Reviews

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Review

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl are remakes of 2006’s beloved Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, respectively. Having a fifteen-year gap and Pokémon’s track record of (mostly) fantastic remakes, do these fresh, new takes live up to expectations? Not quite. But that’s not to say the sport isn't enjoyable, either.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl were not actually produced by Game Freak now, the studio that previously created every other main-line Pokémon title, including the original Diamond and Pearl. Instead, these titles were made by ILCA (I Love Computer Art), a little development studio located in Japan. ILCA previously produced assets for games for example Yakuza 0, Dragon Quest 11, Ace Combat 7 and Nier Automata, as well as assisting within the production of Pokémon Home. But with no fully-developed games to their name, fans were sceptical about ILCA’s capability to produce this type of large title.

The game follows the timeless Pokémon formula; catch and collect Pokémon, battle them across a region, defeat 8 Gym Leaders and finally face the Elite Four and defeat the Champion – all while dealing with a criminal organisation in ridiculous outfits with an equally ridiculous and outlandish motive. It works, and it has accomplished for Twenty five years, however, each title within the series has refined and improved around the formula, including past remakes. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, instead, feel like one step backwards from modern titles.

Gameplay

The game’s overworld, trainers, story and general gameplay in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are near identical to that of the initial Diamond and Pearl, albeit with a few features altered to suit the fifteen-year gap in technology and hardware, in addition to fit in with the present Pokémon generation’s mechanics. Sinnoh, the game’s region, can be traversed with no four-direction limitation of the original titles and does result in the movement smoother and more natural feeling, but could also, at times, feel awkward in smaller areas that are specifically designed for a different kind of movement. It had been particularly easy to constantly encounter doors, ledges and struggle to simply walk up stairs around the first go. The player does have the option of moving traditionally while using D-Pad, but it’s a rough transition from playing other Pokémon titles around the Switch. Sinnoh remade in the type of Pokémon Sword and Shield‘s ‘Galar’ would’ve been a much-preferred choice for movement, in addition to providing a brand new perspective on a beloved region.

Pokémon can also walk with the player, an element that’s been heavily requested by fans to come back. Although this is amusing for a small amount of time, it became more of a blockage than a pleasurable, harmless feature fairly quickly. They would constantly block paths or slow our characters down, because of the game considering them solid objects, which made the already finicky movement much more frustrating.

Battles themselves operate in the same way as Pokémon‘s latest release: Sword and Shield, but the UI is stylised much like the initial titles, and is effective as a nostalgic callback. The inclusion of moves indicating whether they work well is a welcome addition from previous modern titles that the original games didn’t have. The inclusion of Fairy-type Pokémon and moves also aids in balancing battles, especially afterwards hanging around. We’re looking at you, Spiritomb.

The Pokétch, a smartwatch-like device filled with handy applications, now appears within the top right of the screen and can be controlled utilizing a cursor manipulated by the thumbstick, or via the Nintendo Switch’s touchscreen in handheld mode. Whilst not as useful because it was at 2006, since we've use of a wider range of resources and smartphones, the way in which this feature, that was created for the Nintendo DS’s bottom screen, is incorporated into the Switch is impressive.

TMs, items used to teach Pokémon moves, are one-use-only again. While it is an old feature that seemed unnecessary to revert, it didn’t cause any problems during our playthroughs.  Hidden Moves (HMs), which were moves that Pokémon had to learn for that player to journey across song of the world, have been removed. Instead, the player uses an app around the Pokétch to summon an outrageous Pokémon to overcome whatever obstacle is in the player’s way. This can be a prime inclusion which makes the general experience more fun, and also releases space in your party and enables a grander choice of moves your team can learn. There’s you don't need to keep around that Bibarel or Staraptor anymore. Sorry, guys.

Pokémon Choice, Random Encounters and Trainer Battles

Unfortunately, while Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl do take advantage of quite a few modern changes towards the series, they are able to also stay in keeping with the original Diamond and Pearl to some fault. Pokémon available in the wild are identical as Diamond and Pearl, completely ignoring the revisions that Pokémon Platinum made, that was a third title released 2 yrs after Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and were able to amend most of their flaws. The available Pokémon are unbalanced and then leave little choice in a few facets of teambuilding. A great example of this would be the ratio of Fire-type to Water-type Pokémon. Ignoring the starter Pokémon, as possible only pick one, there are twenty-three different Water-types available and only two Fire-types, which are in the same evolutionary family.

