Back in the days of the mid-2000’s, Pokémon was in a bit of a slump. Pokémania had tapered off after the second generation and was unable to really reach the same highs with the third, so with the release of the Nintendo DS came a new opportunity to strike big. The growing audience for gaming thanks to Nintendo’s push into the “Blue Ocean” gave Pokémon Diamond and Pearl a sporting chance to reach many more newcomers than ever before. But that was 2006/2007, we’re now in an age of unparalleled popularity for the series and the time has come for the remakes of the fourth generation, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, to once again make their mark. Welcome back to the world of Sinnoh, may your adventures begin!
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
Developed by ILCA/Game Freak
Published by Nintendo
Released: 19th November 2021
Digital copy for Pokémon Shining Pearl provided by Nintendo UK
Pokémon really shouldn’t need an introduction at this point. They are RPGs revolving around the catching and raising of creatures known as Pokémon and using them to battle others, opening the world up for more opportunities to find new species of Pokémon along the way. Battles take the form of a turn based system with various moves of a corresponding type, such as fire or water, which have effectiveness based on the type of Pokémon they are used against. Pokémon can level up by battling and potentially evolve into new forms. Landmarks known as Pokémon Gyms are scattered across a region, which grant you a badge upon beating the leader. Collecting all the badges will give you access to the Pokémon League, where four very powerful trainers and a champion await you. Most mainline Pokémon games follow this formula and it has stood the test of time, even if it’s rather formulaic by 2021.
Now, the original Diamond and Pearl (hereby abbreviated to DP for convenience) were the first mainline titles to hit the DS. They had a style referred to as “chibi”, with superdeformed characters in an overworld that adopt more natural proportions when entering a battle. These remakes chose to keep this chibi style of visuals, unlike more recent titles with normal proportions throughout, which may not be for everyone. It is certainly very kid-friendly, and also nostalgic for anyone who played the game back in the day, but might be jarring for anyone who’s been playing since the Sun and Moon days. It may come off as a little unusual that we don’t have any full 3D reimaginings akin to how Sword and Shield are presented, but the crew at ILCA have done a fine enough job at creating an endearing style.
The overworld has you moving around on a grid-based, top-down perspective which is fairly similar to how the remake of A Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is presented. You have a solid amount of freedom to move about, sixteen different axis options compared to the original DP’s four. The D-pad can also be used, but is ill-advised as it can only be used to move in four directions like in the originals. Autorun has also been enabled, meaning that if you hold the stick fully in any direction you will run, but tilting it slightly makes you walk instead. This is much nicer than having to hold down a button at all times to run like in the originals. That being said, if you choose to use the D-pad, you still have the option of holding down B to run. Various scripted sequences and cutscenes still operate on the rigid pathing of the original, leading to fairly stiff scenes. It would’ve been nice if they had been reworked to flow better with the new movement options.
In battle, the perspective shifts and everything takes on the regular proportions as I mentioned earlier. Here, things look much better, with a clean and simple art style matching the overworld. In fact, despite spending most of your time staring at Pokémon duking it out, the trainers are actually rather endearing. They each have their own intro and outro animations with each battle, and some of them give you an excellent idea behind the personalities they may have. Some favourites of mine include several Gym Leaders, the Pokémon Breeders and Cowgirls, who have very expressive animations.
While the art is very clean and simple, it can be a little too basic and often lacking in finer detail. Sometimes the games insist on doing closeups of all the characters during some scenes, which looks really awkward with the simplified models and low resolution textures on them. This isn’t even remotely an issue during normal gameplay, as the camera is always panned far enough away to where everything looks absolutely fine, but when it decides it wants to shove the camera up in someone’s face, the pixelated textures really stand out. The dynamic camera angles do stop things from feeling static in these cutscenes, but there needn’t be such a need to go up so close to where the illusion is broken.
As far as changes to the originals go, many quality of life additions from newer titles have been brought in. You can access the PC boxes from anywhere (though they’re restricted inside gyms), there’s a quick Pokéball button during wild encounters, you can use a repel immediately upon one wearing off, and so on. The Poketch, or Pokémon Watch, has been altered to both improve on the original concept and also have it make sense on a single screen. It’s now a device you can toggle on with the R button, where it originally occupied the entire bottom screen on the DS, another tap of R to put it in focus, and put away by holding down R. It’s displayed on the top right corner of the screen and shows the currently active app. In handheld, you can physically touch the Poketch, which is a neat touch, while docked you have to move a cursor around with the left stick. It’s interesting to see the Poketch now in 2021, fifteen years after the original DS titles, as smart watches are very much a part of society now.
The ability to use HM moves through the Poketch, where a wild Pokémon comes forward to use the move for you, is certainly a welcome addition, but at the same time it somewhat trivialises some barriers. While it certainly saves a lot of headaches in the long run, there’s no longer any thought put into carefully choosing which Pokémon you wish to have an HM, and ensuring you have them on hand to handle any barriers as they come about. Any shortcuts on your travels used to be rewards for planning ahead, but now they can just be taken at any time. You can see where Game Freak steadily phased out such obstacles once they started shifting away from HMs.
