Summary: Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are decent remakes of good games. While the core gameplay loop is still the same, the updated cutscenes don’t compare to contemporary ones, and some gameplay changes may bewilder long-time fans of the franchise.
Where Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have done the least to change the originals is where they’ve had a chance to shine the most.
The story is good enough that it’s clear why Nintendo chose to continue its trend of remakes with these games. Though not as popular as some other entries, Diamond and Pearl (along with Platinum) were both strong entries in the series.
Like any Pokémon game, the player is a ten-year-old child going on their first grand adventure. But unlike some other games, you don’t start with the chaperoning of any adults.
The player and their rival don’t even have Pokémon as they set off into the woods near the local lake to see if there’s anything there. They’re just kids that got an idea from seeing something on television. If anything, the protagonist keeps the rival from doing anything stupid.
Then both the player and their rival must steal pokemon from a discarded briefcase to defend themselves when danger inevitably comes knocking. And from there, what starts as an innocent adventure quickly escalates into a mess of cosmic proportions.
While many gangs read as cults of personality in the Pokémon franchise, Team Galactic is one of the best depictions of a truly unhinged group of people once you know what they’re planning.
Back in the day, this may have read as a bit silly. The leader’s goals make absolutely no sense to anyone who thinks about them critically. Players looking at it through a modern lens are all too familiar with the dangers of ignoring a charismatic leader just because he appears to have lost his marbles.
However, even if a few other things about Generation IV haven’t managed to age quite as well, the story is more fine wine than vinegar at this point. For this alone, it was worth rebooting just for today’s kids to experience it.
There are a few key aspects of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl that Nintendo had to consider when adapting the gameplay of the originals. Contests, the Grand Underground, the Poketch, and even poffins have all come back, and some have fared better than others.
Pokémon Contests were first introduced as a new feature in Generation III. Upon arrival, they had a mixed reception, but they were popular enough with people who wanted to do things other than the battle that they made a comeback for Generation IV.
Meanwhile, Poffins are an update to Pokeblocks that made them a little more of a challenge to make corrections with the second screen getting involved.
But with updated graphics come updated Contests, and the revamped systems aren’t what players might be used to now.
Poffins are the first thing one might notice a few changes; they’re nearly impossible to make with controllers alone, making certain home entertainment setups into a logistical snarl. Players should expect to mess a few of these up before they finally get the new controls right.
And then there are the Contests themselves, which are an acquired taste, to say the least. Instead of the classic system where players use various moves to please the judges and the crowd, the moveset of your Pokémon no longer matters. Instead, players only need to complete a rhythm game.
For those with poor coordination or disabilities, this is immediately alienating in a way that the old Contest system never was.
On top of no longer being as accessible, they’ve made it so that dressing up a Pokémon is no longer a factor in how good they look for their Contest debut. No more putting a mustache on a Pokémon’s eyes to make it look like they have bushy, concerned eyebrows. No more players show off their identities through Pokémon’s dapper little hats or bow ties.
Call it simplified or streamlined, but many people will call it ruined.
To hardcore players, the quality-of-life improvements in Briliant Diamond and Shining Pearl might read as having their hands held. To most, however, they’ll be a relief.
From the start, players will notice that their battle experience is now shared by the whole party.
Rather than needing an EXP Share, the whole party will level evenly regardless of what items they hold or what you have in your bag. This will be a huge weight off the shoulders of people who were used to the old method of swapping a stronger Pokémon in at the start of the battle, but hardcore players can’t turn it off either.
In addition, other things about the battle system have brought it up to speed with modern games in the series.
Pokémon moves now display not only type but also that type’s relative weakness or strength compared to what you’re fighting. Some moves have been removed outright due to redundancy, while others that didn’t exist in the originals have been added. Movesets, in general, have also been brought to a modern standard.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have also addressed one of the biggest problems that Generation IV had at the time: a lack of fire-type Pokémon.
In the originals, the only guaranteed fire-type Pokémon you could get without trading was your starter and a Ponyta. With Infernape being the rare unpopular fire-type starter, this left a lot of players stuck with the fire horse. Now, Growlithe and Houndour have both been added to that pool.
The Pokémon Watch, or Poketch as it’s called in-game, has always been a little on the awkward side. The step counter was useful when trying to hatch eggs, but otherwise, it stayed mostly out of the way on the second screen. Now, there’s no second screen where it can sit, so it just exists awkwardly in the way of your main screen.
Admittedly a minor nitpick, but it’s something older fans may get annoyed about.
Long-time fans of the series will be relieved to hear that the game has refused to budge an inch about this.
Secret bases have been tweaked to be a little less fun, but mining and orb-finding have stayed the same in the grand scheme. The mechanics are unchanged, and the sound design is similar enough to have that same primal satisfaction from finding something shiny in the dirt.
Anyone who’s played a modern Pokémon game knows that the cutscenes have evolved over the years to look pretty good. Stylized as they are, they usually manage to age pretty well and maintain the distinct visuals of the Pokémon franchise.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have largely ignored that to reduce cost, and the result is hilarious bobbleheads.
Ironically enough, the problem appears to be an attempt to stay true to the graphics of the time while still being in 3D.
Aside from the beginnings and endings of battles, most cutscenes are rendered with the same big-headed models that the overworld uses. These models are proportioned based on the sprites of the old games, which had huge heads because those were the easiest things for kids to distinguish.
All of this is made weirder because the more sensibly proportioned models exist. This wouldn’t be an issue if the big-headed models were consistent through the overworld, player character dress-up, and battles. But the proportions veer wildly between silly and serious instead, which gives the games a lot of tonal dissonance from one cutscene to the next.
It doesn’t help that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are already walking a storytelling tightrope as it is. In some places, the jarring shifts between battle cutscenes and bobbleheads are enough to grind the immersive experience to a screeching halt. Kids may not notice, but adults definitely will.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are good games built using the bones of great games. Some choices in adapting the originals have led to improvements, and others have been uniquely detrimental.
Most of the improvements come as general quality-of-life changes and involve reducing the amount of artificial difficulty, while most of the things that made the games worse have been in the name of streamlining.
In the end, these games are still well worth their price tag. If you have a Switch, you should try the updated versions of these classic titles in the series. Even if your focus is entirely on solo play, the story is something that every Pokémon fan will appreciate.