Nowadays, it seems the Pokémon Company can’t get away with showing off any new video games without significant backlash and criticism from the Pokémon community. In some cases, this is justified — of course, you have scenarios like Sword & Shield’s infamous Pokédex cut and such. Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl were criticized for a different reason, though: its graphics. Rather than going with a fully-upscaled remake of Diamond & Pearl in a modern style, ILCA (the developers this time around) decided to remain “faithful” to the original games by sticking to a strange chibi style.
Though Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl absolutely looked rough in the first trailer, they’ve been cleaned up quite nicely for the final release. I’d go as far as to say that these are the best main series Pokémon games on Switch — but perhaps that’s just new toy syndrome speaking. Please note that this review is aimed at trainers who have played the original Diamond & Pearl and are on the fence about the remakes. For more information on how the region and Pokémon are designed, please check out our review of the original games!
As mentioned earlier, the developers of Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are ILCA. They created Pokémon HOME and its integration with modern Pokémon titles, and assisted in the development of Dragon Quest XI, among many other titles. That being said, it seems ILCA had never created a game on its own prior to Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, which understandably had many fans concerned. To many – myself included – Sinnoh is a special region. It was the first region I ever got to explore, as Diamond & Pearl were my first entries in the series. Between BDSP’s poorly-received graphics and ILCA’s track record as an assisting studio, I was one of many fans who thought these remakes didn’t look so good at first.
Which makes my next statement very important: despite that, these games are good. If you browsed Twitter during the development cycle of BDSP, you may recall that its battle music apparently wasn’t finished in time for the shipment of the game’s physical version. Somehow, ILCA defied the odds – a presumably short development schedule, high expectations from fans, and no previous experience solo developing a game – and made something good. Of course, these games aren’t perfect, but I’m happy with what we got.
Before we get into the bulk of the review, I’d like to add a quick note: we will be discussing spoilers. By spoilers, we mean content in Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl that was either changed, added, or removed compared to the original versions of the game. If you’d rather avoid that information, that’s fine! Feel free to bookmark this page whenever you’re ready. Now then, it’s time to discuss the clear elephant in the room here: the game’s presentation.
Like we stated before, BDSP’s graphics have been noticeably improved from the game’s initial trailers. While the character models remain unchanged, the environments have been through a ton of changes. For one, the grass color was changed to more of a bluish-green (compared to the yellowish-green it started as). This was actually my biggest gripe with the graphics at first, and I’m so glad they fixed it! Sinnoh is a rather cold region, so it made more sense to make its grass look cold.
Insignificant details aside, the game looks good for the most part. I see what they were going for — the chibi characters match up with Diamond & Pearl’s art style. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not sure if it can really be called an art style in the first place, per se. The original games were on Nintendo DS, which couldn’t really render characters in the overworld with full-length proportions. That’s why the characters in those versions only became properly proportioned in battle: technical limitations. I don’t think the intent of overworld sprites in Diamond & Pearl was necessarily to portray a chibi style, so I’m not sure if ILCA’s art style approach was really a good idea.
For what it is, though, the concept was executed well. From a distance, everything looks great! When you surf on the water using a Pokémon, you’ll even notice some subtle water physics, which I think is really neat. Unfortunately, things start to fall apart when the camera zooms in. It quickly becomes clear that these models don’t look as good when viewed up close, and it makes tense moments in the game – particularly those involving Cyrus and Team Galactic – difficult to take seriously. Even the game’s climax with the Legendary Pokémon uses the chibi models instead of the full-scale in-battle models. In conclusion, then: the art style’s initial idea wasn’t the greatest, but it was executed decently and it looks alright except for certain cutscenes.
The battle scenes look better than alright, though. This time around, there are a bunch of completely unique battle scenes that change depending on the area you’re in. Some of these are quite stunning, particularly the ones you’ll see when encountering wild Pokémon in the Grand Underground. While the Pokémon use the same tired old models and animations as they have been since 2013, the environments look better than ever. But only by a little bit, considering the Pokémon models are reused again and such. Will they ever be replaced? Probably not.
The soundtrack, however, was redone masterfully. Pokémon never disappoints in the soundtrack department, and Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are no exceptions. Most of the remixes capture the feel the original versions were going for and take it to the next level. Some of my favorite remixes are Route 225, Eterna Forest, and Route 217. There’s just one thing: if you’re playing this game and aren’t planning to speedrun it, please update it to at least version 1.1.0. As stated earlier, some of the game’s battle themes weren’t finished in time for the packaged version, so they’re placeholder themes instead. And – to be blunt – they sound awful. That being said, I can’t really hold the incomplete soundtrack against ILCA, given the fact that it is fixed via the day one update. Plus the fact that the redone battle themes are spectacular.
