Whew...Pokémon sure had a busy year in 2021, didn't it? I mean not only did it have its 25th anniversary back in February 2021, but it had some MAJOR new announcements for new games coming out that have become hot-sellers and are still being talked about as of now! I already reviewed Legends Arceus a while back, now it's time for the other big games that got announced last year. Said games are Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.
Released on November the 19th 2021, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are, you guessed it, remakes of the original Pokémon Diamond and Pearl games released back in 2006 for the Nintendo DS. They are among Pokémon's best selling games, selling over 18 million copies worldwide, outselling the wildly popular Ruby/Sapphire games, the FireRed and LeafGreen remakes and even their successors, Pokémon Black and White! The Diamond and Pearl games are part of Pokémon's fourth generation and despite mixed reception back in the day, these games have been viewed more fondly in recent years, though most of that is because of Pokémon Platinum, the third game in the series, being considered one of Pokémon's best games ever.
And now here we are with Diamond and Pearl getting remakes alongside the Red/Blue/Yellow, Gold/Silver and Ruby/Sapphire games! This makes them the second pair of Pokémon games for the Switch to be remakes of a previous game, the first being Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee, which are remakes of Pokémon Yellow.
If anyone's curious about my experiences with the originals...eh, I didn't grow up with Gen 4. I fell out of Pokémon after Gen 3 and thus never played Diamond, Pearl OR Platinum until much later in life, so I'm sorry to say that I have no nostalgic connection to these games. However, I bought Pokémon Platinum during a visit at the London Film and Comic Con in 2019 and the game sold me in my return to the Pokémon franchise as I ended up getting many more after that. Hell, Platinum is the first Pokémon game I have EVER completed all the way through! This of course makes Platinum very special to me. I also played Diamond as well and...well, let's just say Platinum is better.
Also, I was one of the people who watched the 25th anniversary livestream in which these games were announced and you better believe I was hyped through the roof to see these remakes become a reality! It's also interesting to note that these games are the first core-series Pokémon games to NOT be developed directly by GameFreak. Instead, the games were made by ILCA, a company best known for creating the fantastic Pokémon HOME app for the Switch and mobile phones. So now we have some new blood to show that they can make good Pokémon games too. So are Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl the Gen 4 remakes we've all been waiting for? Or should we throw these games into the Distortion World for Giratina to wipe out of existence? Let's dive in to my review on Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl...
Section 1: The Story
I think everyone going into this will know the story of the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum games at this point: You're a budding trainer who obtains a Pokémon from Professor Rowan and goes on an epic adventure through the Sinnoh region as we fight Gym Leaders and fight off Team Galactic as we try to stop the evil Cyrus from using the legendary Pokémon to carry out his nefarious goal of rewriting the world into one that better suits his needs.
Does the remake do anything new with the story like previous remakes have done? Well...no.
As many have criticized with these remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl run into one of the biggest obstacles that comes with remaking previous content...and that is being TOO faithful to the originals. None could be used as a bigger example of that overly faithful nature than the story itself. It is LITERALLY copy-pasted scene-by-scene and word-for-word from the original Diamond and Pearl games specifically. They didn't even include any of the changes to the story that Platinum made, meaning there's no Looker (though let's face it, did he REALLY add anything of value to Platinum? It's not like including him meant all that much), no expansion on Cyrus's backstory and most important of all: no Distortion World plot with Giratina. It really does feel like ILCA heard all the demands for Diamond and Pearl remakes and took it as in we literally want remakes of Diamond and Pearl SPECIFICALLY, hence why the story is exactly the same as before and none of the Platinum stuff is brought back here.
This just feels like doing the bare minimum in terms of Pokémon remakes because the previous remakes such as FireRed and Leaf Green, HeartGold and SoulSilver and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire at least did more than just copy the plots of the originals. They added in new stuff to their stories be it the Sevii Islands for FRLG, including all the Crystal content for HGSS and having an entirely new post-game plot in the form of the Delta Chapter for ORAS. Even the Sun and Moon games gave us some changes to the plot when they gave us their sequels Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (though some debate which plot is better in those games). BDSP...did nothing. It's so disappointing in that regard because you EASILY could've changed something about the game's plot to make it feel new for the remakes! Like a post-game plot involving Giratina and the Distortion World would've been nice at least!
