When evaluated on what they are, instead of what they are not, Pokémon: Diamond and Shining Pearl are quality remakes and an endearing experience.
Game Freak’s long sought after fourth generation remake has been brought to the Nintendo Switch in the form of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (BDSP)! My excitement for these remakes was palpable and to prepare I replayed one mainline Pokémon game from each of the other seven generations over the past few months. Many of these games were remakes like Omega Ruby, HeartGold, and Let’s Go Eevee. I wanted to play these remakes and other generations to help me get a better idea of how the Sinnoh remakes match up to other mainline games. One of the hardest aspects that every Pokémon game faces when released is it has to be compared to every other game in the franchise that came before it. This is especially difficult for remakes as they have to be compared with their own source material and to other remakes in sometimes unfair ways.
Game Freak has an older audience that shakes a collective fist demanding faithfulness to the original games while simultaneously trolling for a new experience with added difficulty. Of course, Game Freak is also trying to introduce people to the series for the first time and they know that there is no way of pleasing everyone. I believe they have found an incredibly balanced way of approaching those two audiences. It is crucial to consider that BDSP is not HeartGold/SoulSilver and that’s okay. It’s not trying to be. When evaluated on what they are, instead of what they are not, BDSP are quality remakes and an endearing experience.
Amazon blessed me by delivering my copy a day early and after finally getting my hands on the game I was able to jump back into the Sinnoh region in a way that was both familiar, fresh, and unique. Pokémon BDSP was well represented by the various trailers leading up to its release and is exactly what I expected it to be in a lot of ways. Developer ILCA had a lot of pressure to deliver the project while Game Freak handles development of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. ILCA, which stands for “I love computer art,” is a Japanese support studio that worked on the Pokémon cloud storage Pokémon HOME and assisted in developing some other small titles you may have heard of like Dragon Quest XI, Yakuza 0, NieR: Automata, and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4.
There has not been any noticeable enhancements to the story which follows the story of Diamond and Pearl, not Platinum. The protagonist, cannocially Dawn or Lucas, stumbles upon a briefcase containing three Sinnoh starters; Turtwig, Chimchar, and Piplup. After using one of the three to defend himself/herself from a flock of sassy Starly, the player proceeds to return the Pokémon to Professor Rowan. As expected, the professor decides to let the young minor keep the Pokémon and start the standard journey traveling the country, collecting badges, and filling the Pokédex. The nefarious Team Galactic occasionally makes an appearance that requires a trouncing from a ten year old that got his or her first Pokémon a few hours prior.
One thing that stuck out to me in regards to the story is the main antagonist, Cyrus. Cyrus, the Team Galactic boss, felt the standard Giovanni-like boss of the Pokémon franchise at first glance. However, he stands out because his motivation was not domination but recreation. One of the main themes of BDSP include creation as mythos and the two box-art legendaries, Dialga and Palkia, represent time and space respectively. Cyrus intends to create a new universe in his own image using these Pokémon. This distortion of reality is of course thwarted by a ten year old who then is able to capture or overpower the time or space deity and continue the journey to the Pokémon League. Cyrus’s idea of godhood misses the mark in a number of ways but I feel his stratagem was flawed from the start. Had Cyrus accomplished his goal, his own flaws would have created yet another flawed universe because he is another flawed, created being. He was unable to see what Christians would call “sin nature” within himself and that any kind of world we would create would be as flawed as we are as individuals.
The gameplay still follows the same basic structure that it always has. Each trainer sends out one of their six Pokémon and takes turns walloping one another. Compared to the original DS games, BDSP has evolved by adding a larger move pull and the addition of the fairy type that was not introduced until generation six. Many gimmicks that have been introduced in later generations such as Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, and Dynamaxing have all been left behind for what I would consider a more balanced gameplay loop. HMs are now used from the PokeTech, similar to the Ride Pokémon of Sun and Moon. One of the most interesting things about the improvement in battle comes from the post game.
Hardcore fans have gotten their wish and the post game informally includes a type of hardmode. After first defeating the Elite Four and opening the National Dex, the player is able to return to the various gyms that now carry a full party of six Pokémon with levels starting in the sixties. I went in under prepared for the powered up Roark who sent in Tyranitar as his opener. I narrowly escaped with my under leveled squad. Upon further research I looked at Cynthia. Cynthia who’s Garchomp was infamously known as team sweeper before the remakes. Now her Garchomp is level 88 with Swords Dance, Earthquake, Dragon Claw, and Poison Jab (so fairy types won’t save you)! Maybe even worse than her Garchomp is Cynthia’s Milotic. Her Milotic has the ability Marvel Scale which increases its defense by 50% when under status conditions. “That’s not a big deal. Just don’t use moves that give status conditions.” Wrong! She has it equipped with a Flame Orb so it begins the battle burned. It of course also knows Recover. These are competitive movesets and builds! The majority of trainers will not be able to beat these Pokémon without clear strategies, builds, and counters going into the battle. While not unbeatable, Cynthia’s Garchomp now ties with Red’s Pikachu for highest level NPCs Pokémon. Cynthia’s team composition makes her one, if not the, most difficult mainline NPC to date.
