Setting is, obviously, one of the most important aspects of fictional media. A setting is what can separate two stories from being seemingly identical. What is Star Wars without that galaxy far, far away or Lord of the Rings without Middle Earth? Locales are as much characters as the cast. Pokémon is no different. Each generation, clearly much work is put into bringing to life the world the monsters and their trainers inhabit. Before I move forward to talk about the setting of Pokémon Black and White; Isshu, I’ll take a moment to look back on the evolution of setting in the Pokémon games since the beginning.
I’m committing a cardinal sin and faulting the original games on something: Kanto was a bland region. There is little to spice the generic towns and cities up aside from a few unique areas such as Pokémon Mansion and Pokémon Tower, though to be fair this can be blamed largely on the limited capabilities of the Game Boy. Gold and Silver later remedied Kanto’s blandness by having a blackout put half the region out of power and having a volcano eruption decimate Cinnabar Island and the Fuschia City coastline. With the improved graphical capabilities of the Game Boy Color, Gold and Silver brought us the much more interesting Johto region; filled with ruins, lakes, icy caves, lighthouses, and other landmarks not seen in the first game, making the rural and forested Johto region a very distinct setting from the industrial and urban Kanto.
Move forward to the hyper eco-friendly region of Hoenn, with many towns built seamlessly into the natural environments they inhabit. While I still found Johto to be the more interesting region, Hoenn definitely holds the prize for the most imaginative region. Nothing in Generation IV compares to the likes of Fortree City, Pacifidlog Town, and Sootopolis City. Sinnoh I like to place only above Kanto overall. It has a few interesting features such as Snowpoint City, Mt. Coronet, and the ever cool Sunyshore City, though overall I feel it simply wasn’t as imaginative as the Hoenn region had been. These are simply my own opinions though, and feel free to start a flamewar in the discussion thread about which ones you think were the best instead.
Now we look forward to the setting of Pokémon Black and White: the Isshu region. We’ve seen a few locations in screenshots, and it has been described as being very far away from the other 4 regions, very technologically advanced, and quite different in appearance geography wise compared to the settings to come before it. The statement of it being far away from the others is an interesting comment. It’s common knowledge that all of the handheld games’ locales are based on places in Japan, but if Isshu is indeed far away from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh, could it possibly not be based on a region in Japan at all? It wouldn’t be the first, after all the hellish Orre region of Pokémon Colosseum and XD were based on the state of Arizona. Perhaps Isshu is to the west, and could be based on Shanghai or Hong Kong. Or, to the east! Those skyscrapers of Hiun City almost look evocative of Toronto or perhaps Seattle and the desert lying north of the city could be evocative of Californian metropolises.
One more thing I’d like to touch on about Isshu is something particularly brilliant revealed: the region will be different between the two versions, featuring different aesthetics and exclusive areas. White version will have more rural looking towns and cities, and has an exclusive area known as White Forest. Black on the other hand has more urbanized looking areas and has an exclusive area known as Black City. Kudos to you GameFreak for finally making version differences that go beyond a few Pokémon and which mascot Legend you catch.
If early screenshots and videos are any indicator, GameFreak is outdoing themselves with the Isshu region. I’m feeling optimistic Isshu will be just as vibrant and interesting as any of the regions before it. No adventure is complete without a place to adventure in, and this looks like it will fit the bill.