If you want a full critique of the story, you'll have to wait for a future review on the originals as this review is based on the remakes only. All I can say for the plot is that it's a literal copy-paste from before and ILCA, the company that made these games rather than GameFreak, made no effort to at least alter the story in some way. Including the Platinum story changes would've been something at least. As is, BDSP stands as easily the laziest remake in terms of plot because it didn't change or add anything new to it like previous remakes have...
Section 2: The Gameplay
Because the remakes have the exact same plot as before with no changes made to it, I'm skipping the characters section because nothing's changed there either. Once again, you'll have to wait for a future review on the originals for a detailed analysis of the characters. Now back to the gameplay.
As Pokémon remakes, it's natural that these games will feel different, but the same in terms of gameplay. The Red and Blue remakes include Double Battles, abilities and improved move sets for Pokémon boss battles, the Gold and Silver remakes include all the Crystal content and ways to obtain Gen 3 and Gen 4 Pokémon in the world of Johto while also making certain boss battles more challenging and so forth. So what's new about the gameplay here and what returns from the original games?
I'll start with what didn't change first. The gameplay is mostly the same as in Diamond, Pearl and Platinum with an identical map and route to take to the first two games (albeit depicted in 3-D this time) and you have your usual Gym circuit to clear before taking on the Elite Four and the Champion at the Pokémon League while also battling Team Galactic and your rival along the way. Unfortunately, the game in its attempt to be as faithful to the originals as possible also copied some of the aspects of gameplay that fans hated about the originals or weren't happy to go back to after previous games made a change they liked. The biggest examples of this include the less straight-forward route around Sinnoh and the Gym Circuit that people preferred in Platinum, TMs being single use again despite the feature being dropped (and rightfully so!) after Gen 4, Gligar's evolution item being locked into post-game so players are stuck waiting until the post-game before they can use a Gliscor, Glaceon and Leafeon going back to location evolutions instead of stone-basd evolutions like in Sword and Shield and of course, the weird unfitting teams that some of the Gym Leaders have because of Sinnoh's rather poor Pokédex. All these things were annoying in the original Diamond and Pearl so why ILCA brought them back is anyone's guess. When people wanted remakes of Diamond and Pearl, they didn't mean "We want them to be faithful to the point you bring back what we didn't like about them!". Cripes, it'd be like it Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were faithful remakes to Ruby and Sapphire to the point they made TMs single use, the rival doesn't fully evolve his/her starter and made new improvements to Team Aqua or Team Magma's motivations to make them less asinine!
HOWEVER...there are still things this game improved on that makes the gameplay a huge improvement from the originals. First of all, the gameplay is MUCH speedier compared to Diamond and Pearl. Pokémon attacks happen instantaneously and HP falls rapidly unlike before (so no more of that infamous moment with Blissey like before!). While TMs are back to single use, it's easier to find TMs than last time thanks to the Grand Underground and over in Veilstone City, you can now buy TMs for all the attacks you had to go to the Game Corner in order to win because the Game Corner no longer exists, meaning it's MUCH easier to get powerful moves like Thunderbolt, Flamethrower, Ice Beam, Psychic and more so that's really awesome. HMs are now just an app on your Pokétch watch so now you don't have to teach your Pokémon useless moves like Cut or Defog to get around Sinnoh anymore, you can just use your Pokétch to call a wild Pokémon to do the HM move for you (and some HMs like Surf and Waterfall can be found as TMs so your Water Pokémon can still learn them for battle if necessary) which to me felt like THE perfect way to bring HMs back in a way that will satisfy everyone. Noticeably, most of the wild Pokémon that carry out the HM moves when you call for them on your Pokétch happen to be Bidoof. I think someone at ILCA was aware of Bidoof's status as a HM slave when they were working on this game. XD
Another thing improved on in this game is the Underground, now called the Grand Underground. By Arceus did they improve the Underground! Not only is it actually worth going down there because of all the new features they've put in there, but it's actually really easy to spend hours down there just digging up treasures or looking for Pokémon while you're down there. In the Grand Underground, you can dig up gems and other kinds of treasures to either sell in shops above the surface or trade with people down in the Underground to get TMs that you normally wouldn't find anywhere else (or find more than one of at least) and you can even find evolution stones when digging around too. But most importantly, you can enter various biomes that are populated by Pokémon. Some you can catch already in the wild above and some you can only find down in the UG like Houndoom, Elekid, Togepi, Magby and various others. This little detail actually solves another problem that people had with the originals, which was the lack of Fire-types. Thanks to the UG, you're not stuck between just Infernape or Rapidash anymore as now you can go down there to get a Houndoom, a Magmortar (for Shining Pearl players) or even just get an Altaria and teach it Flamethrower. This I imagine made a lot of people happy, especially as now they can play the Sinnoh games with more varied teams. Sadly, some like Glaceon, Gliscor and Weavile are still not available for a long time but those that like Honchkrow and Mismagius will be glad to know that you can find a Dusk Stone in the Grand Underground at a time much earlier than when you find one in Team Galactic headquarters so you can get those ones earlier. Also because of Pokémon HOME linking these games and Legends Arceus together, you can get trade-evolution Pokémon much quicker and without needing to trade as thanks to Pokémon HOME, you can just move those Pokémon over to Legends Arceus, evolve them there with their items and bring them back to BDSP again. This can also solve the issue of waiting forever to get Glaceon, Gliscor and Weavile too, though the fact we needed Pokémon HOME and an entirely other game to fix this issue is rather ridiculous in hindsight.