BDSP has revisited and added many additional secondary features. The Grand Underground is probably the most substantial addition to the game. The original Underground was largely just an area to dig for fossils and stones and maybe set up a secret base if you are into that kind of thing. In BDSP that remains true but the tunnels underneath Sinnoh are massive and feature various biomes. When entering these biomes the player will be able to see Pokémon moving in the overworld and engage them in battle. These Pokémon sometimes cannot be found anywhere else, are often at very high levels, and will chase down the unprepared trainer similar to the Wild Area of Sword and Shield. This time around, using statues in your secret base can affect the spawns in the Grand Underground and for those hoping to finish the Pokédex you will sink a lot of post game hours in the Grand Underground. Once you complete the Sinnoh Pokédex the National Dex will unlock and the spawns in the Grand Underground will change drastically. New spawns such as the “pseudo-legendaries” (like Bagon, Dratini, and Larvitar) and also starters for generations one through four. As I approach nearly 300 captured Pokémon in my National Dex I am still enjoying using Quick Balls on new Pokémon and digging for items with my young daughters who cannot get enough of it.
There are several miscellaneous optional tasks worth mentioning. Contests return but are completely optional and are marginally more interactive. The player will need to cook Poffins in order to prepare the Pokémon for the competition and pay attention to the quick time-like prompts in order to win at various ranks and categories like coolness and cuteness. Amity Square allows the player to stroll with their cutest Pokémon but, more importantly, unlocks the ability to allow your Pokémon to travel outside their Pokeball outside the park and therefore making the game substantially better. Another new addition is Ramnas Park. Ramnas Park is a place that uses special slates that can be purchased with mysterious shards from the Grand Underground. The slates can summon legendaries from various generations, some of which are exclusive to each version. The Battle Tower returns as well. Players have the opportunity to take a party of three against a gauntlet of seven trainers in order to earn battle points that can be redeemed for competitive items and TMs. All of these features somewhat pad the game but certainly do not retract from the core experience. In fact, I enjoyed all these features aside from having little interest in the contests that just really weren’t my thing.
Pokémon BDSP visually reminds me of the recent remake of the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and a bit of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The art direction is incredibly charming and every character and Pokémon looks as though it could be a plushie on child’s bookshelf (*cough* or adult *cough*). My daughters found the chibi-like art style cute and honestly, so did their dear old dad. Pokémon, at its core, is a children’s game and this new art direction maintains the standards of old school Pokémon with its top-down camera approach and movement. Based on some graphical missteps in generations like Black and White, BDSP looks as though it will age well with its endearing art style. The battle screen shows incredible attention to detail with reflections of the battling Pokémon in the water below and the lighting changes with the time of day giving warm hues in the vibrant environments. The music is what you would expect from a Pokémon game. Soundtracks can be repetitive at times but never in an obnoxious way. You can tell ILCA gave much love and care to the franchise that was entrusted to them.
The Journey’s End
Pokémon games, at their core, are about each trainer’s individual journey and tastes. I’ve been rewatching the Diamond and Pearl anime series with my daughters and see some parallels that are worth noting. The characters have a vast array of interests in the Pokémon world. Ash, as an aspiring Pokémon Master, represents the core experience and the majority of players who just want to catch and battle with their favorite Pokémon and get those badges. Dawn, as Pokémon Coordinator, represents the folks that enjoy making Poffins and doing contests and other side quests. Brock, as an aspiring Pokémon breeder, represents the older trainers who love breeding for IVs, nature’s, shiny, or pre-evolutions. Ash’s rival, Paul, represents the competitive player that is only concerned with stats and being competitive to the point of catching and releasing Pokémon until he finds the one worth training. Therein lies the openness and true heart of Pokémon. The journey can be whatever you want it to be. If you are bored with the Pokémon journey, create your own adventure. Do a gym leader team where all your Pokémon are fire types. Do an Ash Ketchum team and try to win with an unevolved Pikachu. Become the Bidoof Baron with a party of six Bidoof. Look up the rules for a Nuzlocke and just have fun with it. Pokémon is about the journey and I am already planning my next journey with a different party.
A Note for Parents
The Pokémon games remain as family friendly as they always have but BDSP does talk about creation myths and refers to deities and godhood. Parents should be prepared to point their children to the biblical accounts of creation and BDSP can actually be a good transition into having Gospel conversations. While the game includes simulated battling it is best explained that this kind of like a sport in this world similar to wrestling. Battle is considered fun and competition and the Pokémon to not receive lasting injuries in battle. I have had no hesitation playing these games with daughters who are five, four, and one and have enjoyed it with them.