The Grand Underground, which we'll reach later, has more choices in Pokémon species than the original titles, however the overall choice is still lacking. NPCs only use Pokémon found above ground, which results in a lot of fights feeling the same, and even thematically wrong at times. The “Fire-type” Elite Four member has only two Fire-type Pokémon in his team of five, even with a complete Fire team in Pokémon Platinum. The lack of diversity in Pokémon species, combined with random encounters, make scouring through routes, caves and forests an entire chore. The excitement of finding new species simply doesn’t exist when most Pokémon species are the same, or simply aren’t useful. Not following a system of having Pokémon roam the location naturally that Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu, Let’s Go Eevee, Sword and Shield have is probably the most disappointing facet of these remakes. Not only due to the annoyance of random encounters in this game, but additionally because it helps make the world seem a smaller amount alive.

The Grand Underground and Optional Activities

There are lots of optional activities that set the Sinnoh games aside from others in the franchise. The very first of which may be the ‘Grand Underground‘, which was just named the “Underground” within the original titles and would be a beloved feature. Here, players can venture underneath Sinnoh to hunt for Pokémon that aren’t available – or extremely rare- above ground in ‘hideaways’, which do feature roaming Pokémon and no random encounters. You may also dig for treasure in the walls by selecting tiles to excavate on a grid; too many hits and the wall will come crumbling down, leaving any items you didn’t obtain behind. So what can be dug up includes: useful items your Pokémon may use, evolutionary stones, fossils that may be resurrected into extinct Pokémon, shards that can be traded for items and, finally, statues.

Statues can be placed in your Secret Base, which are personal rooms that may be created anywhere in the Grand Underground that may even be visited by online players. Placing statues of the specific Pokémon-type improves your odds of finding Pokémon of the identical type in the Underground, making specific searches significantly easier. Alas, Secret Bases can simply be decorated with statues. This is a colossal step-back in the original titles, where the player could kit out their base having a plethora of intriguing and unique furnishings, plus a flag that may be stolen by players online for rewards. Secret Bases are actually, instead, diminished into being lifeless rooms that statues are thrown in for the pure purpose of hunting down Pokémon.

There is very little life towards the Grand Underground in the remakes, in fact. While you can easily see other players in real-time when playing online, there isn't any player-to-player interaction as with Diamond and Pearl, other than being able to dig within the same spot. As the nostalgia takes over and also the Grand Underground may be whatever you do for 2 hours straight, it dwindles right into a placed you only visit once in a while to catch a Pokémon that can’t be found above ground.

Pokémon Contests also return, but have decayed. The dress-up mechanic continues to be removed and the contests now center around a very simple rhythm-based minigame, in which the player needs to press a control button prior to moving circles to satisfy a static circle over time with the music. While Contests were never spectacular, game-selling features for many people, its iteration in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl feels much too rudimentary and ultimately comes down to just pressing a control button over time. If properly developed upon, for example including longer segments, varying visuals and a choice of different music, this could’ve been a great feature.

Finally, there is also Poffin making, which involves twirling the thumbstick, or perhaps your finger on the touchscreen, to create treats for your Pokémon that increase a specific stat (or stats) to perform better in Contests. While it’s a neat little feature, it’s absolutely nothing to write home about.

Narrative

The story of the games is the same as the initial titles. A young trainer is given the job of since many Pokémon as possible, embarks on a journey to defeat Sinnoh’s Champion and it has to deal with the villainous Team Galactic in the process. The narrative is incredibly easy and rather unexciting, and also the ‘chibi’ art style doesn’t aid it, either. Most characters are just memorable because of their full-body designs, rather than their personalities or actions. There’s no real emotional link with the characters and also the story mostly serves as providing an easy explanation of why many places are inaccessible before you get further. Team Galactic is very underdeveloped, which is a real shame if you find so much potential. Story revisions from Pokémon Platinum are, sadly, completely absent.

