Pokemon Brilliant Diamond | Shining Pearl – Safe and Sound
I’ve long been a fan of Pokemon. When Red/Blue first launched in Australia in 1998, and always energetic 9-year-old Paul was fortunate enough to waltz into my living room to see my mum trying one of them out, my interest was piqued and as mum quickly succumbed, passed the game over to me, I wiped her save game (how heartless of me), and the incredible journey began. I stuck with the franchise as I grew up through Gold and Silver, Ruby and Sapphire, that second-generation still to this day being my fondest Pokememory. Years later the journey continued with X, Y, and beyond. What you may have noticed though is the notable gap between generations 3 and 6, where the two Nintendo DS generation titles Diamond and Pearl, and Black and White were missed. 17-23-year-old Paul wrongfully turned his nose up at where Pokemon had gone, deemed it to be too childish, and “matured” by moving onto more action-centric titles. Eventually though I saw the light, rejoined the Pokeparty at X and Y, and now, more than a decade on, I’m getting the chance to plug a gap that “dumb Paul” carved out years ago. The saddest part about this story, now that I’ve experienced Diamond and Pearl through the newly released Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, is that I didn’t miss all that much.
We’ve seen a number of Pokemon remakes up to this point, and they’ve done largely excellent jobs of remaining faithful to the initial intentions of prior release. The Sinnoh region is as fascinating of a world to explore as it is beautiful, and as you, the player explore your surrounds, the mysteries of the region unveil themselves. The scattered ruins across the land, the looming presence of Mount Coronet, right down to the occupants, and the stories to have the share, do an incredible job depicting the world of Sinnoh and its rich history; I certainly felt more connected to this region than in most other Pokemon titles I’d explored.
Typically the threats in the form of Team Rocket, Magma/Aqua and others have been quite throwaway, and in some cases laughable, but Diamond/Pearl’s Team Galactic have lofty ambitions, and despite still hiring folks with nothing more than a Zubat in their party, do feel like a genuine threat at times. Galactic wants to build a new universe, one where its leader, Cyrus is at the centre of it, and they believe that the legendary Pokemon Palkia and Dialga are the keys to this. Such a threat must be taken seriously, and as their influence grows throughout your journey to collect the eight gym badges you need to take on the Elite Four, the need to put them back in their place grows too.
One of the main reasons I pushed back against Diamond and Pearl back in 2006 was because of the slate of Pokemon; some seemed quite derivative, others plain ridiculous, and so the combinations of Spiritomb, a still excessive line-up of Gen I or II babies or further evolutions, and some overly complicated designs for the likes of Dialga and Palkia pushed me away. What I didn’t realise, until it was way too late, and then further came to understand whilst playing these remakes, was that I wrongly judged a book by its cover, and because of that stubborn perspective, I overlooked how truly cool the starters were, how traditional the likes of Shinx, Gible, Lucario, and all of their families felt. The line-up isn’t the most impressive of the franchise, but there are some true diamonds in the rough here. Meanwhile changes that these days we take for granted like the splitting of Physical and Special attacks originated here. As far as the gameplay loop is concerned, however, “Pokemon: The Game” is in full force here. The formula we’ve known for decades holds true and it’s only for those who dive deeper into the meta that you’ll notice any changes of serious significance. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl do strip back the changes that we’ve seen in recent entries like Mega-Evolutions or Dynamaxing are gone, and that purity was greatly appreciated as I waltzed around Sinnoh. The level scaling of Gym Leaders, as well as the Elite Four, was reasonable too, requiring some levels of grinding if you wanted to keep up with the difficulty curve.
The Battle Frontier is here but is fairly lacklustre, while other Gen IV additions are also here like the Poketch, Poffin House, but none inspire much excitement. Ball Capsules are a thing here, and serve as an opportunity for players to deck out their Pokeballs however they see fit – this addition won’t be for everyone, but will certainly attract a subset of the audience. The remakes do however introduce the awesome Ramanas Park, an opportunity that only emerges after you’ve completed your Sinnoh Pokedex, that allows you to catch Legendaries from other regions.
One of the more contentious elements of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl in the lead-up to launch, was the Chibi art style adopted for these remakes, and while it at first may seem jarring for players, considering the trajectory that the franchise had previously been taking recently, the throwback to the era was nice, while combat sequences give us the modern touches that we’ve enjoyed recently. The backdrop of the mountain and the gym battles themselves are the real visual highlights and really need to be experienced as the player rather that as an observer. Meanwhile, on the audio side, there’s a subtlety to the soundtrack that superbly reflects the tonal flavour of the Sinnoh region perfectly.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond, and Shining Pearl, like the games that informed them, are pretty safe. They don’t bring much that is particularly new to the game, but nor are they skippable titles (as I’ve finally learned all these years on). Provided players don’t go in with stars in their eyes, you’ll likely find something to love about these remakes, but you just can’t help but wonder what else could have been possible, with just a bit more creative 2021 thinking.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl were reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with code kindly provided by Nintendo Australia