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Friday, June 9, 2023

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl Resolved Many of Diamond & Pearl's Release-Era Issues

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Historical revisionism drives dislike, but I'm not a fan of that.

It has been a trend in several gaming fandom circles (The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pokémon; the last of those being today's topic) where there is a cycle of love-hate relationships with old games and new games. A game might be disliked at release and then appreciated later... or the other way around. In Pokémon Pearl and Pokémon Diamond's case when they released on the Nintendo DS in 2006–2007 (back before the world all got games at the same time, Japan got it in 2006), the games were almost universally acclaimed by game critics and normal fans alike. They were proclaimed to be the best mainline Pokémon RPG up to that point, though with some imperfections.

And then... something happened many years later, and fans were turning on Diamond and Pearl. Even worse, it was as if all of that praise never happened. It's like all of the fans had learned Toxic. But I won't let what they say undo how much I liked Sinnoh at the time, and much moreso than the games that came before it. And having played Pokémon Shining Pearl, it's still my favourite mainline Pokémon game of the generation.

I very recently wrote an article comparing the sour fan reception to Shining Pearl plus Brilliant Diamond to the much more glowing fan reception of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, despite their similar faithful remaster philosophies. I've went back and did some research using the Wayback Machine on what was actually said, at the time of release and slightly after, about Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, and I'm going to share that information with you all and what Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl changed or kept the same compared to that feedback.

I've actually compiled a spreadsheet on ten critic reviews and ten GameFAQs user reviews (at the time, that's where people went to write detailed reviews of games; it certainly helps that the reviews are still around today and aren't purged off the Internet), purposefully avoiding reviews that tended to be nothing but positive. So I actually went for more negative reviews with lower scores and noted the positive feedback and negative feedback. I've summarised the feedback from both the critics and users. Note the word contemporary means “from that time it came out” and isn't a synonym for “modern”. Somehow, English speakers have allowed the word to hold contradictory meanings at the same time:

Contemporary Positive Feedback for Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl
There is a lot of content in the games, and they will provide a lot of bang for your buck
The presentation is improved with new 3D effects in the outdoors that make some details pop
The Global Trade System (GTS) allows you to trade with anyone across the world, which is great for your Pokédex
The music sounds nice
There is some more depth to the battle system, such as the physical-special move split
Sinnoh itself is nicely designed
The gameplay is addicting
Contemporary Negative Feedback for Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl
Game-specific Friend Codes are a pain
You can't walk diagonally
The Pokémon series hasn't radically innovated its formula
The Pokémon that originated from prior generations have low-quality cries, which stand out compared to the likes of Kricketune
The 3D assets aren't applied universally, such as in-battle and inside buildings
The story is weak and feels like it's been done before
Battles move too slowly, including battle animations and lots of pauses
The encounter rate of wild Pokémon feels too high
There should be online battles versus random people
HM slaves dominating your party isn't fun to manage
The Pokétch applications range from useless to decent; should only be useful if it takes up a whole screen
The Underground and Contests aren't necessarily interesting diversions. They also don't connect back to the main gameplay enough
It's too easy
Type match-ups are hard to remember without a strategy guide
It should be like Johto where there is another region to explore
There aren't enough Fire types, and Chimchar is overpowered

The above is what people actually said back then. Remember: Just because something is complained about doesn't make it a valid complaint. After reading a whole lot of reviews, it was quickly clear to me that professional reviewers, whether it's now where they are just outright frauds, or then (where, pre-GamerGate, a lot may have been unethical and without a posted ethics policy and readers were none-the-wiser), tend not to know what they're talking about.

Regardless, a lot of the bullet points in the negative column (and even some in the positive column) have been changed with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. And just because there are more points in the negatives than the positives doesn't mean that the games were originally received negatively. They were applauded upon release. I was just purposefully looking for any negative points to put up there for the purpose of seeing if the remasters addressed them.

The game has even more content than the originals. While it's still 493 Pokémon, the post-game has been expanded a bit, including gym leader rematches, the Battle Tower having a master class with additional characterisation potential, Ramanas Park, and some more things. (Especially if you got the Platinum events.) The 3D is improved in this game, especially during battles and inside buildings, while maintaining the lovable art style that people had originally praised. Some of the battle mechanics have been brought over to the new games, such as the Fairy type.

Pokémon Shining Brilliant Diamond Pearl Nintendo DS versus Switch 3D graphics effects Lost Tower assets example comparison
Reviewers were correct back then that the 3D effects disappeared indoors.
People are wrong now when they pretend like there hasn't been an improvement in this area.

Game-specific Friend Codes (back in the day, friends were tied to your specific game, not your console) have been abolished. Friends are tied to your Nintendo Switch, and you can do many more activities without being friends with people, including with link codes. You can now battle with random people with the Global Club feature, though I don't recommend it. Some guy named Jose wrecked my team with his Mewtwo and Lugia. You can now walk diagonally (and with a Pokémon, for what its worth) if you choose. Cry quality is now uniform across the Pokémon cast (this complaint came up way more than you'd expect in 2007) instead of Generation 1 and 2 Pokémon being forced to screech in 8-bit. The battle speed is significantly improved and faster, especially if you turn battle effects (animations) off in the settings, and the BEEP BEEP when your health goes low will stop being annoying as well (someone also complained about this). You no longer have to teach your Pokémon party any HMs to navigate the world, and can summon Pokémon with your Pokétch to do so for you. The game will now tell you type match-ups if you've encountered a Pokémon before so you don't have to memorise those, though I don't think that's necessarily a good thing. If you want to buy more Repels, they're there and money is actually more plentiful than before. Plus, the game will ask you after a Repel has expired if you'd like to use one, as opposed to you having to open the menu to re-apply a Repel.

