Review: Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is faithful to a fault

Available Platforms
Genre

JRPG , RPG

Release Date

November 19, 2021

Developer

ILCA

Publisher

Nintendo

Author

Angelo M. D'Argenio

Deals
A faithful remake of the classic Pokemon Diamond and Pearl for modern day consoles.

When Nintendo and Game Freak turned over the keys to the Pokémon franchise to ILCA and said, “make a faithful remake of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl,” they seemed to take the assignment very literally. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is not so much a remake as it is a one-to-one translation of the game’s original content. It does not include many of the improvements from Diamond and Pearl’s sister game, Platinum. It does not include much new original content. Heck, it doesn’t even redesign its main characters. All that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are doing is giving you a chance to play the original with some quality of life improvements and better graphics.

And that might be enough.

A Pokémon from a Different Time

If Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl made me realize anything, it’s that the original Diamond and Pearl were pretty good, to begin with. It’s the same old story you are used to. Young kid embarks on a journey to train and battle Pokémon, deals with a criminal organization, and only slightly stumbles into confrontations with the primordial forces of the universe, you know the drill.

The story beats are simple and predictable and, in a way, it is refreshing. Sword and Shield hit similar story beats, but they were largely unfulfilling. They tried to have their cake and eat it too, feeling traditional but hitting us with a last-minute plot twist that fell flat. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, on the other hand, plays it safe much like the original Diamond and Pearl did, leaving its bigger plot twists for Platinum.

The gameplay comes from a time when Pokémon was a little less concerned with balance. The dex for Diamond and Pearl is quite restrictive, and you won’t be seeing any Pokémon that you wouldn’t have seen at least in Platinum. That means none of the newer mons, nothing outside the scope of the original.

And since there isn’t this eye for game balance, that means that some of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl’s challenges are actually, well, challenging. We know that Pokémon is kind of a monster training RPG for kids, so Game freak and Nintendo never really pushed difficulty, leaving the biggest challenges for post-game. But Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl include challenges from the original that made it into the game, perhaps simply because Game Freak had not quite gotten the hang of tuning Pokémon difficulty yet.

That means there are some grueling gauntlets of trainers between hefty patches of tall grass. There are gyms set up without giving you ample opportunity to get Pokémon of opposing types. You’ll traverse labyrinthine dungeons that will tax your stamina and have you force-feeding your Pokémon potions. Catching new mons feels like a triumph that totally remakes your team with each catch. Every challenge is just a little bit harder and, as a result, feels a little bit more satisfying to overcome.

Tweaks for a Modern Age

At this point, you are probably wondering, “Is anything new?”

Well, the short and simple answer is, not much.

The graphics are the most obvious difference. Sprites are gone and are replaced with chibi super-deformed versions of the original characters, almost reminiscent of Nintendo’s remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. They are admittedly adorable, but they do appear rough around the edges when the camera zooms in.

Battles, however, look fairly similar to battles in Sword and Shield. Character models lose their chibi style and instead grow to human-sized proportions. The same Pokémon models have been reused from Sword and Shield, but they have seen a bit of texture work to fit the rest of the game’s art style. Trainers come into battle sporting the same pose they did in the original Diamond and Pearl, which is a nice if somewhat corny touch.

The Pokémon Underground has been expanded to operate a bit more like the Wild Zones in Sword and Shield. Pokémon now wander around on the map, allowing you to pick and choose your encounters. The Underground grants you access to Pokémon from beyond the scope of the original Diamond and Pearl, but not beyond the scope of Platinum. This does mean that you can break the difficulty curve of the game by hunting down rare mons in the Underground, but even if you do it doesn’t feel too unfair. It’s a nice little addition for anyone who feels ripped off that ILCA didn’t include any of the improvements from Platinum.

Perhaps the largest quality of life change is the change to HMs. You no longer need an HM slave to use HM moves. Instead, moves are simply triggered from your menu. This basically opens up a whole slot in your party that was usually reserved for a non-combatant in the original Diamond and Pearl, and that alone really does open up your strategy in entirely new ways.

It also makes you more likely to do a lot of the game’s side content. Players were kind of pushed forward through the original Diamond and Pearl because there were just SO many HMs to keep track of. Being able to use HMs for any given puzzle required a needless amount of micromanaging. Taking that tedium away really allows players to just come across this content naturally, pushing them to spend more time exploring Diamond and Pearl’s world, the time they likely didn’t spend in the original release.

Unfortunately, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl does not include one of the most loved quality-of-life improvements from Sword and Shield: infinite TMs. They are back to one-use items and, yes, it is a little frustrating. However, you can just chalk it up to the refreshing classic challenge of the remakes.

Perhaps the most controversial modern convenience is the introduction of always-on EXP share. Basically, this means that all the Pokémon in your party are gaining EXP at all times, a lifesaver for newbies to the franchise, and a loathed addition for many series veterans. Previous Pokémon games either gave you the option to turn EXP share off or relegated it to an item. There is no such option here, which has some of the Pokémon community up in arms. Personally, I didn’t mind it, but I can see where veterans are coming from. It does remove a certain dimension of strategy. Luckily, hackers have already released a version with a toggleable EXP share, and randomizers are well on the way.

It Does What It Says on the Tin

For the first time ever, I think I would say that this remake is not particularly worth picking up if you still own a working copy of the original. I wouldn’t call it worse than the original, however, there isn’t enough new here to warrant playing through them again. It’s especially disappointing if you owned Platinum because these remakes really do pale in comparison to the definitive Platinum experience.

However, if you missed the Pokebus the first time around, these are fantastic games. Diamond and Pearl really do hold up, and this is the only way you can reliably purchase them right now. So, if pulling out your old DS isn’t an option, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are more than a good enough replacement. It’s just that $60 is a bit of a steep price tag for anyone who still owns a working original copy.

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7.5

Good

Pros

  • Adorable graphics style
  • Modern day quality of life changes
  • Refreshing retro challenge
  • Incredibly faithful to the original

Cons

  • No content from Platinum
  • New Pokemon from beyond Platinum
  • Music is kind of forgettable
  • Hard to justify a full price purchase if you own the original