There’s just one more minor issue I have with the game’s presentation: its font. If I had to guess, it kind of looks like a smoothed version of the original games’ pixelated font. It winds up looking rather blocky. This could be easily fixed with a patch, but it’s admittedly a small problem that ultimately won’t impact your enjoyment of the game as a whole.
Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl play exactly how you’d expect: identically to the originals. Though a number of subtle improvements have been made, these remakes aren’t Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. There’s no brand-new postgame campaign, there are no new characters, and the ones introduced in Pokémon Platinum (Charon, Looker, and the Frontier Brains) are nowhere to be found. These are remakes, not remasters. So they’re very light on new content.
One thing you’ll notice is that BDSP are much, much faster than their original counterparts. HP bars drain nearly instantly, which alone will save you tons of time during battle. When you get the Running Shoes early on, you also no longer have to hold down the B button to run when using the control stick! Not to mention that HMs have been condensed into the Pokétch, meaning that your Pokémon no longer have to waste eight of their moveslots on techniques like Surf, Fly, and Rock Climb. This will significantly free up your team and give you the flexibility to teach them whatever attacks you want. You don’t have to give your starter Pokémon Strength anymore! These changes make the games so much faster, and at this point I wonder how I ever played through the originals without them.
The Pokétch, then. Its integration feels a little half-baked, as the games were designed for two screens. By holding the R button, the Pokétch will appear at the top-right of the screen, and you can then press the R button again to make it go full-screen. Unfortunately, there’s a significant issue here: there are over twenty Pokétch apps, and the darned thing only lets you press a button to change the app forward. In Platinum, you could navigate both forward and backward through the apps, but that functionality is just gone here. You’ll have to memorize the app’s number and tap away at the switch button over, and over, and over again. Considering HMs are here too, that’s frustrating — though as mentioned before, it’s still faster than it was in the original versions of Diamond & Pearl.
In terms of content, everything from the Nintendo DS versions is here. The Battle Tower (not the Battle Frontier, sadly), Super Contests, the Underground — none of it was cut, which is a relief. The Underground has been upgraded to the Grand Underground, and with that name change comes a variety of other adjustments. Secret Bases are still a thing, but all of the special furniture is gone. Instead, you can only place Pokémon statues which are obtained through mining. Though you can play with others, you can’t steal their flags anymore or even set traps — those are gone too. This erases a really fun part of the original games, and I’m sad to see it go. Fortunately, some new features were added to make up for this; you can now dig up special shards that let you access Legendary Pokémon in the postgame and you can find wild Pokémon in special dungeon areas that aren’t available in the overworld.
Speaking of Pokémon, the BDSP dex actually contains almost 100 more Pokémon than Sword & Shield had at launch. That is to say, every Pokémon from Kanto to Sinnoh is present here — all 493. It is a bit disappointing to see a ton of Pokémon cut again, but to be fair, this is a remake — these Pokémon weren’t in the originals, so it at least makes a sort of sense that they aren’t present here.
HeartGold & SoulSilver and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire had flavor. In other words, they had noticeable new content and quality-of-life improvements. BDSP does have quality-of-life changes, but it doesn’t really have enough new content to form an identity for itself. It’s missing a lot of things that dedicated players wanted — the Battle Frontier, Mega Evolution, and things like that. Even if they were included, there’s not enough new content on offer here. The postgame is a bit light. You can still access the Fight Area, the Resort Area, and the Survival Area. However, the Resort Area no longer has its Villa (that was Platinum only) and the Battle Tower can only be replayed so many times before it gets boring. You can catch every Legendary Pokémon from the first four generations, which is neat, but it is rather grindy. That being said, Pokémon postgames have been poor for some time now, so it isn’t all that unusual. Overall, I’d rate BDSP’s postgame higher than Sword & Shield’s but lower than titles made for the Nintendo DS.
Ultimately, these games aren’t really anything new. They’re like all modern Pokémon titles, which is both good and bad. If you love the series, great! There’s lots to enjoy here. But if you find yourself consistently unimpressed with current-gen Pokémon games, BDSP won’t change that opinion. It isn’t new or flashy enough to warrant that. The art style ILCA used was absolutely a miss, and it’s a shame that we’ll likely never see a full-scale triple-A remake of Platinum. On a lighter note, we’ll be writing lots of guides for BDSP, and if you’d like to check them out, feel free to by following this link!
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