Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the old-school Pokémon games we were missing
At the end of 2006, I took a train from Tokyo to a few stations to pick up a specimen of Pokémon Pearl on a whim, which had launched in Japan earlier today. Over the next few months, I spent hundreds of hours in the Sinnoh area, where I was immersed in the burgeoning online community. Needless to say, since then he has held a special place in my heart – the first generation that I played entirely in Japanese, and which has a way to bring me back to one of my favorite moments in my life.
In the years since then, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl have been relatively neglected, much to my regret. Developer Game Freak didn’t even see fit to include Diamond and Pearl’s entries in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, despite their (mostly) open-world Pokémon adventure being set in an older version of the Sinnoh region of Generation 4. Most of the love for Pokémon games of the last few days has generally been reserved for Black and White, with little regard for the striking atmosphere of Diamond and Pearl and the countless improvements it has made to Ruby and Sapphire.
On second thought, the Diamond and Pearl Pokémon generation was primarily focused on refinement. It brought back several features that had been cut in Ruby and Sapphire, redefined the balance of competitive play by dividing physical and special attacks, and introduced several much-needed evolutions for Pokémon like Roselia and Piloswine. Most importantly, it introduced a real online game, paving the way for the community to become what it is today. But to say that a game refined the existing formula isn’t a terribly exciting legacy, which is perhaps the main reason Gen 4 ended up getting lost in the mix of history.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the community from demanding Diamond and Pearl remakes, if only because they were next in line after Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in 2014. But when they were finally announced more early this year the community felt slightly puzzled. Compared to the gorgeous, fully updated remakes offered in Gen 3, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl seemed to be on the losing side. My first reaction was to be irritated. Gen 4 gets the short end of the stick again. Typical.
Now, I’m pretty happy that Game Freak took the remakes in that direction. During a 40 minute hands-on demo, I found myself once again transported to the region that remains my sentimental favorite. The remakes strive to preserve the look and feel of the originals, and until I saw Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl in action, I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Coming back to the aerial camera angle is refreshing, in some ways taking me back to the days of Red and Blue on Game Boy. Even the distinctly thin soundtrack isn’t all that different from what it was back on the Nintendo DS. If only he had kept the 2D sprites, that would be perfect.
It’s very different from the newer Pokémon Sword and Shield, which attempts to blend somewhat modern graphics with online social elements like wild areas and raiding. By comparison, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are a throwback – a nostalgic journey. It even brings back the old Union Room, a sort of visual lobby system introduced during the Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green era in 2004. It’s really interesting comparing them to see how the series has progressed in recent years, especially in terms of how it evolved into MMO-like elements such as raid battles. Being the first in the series to support online play over Wi-Fi, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl certainly had their share of early social elements online, but the gameplay balance always favored content that could be enjoyed without an internet connection. .
A window on another era
Being remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are of course loaded with various weird artifacts from the Nintendo DS era. Poffins can be created using the touch screen. The Pokétch – an in-game device that previously lived on the second screen of the DS – will now occupy the top corner of the Switch screen if you wish, allowing you to easily check your Pokémon’s friendship or search for objects. It was a time when the DS touchscreen was still a fresh and innovative concept, and many features in the remake bring to mind that time in one way or another, from the on-screen rhythm game of the Super. Contest the ability to put stickers on the Pokéballs. Even the Random Badge Polishing Mechanic is back.
Of course, these are not individual remakes of the original games. Among other additions, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will include the more robust version of Exp. Share, which means the XP will be distributed to the whole group (which for some reason cannot be turned off). It will also be possible to customize the appearance of your character thanks to a new store in Veilstone City that sells unique outfits, with Pokémon able to follow you around the world map. In particular, hidden machines [HMs] will return in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, but will be treated slightly differently than before. Instead of teaching a monster a move which is then irritating to suppress, a “Wild Pokemon” will appear to perform the action instead. It’s an adjustment that manages to preserve the spirit of the original system while removing a lot of the hassle.
Pokémon Shiny Diamond and Shiny Pearl – Screenshots Gallery
But probably the biggest change is the Grand Underground – a series of tunnels where you mine items and build secret bases. As well as supporting online play, it will feature biomes filled with special Pokémon on screen that are influenced by the statues you place in your base. This is where Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl come closest to the games of the current generation, but its approach is still firmly anchored in the originals.
Most of the improvements it brings are welcome, if only because Pokémon Diamond and Pearl are probably the least enjoyable generation to learn and play in the modern age. Even I will admit that the combat system was painfully slow back then. The memory of looking at a monster’s health bar slowly drain to zero after a critical hit is still etched in my brain even after all these years.
By removing some of their more abrasive elements, the remakes should be able to bring some of the region’s strengths back to the fore. In particular, I hope they manage to capture his mood – the vaguely menacing title screen, the overwhelming gym fight music. There was an unsettling vibe to these games that still comes to my mind to this day.
Either way, it’ll be a relief to go back to a simpler time in Pokémon history – an era without Gigantamax and Mega Evolutions forms, and with a Pokedex that’s actually almost manageable. I am delighted to cross the snowdrifts around Snowpoint City again; travel to the pillars of the spear and fight Cynthia, who after all is still the best champion in my very biased opinion.
Most of the time, though, I’ll just be happy to have Chimchar by my side after all these years. Welcome back, buddy. It has been far too long.
Kat Bailey is Senior News Editor at IGN. His natural enemy is Blaziken, who receives far too much attention compared to Infernape.