One of the many things that makes Black and White versions stand out from its predecessors are their large amounts of version differences. Because of this, answering the typical “which version should I get?” question is not so easy. Like every version before them, some Pokemon are exclusive to either Black or White versions—but there is so much more to each version, which creates interesting similarities and contrasts as stark as black and white.
Another simple example of differences between Black and White versions is that in Black, there are more Rotation battles, which are one-on-one fights in which a trainer can switch between three different Pokemon without taking up a turn. White version, however, includes more Triple battles—3-on-3 fights similar to Double battles.
A more major difference between the two games lies in Unova itself—Opelucid City; and Black City and White Forest. Black version places an emphasis on more “modern” qualities, such as vast, expanding cities with enormous skyscrapers and the latest technology; while White version showcases more “traditional” ideas in the form of an old-styled town and an underdeveloped, natural forest. These differences can be likened to Ruby and Sapphire’s Team Magma and Team Aqua difference, as only one team is villainous in each game. But unlike Ruby and Sapphire, Black and White’s emphasis and contrast between modern expansion and old traditions expands deeply, adding a whole new layer of depth to the storyline present in Black and White.
If you combine the version-exclusive Pokemon with the “version-exclusive” emphasis on either modern-day growth or traditional simplicity, you end up with the two “mascot” Pokemon: Reshiram and Zekrom. To an old fan of the series, the decision to make Reshiram as Black version’s cover Pokemon, and Zekrom as White version’s, may seem a bit odd at first; traditionally, the cover Pokemon is a similar color or shade of the color, metal, or gem of the game’s title. Reshiram, despite gracing the cover of Black version, is white in color, while the black Zekrom strongly rests on the cover of White version. There is actually an economic reason for this: if a person has not heard of a certain game, but is, for example, looking through a store for something to buy, they will naturally be attracted to games with more appealing covers. Now imagine walking through a store and seeing…a white game cover. Or a black game cover. No contrast, nothing interesting to catch anyone’s eye. A black Pokemon on a black cover does not seem like such a good idea anymore, now does it?
But is that really the only reason why Game Freak made the decision to have Reshiram and Zekrom put on their respective version box art, to maximize on profit? Actually, that plays only a small role in their decision. In order to fully understand why, we must look at what Reshiram and Zekrom truly represent.
The simplest answer to this is Yin and Yang, with their third counterpart, Kyurem, representing Wuji, the absence of Yin and Yang. But that is not where our focus lies. Reshiram and Zekrom actually tie into the idea of contrasting modern-day expansion with traditional lifestyles: Reshiram has a fire generator on its tail, fire being the energy source of older times before the discovery of electricity; Zekrom’s tail generator produces electricity, the modern-day energy source.
Now you may be asking, “forest_snivy, if that’s the case, why isn’t Reshiram on the cover of White version? White version is the one with the focus on the past, not Black version,” and you would be quite justified in doing so. However, Pokemon Black and White versions have intricate plot lines that far surpass the stories of the previous versions. Because of this, the story is no longer a simple “focus on the player defeating the villainous team.” So what does this mean, exactly?
It means, N is just as important as you, and N is the one who receives the dragon corresponding to the version focus (either modern or traditional).
In other words, the Pokemon you receive is on the cover, and the Pokemon N receives is in the title: two heroes of equal importance.
One final difference between Black and White versions also lies with N, but relates to the key concept of contrast between modern-day and tradition. N has a good deal of dialogue within the games, but what not too many players notice is that is varies slightly depending on the version—and it is not just the simple change from “Reshiram” to “Zekrom.” At the Dragonspiral Tower, N will call upon his dragon, and describe Zekrom as powerful, and Reshiram as beautiful. It seems simple enough, but think to what the general view of modern-day expansion is: strength, power. Strong machines and powerful, daunting buildings. Simple, traditional rituals and lush, natural landscapes are seen as more earthly and beautiful.
But the major difference between N’s dialogue runs deep, and seems almost sad in a way. In Pokemon Black version, focusing on modern ideas, N speaks of searching for and creating his “truth,” while in White version he speaks of “ideals” against a backdrop of past-based ideas. To many people, the idea of modern expansion, while a scary truth, brings about war; and many would ideally like to return to more simple times, like in the past.
An interesting thing to take note of is that Concordia, a member of Team Plasma, can be spoken to in N’s Castle, but she says the opposite of what N says throughout the entire game: that in Black version, he is pursuing his ideals, and in White version he is pursuing the truth. It seems odd that N would say he pursues either truth or ideals, while Concordia says he pursues just the opposite. The reason for this is quite ambiguous, since the only Team Plasma members that are really given much focus throughout the game are N and Ghetsis. Because of this, it is difficult to say for sure what meaning Concordia’s words have; however, due to the lack of focus on her, it is safe to say that Concordia represents the people who view technological expansion and modern-day ways of life as good and ideal, and that our “truth” is that we still live in a world of traditions, with much more expansion yet to come and more technological improvements yet to be discovered. Another plausible reason for Concordia’s contradiction is that, like her namesake, she believes that truth and ideals, tradition and modern ways of living, can co-exist in harmony.
So, what is the difference between Black version and White version? It is obviously not an easy question to answer, but it is a worthwhile question that shows just how much thought went into Black and White from Game Freak. So what can we expect from future games? Will the hypothetical “third version” focus on Kyurem; and if Zekrom essentially represents “the present,” and Reshiram “the past,” does Kyurem represent “the future?” Does its lack of energy and deformed figure possibly represent an uncertain and desolate future after a nuclear war? At this point, it is almost impossible to say. What is for certain, however, is that the decision between Black and White versions will not be an easy one to make for many people, for it is not just a simple decision between one Pokemon and another—just as black and white are completely opposite shades, Black and White versions seem almost like completely different games. This great attention to version differences adds great amounts of charm to the games that some people would otherwise think do not deserve multiple versions.