Also the Gym Leaders, while still having their weird Diamond and Pearl teams, are a little more challenging than they were last time. Not only do their Pokémon have better movesets, but many of them can cover their weaknesses well (i.e. Volkner's Surfing Raichu) and they alongside the Elite Four and the Champion even make use of held items. The A.I. in previous Pokémon games VERY RARELY ever makes use of held items with the major boss battles at best having their ace Pokémon use a held item. Here, we have Gym Leaders as early as the second one, Gardenia, using held items (thought only two out of three use them) and from Maylene onwards, all the Gym Leaders use teams where each Pokémon has a held item. I definitely give ILCA credit for this as many people complain that Pokémon games are too easy nowadays (which is wrong because the games aren't "easier", we just got more skilled in beating them) so adding this to try and make the battles more of a challenge is a nice idea and honestly is something the games should take advantage of more often. Imagine how much more challenging games like X & Y or Sword and Shield would be if their Gym Leaders and boss battles used held items on all their Pokémon?
Speaking of difficulty, for anyone who was worried that the games would do this, you can breathe a sigh of relief. These remakes DID NOT nerf Cynthia in the slightest. If anything, I actually think she's MORE challenging than she is in the originals! Not only does her team all have held items to abuse, but she now wields a Garchomp with Swords Dance to boost up its obscene attack power, Poison Jab to deal with Fairy-types that would be a threat to it and to top it all off...it carries a berry that weakens Ice Attacks so you WILL NOT one-shot it with an Ice Attack like you could before. This in turn allowed for me to do what I rarely have to do when facing other Champions in the series: I actually have to plan and strategize in order to deal with her. Most Champions can be dealt with easily enough with straight-forward battle tactics and the right counters, but Cynthia in this game? Not so much. Basically unless you can take Garchomp down before it uses Swords Dance, your team will go down like chumps! And if that's not enough, you can rematch the Gym Leaders, Elite Four and Champion in the post-game and their teams get even stronger with many of them wielding Pokémon with competitive level movesets. Then after you beat Stark Mountain, they get EVEN STRONGER to the point the Elite Four use full teams of six Pokémon each with held items and powerful movesets and Cynthia gets this as well while also using a Porygon-Z in place of Roserade and her terrifying Garchomp reaching Level 88! This in turn has, for many, made the post-game one of the most challenging post-games in all of Pokémon with just how powerful the Elite Four and Cynthia can get in these rematches.
For returning features, we have a lot from the originals and some returning features from Pokémon games that came after Gen 4. For features returning from Diamond and Pearl, we have the Battle Tower which seems to be the same as before, the Great Marsh is here again as the region's own Safari Zone, we have the Stark Mountain post-game plot where you can find Heatran and catch it and Contests are back too (though different from before as we'll cover shortly). For returning features from other games, we have the Fairy-type being brought over once more so now we can go through Sinnoh with a Fairy-type Togekiss and others and to many people's annoyance (and to MY delight), the EXP share system is still here and like in previous Switch Pokémon Games, you can't turn it off. Personally, I never have a problem with this as it saves so much time on grinding up your team and the system itself isn't the problem, it's the player that chooses to abuse it. If you're like me and like to raise up teams of more than six Pokémon, it's easy to avoid over-grinding if you keep changing your team up every so often and just spend less time beating up wild Pokémon. Why don't players get this?
