Date: December 7, 2021
You won’t find many people who don’t know what “Pokemon” is. Nintendo’s monster-raising franchise exploded in popularity in the late 90s with Pokemon Red / Blue / Green / Yellow, selling 47.5 million copies to date. At the time of writing this, they are the 7th best selling games of all time, or 4th among games not bundled with a console.
And while it was called a “fad” by many, the popularity of Pokemon has endured. 2019’s Pokemon Sword / Shield for the Switch has sold 22.6 million copies in just over 2 years, and that number keeps getting bigger. The TV show is still ongoing, Pokemon merchandise is everywhere, and we can’t forget about 2016’s Pokemon Go, a smartphone sensation that saw some 150 million players grab their phones and walk many miles just to catch a Dragonite.
As a 90s kid, I was of course huge on Pokemon. I very much still am – I’ve put some hundreds of hours into each generation, including Sword / Shield, which were somewhat controversial among old-time fans. But even I have to admit that I was not very fond of 2007’s Pokemon Diamond / Pearl, the 4th generation of games.
There were only 107 new Pokemon, a lot of which were evolutions of existing Pokemon. Many of the new designs were kind of bland. The villains were just awkward and boring. And to make things worse, they had removed secret bases, a beloved feature from Pokemon Ruby / Sapphire, replacing them with a cheap knock-off. This marked the beginning of a very strange tradition by Pokemon developer Game Freak, wherein they will add a new feature, which typically becomes very popular, only to remove it with the very next game, irritating everyone that liked it.
So I was somewhat confused by the exceedingly high demand for generation 4 remakes on social media. “GEN 4 REMAKES THIS YEAR CONFIRMED!!” rumours had become an annual meme among fans, inevitably resulting in disappointment. I suppose there were a lot of new fans for whom Diamond / Pearl were the entry point to the series, so I was happy for them when the remakes, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl (henceforth referred to as “BDSP” for obvious reasons), were finally announced earlier this year.
But to me “gen 4” was a low point in the series, so I was not as hyped for the remakes as they were. Yet the 10-year-old inside of me that lived and breathed Pokemon ultimately won, as I gave in and decided to give these remakes a go anyway. It took legitimate effort to find a copy of Brilliant Diamond, as it was sold out in most local game stores. And I have to say, I’m really happy I made that decision and managed to find a copy.
I have to give developer ILCA credit – they have truly nailed the feeling of gen 4, and old-school Pokemon games in general. I was a bit skeptical at first, as the only other Pokemon-related project they had worked on was Pokemon Home, a smartphone app for storing your Pokemon. Just a few hours in, my doubts had been dispelled.
These remakes are a very faithful recreation of Diamond / Pearl, in terms of both graphics and gameplay. It’s all exactly the way I remembered it. The world is just as large and vibrant as it was in 2007, with a lot of places to explore and what feels like a million legendary Pokemon to catch.
There are no major compromises in BDSP in the name of bringing the game closer to 2021 standards or making it more accessible. There are helpful hints which tell you where to go, but that’s about it. Newer games in the series are typically extremely easy, but BDSP is not afraid of having an old-school difficulty curve. It offers a pleasant level of challenge throughout, without being so easy that it’s boring, while also never becoming frustratingly difficult.
In fact, the difficulty curve is really what brought it all together for me. That feeling culminated in BDSP with the Elite 4, your final challenge in the game. For the first time in a very long time, I couldn’t win by simply having an over-leveled Pokemon defeat everything with a 1-hit. I had to use Pokemon of different types, teach them strong moves, be tactical. The challenge felt appropriate for the toughest enemies in the game — a feeling I had grown to miss.
The simple, cartoony graphics work wonders here. They perfectly represent what I imagine those DS-era 2D sprites would look like if they suddenly turned into 3D, particularly the environments. Assets and shaders were borrowed from the Let’s Go games, and I was not a fan of those games or their art style, but the work that was put into enhancing them for BDSP makes them look gorgeous, despite some minor flaws that I’ll touch on later.
Another high point in the games is the post-game. Pokemon games of yore offered a lot of content after you defeated the Elite 4 and the credits rolled. That concept has notably been missing from newer games, which typically have very little in the way of post-game activities. Not only is the post-game from Diamond / Platinum back in BDSP, but ILCA went out of their way to add even more of it, certainly pleasing dedicated Pokemon fans.
