Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the much-awaited remakes of “Generation 4,” but they come under a cloud. Ever since the 3D mainline games (Generation 6 with X and Y on Nintendo 3DS), the need for 3D models and animation pushed Game Freak that step too far.
The franchise behemoth needed to keep rolling. More Pokemon, no delays, less budget, faster, cheaper. It all culminated in games with less content, even needing to cut Pokemon and have them sit in the $16 USD a year refugee camp Pokemon Home.
But hark- those very same developers of Pokemon Home have been given the chance to develop a mainline remake. ILCA had a tough sell, made worse by leaks revealing the best and worse the game had to offer [1, 2]. But how does the final package shape up?
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Players: 1 (Online multiplayer; local multiplayer with individual games and consoles)
Price: $59.99 USD
For those unfamiliar, the original Diamond and Pearl takes place in the Sinnoh region. The land has a greater focus on its ancient history, a giant mountain dividing the land, and an evil team who’s goals will almost never be surpassed in terms of scale. This doesn’t necessarily makes the drama heightened, and the story and characters are still as bare-bones as ever.
There’s also a missed opportunity for a heavier focus on the “history” element. There’s a few ruins dotted around the land, but that’s really it. Then again, the remakes add Ramanas Park with its ruin-like structures, and the Grand Underground now has texture-swapped models of Pokemon to act as old statues.
The games are otherwise faithful to classic Pokemon– even if that leaves the world and characters not fleshed out. Once again to its credit, taking an older and simplistic story is a much welcome reprieve from the even less fulfilling recent games. Everyone is still too nice, and makes absolutely sure you know what to do, but at least that sort of dialogue is succinct.
This rugged attention to mimicking the old games includes keeping the fixed over-world camera, and chibi overworld player models. Their dumpy little bodies hinder animation, while the flat textures help complete the Duplo aesthetic. NPCs will even still walk in straight orthogonal lines like they were still on the original DS games.
The chibi style is only made worse when you do have a Pokemon walk behind you- it’s merely scaled down. Despite the slim choices in Amity Square- any Pokemon can follow you, and almost all of them look out of place next to people. It looked fine on DS (and at time even made larger Pokemon bigger), so having a giant or Legendary Pokemon the size of a dog is just embarrassing.
What’s worse, this much-requested feature annoying in other ways. Yes, Pokemon can be passed through in narrow areas despite footage to the contrary; they go back in their ball if you keep walking into them. But once again they follow at such a slow pace, it is worthless. Not to mention it only improves your affection. More on why that’s bad in a bit.
Battle animations are nothing special yet again. So continue to expect liberties taken with a handful of animations, while effects fly all over the place to evoke an actual punch, kick, or trying to make all laser-beams uniform. Even this fails, as the odd projectile can come out of weird places like just above a mouth, or even a butt [1, 2].
The Pokedex even features the Pokemon models rotated to try and evoke their pose in the original Diamond and Pearl (even if they were in a more dynamic pose), while some actually get a new pose just for the Pokedex. Yet, some Pokemon will continue to stand nonchalant in battle.
Trainers look more like human beings in battle. They appear standing still in a pose to honor the original games, before a jump cut hides them standing as normal. While there are some trainer animations that seem to shared based on their body type (young boy, fat man, etc.) this is a little more forgivable. Nonetheless, some trainer classes go hard with flare and personality (like the cowgirls), so the blasé stand out.
They have nice little animations when idle and ordering attacks, and frown or gasp when they lose. But major bosses have odd moments where the camera zooms in on their expressionless face for any mid-dialogue battle. Even in the overworld, it’s rare to see anything but default faces, despite the camera moving in closer. And yes, some move animations make trainers vanish into thin air.
Character creation is oddly one of the features to be combed back compared to recent games. You choose your skin and hair color (fixed from then on), and have a handful of full outfits. That’s it. No mixing and matching of different colored shoes or a new hair-style or even different colored eyes via contact lenses.
You’re almost the default protagonist in new duds. If cutting this back made more time to improve the core of the game- fine. It’s still a shame to see it gone, and the plastic aesthetic applied to almost the entire world makes it clear why the graphics haven’t changed in leaps and bounds.
Despite signs of yet another modest budget, the games look adequate overall. There’s a big focus on reflective flooring (albeit, not reflecting any animation effects in battle), and quite a few areas like building interiors actually have proper battle backdrops (but again, there are exceptions). Team Galactic battles taking place in a spacey void almost seems like a stylistic choice, rather than a necessity.
It looks better than Sword and Shield in a lot of places, especially with battle backgrounds. While generally satisfactory, it can easily be deemed sub-par considering the franchise’ Scrooge McDuck level bank-balance. The fact trees slightly move in the breeze and water ripples are genuine improvements over the last mainline entry, and do show some care was given.
What Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl lose in graphics being the latest and greatest, it makes up for in accuracy, and a less divisive style overall. Well, less divisive if you don’t want your Pokemon games to look like they came from a $100 billion USD franchise.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl mostly take the best of old and new games in the series. Gym Leaders are still somewhat anemic, using only four Pokemon at most (the Elite Four using five). They now have some actual tactics however; taking advantage of moves, abilities, items, and Type-coverage. Sometimes matching levels with a Leader’s strongest won’t be enough, especially if they can set-up or debuff.
EXP Share for the entire party and getting EXP for catching Pokemon is back- but not it’s not as broken as before. When a foe goes down, those who actually fought it get the most EXP, while everyone else in the party gets some scraps.
While over-leveling is not as egregious as Sword and Shield, it can still happen and make the game a cake-walk. Access to your Box at any time means being able to swap in lower-level Pokemon you’re curious to try. This gives you a wider variety to pick and choose what your final team will be, or who will be used in one of many teams to take on the world online.