As well as the Grand Underground and the Game Corner being changed to a Clothes Shop, another change made here is that Pal Park has been replaced with Ramanas Park and it's there where you can collect Legendries. You have to collect Mysterious Shards from the Grand Underground in order to purchase slates and buying these slates will allow you to find a certain Legendary. Thanks to Pokémon HOME, I can just cheat and bring over Legendries I've found in Sword and Shield but before that was possible, I'm sure many fans had fun seeing how many Legendries they could find and how quickly they could do it.
This game is a weird mix of improving some things in the gameplay while going back to the problems of the originals. It's like they wanted to fix certain issues more than others, which seems like weird priorities to have when re-making a game. I'd have tried fixing all the problems of the originals rather than just some of them. And then there's cases where they change stuff for the better like the Grand Underground and making the Elite Four and Cynthia more challenging, but then they also change things for the worst like with Contests. They're not like how they were in the originals, being reduced to a simple rhythm game that just feels like they took that one part of the original Sinnoh Contests and just decided to make that the whole game of the Contests. I was so excited to see how the Contests would look in 3-D much like in the Hoenn remakes...and all I got was just a watered down version of Contests that makes me wonder why even have them if you're going to change them to the point there's barely anything left of them. What, did they think kids these days would find Contests too hard or something? I don't think they had any issue playing the ones in ORAS!
Oh and don't get me started on the glitches. I shamelessly admit that I was one of many players gleefully exploiting the cloning glitch before ILCA patched it up (and even then it took them about three or four tries to fully patch it up as Pokétubers like BLAINES kept finding new ways to use the glitch!). The fact such a huge glitch was even in the finished version of the games is pretty laughable and honestly this sort of thing is just a constant reminder on why game companies need to stop rushing their products out. We shouldn't need patches to fix the bugs after the game's been released, OK?!
That aside, the improvements made outweigh the weird creative choices made with these games for me and for me, I find BDSP to be way more enjoyable to play than the originals because of the improvements made and the faster gameplay. It'd say other remakes improved the gameplay of their predecessors more, but I think ILCA did a decent job for this one at least.
Section 3: The Graphics
One of the many benefits of the Switch is that we now get to see the beloved Sinnoh region in glorious 3-D. And let me just say that it's GREAT to see the world of Diamond/Pearl/Platinum in 3-D, and really lovely looking 3-D too!
I'll get the Copperajah-in-the-room out the way first: yes I agree with just about everybody who criticizes these games that the chibi style was a confusing design choice. I get that it's to look like the original sprites from the original games and the style does kinda grow on you over time, but I just don't see why ILCA thought this was a necessary idea. I mean previous remakes like ORAS and the Let's Go games didn't feel the need to match the chibi style of the original 2-D games and they benefitted a lot from it so why does BDSP do it? All it does is just make the cutscenes feel laughable to watch because the chibi style just does them no favours, ESPECIALLY whenever Cyrus is onscreen. He becomes impossible to take seriously when he has that serious as all hell expression on his face but he has this cut widdle chibi body that it just ends up looking...silly. XD What's weirder is that the chibi style only applies to the human characters in the overworld. The Pokémon still look like their old selves with no chibi style to them and then whenever you're in battle with anyone, the style goes from chibi to proper human proportions so that just makes the chibi style even more confusing! Like they had the time and money to render proper models of these characters so why spend even MORE time and MORE money on making these chibi designs when we didn't need them in the end?
Also this design choice and recreation of the original game's look ends up working against it in some areas. The follow mechanic is back for these games but it looks laughably bad because the Pokémon are not only still pretty slow and can't keep up with you well, but the chibi style ends up having the player character looking pretty oversized compared to the Pokémon and Legendries like Dialga, Palkia and Giratina look positively TINY when walking in the overworld. This look and style works for the 2-D games, but not for 3-D games like this. The Let's Go games are still the shining example of how to recreate a 2-D game in 3-D for me.
