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Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: Sinnoh Homecoming

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

When I was a young lad, my family visited their friends who had a young boy about my age. While the adults hung out downstairs in the living room, we went up to his room to hang out. His walls were covered in posters, not uncommon in any boy's bedroom, but one particular poster caught my eye. It was a catalog of little animal characters, each with their own name listed under their picture. This was my very first memory of Pokémon. And I was mesmerized; I could have stared at that poster all day. To this day, I have the mental image from that poster of Shieldon, Combee, Burmy, and other Pokémon burned into my mind. I had no frame of reference for how relevant or useful in a battle they were-- I was a kid, after all, none of that mattered to me, I was simply hooked on how creative and unique each and every design was. It was a blind introduction to Pokémon and I was interested in all of them, I wanted to know more.

I'm not sure how long after it was that I got my hands on my very first game: Pokémon Platinum for the Nintendo DS. I was absolutely hooked on the charm of the game. I adored Sinnoh and all the Pokémon it introduced. I made memories with that game, from the first wild encounters I shared with my Piplup to the grueling final challenge at the end of victory road against champion Cynthia. And the music? Oh, the music! Positively unforgettable. Ever since I've been a fan of the franchise, following along with each entry into the core mainline of games. Since then I've carried a very sentimental nostalgia for Sinnoh, the same kind of fond remembrance one may have for looking back at their formative childhood years in their hometown. For years now as a member of the fanbase I've seen people ask for "gen 4 remakes." As you may know, it's a series habit to remake their old games with a new coat of paint and usually some new exciting features to explore. For as long as I remember, fans have been clamoring for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl to receive this treatment and I, having been one of the many fans to start their journey in the region of Sinnoh, have also been eagerly looking forward to the day these remakes came to fruition. It's been a long journey, and I won't lie, I started to doubt that the day would ever come, but here we are. I don't say this lightly, but I think these remakes might just be my most anticipated release. Ever. Like of any media.



Graphics

 

So the day has finally come. Sinnoh has been remade and it has a lot of expectations to live up to. The announcement for the games, giving the world their very first look at the long-awaited gen four remakes, saw a very divisive reaction. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were both being outsourced by Gamefreak to a third-party company (ILCA) and were being rendered in a very jarring "chibi" style. It immediately saw a strong response online... a resounding portion of which being negative. With a color palette that popped for better or for worse and dollhouse-esque overworld models, many people had a hard time moving past this major aesthetic overhaul for the series. While it definitely was baffling seeing the debut of this new graphical style, the shock doesn't carry through the whole game. It's not entirely a bad change, just a drastically different one. However, there are definitely occasions in this game that a keen eye can't help but hinge on.


The character models in this game are serviceable; probably not what the fans have been expecting but an effective vessel for our player characters and all of the surrounding NPCs. However, during scenes of dialogue between characters the game camera tends to zoom in on these tiny characters which doesn't bode terrifically well on the eyes every time. Some face textures on the models are pixel-y and rough around the edges and seeing these goofy little bobble-head characters enhanced so drastically for character dialogue (something that happens quite a lot) just doesn't look great. On the other hand, in battle characters are given non-chibi models that aren't hindered by being miniaturized. These models have sometimes been regarded as the saving grace for the baby figurine overworld models, "at least they don't always look like that," right? That's a fair point, sure, but a lot of these in-battle models still end up looking very bland and lame when they take center stage. During battle with any character of marginal importance there will be mid-battle dialogue cues that occur commonly whenever your opponent has been whittled down to their last one or two usable Pokémon. These cues cause the camera to pan across your opponent's character model as their mouth flaps open and shut and a dialogue box appears. This almost always looks very jarring and awkward and emphasizes the worst areas of these character models.


Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, the games really don't look so uncanny from top to bottom. The character models, both in and out of battle, are pretty much the major outlier in terms of being aesthetically pleasing. The rest of the game looks all-around decent enough. All of the Pokémon look good and the battle environments are honestly some of the best we've seen in the franchise yet! However, the nondescript void background that typically appears during battles against the game's team of baddies makes another lazy return.