Difficulty

Hard difficulty is not something the Pokémon franchise is renowned for, and Pokémon BDSP is significantly easier than its previous iteration. ‘Exp. Share’ is active for the whole Pokémon party, ensuring that every Pokémon in your party is at an identical level. Its inclusion enables you to use your party equally and eliminates the need to grind and a feature we enjoyed using, although, the choice to toggle this off would’ve been an appreciated feature for fans that desire a challenge. The ‘friendship’ mechanic eases the problem even more, as the Pokémon will prevent one-hit-knock-outs, heal its own status conditions and inflict more critical hits.

Rematching the Elite Four, however, is actually one of the most challenging things we’ve experienced in a Pokémon title. We won’t spoil what it really entails here, but expect competitive-level Pokémon and well-balanced teams.

Post-Game and Missing Features

The post-game is rather limited in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. There isn't any continuation to the story, other than seeing some characters for a few boxes of dialogue occasionally, and no extra narrative content as with previous Pokémon remakes. Legendary Pokémon are for sale to hunt, but don't have any storylines mounted on them. Ramanas Park, a new feature that enables the gamer to catch legendary Pokémon from Generation 1-3, is a great feature for newer players, however the monotonous grinding it required in the Grand Underground doesn’t make it a particularly fun experience should you already own them in Pokémon Home.

Speaking of Pokémon Home; it's no support until next year. While this is disappointing, it had been expected and is usually the case for new releases. Only Pokémon from Generation 1-4 can be found in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, which is disheartening when there has been 4 more generations within the gap between your originals and also the remakes. The inclusion of newer Pokémon would’ve contributed to balance issues and provided much more of grounds to carry on playing the game after the story has concluded.

The Battle Tower replaces the Battle Frontier and consists of the gamer challenging NPCs to consecutive battles to earn BP (Battle Points), which may be spent on items. Although it definitely supplies a challenge down the line, it gets very repetitive after a while, and the rewards don’t seem worthwhile when there is no competitive mode to make use of the items in.

It’s also worth noting that there are future features that aren’t currently contained in the game, but will be added for free at a later date. Including the ‘GWS’ – an alternative towards the GTS that enables players to trade Pokémon randomly around the globe – a ‘Colosseum Mode’ and the ability to have more than one part of the online trade rooms. These are minor features that don’t particularly impact much, however it does beg the question of methods rushed ILCA were to get these games out on time. Characters in the overworld mention the GWS as though it were open, and also the NPC for that Colosseum is present in each and every Pokémon Center, too. It seems these functions were designed to launch using the game, but were not able for no specified reason.

Visuals

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl make an effort to replicate the spritework of the original titles in the overworld, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. While the character designs are cute, they fail to capture the charm of 2D sprites, and also the scale of the world feels limited and poorly executed in a 3D format. There's also a blurred effect in areas for example caves and forests that, put bluntly, looks substandard, and diminishes the scenery. Battles, on the other hand, look great. The lighting and backgrounds have improved rather significantly when compared with previous titles, and also the character types of both characters and Pokémon look every bit as good because they did in Sword and Shield. 

Audio

The music is mostly perfectly produced and heavily increases the original tracks. The only gripe we have with the soundtrack may be the poor sounding trills at the outset of encounters and a little less bass than the originals, but overall gets a thumbs up from us. The sound effects are generally all high-quality versions of the DS’ and supply a sense of nostalgic familiarity without sounding too dated. The continual, piercing beeping sound when a Pokémon is low health has finally been removed and, instead, only plays a light beeping sound briefly once.

Performance

The framerate stayed in a constant 30 FPS and we never experienced just one dip within our playthroughs. There were times where the game would spend an extra second or so loading an outrageous encounter, but the experience was as smooth as it may be around the Nintendo Switch’s hardware. We'd no damaging experiences with connectivity when playing online, either.

Conclusion

Overall, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are perfectly decent Pokémon games, but seem like a significant take a step back when compared to newer titles and the quality of previous Pokémon remakes. It relies too heavily around the Pokémon formula always providing a decent game, but doesn’t bring anything else to the table. The characteristics removed from the originals, in addition to ILCA completely ignoring the revisions that Pokémon Platinum already made thirteen years ago heavily impacted the overall enjoyment of the games. With increased time in the oven, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl could’ve been exceptional titles, but the end result felt undercooked and games that'll be inevitably pushed to the side once the next game releases.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl are available now for Nintendo Switch.

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