Now that's out the way, let's talk about the good stuff with the graphics. First of all, the amount of detail is absolutely gorgeous in this game. The Sinnoh region looks better than ever thanks to being in 3-D with lots of detail everywhere in the places you go, the habitats you visit and the Gyms you battle in. The Grand Underground is no exception to this either as the whole Underground is rich with detail be it the tunnels themselves or the biomes you walk into. Even the character models (the non-chibi ones) are well detailed too with the player characters, the Gym Leaders and even Cynthia being rendered with actual textured details on their clothes. While the overall art-style still matches the style of the 2-D games, the Sinnoh region itself still looks really good like this and thanks to advances in technology, they can make it truly look amazing in ways not possible in the originals. For one example, the 3-D graphics allow for this game to have actual lighting on them to really get that feeling of the time of day when you play. The game especially looks really pretty at sunset in my eyes. The sunset colours and the lighting and shading are just proper eye-candy and as such is my favourite time to play the game. And like everybody else, I totally agree on the fact this game made the water look really, really good! No joke, I think this game has the best looking water effects in any of the 3-D Pokémon games so far released. Not only is it animated like actual water but it also looks really pretty to look at any time you're surfing across it. How is it Legends Arceus is a fully 3-D open world and yet BDSP has better looking water effects than that game does? XD
Because of this game being 3-D, it also makes the battles look way more exciting as a result. You now have actual 3-D environments you battle in, and well detailed ones at that, and you're watching actual Pokémon battle together instead of just two static images move slightly and calling it "fighting". True the Pokémon themselves have their usual limited range of animations to work with and sometimes their movements don't always match the attacks they're using (and in Floatzel's case, its attack animation looks awkard as it looks like it's firing its attacks from its bum!) but it's still way more exciting to look at than in the originals. I especially enjoy battling the Elite 4 and Cynthia as their rooms are fantastically detailed and awesome looking and really matches their type-speciality from the fires in Flint's room to Lucien's purple coloured room reflecting his Psychic speciality.
While the Pokémon featured in this game look great as usual, they're still plagued by their limited animation cycles as seen in previous games. This especially looks bad for the Contest games. Whenever they're supposed to be "dancing", they just do their walk cycles and they don't even have proper turning animations either so you get them spinning on the spot as they walk like with that infamous moment with Zacian and Zamazenta in Sword and Shield. Granted, I can agree that animating actual dance cycles for EVERY SINGLE Pokémon in the game would've been ludicrously time-consuming and expensive so I can probably see why they didn't do that but to it's still pretty amusing to watch them not dance like so. XD
The only other thing I can add is that the Sinnoh region is also very faithfully recreated here. Everything looks like how it was before, just in 3-D now, and the map is virtually identical to last time. I imagine many Gen 4 fans really felt nostalgic getting to traverse Sinnoh again but in these glorious new 3-D graphics. Of course there's a few changes from before like the Game Corner now being replaced by a Clothes Shop to customize your character with but by-and-large, it's still the same Sinnoh we know and love from before. Sadly, they make it look so faithful to the original Sinnoh that they even recreate some of the annoying things about the region from Gliscor's evolution item being stuck in the post-game, Weavile's evolution item only being available in Victory Road and the long way round we have to go around the region to complete the Gym Circuit instead of the more straight-forward route that Platinum gave us. Ah well, these things don't ruin the game for me at least so I'm not complaining too much.
The graphics may suffer from the confusing decision to have a chibi style when it doesn't need it, but they still gave the Sinnoh region one beautiful looking upgrade overall and I'll happy traverse through THIS version of the region to enjoy its looks any day.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the definition of a mixed bag. The remakes improve on a lot of things over the originals and are more fun to play as a result, but at the same time they don't improve on everything and they don't add a lot of new stuff to justify the remake's existence. With its copy-paste plot, lack of Platinum content and some confusing creative decisions while over-prioritizing being faithful to the originals, Pokémon BDSP are remakes that were good, but could've been even better. If you want truly good Pokémon remakes, I say play HeartGold and SoulSilver or Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. I would still recommend these games over the originals, though if you want the best Gen 4 experience you can get, you'll probably still prefer Platinum over these games. Personally I enjoy them, but I definitely agree that the remakes had the potential to be something truly special. I say give them a try at least once and see what you think to them...
That's it for this review. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Do you like the remakes? Do you prefer the originals? I'd love to hear all about it.
Tune into my next blog post as we have another Vs. essay in which I will compare these games to their predecessors (and Platinum as well). See you then everybody...