At least for a desolate lacuna it looks spiffy enough. And hey, they even hung up some planets in the background for encounters with Galactic higher-ups which I suppose is a nice touch.


Gameplay

 

While it has it's hang-ups here and there, nothing in the visuals department makes this game unplayable by any stretch of the imagination. It may look concerningly inferior to its fifteen-year-old counterparts but it's still not the worst thing to look at. Now that we've ruled out how it looks, how does it actually play? Well, it plays like Diamond and Pearl did, duh. But with the inclusion of features introduced after D&P's original debut, there are a few "modernizations" that have altered the gameplay curve. The EXP Share, an item that distributes earned experience points from any Pokémon participating in the battle and spreads it across all members in your party, acted as an optional item that could be sought out and applied to a single Pokémon in your party so the exp. points could be split between the two of them. Here the game follows Sword and Shield by opting to not make the EXP share optional and instead making it an omnipresent feature of every battle. This affects the level curve of the game. I felt like my team was consistently over-leveled throughout my playthrough and I was able to breeze through mini-bosses with ease (of course it could have just been thanks to the grinding I'd done in the Grand Underground.)


That said, I still got bodied in my first attempt to run the Elite 4 gauntlet. Sinnoh has an infamous level gap between the eighth and final gym battle and the four consecutive precursory fights that lead up to the final duel against the champion. Even despite the unfair advantage of forced EXP share and Grand Underground grinding sessions I still initially struggled to surmount this obstacle. Another returning element from past games that were around for the first iterations of Diamond and Pearl is the more in-depth friendship mechanic. This mechanic will give you functional in-battle advantages such as a higher chance for crits, a chance to tank a fatal blow with 1HP, or the ability to get rid of a status effect if you're lucky. These have always been a transparent attempt from the game to make you more attached to your personal Pokémon. Now call me a sappy sucker but I adore this mechanic even if it is objectively busted. Despite its welcome inclusion, it's difficult to accredit these games for simply just picking up pre-established mechanics we've come to expect. I suppose these are all just personal nit-picks, though. All in all the game plays close to the heart of the originals as it changes next to nothing about the core campaign. I enjoyed fostering my team of six and forging our way through the difficulty curve of the game no matter how much it deviated from the originals.



Since its release, people have been picking up on bugs and glitches present in this game. It's not like Pokémon has never had a bug before but we've certainly never experienced so many different bugs in one game. It's a bit of a let-down for such a renowned company to fall victim to such a flaw and really shows a level of carelessness on the developers' part. Sure it was outsourced to a third-party company so that Gamefreak could prospectively keep their focus on the upcoming Pokémon Legends Arceus but it's still sad to see a product fans have been requesting for years now come out almost half-baked. Thankfully a majority of these bugs are hard to come by unless you're looking for them but it's hard to ignore the lack of polish that results in such things being present in the games.

The Grand Underground

 

While the game has an unfortunate lack of new features to add to the original Sinnoh experience, they do persistently tout the Grand Underground and all its new improvements as a fresh new renovated experience for the player to participate in. And y'know what? Out of all the quote-unquote "new" features this game brings to the table, I found myself having the most consistent fun with this one. The digging minigame returns from the original allowing the player to chisel and hammer away to unearth different types of treasures, whether they be useful items or cosmetic accessories that can be placed in customizable secret bases. However, the new and more substantial part of the underground is the pocket caves that

can be discovered and explored. These are little rooms where Pokémon (and the occasional item) can be found. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only do the Pokémon walk freely about the cavern areas (à la Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee, meaning no random encounters here) but also that their levels would scale to the number of badges you carried. This made grinding far less tedious and almost a bit fun to do. It's also a much more liberal variety of available Pokémon wandering the underground pocket caverns which was a much welcome expansion to Sinnoh's limited roster of Pokémon.


