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Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: Unfathomably Disappointing


My Experiences

 

The year was 2012. I was watching television inside of a local laundromat while waiting for my dad to finish up his business. After seeing an advertisement for the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days movie coming out that summer (Do I even NEED to say how hyped I was for that one?), I turned my attention back to my Aqua Blue Nintendo 3DS. Earlier that day, I purchased a used copy of Pokémon Diamond Version at my local Gamestop. This definitely wasn't my first experience with a game in the Pokémon franchise, but it was my first go-around with the Sinnoh region. I launched the game again, hoping to avoid that dreadful freeze that I kept encountering. Luckily, I managed to make it past Floaroma Town and into Route 205 this time. My first encounter on this route was a Buizel, a Pokémon that I instantly fell in love with. After getting its HP down into the red as per usual, I threw a couple of my trusty Pokéballs at it and registered Buizel into my Pokédex. Well, that's what I had hoped would happen. Unfortunately, the game decided that right as I was about to catch my new favorite Pokémon, it would enact the dreaded, game-breaking freeze. I let out an audible groan, closed my 3DS shut for the day, and continued to watch television until my dad's laundry was done.

I probably didn't realize it at the time, but this was my second encounter (the first being a Chinese bootleg of Digimon World Dusk) with the Nintendo DS's infamous bootleg cartridge problem. Even back when the DS was still relatively young, its reproduction cartridges still managed to weasel their way into the used game market more times than I would deem acceptable. At the end of the day, I sold the game back to another Gamestop for some other poor shmuck to buy, unfortunately only making a fraction of what I had previously spent on it. But the real tragedy was not being able to catch that darn Buizel! I may not have gotten very far, but I was loving the game. Sinnoh's music was enchanting, the Pokémon designs were enticing, and the gameplay was very similar to the generation five games that I was so fond of. Fast-forwarding to 2019, I would find a copy of Pokémon Pearl Version at yet another Gamestop. Despite the cartridge label looking incredibly faded and worn-out, I took a gamble and purchased the game for 35 smackeroos. To my surprise, the game worked! I completed the game and scoured the Sinnoh region to an unreasonable extent-- I clocked in well over 160 hours and did everything you could do in that game without owning a second DS system. A year later, I lucked out and found a copy of Pokémon Diamond Version in a used book store of all places. I played all the way through that one too. I even got to experience the fabled Pokémon Platinum Version, albeit through a special Pokémarathon racing event that my pals and I had organized. The reason why I'm bringing up all of my history with the Sinnoh games is to put into perspective just how intimately familiar I am with these games. I know for a fact that I also played through Diamond and Pearl sometime in between 2012 and 2019 through borrowing games from friends and emulators, but I won't get into those. The point is, I've spent a lot of time in the Sinnoh region and I was ready for a full reimagining.


I distinctly remember seeing the initial Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire E3 2014 Reveal Trailer and being left in awe. Not only because I never had the chance to play the original Hoenn games, but also because it basically confirmed in my mind that Gamefreak would continue remaking each generation of Pokémon. The gears in my head started turning in anticipation for what we could possibly see in the generation 4 remakes. "If we're getting new generation 6 features such as Mega Evolutions in the generation 3 remakes, then that means years from now we'll get all the amazing features and modernizations for the generation 4 remakes, right?!" Yeah, well the joke's on me I suppose because 2021 brought us the "faithful remakes" known as Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. And oh boy, Junichi Masuda sure did make a fool out of me.


Graphics and Controls

 

It's not a secret that ever since Pokémon went 3D the visuals received a mixed reception. I personally believe that a lot of charm and character is lost in the transition from 2D sprites to 3D models because of the obscene amount of work required to even begin putting the latter on the same pedestal as the 2D sprites of generation 5. That being said, this was mostly a problem for the in-battle scenarios. My greatest fear for the Sinnoh remakes was the potential for Gamefreak tampering too much with the excellent route design of Diamond and Pearl in favor of trying to translate it into the linear style that was seen in Pokémon Sword and Shield. Fortunately, that did not end up being the case, as the one place where I wanted the remakes to stay faithful was the map design. The initial reveal of the camera zooming out of chibi Dawn's room is about as iconic of a talking point as the laughably bad "n64 trees" of Sword and Shield. This confirmed that the game would be modeled in a toy-like, high definition, chibi style, similar to that seen in 2019's The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, that very closely resembles the original games. Most people were very disappointed with this change, but I was indifferent to the whole ordeal. Sure, the chibis look very silly in 3D because they didn't receive the same level of care that the Link's Awakening remake got, but I still have recurring nightmares of the potentially Sword and Shield-ified Sinnoh routes we could have ended up with. In fact, I'd say that ILCA did a pretty good job with what they had. Brilliant Diamond has some of the best and most detailed battle backgrounds the series has seen yet. While Sword and Shield was filled with lazy, bland, ethereal grey-spaces for many indoor battle backgrounds, Brilliant Diamond found new and unique ways to incorporate the vibes of any given area in a battle scene. For example, Byron's normally empty and soulless steel-type gym includes a bunch of multi-colored gears in the battle background. It's little touches like those ones that excite me.


