Diving into Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (BDSP) feels like reuniting with old friends you’ve lost touch with. You’ve all grown and changed a whole lot. And while everyone looks a little bit different, maybe even talks a little bit different, there remains something very cosy and familiar that enlivens that warm fuzzy feeling in your heart, and then some.
Re-embarking on a journey through the Sinnoh region after 15 years has been an experience speckled with delight and filled with nostalgia. And it’s an adventure that, for the most part, has been well worth the anticipation for.
A Diamond is Forever
Returning to Pokémon’s 4th generation and the Sinnoh region was always going to be a daunting task. Yet, for many long-time Pokémon fans, this was where their adventures with Pikachu and co.; first began. And for even longer-time fans like me, the original Diamond and Pearl are remarked upon and often remembered as perhaps the peak of the series.
With a massive challenge on their hands, new developers ILCA have delivered an incredibly faithful tribute to the originals – setting up a new adventure in a familiar land. BDSP follows the story of the originals with beat-for-beat synchronicity, and that’s a good thing.
Everything feels just the way I remembered it, but enhanced and beautified for the modern generation of gaming.
The games utilise the classic top-down chibi-style in the overworld — reminiscent of the GBA and NDS games — while expertly blending it with the modern aesthetics and animations in cutscenes and battles. Treading through the flower-filled plains of Floaroma Town and trudging through the swampy mud piles around Pastoria City and The Great Marsh made me realise how much I’ve missed this feeling of adventure and exploration.
Going on a quest to complete the Pokédex, catching and raising new companions along the way, defeating gym leaders en route to becoming the very best like no one ever was, speaks to the 10-year old kid inside each and every one of us.
Accompanying you on that journey is an immaculate soundtrack that re-arranges a host of Pokémon classics with plenty of delectable flourishes – including a new jazzy spin on the Pokémon Center theme that lovingly greets you alongside Nurse Joy and a host of snazzy battle tracks, that after over 40 hours of playtime (and counting), still never seem to outstay their welcome.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
While the game, somewhat frustratingly, retains the sluggish start of the originals, I found that many of the new quality-of-life and gameplay enhancements have made this classic adventure appetisingly fresh again. In addition, a host of changes have been introduced to iron out much of the originals’ bits of tedium.
For example, HMs (Hidden Moves) are now executed by random wild Pokémon “assistants” that are called upon via a Pokétch app, effectively freeing up a valuable party slot for a productive squad member (sorry Bidoof, we still love you). In addition, in-battle shortcuts for throwing Pokéballs make capturing new allies a much smoother process as you no longer need to spend several minutes fumbling through your bag to find the right balls to throw.
With storage boxes now directly accessible from the party menu and the presence of an automatic Exp. Share (that can’t be switched off), the frictions of level grinding and backtracking have also effectively vanished. While purists may scoff at that, I found these changes greatly enhanced BDSP’s sense of freedom and felt compelled to experiment.
Being able to swap party members on the fly led me to constantly experiment with new teams, go on searches for new potential Pokémon to raise, and prototype new movesets. In the end, I wound up rotating a pretty large roster of 18-24 team members throughout my journey with ease and glee. If this doesn’t scream ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’, then I don’t know what does.
On The Road Again
BDSP also re-introduces a significantly enriched Grand Underground, which features a large, sprawling set of tunnels underneath the entire Sinnoh region. Here you can forage and dig for treasures alongside other players, become an expert miner by solving puzzles, build a secret base (mostly for personal gratification), and, more importantly, hunt for and acquire Pokémon previously unattainable in the earlier hours of Diamond and Pearl.
I really enjoyed this parallel treasure-hunting excursion as it grew alongside the main adventure, often finding myself pouring in a few hours after each main story beat for some fun little R&R, a dose of exploration, and to look for new friends to come along with me on my travels.
For the true challengers and achievers among us, you’ll be happy to know that the games also feature a much strengthened Elite Four, including two post-game level-ups. The latter of which places Champion Cynthia on equal footing with Red on the legendary battle of Mt. Silver.
The Little Things That Matter
With all these headline-catching changes, it’s easy to miss the little endearing details that demonstrate how much care ILCA has placed into honouring the Game Freak originals. Tiny but meaningful things like the return of the gym badge cleaning mechanic and matching bag icons in the pause menu (that vary based on your equipped outfit), illustrate how even the smallest of touches mattered to the team.
And these touches can be found in other experience-elevating additions as well, including letting players personalise the look of their avatar’s skin tone and outfits (albeit from a selected range of presets), the appearance of the towering Mt. Coronet in the background of battle vignettes, the floaty passing afternoon clouds (and their shadows) in both the overworld and in battle, and the immaculately illustrated bodies of water all over the Sinnoh region.
It’s the amalgamation of these seemingly minor tweaks that help to make this return to Sinnoh feel unique, personal, and more immersive than ever before.
A Crack In Time
All that said, the games do indeed still have some dents and flaws. Currently, they still have some odd bugs and hitches that have, in my experience, led to AI-companions disappearing from screen during my trip to Iron Island (who knew Riley was a Ghost-type Pokémon the entire time), and the rare, uncannily stiff character models of some Pokémon companions following you in the overworld; poor Milotic must’ve used Ice Beam on itself it was so stiff.
There’s also the absence of mainstay features like Pokémon Home compatibility, the Global Trade System, and Wondertrade, which can feel disappointingly restrictive to some players. But these are all slated to come eventually, so it may be worth holding off for a little while if these are major sticking points for you.
And lastly, I personally felt that the absence of post-Gen IV Pokémon to be a bit of a bummer, especially the exclusion of some Gen V favourites like the ever-classy Chandelure and the three-headed behemoth Hydreigon – though these are all far from deal breakers in my book.
Returning to Sinnoh after 15 long years has been an adventure I didn’t realise I was so eagerly anticipating. Ultimately, this return has been a faithful and captivating experience that feels well worth the prolonged recess. While this trip down memory lane has largely been a familiar one, ILCA’s first attempt at a mainline Pokémon game feels fully fleshed out and holds its head high in the pantheon of Pokémon experiences.
And even though the game’s scurried development timeline did, unfortunately, leave it with some notable omissions and performance hiccups in its initial days, when we take a step back and admire what’s been delivered, it’s clear to see that these are no more than slight blemishes on an otherwise Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.
Version Reviewed: Pokémon Shining Pearl.
Screenshots taken on a Nintendo Switch. Additional visuals courtesy of The Pokémon Company.