Pokémon is a very long-standing series. Dating all the way back to 1995, there is a lot of history behind the franchise, and while it hasn’t always been positively received by the community it’s still a series that has a lot of love behind it. The fourth generation of Pokémon games are somewhat revered for their excellence, with Diamond and Pearl introducing the Sinnoh region, and Platinum perfecting it. Mechanically, they were arguably the most important games in the series as this was the generation that introduced the physical/special split and allowed for far more variety in each Pokémon’s stat spread and moveset. With that being said, remakes of the Sinnoh games were always going to be incredibly important but incredibly tricky. The fanbase has been divided on the direction the recent games have gone in terms of mechanics and so people have also been divided about these remakes given that they would exclude a lot of the more recent mechanics like Dynamaxing – a departure from the trend of remakes including the newer mechanics of the series. However, after spending a good chunk of time with the game, it brings me a lot of joy to say that Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are lovingly crafted, faithful remakes of one of my favourite childhood games.
Given that right off the bat we knew these games would be faithful – almost 1:1 remakes – I felt that a standard playthrough might be a little too safe or boring. What has been fun, however, is watching people do various Pokémon challenge runs and I’d always wanted to do one myself, so why not make my review playthrough of the Gen 4 remakes a challenge run? What challenge could I possibly do during the review cycle that would make the game a lot tougher? A bug-type only run, of course.
Naturally, setting this up was a little annoying. The tools don’t currently exist to randomise everything in this game, mostly due it not being out yet, so I had to do it the hard way. I started my save file and was immediately presented with one of the smaller changes. Much like in Pokémon Sword & Shield, when you choose your character you have a few options. The differences in each option are pretty minor, but it’s a nice way to help make the player feel like they are a little more unique. Regardless, I chose Dawn (because who chooses Lucas?) and started my adventure. Immediately I was greeted with the beautifully recreated Sinnoh region. Bear in mind, we haven’t seen the Sinnoh region since 2009 when Platinum released so it comes as no surprise that a new coat of paint was on the cards, but I was still taken aback by how clean and crisp it all looked.
One of the biggest points of contention regarding these remakes is the art style. I completely understand not liking the chibi art style, it was something that took warming up to back in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and it’s still something that takes a little bit to get used to. However, I feel that this art style best serves the purpose of aiding in the 1:1 remake design direction of the game that the developers were going for. I don’t actually like most chibi art styles, but this one suits the style of the game incredibly well.
After I started the game and was given my starter, I had to put the game on pause until night time. I couldn’t really fight anything with my Piplup, because that was against the rules of the challenge (there will be a video so you can watch it), so I saved the game and worked on some other stuff in the meantime. Once night rolled around, the challenge could truly begin. I caught a Kricketot, a mono bug-type Pokémon that evolves into a Kricketune, which would carry me for a good chunk of the game. A grind was immediately necessary as the first trainer was going to easily take me down with their Starly. It was through this first grind that I got to appreciate the slightly different movement mechanics of these remakes.
Movement in these games is kind of comparable to how it worked in Pokémon X & Y, where your faster movement is tied to the thumbstick, and slower, more calculated movement is tied to the D-Pad. This introduces its own issues though, as the newer movement system that has been implemented into this game feels a bit more floaty. The older style of movements were quite snappy and responsive, which was one of the benefits of being so strictly tied to a grid. The grid isn’t gone in these remakes, but you are tied to it much less than previously, which can sometimes lead to the movement feeling a little less precise. Nonetheless, I pressed on and made my way into Jubilife City, where I obtained the Pokétch and got to see how a once central mechanic that was designed around a second screen would be adapted to a singular screen. It’s far from perfect, but I find that it was still implemented fairly well. Rather than dedicating a section of the screen indefinitely and cluttering what is already a small amount of screen real estate, you can instead have the Pokétch in one of three states – maximised, minimised, and hidden. Maximised is only really used when you want to use the Pokétch itself and has you lose control of the character. You will instead control a cursor which is used to interact with all the options and features of the Pokétch. Minimised is for when you want to see the Pokétch but not use it, and hidden is…well…hidden. Integrating this functionality into a singular screen was always going to be tough, but I was quite impressed with this solution rather than just relegating it to a key item in the backpack. It was also given some extra functionality to more easily give the player access to the hidden moves since HMs on Pokémon hasn’t been a requirement for a little while.