Don't get me wrong, I love Sinnoh Pokémon, but throughout my retraversal of the region during Brilliant Diamond I found myself pestered time and time again by the same usual suspects-- Kricketune, Bibarel, Geodude, and if the game was feeling daring perhaps a Meditite. Maybe it's just me being used to Platinum but I really felt like the variety of wild

encounter Pokémon was depressingly slim. There's so much potential for a wide array of Pokémon that can be encountered out in the wild that would make exploration and encounters so much more engaging and that potential feels sorely missed here. The stronger diversity of the Grand Underground helps out here a bit but not enough to keep me from taking notice of the issue.

Pokémon variety aside, I found myself revisiting the Grand Underground on more than one occasion to peak around in its pocket caverns. I felt a compulsion to explore these rooms and discover what kind of environment it was and what sort of Pokémon could be found there. I would sprint down the twists and turns of the Grand Underground to pass through "just one more" pocket room just to unveil what was inside. It was a positive sense of discovery that kept me engaged in a feature of the game that I didn't have exceedingly high hopes for. While truly new additions to the game are sadly sparse in these remakes, this is one of the few newly added segments that genuinely enhanced the game for me.



Trainer Customization

 

Another "new" feature is trainer customization-- new in the sense that while new to the Sinnoh region, its presence in this game feels more like meeting a requirement of prior franchise entries rather than an attempt to add much variety to the game. Excluding the default, there are only ten available outfits that can be bought in one specific area in the game. These outfits are all very fine-looking and their inclusion is something new for the Sinnoh region, but the gut punch here is that all of the articles of clothing are restricted to their specific outfits. This means that outfit customization effectively functions more like buying skins than true customization. The fact that all of the outfits look pretty decent but can't be mismatched or the articles of clothing matched from one set with another in any way feel like a painfully missed opportunity.

Past entries in the series have allowed the player to change almost every aspect of their trainer from their hairstyle, hat, and jacket down to their bag and shoes. The fact that the customization options in this game are so limited in comparison comes off as the developers cutting corners. There is a lot of potential here with the outfits they have on display, some of them are pretty good looking, but the lack of true customization here is really just a step backward from something that's already been established as a series standard. Even with just the outfits already in the game simply divided into individual clothing articles I'd be satisfied but the fact that they're all limited to just their set outfit really kneecaps the potential for this feature. It's really a one step forward, two steps back situation here; yes, it is nice to have trainer customization come to Sinnoh, but why did it need to be brought down a peg?



Final Verdict

 

Well, to put it flatly: it sure is Sinnoh again. These remakes are very faithful, being almost nearly one-to-one remasters. If it weren't for a handful of QOL enhancements adopted from more recent installments to the series and the very occasional new feature, these would really just be the same games as they were fifteen years ago with a fresh coat of arguably worse-looking paint. It would be hard to say I didn't enjoy these games because at the end of the day Diamond and Pearl are fun enough already and these are very much those games again. Even without my bias for the Sinnoh region, there's still a baseline of enjoyment to be found in any core Pokémon game as I found myself becoming increasingly attached to my intimate little band of six funny critters as we worked together to best all the odds against us. If you're looking for Pokémon games, these are fines and commendable experiences, but as remakes they're lacking and truthfully a bit disappointing.

I remember playing through Pokémon: Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee and by the time I was watching the credits roll I thought the same thing: a mostly unflattering "Gee, that sure was Kanto again." But with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl I can say in retrospect that I took a lot of the graphical improvements and general polish put into those remakes for granted. There is very little new to found here and what is new is sadly lackluster to decent at best. The most palpable factor of differentiation from the originals throughout these games is the new art style which ends up making these games almost a little bit objectively worse than their 2D 2006 counterparts. Not only do these games lose the advantage of featuring Pokémon introduced after their region was but they also neglect to bring back any fan favorite features from past games (e.g. the inclusion of mega evolutions in both Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire and Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee.) It pains me to say but Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the flattest and least innovative remakes we've seen yet.


TL;DR: As with any Pokémon game, I had fun but the failure to adhere to series expectations for remakes makes it especially difficult to justify spending sixty smackaroos... Especially if you have the originals on hand, it's probably best just to stick with those.



 

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