I miss the DS.
The first piece of technology I ever personally owned (ok I had like a leapfrog and camera too), my Nintendo DSi XL was very close to my young heart. Perhaps too close. The adventures I had with the thing were plentiful, and it’s feature list was actually pretty on par with the smartphones of the day – excluding the newly-released iPhone, of course. Man, Steve Jobs was NOT lying when he said that thing was 5 years ahead of its time. Of course, there was one area even the iPhone was unable to triumph over the DS, and that was it’s game library. For Mario fans like myself, the selection was amazing – New Super Mario Bros., Mariokart DS and Super Mario 64 DS are ALL standout titles in my book. It was essentially a pocketable N64 after all, and I even had some ports of GameCube/Wii games such as Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. However, 3 out of those 4 games had parallels on Wii, or even all 4 if you count the Original SM64 on the Wii virtual console, so I needed something new. Something fresh, a new type of series I wasn’t familiar with.
And in stepped Pokémon.
Generations 4 and 5 were my childhood generations, so it may sound odd to hear I had at least one version of every mainline entry on the DS aside from the Sinnoh games, which were the original Diamond and Pearl (also Platinum). That’s right, I had myself Pokémon Heartgold, Pokémon Black and Pokémon White 2. I was planning on getting Pokémon Platinum from a friend a few months back but before we could make the exchange, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond randomly showed up on my doorstep. With $60 mysteriously missing from my bank account (you think I’d buy this junk myself? pfft), I picked it up and booted on my switch, hoping it would be an even trade.
Now with almost a month of my very first Sinnoh adventures behind me, I am ready to answer the deep philosophical question: Was it worth it tho?
Well, yes. But also no. …It’s kind of a complicated thing.
If you’ve been following the mainline Pokémon series over the last few years, then you know things aren’t all fine and dandy among the core fanbase (despite the incredible sales Gen 8 has seen so far). Starting with Pokémon Sword & Shield, Game Freak announced they would no longer be including every Pokémon in the game, which had been the tradition for almost 25 years. Fans went nuts over this, and it’s easy to cast that aside as fanboys being fanboys, as we are closing in on a THOUSAND total Pokémon and it’s unreasonable to bring back EVERY one in each new game. But they do have a point. You see, years back they created HD models of every ‘mon in order to “future-proof” the franchise. These same HD models with their 5 or 6 animations each have been largely unchanged since Pokémon X & Y back in 2013, with all the Pokémon created after remaining similar every subsequent title as well. And I mean every subsequent title – from Pokémon Go to Sword and Shield and now Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, every Pokémon looks the EXACT same. If you’re just going to reuse the models each time, then what is the point of leaving our favorites in the dust?
While fans are probably throwing around more accusations than necessary, one thing is clear: These games look and feel rushed and underfunded, of which BD&SP may just be the worst offender yet. They had to drop a day one patch for this game, and it wasn’t just bug fixes, oh no. I’m talking opening cutscenes and basic animations + gameplay features, such as online trading. Just this first update gave me about 3GB of data I was trying to avoid storing on my SD card when I bought – um, I mean found, a physical copy. And get this: they still aren’t done adding everything yet. Other features such as the colosseum, global trading system and having more than 2 people in union rooms are also missing at launch, and some of these things were present in the ORIGINAL TITLES! It’s an embarrassing mess.
As much as I hate to say this though… it’s Pokémon, which means hardcore fans of the series such as myself will still enjoy this. As one youtuber described his experience (not an exact quote): “It’s buggy and unfinished, and I had a blast playing over 100 hours total between my two versions.”
I feel like that youtuber. It is definitely the buggiest Pokémon game I have played, including everything from animation & rendering glitches to being able to skip certain trainers and even an entire gym because the developers did not make the changes needed to accommodate the 360 degree movements the player can now make (the DS versions allowed only four directions of walking).
All of this, and I still had a really good time. The Pokémon formula is just that strong, and I still don’t find myself that tired of it yet. Don’t get me wrong, this remake has its perks. There are plenty of things carried over from Pokémon Platinum (the definitive DS version of D&P released in 2009) and not everything new here is troublesome. The remade music, for instance, is amazing and you can even obtain an item that lets you switch it back to the DS sounds after beating the game. You can customize your character with outfits as per the last few games, and if you played Pokémon Sword & Shield or Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee, you can get yourself a Jirachi and Mew respectively, so that’s pretty nice.
The Underground, a massive, well, underground area where players could mine for treasure, interact with others, and build a secret base is back and (mostly) better than ever in the form of The Grand Underground. The mining can get a bit grindy and it takes forever to find actual fossils, but as you explore more of the areas you seem to find better treasure more often, so I can’t complain much. Overall I’ve very much enjoyed my time down there and the new caves where Pokémon are encountered on the overworld rather than randomly in the grass is awesome. The Grand Underground is probably the best new addition to the game and I just wish that some of its features could have been implemented above ground as well.
None of this is to mention the various quality of life improvements such as universal XP share or an improved Poké radar. Unfortunately, battles continue to become a slog towards the end of the game, as once again zero improvements (aside from faster health bars) have been made to speed things up after all these years. Yes, you can turn off some animations but this doesn’t prevent text from appearing and it makes battles look even more unpolished than they already are. Finally, the PAL Park (which was used to transfer Pokémon up from Gen 3) has been replaced with Ramanas Park, which houses a bunch of legendaries from various games and makes charming and satisfying endgame content. Another neat addition.
At the end of the day, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl is a classic embodiment of what the franchise has become. Plagued by yearly releases (did you notice how many different Pokémon games I mentioned?) and strict, unquestionable deadlines, the series credits it’s survival mostly to an incredible gameplay concept and persistent legacy. I can’t recommend it to those who aren’t big fans of Pokémon, but if you enjoyed Sword & Shield the same will probably be true here. Just consider waiting for Legends Arceus when it launches next month; hopes seem higher on that front. And yes, I’ll be reviewing it too!
Gameplay: 4/5 (-1 for missing online features & lack of trivial optimizations)
Magic/Occult: A decent handful of Pokémon and trainers have psychic/magical powers. You can visit an old tower with deceased Pokémon who have presumably turned into ghosts. Along with other (not real-life) religious references, some of the legendary Pokémon in the game are explicitly mentioned to be deities, and the evil leader of Team Galactic wants to become one himself. A couple of Pokédex entries can get pretty dark, such the one for Spiritomb who is made up of many spirits bound to a stone for misdeeds.
Violence: While Pokémon are fighting each other, everything is very cartoony – the developers really don’t like the franchise being compared to dogfighting or anything. Some moves the Pokémon make are a bit over-the-top, such as self-destruction, but funnily enough the poor animation quality makes things a lot less graphic. You can turn them off if you want.
Sex/nudity: A few female trainers in the game have slightly provocative lines and wear revealing outfits, most notably the ones in the ocean who wear bikinis.