I’m still not sure whether the Box system intended to fix over-leveling, or if it acts as an excuse to keep over-leveling for those who want an easier time. It doesn’t help some of the Gyms have long routes between them, yet little difference in levels (especially around Veilstone, Pastoria, and Hearthome City). This seemed to be an issue in the original games as well.
The games also only feature the 493 Pokemon released at that point originally, and most of the surprisingly common basic moves cut in Sword and Shield are still gone. While the Grand Underground can grant access to more Pokemon from outside of Sinnoh after you beat the Champion, before then you’ll have to rely on rare encounters to see the Pokemon added to Platinum.
Otherwise, the Pokemon in the Grand Underground are just early access to what you’d find normally find much later. A little luck can give you something from the “Platinum Pokedex” if you want it before the post-game, and none of the Gym Leaders feature their updated teams (bar the better builds). Enjoy a Fire-type Elite Four member with only two Fire-type Pokemon.
While HMs can now be executed by calling on the local wild Pokemon once unlocked (essentially a tool but it swears a nearby Bidoof did all the work), TMs are now single use again. However, it seems while you get three to four copies when you get them from NPCs, the rest are traded for spheres you find in the underground. RNG for what could be competitive moves? Not good.
One unwelcome return is the affection mechanic, making battles too easy. It grants random bonuses the more a Pokemon likes you, which happens as you win battles, walk with them, or they just sit in your party. It also adds more message boxes in battles. As players can choose the Switch or Set options (the latter the rule-set for online play), it’s amazing this is not an optional feature yet to claw back some challenge.
In fact, there is no content from Platinum– the “third version” to the original duo. Most fans arguably wanted a remake of Platinum instead- featuring more Pokemon, a little more story, and the much beloved Battle Frontier. Here you just get the Battle Tower, and a somewhat interesting use of Alternate Forme Giratina.
While Sword and Shield had means to capture Pokemon who typically evolve by trade, no such mechanic exists here. Sure 99% of Pokemon players play online, and will be able to organize a “boomerang trade” to get something to evolve. This is still a surprising step back for those who don’t want to keep their experience as offline as possible.
In addition, since Sun and Moon there has been an in-battle screen to check all the ongoing effects, stats buffs, and debuffs. This did not return for Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, and was a welcomed quality of life feature.
As a brief aside; the new Pokemon Super Contests are crap. I’m not just saying that because the first few Poffins I made turned out “foul” despite making no mistakes in cooking, and losing my first contest. I won the second on blind luck.
Pokemon can only eat a limited number of Poffins to enhance their appeal in one of five Contest categories, so one bad meal is a failure if you want to max out the stat (though Ball Stickers can grant a bonus if you work out what works). In exchange, anyone can be a star, for better or worse.
The Contests are judged on visuals (your ball stickers and Poffin-boosted stats), and then a dancing contest. During a basic rhythm minigame, you can execute one move with a handful of possible effects. None of the moves are categorized as “cool” or “tough” as contests are, and they have very basic effects. Compared to how the original contests somewhat had a meta, avoid this part and never look back.
As aforementioned, the heavy focus on older games is still a blessing. The return of the PokeRadar is sure to delight hardcore fans- even though it’s a post-game item. Activate it in grass, and random patches will begin to shake (now constantly shaking so you don’t lose track). Use a repel so nothing else bothers you, and fight the Poke that appears when you touch it. This is the start of a “chain.”
As long as you keep encountering the same species over and over; their stats will be better (IVs), they may have their Hidden Ability, and you may find a shiny. It can be argued you don’t want to build your competitive online team until the post-game because of this, but there’s another reason you’d want to as well.
Post-game content is an oft criticized point of 3D Pokemon, lacking length and the aforementioned multiple challenge-mode gauntlets from Battle Frontier. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl brings back post-game rematches against Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and Champion. To my utter surprise, they’re an actual challenge.
Despite their limitation of having to use the same type across their team, they’re all turned up to 11; excellent teams with great synergy, and tactics. For a series that has recently been a toothless experience, the main game finally had some milk teeth, and the post-game gives fans what it should have done in the first place.
Speaking of which, fans have built up many expectations thanks to the leaks the game suffered. One of them was the game’s version being changed with a few altered bytes. If true, then it is well past time the game was sold in two different versions, and players should be able to choose the version when they start a save file. Maybe the wild idea of having multiple save files, if such space-age technology exists.
Another claim was that the games used the original DS music. This was not a placeholder, but an unlockable feature that switched soundtracks and Pokemon cries via an in-game item. The games’ music has been remastered, though aside from some extra percussion or a slightly different instrument here and there, it’s a clearer sounding version of the original. This, of course, is great.
Music on routes have a sense of grand adventure, while towns can either be bustling in the day, or comfy at night. The battle music is as hype-building as ever; albeit the intros tend to run out before battles truly start, thanks to a few longer animations than the DS versions.
While fans have made better remixes, some of which would have still fit the tone, they have had 14 years to hone their craft. So did ILCA, but it’s clear the developers (much like the game overall) chose when to be accurate to the original, and when to alter or use new features. In several cases, they even improved from Game Freak’s attempts. Now if only we could get the Global Trade System out of Pokemon Home…
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is an improvement on the DS originals, even if Platinum still has the edge overall. There are some promising signs that developers other than Game Freak, even when under what could be a similar budget, can address some of the concerns fans have. The “chillax” JRPG series is still doing its thing, but there’s a little more challenge on cart if you want it.
Now we can only pray that the Pokemon Company see that small improvements can elevate the whole experience; and not be proud of their thick skin. Stone has a thick skin, but if it lets people chip through, you can sometimes find diamonds and- OK pearls are actually found in oysters, but you get what I mean.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by The Pokemon Company. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.