The last thing that I think solidified BDSP‘s place on my game shelf is the lack of access to Pokemon Home, a service ironically made by ILCA. Until Home support is added (sometime in 2022) you cannot bring your Pokemon from previous games to BDSP. This made it feel like a brand-new, standalone adventure, instead of a continuation of previous adventures. I ultimately beat the game with 5 Pokemon native to generation 4, and it felt like I had made 5 new friends while doing so.
While BDSP are extremely faithful remakes as I mention previously, there are a few quality of life changes that ILCA made that are certainly welcome and improved my game experience, even as an old-time fan.
First of all, you can now track the berries you have planted and the trees you have laced honey on via the world map. Furthermore, your hidden machine (HM) moves that allow you to clear obstacles and explore more of the world are now separate from your Pokemon’s moves, so you do not need dedicated “HM slave” Pokemon to carry all of those moves for you — this was very smart of ILCA, as gen 4’s HM situation was absolutely terrible.
On top of the QoL improvements, ILCA made some changes to secondary systems to flesh them out. The Pokeball decoration feature is no longer just a gimmick exclusive to the contest mini-game that very few liked; it legitimately allows you to customize your Pokeballs, with a significant range of customization options. The Underground also makes a return, and it has seen multiple improvements that make your time down there actually enjoyable, rather than a chore you suffer through to get specific rewards for the main game.
Finally, and this will be a niche thing for players who are into that, but BDSP is an extremely good game for people who enjoy shiny hunting. Not only is the PokeRadar tool for shiny hunting from Diamond / Pearl back, but there is a multitude of new mechanics for shiny hunters. Shiny hunting in BDSP is fun and accessible, without being similar to the Let’s Go games, which handed you shinies at such a high rate that it felt like they had no value.
Some of the low points of BDSP are things that were problems in Diamond / Pearl, which makes me wish that the remakes weren’t so faithful to the originals in so many aspects. For instance, you cannot buy evolution items at a store — you have grind for them in the Underground. There are no mini-games for some of the more tedious tasks in the game, like grinding for EVs, which are crucial for making your Pokemon competitively viable. These things were changed over time because they were just annoying. Competitive players in particular will suffer in BDSP, until Home support is added.
It would be easy to rag on BDSP for the same issues that made me ambivalent on Diamond / Pearl to begin with, but the truth is, there is a lot wrong with the remakes in specific as well.
For instance, a fan-favourite feature from 2010’s Pokemon Heart Gold / Soul Silver makes its return: your partner Pokemon now follows you around in the overworld. But for some bizarre reason, your partner moves extremely slowly and has a collision box, causing you to bump into him and stop in place, which makes navigating narrow corridors and doing sharp turns really annoying, for no reason at all. I had to disable that feature, which is tragic.
The Exp. Share system that causes your experience gain to be split between all of your Pokemon also makes a return in BDSP. I am personally a big fan of that system, but I know that there are a lot of players out there who do not like it, and ILCA did not add a toggle for it, so some players are stuck playing with a feature they dislike unnecessarily.
Arguably the thing that BDSP is most well-known for in the Pokemon fandom right now is the number of glitches it has. These can range from Pokemon and item duplication, turning Pokemon shiny, to a surf glitch that allows players to get a legendary Pokemon that is supposed to be unobtainable right now, to a menu glitch that players have used to defeat the game in just 17 minutes. There are just so many game-breaking glitches I could talk about. ILCA is slowly fixing them with patches, but it does not reflect well on them that BDSP was released in this state.
The last minor issue I have with BDSP is that if you have save data from previous Pokemon games on your Switch, you gain access to Mew and Jirachi, two incredibly powerful legendary Pokemon. You can get them very early on in the game — right after getting your first badge, to be exact. Using them would trivialize the game, defeating the point of the difficulty curve I praised, and make using other, gen 4 native Pokemon completely pointless, making this decision very strange. Such powerful rewards are typically reserved for the post-game, and for good reason.
The first major issue I had with BDSP is that TMs, items that teach your Pokemon moves, go back to breaking after 1 use. They were changed in generation 6 to never break, because series producer Game Freak recognized it is incredibly annoying to only have 1 copy of them, particular for competitive players. Every single game since then, including generation 3 remakes, has kept up this tradition, but ILCA decided to regress on it. There are ways to get more copies of each TM, but they are typically long grinds for just 1 more copy of a move you might want to teach to 20 different Pokemon. Overall a baffling, anti-player decision, and unquestionably something that should have been changed in the remakes.
