Title: Pokemon Shining Pearl
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Adventure, Turn-Based RPG
Following the remakes for generations 1, 2, and 3 of the Pokemon franchise, remakes for generation 4, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, were inevitable. And they were announced in early 2021, off the back of Pokemon Sword and Shield. Further, they were outsourced to ILCA, a first for the ‘main series’. Reception to the announcement was mixed, at least in certain circles. But with nearly a year of development time to improve, it’s time to see what kind of experience Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl can net you when compared to Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, or BDSP as I will call them for short or we’ll be here forever, is no different from any other Pokemon game, especially since it recreates the opening of Diamond and Pearl. You meet your obligatory professor, Rowan, who allegedly studies Pokemon evolution but will have no role in the story as you and your hyperactive buddy Barry go on two quests.
The first is catching Pokemon to complete the Pokedex, something that most players won’t do. The other is fighting all eight gym leaders scattered across the Sinnoh region, fighting your way to becoming the best there ever was. Along the way, you’ll find the terrorists Team Galactic, run by Hikawa from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne- I mean, Cyrus, who wants to reshape the universe to his whims.
As a remake, you’ll be immediately drawn to the visual style. Unlike the previous three iterations of remakes, in which the games were graphically updated to match the then current-gen, Pokemon BDSP instead recreates the style of the DS titles in 3D using chibi graphics, similarly to the Link’s Awakening Switch remake.
And it can look terrific. It can be hard to top the presentation of a nostalgic DS game with great pixel art but coupled with some occasionally neat remixes of the route themes, BDSP really can outdo its predecessors to be the best-looking Pokemon game. Well, sometimes.
There’s a bloom effect that blurs out the surroundings of the route to help make the route itself pop. Unfortunately, it often turns on and off on a whim and can be hard on the eyes. The chibi models look great when seen from above, but the game likes to zoom in a lot, and it looks awful every time.
Battles look fantastic, with new move animations, and the backgrounds look incredibly wonderful when surfing or on beaches. I actually kept the move animations on, as they’re faster, and time between actions is cut down tremendously. Pokemon movesets, abilities, and typesets have been updated to their current standing. For example, Gardevoir is part fairy type, Shinx has Intimidate as an ability, and Chimchar has access to Power-Up Punch. The quality of life improvements is welcome, such as the removal of HMs. Contests improvements are also nice.
Trainers in battle look cool, but this is undercut by strange jump cuts between poses that make everyone feel lifeless. This design choice is notable with Barry, who spends his battles staying almost perfectly still when the fact he cannot is part of his character. In addition, gym Leader and Elite 4 pre-battle transitions are abysmal, using flawed model renders with none of the DS titles’ visual flairs.
The Underground from the original games returns as the Grand Underground, with the ability to find other users online. Still, secret base customisation, traps, and Capture The Flag have been dropped. Wild Pokemon can be found in their place, likely to spruce up the original Diamond and Pearl’s lackluster Pokedex. This could have been avoided by simply altering the Pokemon Platinum dex. But they don’t, because this is a too faithful recreation of Diamond and Pearl.
BDSP goes back to single-use TMs, something that was dropped in the next games. The Poketch has only one button. No care was put into the script, as Johto’s Bell Tower became the Tin Tower, originally a mistranslation that was fixed. It all feels a bit soulless.
It doesn’t help that BDSP’s additions feel half-baked too. Besides the Grand Underground, Following Pokemon noticeably lag behind you like in Sword and Shield’s DLC. Customization is limited to outfits, your hair and eye color are permanently set, the HM application overrides your own Pokemon, e.g., forcing you to surf on a Bibarel, even if you have a Gyarados with the move. The permanent EXP share turns everything but the Elite 4 into a cakewalk, even with more difficult gyms, because you’re many, many levels ahead of the curve, even when avoiding trainers and wild Pokemon.
The decision to drop all Platinum content is baffling. This results in the loss of characters, like Looker, scenes that flesh out Barry and other gym leaders, alterations that made the world more interesting to explore, the distortion world (one of the most well-remembered aspects of the Sinnoh Pokemon games), and the enhanced Pokedex. And because these games add nothing in return, they lack any semblance of identity.
A common argument is that the remakes have never been remakes of the ‘third game.’ Of course, this argument is a lie since Heartgold and Soulsilver had Eusine, a Crystal exclusive NPC, and added his Suicune hunt into the remake. And whilst Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire lacked Emerald’s confrontation between the 3 main legendary Pokemon, the Delta Episode was added into the remakes to make up for the lack of Rayquaza content.
The fact that those games also included gen 6’s mega evolution gimmick and some story and route alterations to improve the experience didn’t hurt, despite the lack of Battle Frontier. Instead, here, I was constantly getting slapped in the face with reminders of the fact that various scenes I was looking forward to, or cool environments I was about to go to, didn’t exist in vanilla Diamond and Pearl.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have definite improvements over Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. And while I did have fun, I was constantly reminded that I’ve played a better version of this game, Pokemon Platinum, and that’s been around for 13 years.
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