Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are a pair of well crafted games that I can’t muster much enthusiasm for. They are well crafted from a technical point of view, and offer challenges that have been missing from recent Pokémon games. But at the same time, there is an air of soullessness to them that pervades the experience, arguably making them the weakest of the Pokémon remakes.
Part of this is the result of the art style chosen for the remakes, which feature 3D chibi-like characters in the overworld. It’s admittedly cute at first, but it’s not as striking as either the sprite work of the original Diamond and Pearl or the fully 3D world of Pokémon Sword and Shield. While Sinnoh itself looks fine on a technical level, the character models and environments begin to bleed together after a while, as nothing feels distinct on its own. The models and backgrounds used in the battles are much better, and I would have preferred it if the entire game used a similar style. For example, Pokémon Champion Cynthia’s battle model is imposing and conveys her strength, while her field model is underwhelming.
Though Pokémon games aren’t known for their in-depth narratives, the good ones at least imbue the player with a sense of adventure. They convey to you that you are going on a wonderful journey, where you’ll encounter mysterious creatures, make friends with them, and overcome challenging obstacles. And while Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are definitely challenging, I would argue that their art style prevents them from feeling like a truly great adventure because it makes the world and your actions feel lighthearted. There’s no sense of impact or wonder in exploring Sinnoh when both the characters and the world look bland.
“Most of the features in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are pulled directly from the original games and not Pokémon Platinum“
Yet as flat as the overworld felt for me, I had a great time exploring Sinnoh’s Great Underground. It’s an evolved version of the Underground from the original Gen 4 games, this time featuring multiple ‘rooms’ that contain rare and hard to find Pokémon of different types. For example, a room filled with lava will contain Fire Pokémon, a gem filled cave contains psychic and ghost Pokémon, and so on. It’s weird, featuring a mining minigame that is genuinely quite fun to play, and has character that is missing from Sinnoh proper.
The strange mix of elements continues with the battle system, most prominently with Exp. Share. While the turn based battles are largely the same as they’ve ever been, Exp. Share is turned on at all times as part of the franchise’s continual use of quality of life improvements. Personally, I don’t mind Exp. Share being active at all times — provided that the game itself is balanced around it. Yet in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, it’s not implemented well. I found myself constantly overleveled when facing normal trainers and random encounters, but in Gym Battles I found that I was equal or only slightly more powerful than the leaders themselves. It’s weird how Exp. Share is imbalanced for most of the game, only to have it circle back around and feel fine in instances like this.
“…by and large, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are fun.”
Elsewhere, minor improvements abound. Hidden moves, or HMs, have been reworked so that you can use them on the fly without wasting a precious move slot on one of your Pokémon so that you can use Rock Smash. Pokémon Contests feature a new rhythm game that is interesting, but merely a distraction compared to the rest of the game. The soundtrack is arguably the best change, revitalizing much of the original Diamond and Pearl’s music while retaining familiar themes and motifs. And other quality of life improvements — like having a Pokémon follow you in the overworld, as well as the ability to throw a Pokeball without digging into your bag — are appreciated.
Past that, this is a standard Pokémon game, with little in the way of surprises. Most of the features in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are pulled directly from the original games and not Pokémon Platinum, which featured an expanded story and a much more interesting Pokédex. This is disappointing, as I would have preferred the expansions present in Platinum, leaving Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl undercooked as a result.
Which is a shame, because by and large, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are fun. It’s difficult to screw up the Pokémon formula, and the charm that was found in the original Diamond and Pearl can still be found here. It’s just that, comparatively speaking, the remakes don’t add much to the originals. In some cases, it detracts from the original presentation and style. If you haven’t played the originals before, then Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are worth experiencing. But if you have, you will likely be disappointed by what you see.