Furthermore, someone at ILCA decided that it would be funny if they increased the chance of getting a random encounter to double or triple its original rate. There is just no way to understate how peculiar a choice this was. As an old-school Pokemon fan, I am actually a fan of random encounters, but even I just couldn’t stand it after a while and kept using Repels, items which prevent random encounters from occurring. I had to stop using a feature I liked, one that has been a series staple since the first games, for no fathomable reason.
Little piece of trivia: Diamond & Pearl were released for Nintendo DS, which had 2 screens. Pokemon games don’t really make use of a 2nd screen, so Game Freak instead used the bottom screen for the Poketch, a collection of helpful apps that you can easily use with the touch screen while playing the game normally on the top screen. The Poketch was surprisingly useful, but ultimately it was underused and thus did not return in subsequent games.
It comes back in BDSP, and it’s bad. Observant gamers may have noticed that the Switch only has 1 screen, and while it is indeed a touch screen, it is not separate, and you may be playing on your TV screen instead. So the Poketch becomes a 2nd mini-screen on the top right of your screen, and since you cannot interact with it via a separate touch screen, it instead opens up as a menu, which freezes your game. That is bad enough on its own, but even more peculiarly, they kept the touch screen interface it originally had. You get a virtual cursor, that you move with the analog stick (or god forbid, the D-pad), and press A to simulate tapping. It is so freaking janky.
This makes using the Poketch extremely annoying. You pause the game, move the cursor to the on-screen “button” and click it 10 times to switch apps. If you clicked 11 times and switched to the wrong app, too bad, no “Back” button, click it 9 times now. Then you awkwardly move the cursor around to use that app for whatever you needed it for, and close the Poketch. Repeat 1 minute later when you next need to use the Poketch. It is absolutely grating.
Finally, the thing that got to me the most, is just how bland the battles are from a visual standpoint. To put it bluntly, the level of care found in the overworld & environments was clearly not applied to battle visuals, which in many ways look even worse than Let’s Go battles — which already looked pretty bad.
The Pokemon models themselves have lower polygon counts than in Sword / Shield, which is already strange. They have awkward aliasing issues, and use visibly more simple color palettes and textures. To make things worse, the animations of both Pokemon and their moves can only be described as “too accurate to DS animations”. They are a noticeable step down from the 3DS games, never mind Sword / Shield.
There is just a complete lack of personality in battles in general. In previous games, trainer battles would start with a special cutscene and feature over-the-top animations chock-full of personality. Don’t even get me started on Sword / Shield gym battles. Yet in BDSP, ILCA decided they want to evoke the feeling of the DS games by having the trainers start off frozen in the pose of their 2007 sprite, with minimal, stiff animations and no special cutscenes.
I am a fan of sprite art — I loved Octopath Traveler — but these animations just look awkward and out of place in a fully 3D game. I don’t think all that many people were nostalgic over minimalistic animations, they were just a technological limitation of the hardware we had, one that need not be replicated in a remake 14 years later.
There is a lot to love and a lot to hate about Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl. After all, they are remakes of 14 year old games, and gaming has changed significantly since then. But that era certainly had its own unique appeal, and BDSP showed me just how much I missed some of the things that made older Pokemon games truly special. I was ambivalent about the games at first, but the more I played them, the more sold on them I became.
One final gripe I have with the games is that they are a remake of Diamond / Pearl rather than Platinum, which is essentially an enhanced version of those two. Not only are some of the worst issues of that generation remedied there, but it also has a good chunk more content, which would help push BDSP‘s longevity significantly.
I would definitely recommend BDSP to avid Pokemon fans like myself who want a taste of Poke-nostalgia, as they definitely offer that in spades. I’d also recommend them to newer fans of the series who are curious to see what the older games were like, and perhaps would like to experience a slightly more challenging version of games they already know and enjoy.
The one type of person I’d definitely not recommend BDSP to is people looking for a brand-new or significantly different experience from what they remember, because they are definitely not going to get one. They are a faithful recreation of the originals, with some beautiful graphics, some neat quality of life improvements and new features, along with some peculiar 2007-minded choices. They are a time machine of sorts, set to 2007, no more and no less.
In that sense, their names are highly appropriate. ILCA essentially took two gems of the past and polished them until they shone brilliantly. Honestly, I’m on board with that — that is what I came to realize after playing through Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl. I think the developers made some really silly and downright bizarre decisions, likely on account of their lack of experience on the franchise. Still, well-polished remakes scratch an itch that people, myself included, apparently love to scratch, and ILCA definitely delivered on that front.