It didn’t take billions of years or immense pressure, but these gemstones are still valuable.
Pokémon’s strict adherence to a specific template can make reviewing new or revised mainline entries a bit of a challenge. Things are made worse by the sheer number of people who love and watch the series and the fact that there really is so much passion for Pikachu and his fellow pocket monsters. For context, I come to this review after playing and finishing essentially all of the main Pokémon games, including the original 2007 Pokémon Pearl, but this time around, I went with Brilliant Diamond. One important point to note is that while it’s an excellent game in and of itself, the faithful replica of Gen 4 and the Sinnoh region is less interesting than the more experimental Let’s Go games that really appealed to me. Still, there’s a lot to like for those new to Pearl and Diamond who are used to the quality of life features that have gradually been added to Pokémon games over the years.
From the small town of Twinleaf you come out of your quaint home and follow your friend into the tall grass and his omnipresent danger. Just before you are attacked by wild Pokémon, a briefcase will open and a selection will be available. Choose your starter from the well-known triangle of water, fire and grass species: Piplup, Chimchar or Turtwig. After always choosing the water option, I changed things up and switched to the grass type, and so Turtwig and I began our twofold job of collecting all eight gym badges, becoming a Pokémon League champion, and helping Professor Rowan to complete the Sinnoh Pokédex. Fortunately, the tried and true formula of visiting each town and completing a side mission before battling each gym leader continues to be fun, with the awkward and nefarious Team Galactic serving in equal parts as a pretty compelling antagonist throughout your journey.
If you’ve played a Pokémon game, you’ve played all of them in so many ways, which makes it even more important to highlight what makes Brilliant Diamond what it is. First off, the chibi-style characters leave a positive impression and go well with the game’s toy boxes. Second, while I can’t give any specifics, the post-game appears to be expanded and more challenging for experienced players. Third, the outdoor environment is really attractive, with water and water effects that impress on many occasions. After all, the Grand Underground brings a literal depth to the world that will surely add dozens of hours, but more on that in a moment.
Pokémon Battles play out much like Sword and Shield, with an addition that can be placed on your Poké Balls for special visual effects when you toss that particular Pokémon in battle. All combat animations seem to have more oomph; the backgrounds during the fight also look good and even the fight from the tall grass has a little more flair. I can admit that my first impressions of the game’s aesthetics during the announcement were much less favorable than my current ones, and I don’t think that’s entirely because I spent most of my gaming time on a Switch OLED in the handheld. Mode. The great variety of colors and even the distinctive lighting effects, especially in the day-night rhythm, are certainly commendable.
Of course, the latest Pokémon remake is certainly not beyond reproach. It still amazes me that these games only have a single save file when even the RPG standard of three isn’t enough. Unlike Sword and Shield, where random battles were less common than just seeing Pokémon in the overworld, this convention is reversed in Brilliant Diamond. Only in the Grand Underground do you see Pokémon roaming around and can choose to fight them or catch them. The experience sharing mechanism is enabled by default and cannot be disabled, which can appeal to new players and frustrate others. After all, it’s absurd to see the characters walk in a halting style during the cutscenes as they have to stop and turn around to face a new direction. Similarly, sometimes your Pokémon partner, who can run behind you, will slip and instead slide along or just show up in front of you, hindering your progress.
When you put the spotlight back on the Grand Underground, it won’t be far in the game before you can dig beneath the surface to discover a whole map of tunnels and so-called Pokémon Hideaways. These different habitats are home to a variety of Pokémon that are visible on the screen so you can choose which ones to attack. In addition, you can find walls with hidden treasures such as fossils, statues and gems and exchange them for other in-game items or use them to decorate your secret base. Depending on how you arrange things in your base, certain types of Pokémon will become more common in the Great Underground. You will also find higher level monsters here and those you may not encounter in the various above-ground areas of Sinnoh. It’s definitely an interesting element of Sinnoh that I’d like to explore further.
The experience of playing a Pokémon RPG is still solid. Whether your goal is to build the best team for online battles, complete the full Sinnoh Pokédex, or even win all of the Super Competitions, there really is something for everyone in Brilliant Diamond. A simple run through the game to the credits takes only 10 to 20 hours, but at that point it really becomes an experience of your own choosing. For me personally, I dropped out of the competitive scene a few generations ago, but the joy of replenishing the Pokédex has helped bring new life to these games. It also gives me a natural breakpoint so I can move on to the next game. For a series that is synonymous with choice, there are more than enough options in this revised Generation 4 to pass the time.
On its own, devoid of the history of the franchise and a desire to see more of it, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is a great RPG. There is a wide variety of content, the gameplay is fun and polished, and the presentation of the remake is charming and warm. While it’s easier to recommend to newer Pokémon fans than those who have played the Nintendo DS originals, another trip through a much more visually striking Sinnoh region turned out to be more satisfying than I expected. I’m sure I’m in no hurry to leave it again so quickly; that’s for sure. However, with Pokémon Legends on the horizon, that one-two punch of Pokémon titles could be a winning way to wrap up one year and welcome it to another, with a blast from the past followed by something we’ve never seen before. That’s a jigglepuff one-two punch that I can get over with.