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Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Review – Refurbished Gems

Originally released in 2006, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl ushered in a new generation of Pokémon games for the Nintendo DS. With the themes of evolution and creation woven throughout history, the improved designs of the new Pokémon found in the Sinnoh region, as well as the newly discovered evolutionary lines of fan-favorite monsters, these games felt like one remarkable advancement for the franchise. With the new edition of these classics, the new Pokémon developer ILCA proves that he can handle the replica of the most important tenants of the franchise.

For the most part, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are “faithful remakes” – as The Pokémon Company likes to call them – of their eponymous DS games. The skeleton is there, with the same cities, routes, trainers, and Pokédex of monsters found throughout the adventure. You’re still starting out from humble beginnings in Twinleaf Town, where starry trainers receive a Pokédex from Professor Rowan and their selection of starter Pokémon. From there you will meet your friends and rivals, Dawn and Barry, and embark on your journey to conquer eight gyms and become champions of the region. You’ll also uncover Team Galactic’s plans to harness the energy of evolution and the legendary creation duo of Dialga or Palkia. Nothing in history is new or surprising, but I found this acceptable – and preferable – after being away from Sinnoh for over a decade.

ILCA chose to recreate the chibi characters from the DS games in 3D and look at the world from top to bottom, which reinforces the feeling that these remakes are staying true to the source material. This is a departure from the way previous remakes modernized their graphical styles and features. That’s not to say the optics look dated. New graphical improvements to lighting, shadows, and water look great. Also impressive is the abundance of reflections on surfaces around the world, especially in Pokémon battles. Unlike characters in the overworld, the battles use full-size Pokémon and Trainer models with unique environments determined by your location in the world. These scenes look great, and for the most part, are devoid of the frame rate drops or the slowdown that plague other 3D entries in the series.

Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl deviate from the mechanical blueprint with varying degrees of success. Newer innovations like autosave or the ability to view the strengths and weaknesses of moves in combat are great additions that I always love to see. Pokémon also no longer need to be taught to HMs to use moves like Rock Smash or Cut to navigate puzzles or obstacles in the world, something that would have taken a Move slot in the original titles. At first glance, EXP Share is a great way to avoid unnecessary grinding to make sure your less-used Pokémon are ready to fight. However, the developers have taken no action to counterbalance this feature, and there is no way to turn off EXP Share. As a result, my teams felt overwhelmed as the game progressed, making big matches against Team Galactic or one of the Arena Managers felt simple and insignificant. I rolled through challengers on the surface of Sinnoh and had to find more formidable enemies elsewhere.

My favorite place to explore is the Grand Underground, a huge underground cave system that lies beneath the surface of Sinnoh. Seriously, this place is huge and about the size of the main map. Here you dig for myriad gems, fossils and statues in the walls and hideaways. These hideouts are larger areas of the Great Underground, complete with biomes and higher-level Pokémon that you wouldn’t ordinarily find above ground, many of which are not part of the standard Sinnoh Pokédex. The challenge I longed for above ground was in these hideouts as I captured new, exotic creatures to diversify my team. Players can create secret bases by digging customizable rooms in the cave wall. Placing special Pokémon statues in these rooms changed the monsters I found in hiding. Those who want to catch them all should spend plenty of time in the Great Underground, digging up valuable items and tweaking statue combinations to fill the Pokédex.

Other activities include the Pokémon competitions called Super Contest Shows, which I enjoyed more than I thought. You will delight the judges with a simple rhythm game and at the perfect moment unleash a preselected attack to score points. I also loved customizing my Poké Balls using the Ball Capsule system. With an advanced system from Diamond and Pearl, you can put different stickers on the capsules to create unique animations and earn extra points when you toss a Pokémon into these super contest shows. Stickers add cool flames, bubbles, sparks, or musical notes to add that extra bit of lightning and flourishing, and to add personalization that is lacking in the DS games. Even better, your Ball Capsule animations will show up in battle, but will not affect the course of the battles.

While Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl won’t move the needle in terms of how Pokémon games will look and play in the future, they mostly hit the mark by staying true to the originals. I really enjoyed my time exploring Sinnoh despite my concerns about the lack of the critical path difficulty. They’re a welcome throwback to a simpler time, when I felt like completing a Pokédex was a pretty realistic task. Seasoned coaches will find plenty here to scratch a nostalgic itch, and new coaches who have missed the first time can go on a solid adventure.

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