The Grand Underground is an expanded upon version of the original underground features of the original games. Things that remain the same include the general premises, from making secret bases to digging for various items. By digging in select walls scattered across the underground, where you can use a small pickaxe and a large sledgehammer to break through segments of the walls, you can uncover hidden rewards. These range from spheres used to buy other items from NPCs in the underground, fossils to recover ancient Pokémon from and the new statues mentioned earlier. Statues can be placed inside a secret base, which you can make anywhere you wish on the underground map, to influence the biggest new addition to the underground, Pokémon Hideaways.
These hideaways are entirely new locations where you can find wild Pokémon actually moving around, not hiding in grass like above ground. Many of these Pokémon you can find normally across the world, but it is easier to pinpoint and select them at will, but there are also rare encounters that would not appear above ground until after you beat the game and obtain the National Pokédex. Placing statues of Pokémon of a certain type inside your secret base also influences the encounters of those types too (so a statue of a fire Pokémon increases the rates of fire types). Considering how early you can access the Grand Underground, you can give yourself the edge by grabbing a rare Pokémon well before you would otherwise. I went and got myself a Ralts with the ability Trace, which copies an opposing Pokémon’s ability to give yourself an idea of what they might do in battle, or even to steal a good ability off them outright.
The music is, for the most part, a very lively selection of remasters with appropriate instrument choices made for some of the more “DS” sounding effects from the originals. It’s actually a relief to hear that they continue to use a lot of synth effects instead of just going for pure orchestration. It is a little disheartening that it’s all digital samples instead of using any real instruments, like with guitars that they’ve used in the past, but they are all high quality samples. Stand out tracks include the likes of Route 209, Canalave City, Route 216 and, of course, the champion’s own battle theme. Some tracks don’t transition as smoothly, no longer sounding as grand as we had imagined all those years ago, but the majority of them are suitably good.
The option to have a Pokémon follow beside you on the overworld sure is cute, but they follow the same principles as Sword and Shield’s DLC, where they move at the speed they would realistically move at. This wasn’t exactly great in SwSh and isn’t any better here. Not to mention the fact that they keep their original proportions too, making for some odd clashes with the chibi character models. Much like HeartGold and SoulSilver, it would’ve been appreciated to have chibi-fied Pokémon models for the overworld too. Considering that would have involved having to make 493 new models, plus extra forms, I can still understand why that wasn’t done though.
It is unfortunate to say that the games are rather too easy for experienced players, a worrisome trend that the series has been struggling with for a number of years now. I understand that the developers want younger players to have a trouble-free time, but I don’t see how that should have any effect on having options present to reduce becoming too strong too quickly. There was a nice happy middle ground in the sixth and seventh generations where the Exp Share item was a toggle you could turn off if you so choose, but since generation eight they’ve forced it to be always on with no choice on the matter. Taking options away from us only harms the experience, and for a series that tries its best to be all-audiences, it feels like a backwards decision. However, even saying all of this, it is actually extremely welcome to see them rework the Elite Four and champion to have more challenging teams. The Pokémon remain the same, but they have new movesets and hold items to give them an edge.
Another baffling decision is the use of the original DP maps and layouts which really does feel like a letdown. Platinum, the revised third iteration of the Sinnoh region, went above and beyond to flesh out many areas and create more dynamic layouts, which is now absent again in BDSP. Things that were remade to be more elaborate are now basic again. Various reworks for better pacing have also been reverted back to DP’s standard, though some standstills from DP have been somewhat lessened by the many years of quality of life adjustments, so it isn’t as glaring as other issues.
Not only that, but many scenes from Platinum that flesh out the world and characters are once again absent. This is actually rather worrisome, as the core DP experience felt unfinished back in the day, with the motivations of the evil Team Galactic having vanished. The lead villain was a cold, calculating but ultimately fickle character who now lacks various scenes that actually showed him being a charismatic and manipulative man, and that’s a crying shame.
Ultimately, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl present an unusual dilemma. As remakes of the original Diamond and Pearl, they are superb at fixing up many clunky aspects of them and presenting them in a familiar, yet improved manner. But the larger issues stem from what it isn’t. Platinum still stands as the gold standard for what Sinnoh can be, and these games have a glaring lack of content carried over from it like with prior remakes. HeartGold and SoulSilver contained aspects from Crystal, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire did the same with Emerald’s improvements, so why do these remakes lack such revisions from Platinum? The answers may be round the corner with Pokémon Legends: Arceus, for all we know. Ultimately though, it’s worth taking these games for what they are, straight remakes of Diamond and Pearl, rather than dwelling on what they aren’t.
Final rating – 3.5 out of 5
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are available now for Nintendo Switch.
Long time fan of Nintendo and games in general, I always lean on the quirkier and unique sides of things in particular. It all started when I was lucky enough to get a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Yellow for my tenth birthday and it’s been going strong ever since. I’ve always had a need to get my voice heard and share anything I find interesting with the world.