Going through to the first gym I immediately felt the benefit of the game being remade with some of the modernisation of current Pokémon. Movesets are naturally updated and it actually allowed for what was now Kricketune to learn Absorb, a move which came in clutch for the Rock Gym. So far so good, and I soon made my way past the new few areas with ease.
One part of the original Sinnoh games that I never got to truly experience due to being a sad, lonely kid, was the underground. I’d always known it to be an incredibly cool and fun activity found within these games, but barely touched it outside of getting the fossils for my Pokédex. Nothing has changed. I’m still sad and lonely but the underground has been updated and allows you to now get some rare Pokémon, a fact which helped as it allowed me to get a Scyther near the end of the game as well as a Munchlax that came with leftovers (I used the leftovers, not the Munchlax). This is a great addition as it allows for a simpler way to circumvent some of the more obscure mechanics for obtaining some of the rarer Pokémon, like the aforementioned Munchlax. It’s a really smart way of increasing the accessibility of completing the Pokédex as some of these encounter methods were a little ridiculous.
Moving forward into the later parts of the game, my restricted Pokémon party (which mostly comprised of a Kricketune, a Dustox, and a Skorupi) was so ineffective in a lot of fights that it allowed me to experience perhaps one of the more subtle changes – AI movesets and held items. When it came to the original games, most of the held items that the AI would use on Pokémon would be berries, for just a tiny amount of healing when below 50% health. While this still remains true as a lot of trainers do still use these berries, some of the more important fights/trainers feature items that are quite well thought out, thus playing into their movesets or typing. A great example is how Aaron, the first member of the Elite Four, actually has a Flame Orb on their Heracross and will use Facade. A very smart play which utilises the high base attack stat of the Heracross. Some small changes like this make challenges like mine feel even more fun as I often had to resort to strategies that I normally would not use.
Every angle of this remake feels like it was made out of love, and as a big fan of Gen 4 I was greatly appreciative of it. It’s perhaps easy to label this as a lazy or low effort remake, but when you are trying to stay so faithful to the original, you are often met with challenges, especially when it comes to art. The art of the environment felt so familiar and not just a use of pre-existing assets from more modern titles like the other remakes have done. Recreating these assets in a way that makes them more detailed while also respecting the original art of the environment is a very tough thing to do and I think the people at ILCA have done a fantastic job with it. In addition to this, the music (another facet of these games that has always been revered) was recreated in a similar fashion. It so effectively taps into the feeling of nostalgia that the developers wanted, so full props to them for this. Another bonus is that the game ran far better than Sword & Shield ever did (though I guess that’s a pretty low bar). I’d never experienced a crash or even so much as a hitch or frame drop. The only oddity I encountered was that sometimes the game can take a while to transition you into a battle when walking into the grass. I know in the originals this was the telltale sign that you had encountered a shiny, but here that isn’t the case and just occurs every so often.
As my bug-type Pokémon dealt the final blow to Cynthia’s Garchomp, I watched my very first Pokémon challenge run come to a close. I not only got to experience the Sinnoh region again with a fresh coat of paint and some sharper audio, I also got to experience it in a manner that allowed me to truly appreciate the love and care that has gone into revitalising one of the most significant generations in Pokémon. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl serve as reminders of what Pokémon once was and allows players to go back to a simpler time in the series, where the core gimmicks weren’t as divisive and intrusive. People that go in expecting more than just Gen 4 but prettier will be sorely disappointed, but I for one appreciate it for what it is.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
- Nintendo Switch
- November 19, 2021