The only major criticism that I have reserved for the graphics isn't even really about the graphics themselves, but rather with how the controls seem to disagree with what my eyes see on the screen. When translating the graphics of the original to the remake the grid system was axed... kind of. ILCA committed one of JRPGs' gravest sins by somehow bungling up the overworld controls in one of the most downright clumsy ways possible. Because the original game's maps were always designed to work around a grid system, removing that movement system without significantly redesigning the maps to compensate was a serious mistake. When using the analog stick for movement, the grid doesn't exist- you have access to full 360 degree movement. However, using the D-pad will snap you back into a grid as expected. The 360 degree movement is what I used for most of the playthrough because that's just what my controller demanded me to use. It became extremely obnoxious to not have access to fluid movement because real consequences other than quick, minor annoyances began to arise. Precisely, I've had countless instances in the expanded Grand Underground area where it looks like I should be able to pass through a gap in between two rocks, but the game thinks I'm bumping into the rock even though I should be able to pass through the gap with ease. I've found myself having to argue with the controls by shimmying the stick in a very precise way far too many times just to get through what should be a straight path. Compounding that issue is the appearance of overworld Pokémon in the Grand Underground. Being within what looks like a 3 inch radius of any Pokémon will cause you to enter a battle with them. It feels less like this was an intentional design choice and moreso an oversight that came from the unpolished nature of the game geometry and movement. Considering not much work went into creating new content for this remake, I would expect simple things such as movement and game geometry to actually align with what I'm seeing on the screen. Problems like these seem minor in a JRPG, considering they aren't action games, but the game should feel good or at the very least comfortable to control. I'm sure everyone has already seen the Snowpoint City Gym softlock, but I assure you that many more exist due to the unpolished controls. The bottom line is that Brilliant Diamond somehow feels rushed and unfinished from a technical standpoint.


Gameplay

 

Thus far, most of my complaints can be boiled down to simple nitpicks. At the end of the day, they don't affect my enjoyment of the game too much, I mean, I love the critically panned "Dark Age of Sonic" games for crying out loud. Being a seasoned Pokémon player, I need some kind of engagement in the gameplay department to keep me from falling asleep. It's true, Pokémon has never been a difficult franchise, but keeping my team slightly underleveled while optimizing team compositions with the best held items and TMs I could find was how I made my experience fun. Having played through Sinnoh countless times before, the map design alone isn't able to carry the experience in Brilliant Diamond. If the battles keep me somewhat engaged, while I discover new features and content added to the game, then that's the mark of a worthy pokémon remake to me.


So let's talk about those battles, shall we? Of course, this being a Pokémon game made after 2017, my worst fears came to life: permanent EXP share. Unlike generations 6 and 7, Gamefreak has recently removed the option of having EXP share enabled and now its a permanent mechanic that the player has to deal with. Many players like this addition as it reduces the grind to which I answer: "fair enough." But the games are skewed way too far in the opposite direction where everything becomes trivial. When you're able to win every single battle, barring the Pokémon League fights, without even breaking a sweat, the fun is gone for me. The EXP share awards far too much experience and the game is clearly not designed around such an addition as all of the enemy Pokémon used by trainers remained the same in an attempt to "stay faithful." Newsflash: staying faithful by refusing to adjust the already pitiful Pokémon selection found in Diamond and Pearl, as well as maintaining the same exact team builds for every enemy trainer, while bringing mechanics like forced EXP share in the name of quality of life is completely nonsensical. Having access to only two kinds of fire-type Pokémon isn't really what I would call quality of life, so where is the line drawn in staying faithful? Why not include an option to toggle off the EXP share, just as the 3DS games did? It hurts so much to not include such a simple option because it legitimately ruins my enjoyment of the game, and I am so sorry to say that.


Another reason why the EXP share kills my enjoyment is because it breaks that feeling of teambuilding that I love so much. When all my Pokémon receive EXP by doing nothing, I have no reason to use more than 2-3 Pokémon. I had a full team of 6 like always, but because I become so overleveled with the EXP share, I find myself only using the same two Pokémon. Taking advantage of type advantages becomes pretty unnecessary, and I feel like my relationship with my team is nowhere near as close as it should be. One situation in particular sticks out in my mind as being the most egregious. I didn't have a sixth team member until I reached the snowy routes towards the tail-end of the game. I decided to catch a Snover on a whim because I have never used one before and I really like using ice type Pokémon. Unfortunately for me, my team was so high-leveled compared to the Snover that it just sat in the back of my team, chilling, while it passively gained EXP. I must have used that Pokémon in three battles tops throughout the whole game because there was almost zero reason or incentive to do so with my team setup. This feels completely against the spirit of Pokémon to me personally and I fail to have any fun with such a poor implementation of the experience system.