Pokémon Shining Pearl Lugia Global Club battle with random person online wifi
Oh, his name is Juan. Not Jose. That just goes to show he is a random guy I don't know.

Some of the criticisms from back then are just bad ideas that come from not understanding game design, like having another region to explore. People thought, and still think, two small regions with not much to do per region is a better deal than one big region with several things to do—and everyone agrees Sinnoh is huge (yet, not empty). Meanwhile, people have been hung up over Fire types for many years now. One of the biggest disservices that Starter Pokémon have done is make people think that the main three Pokémon types are Grass, Fire, and Water. Those types are the Starters because they form a super-effective/not-very-effective triangle against one another and their type interactions are very intuitive to understand for new players. It's not because you should expect the three most common types to be those. Fire is a niche type, and the Sinnoh region chose not to sacrifice its natural integrity by placing volcanos next to tundran biomes. Still, the remaster addressed this as well by having many Pokémon available in the totally redone Grand Underground that wouldn't be available on the surface, including a slew of Fire types during the main adventure. (Namely Magby—in Shining Pearl only—and Houndoom.) The Grand Underground has a LOT more to do now and it has significant connections to the main gameplay, and it is more accessible than before where it was a local multiplayer-based experience.

pokémon Shining Pearl Volcanic Cave Grand Underground National Dex Camerupt Torchic
Here. Have your Fire types. Personally, I didn't go through my adventure with a Fire type. And I didn't want to!

Super Contests are totally different now, though I think they are worse. They help tie back to Ball Capsules, which are also drastically improved and more customisable than before. None of the original reviews mentioned Ball Capsules or Seals, but they are one of the best features of Sinnoh and are more prominent than before.

As for difficulty, the main game, for the most part, is even easier due to forced Experience All and the level curve not being appropriately adjusted. However, if you're like me, you might see a bright side to it. This lets you more easily train even more than six Pokémon. People regularly complain that Sinnoh teams often involve your Starter, a Luxray, and a Staraptor, and that's half of your team. But with EXP All, you can afford to train, say, twelve Pokémon (like I did—and three of them are Grass types because I like them). However, by the end of the game, the Elite 4 and the Champion are significantly harder and more competitive than they ever were (even with EXP All), and that's even without taking the rematches into account. It is a big whiplash to crush the whole game only to get pwned at the end, but that's how it's now designed.

Some things haven't changed at all—mainly the storyline. The gameplay also hasn't had a big innovation, but that isn't the purpose of Pokémon Shining Pearl or Pokémon Brilliant Diamond. Them being a traditional by-the-numbers mainline Pokémon JPRG is their innovation. In the Nintendo Switch era, Pokémon has continually been trying to reinvent the wheel, with the Wild Area in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield; the very different structure to Pokémon Legends: Arceus; and the open borders game design of Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl being around to play it straight is what differentiates it. It's like how in the 1960s and 1970s, conservatives were seen as the culture and leftist causes were the counterculture—now conservatism is the counterculture and left-wing ideologies are the mainstream. That's how it is with a standard turn-based, linear Pokémon JRPG experience in the Nintendo Switch era. I appreciate the Sinnoh remasters for holding strong there.

Oh, one thing did get worse. The GTS is now the GWS, which goes from asking for specific Pokémon to trade to trading totally random stuff for other random stuff. I dunno why anyone would do that. The GTS is now instead a Pokémon HOME feature, which is compatible with Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl, so it's not totally gone.

The remasters have pretty much addressed everything that actual players of the game (that weren't influenced by influencers or memes or historical revisionism) at the time of its release had with it. That makes it the objectively superior way to access Diamond and Pearl's intended experience. If they were the best version of the mainline JRPG Pokémon experience back then, that makes these an even better version of the best version. If you've never played a Sinnoh game, don't let the historical revisionism scare you away from trying these. You'll probably enjoy them.

Has Ludwig's defence of the Sinnoh remasters convinced you in any way? Do you think it's a valid way to evaluate games where if the developers fixed the issues people had identified that stopped the games from being perfect in their original reviews, that now makes them perfect? Ludwig thinks you should judge the game as the game it is, not as the remake you might've wanted it to be.

The combination of moveset updates and new animations has made this Chatot art collection possible.


  1. IDK, I played platinum, and I am still stuck on fantina
    I feel like platinum requires too much grinding, so I cant imagine the higher lvls of diamond and platinum

    1. Diamond and Pearl don't have higher levels—they just re-ordered when you can battle Fantina to be much earlier in Platinum, so her Pokémon are lower-leveled.

      But by the middle to end of Platinum, NPCs (and wild Pokémon, for that matter) have slightly higher levels on their Pokémon because there are a few more extra EXP-giving story battles in Platinum.

  2. Also apperantly Cynthia in BDSP now has a competative worthy team, so maybe tats not an improvement over the original.....


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