with
them—they are no longer intelligent pets; they are people. They are people that you catch in the wild, trap in a tiny cage, and force to fight for your amusement.
This is what Team Plasma is trying to stop—not animal cruelty but the enslavement of a race of people.
But Pokémon battles are the least of what Pokémon do in the human world: The entire world's economy is based on them. They are everything from nurses' aides to miners, actors to construction workers. Sure, humans often work alongside their Pokémon, but there's one major difference: humans can quit and return home whenever they want.
In the original Black and White, Team Plasma is run by a teenaged boy named "N." Raised alongside Pokémon who had been abused in their captivity, he wants nothing more than to free
all Pokémon from their bondage and return them to the wild. To do this, he sends Team Plasma from town to town, asking people to give up their Pokémon voluntarily. And when this fails, he seeks to become the Pokémon champion (though his Pokémon are volunteers that he releases after each battle) and strives to befriend a legendary Pokémon in the hope of becoming famous enough to convince the masses to free their slaves.
So N is clearly the good guy of this story, right? He seeks, through peaceful means, to free an entire race from slavery—though, admittedly some of his underlings' motives/actions are not so pure.
And where does your character come in? Are you the Malcolm X to his Martin Luther King, Jr.—taking a more violent path to free the Pokémon? Hell no. You are the one trying to stop him. And as N is undoubtedly a hero by pretty much any definition of the word, then you must be the villain of the story.
Oh sure, your character claims that his/her Pokémon are friends, not slaves (and your Pokémon agree). But honestly, when was the last time you forced your friends to live inside a little ball you wore on your belt and only allowed them to come out when you needed them to fight. Just because slaves are happy being slaves doesn't mean they aren't slaves.
In any other game N would be the hero—and probably the player character—but in Black and White, I got to watch my well-meaning (but still villainous) character slowly corrupt N and convince him that slavery is okay if we're not bad masters. It was horrible, terrible—and an utterly fantastic twisting of morality.
Though you may not agree with my interpretation of the characters, I loved that Black and White had enough moral ambiguity to allow me to interpret the game that way. So I was definitely looking forward to more of the same in Black and White 2.
What I got, on the other hand, was a new Team Plasma whose new goal is not the freedom of Pokémon but to…
...take over the world.
Well, it was nice while it lasted.
Pokémon White Version 2 and Pokémon Black Version 2 were released for the DS on June 23, 2012 in Japan and will be released in North America on October 7, 2012 (October 12 for PAL). Stay tuned to Kotaku East for our import preview next week.