A common argument against the EXP share is that other JRPGs actually do the same thing: so why does Pokémon get so much flack for it? Well, being a JRPG mf'er, I'm sure I can explain. Pokémon is a 1v1 battler, which is honestly where a large portion of my problems with the franchise come from, but I'll save that topic for another day. Anyways, in other JRPGs your whole active party gains EXP after each battle, whereas in Pokémon your team members who didn't even do anything in any given battle will still gain EXP for battles that they had nothing to do with. On top of that, Pokémon's satisfaction and progression systems lie directly in what level your Pokémon are at. Evolution is such a cool and exciting part of Pokémon, but it just doesn't feel earned or satisfactory when my Croagunk that I hardly ever used evolved into a Toxicroak. Once again, the problem lies in the fact that Pokémon is not balanced for the EXP share, while other JRPGs are designed around it. Take a look at Final Fantasy X for example. In that game, you can have three active party members in battle at once. However, you can swap out any character for a reserve party member at any time without spending a turn. This means that as long as every character has performed an action in any given battle, they will receive full EXP. If they didn't contribute to a battle meaningfully, then they will not receive EXP. In Brilliant Diamond I can just have my Togekiss absolutely sweep everything because he's so overleveled, and all my reserve Pokémon will just gain EXP even though I put zero conscious effort into making them receive EXP. I know this specifically seems like a "me" problem, but it actually devastates me. An EXP toggle would amplify my enjoyment greatly, and as it stands right now, I don't think I want to play another Pokémon game with the EXP share until some serious rebalancing happens.

Alright, so I hate the EXP share, but this game still finds so many ways to disappoint. For one thing, this is the most lackluster Pokémon remake that's ever been put out. I know they're saving all the new stuff like Hisuian forms for Pokémon Legends Arceus but it feels so lame to have waited eight years from Hoenn remakes to Sinnoh remakes, only for the Sinnoh remakes to be more akin to remasters with new graphics that mostly resemble the old graphics anyways. Taking one look at Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire should really tell you all you need to know as to why this remake is disappointing. Those games introduced new Mega Evolutions, Dexnav, redesigns for the legendaries with new forms, redesigns for the main villains, new villain team admins with their own distinct personalities, delta episode, new areas altogether like the revamped Mauville City, the soaring mechanic, etc. Compared to that game, and even previous remakes such as Heartgold/Soulsilver and Firered/Leafgreen, Brilliant Diamond pales. The main addition is the revamped Grand Underground, which now includes pocket areas with roaming overworld Pokémon. Some of these Pokémon aren't in the Sinnoh dex, but most of them will just be what you find in the Overworld normally until the post-game. My colleagues on this site seemed to enjoy it, but after playing around with it for about an hour once I got the Explorer Kit in Eterna City, I grew tired of it. Most of the Pokémon were the same kinds I could already find on the overworld and I didn't want to become even more overleveled than I already was. Other than that, Brilliant Diamond added some rooms where you can catch old legendaries in the post-game. Cool. I also heard you get some genuinely challenging gym leader rematches in the post-game which is pretty neat. Outside of those things, I literally cannot name any other differences between these very faithful remakes and the originals. Like I alluded to earlier, the fact that most Platinum content is nowhere to be seen, including the Platinum Pokédex, is frankly ludicrous. Everybody knows that the Diamond and Pearl dex is just awful and greatly limits team compositions. There was no reason for omitting that feature other than "staying faithful." To top it all off, you can't even transfer Pokémon that appeared after generation 4 to these games like you could in all previous remakes. One of my favorite parts in Omega Ruby was being able to use a Stoutland against Maxie. Sorry to anybody who wanted to use a Stoutland against Cyrus in Brilliant Diamond: it's just not possible.


Brilliantly Disappointing

 

I know I've left out tons of stuff that I wanted to talk about, such as the hilariously bad implementation of the Pokétch and the lacking Trainer Customization, but both of my colleagues have already covered those aspects in parts 1 and 2 of this series on Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. I don't want to end off on a sour note, because at the end of the day, I did get a modicum of enjoyment from this game. Sure, it was only after muting the game and grinding through it while watching plenty of entertaining Youtube video essays, but it was enjoyment nonetheless. That's not to say that the music was bad by the way. Far from it. The original Sinnoh games had excellent soundtracks that were mostly done justice by the rearranged versions seen here. My personal bias leans more towards the original DS sounds out of nostalgia, but ILCA made the right play by actually including a DS sounds item! How cool is that? At the end of the day, I feel like my overexposure to Diamond and Pearl especially hurt my enjoyment of this game. They were still too fresh in my memory for Brilliant Diamond to receive free points from me.


I'm not sure how my relationship with Pokémon is going to change going forwards. I'll always cherish and replay generations 4 and 5, they were some of the most memorable games of their era, but I just don't get the same enjoyment out of Gamefreak's newer outings. Here's hoping that Legends Arceus ends up being half-decent. They're adding some kind of a change to combat with the styles mechanic which looks to be a step in the right direction. I really hope ILCA, Gamefreak, or whoever will learn the right lessons in time for the generation 5 remakes. Or better yet, don't remake them at all. Just release virtual console-esque ports every now and then!


Well that's it. My first article. I'm not sure what my next one will be about. I'm currently in the process of playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and am having tons of fun with it, so maybe once I finish that we'll see what happens. Perhaps I'll talk about video game music or something next time. Thanks for reading this far, and remember, this is just my silly opinion!

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