I try to not be a Pokémon doomer. I do understand that the games have become a bit rote over the years, and the great Pokédex slayings of 2019 weren’t the best thing in the world, but I try to be understanding that these are games made by people and there will be limitations on what they can do in the time they are permitted. I am someone who spends hundreds of hours with each game in the series, shiny hunts to get my favorite Pokémon in different colors, and has bought every single game in the series! Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are at the edge of a tipping point for me, however, and if the series continues on the trajectory that it’s on with the release of BDSP, I will no longer be the Pokémaniac I have always been.
Unlike most Pokémon games, Game Freak has seemingly hurriedly contracted an outside studio, ILCA, who has done outsourced work for absolute classic games such as Nier Automata, Dragon Quest XI, and Yakuza 0, to bash together a barebones remake of the already weak fourth generation games, basically just to check the box that says “Released a game in 2021”. This has produced titles that feel better than the originals, sure, but it didn’t bother to do anything beyond the most weary, sigh-worthy, passable improvements, making this title feel more empty and bland than the generation two remakes that came out when Diamond and Pearl were new! BDSP are mediocre games that, while not without some merit, make me wish that Pokémon would just take its goddamn time in development and stop its death march to irrelevance by churning out low quality games. Game Freak does not need to do this. There isn’t a mainline Mario game every year, there isn’t a yearly Zelda, why is Pokémon still doing this?
If you’re aware of BDSP at all, you’ll know that these are specifically remakes of just the Diamond and Pearl titles, and not Platinum. If you’re not into Pokémon, you’re probably saying “Yeah, makes sense,” but if you are an old-head you’ll quickly understand that this is flaw number one. The original Diamond and Pearl are poorly paced games with a limiting, bland Pokédex and a crappy map, with half-assed theming that dots the landscape with uneven climate. (There’s a swamp within walking distance of a snowy mountain? Why?) This was seemingly thanks to its own rushed development, which didn’t allow time for the Game Freak team to get used to the new DS hardware. This has, historically, been how it always is, with the first game on each new console generation being a huge step down as the team learns the ropes, which wouldn’t be an issue if they just had more time!
So many of the original’s issues are still here in the remakes, as they’ve been stuck to like a blueprint instead of a guide, for some reason. There are two fire-type Pokémon usable in the entire game before you beat the story, and one of them you have to choose to start out with. You will fight more Geodude in this game than in the generations Geodude came from. The electric-type gym leader uses a water-type. A good amount of these issues were amended in the third version, Platinum, but those updates are mostly ignored for this remake. Platinum was such a step up that many consider it to have straight up saved the fourth generation from being a complete wash (I mean, if you’re counting gen four’s own remake then it’s arguably actually the best ever, but I digress). There’s absolutely zero reason for the developers to ignore Platinum, and there’s even nods to it in the post-game, such as updated gym leader rosters, but why not in the main storyline encounters?
You may be asking, “John, wait, didn’t they add Pokémon to the Underground? That was a big thing in the originals, surely they did some new stuff!” Yeah they did, but absolutely not enough. If you recall, I said there were two fire types in the game. That was a slight lie. There are three, with Houndoom catchable in the underground. One more. The other underground additions are neat in the post-game, with catchable starters and even more options, but before then you’re barely getting anything you didn’t in the decade-old games. Hell, the Spiritomb quest is far worse than before. You used to be able to talk to 32 real live players in the underground. This lets you cooperate with another player and enter and exit the underground to both reach your goal, or smudge it with two copies. Now? You have to talk to different NPCs, who have different spawn rates and spreads across the entire underground area. Spiritomb went from a mid-game event to post-game at best, a far bigger headache than it ever was. It’s not even a communication thing any more! It’s just awful busywork!
Diamond and Pearl needed a tune up. Platinum got most of the way there, but with the gift of hindsight so much more could have been done. Expand the postgame, integrate more past Pokémon into the game throughout the routes. Give the region better theming that actually works. The previous and next generations were far better examples of world building in the series, with regions that meld into the themes of the story fluidly. Hoenn in Ruby/Sapphire was a commentary on land reclamation and its pros and cons. Unova in the Black and White titles is a reflection on the split of urban and rural communities in America. For Sinnoh, I keep thinking about how there’s a coal mining town at the start, and a town run entirely by solar power at the end. Perhaps this is supposed to stand for how things should change, a more advanced, healthy relationship with power as you reach bigger cities, but instead it’s just confusing, since there’s no reason why every town isn’t doing this to stop pollution, unless there’s Pokémon oil barons, which in that case let’s tackle that! The pieces of a conversation are here, but there’s never any follow up. A revamp to the story would be excellent, and hell, could’ve made Team Galactic a real threat and its leader Cyrus into an actual character.
Brilliant Diamond is also rife with bugs, most of which can be used for the player’s gain, such as the multitude of cloning techniques and item dupes that are popping up faster than the developers can wack-a-mole them back down. We’re going to be flooded with illegitimate shiny Pokémon in the coming weeks, or at least we will whenever the Wonder Trade function turns on. (YEAH IT DIDN’T LAUNCH WITH WONDER TRADE??? AND YOU STILL CAN’T AS OF WRITING!)
I’d even say the music is a downgrade. I look forward to hearing the remixes of classic Pokémon songs whenever a new remake happens, and usually they’re at least competent, if not superb. Here they range from straight up bad to just passable, with only maybe the Underground song being a good remix. The Dialga/Palkia theme sounds soulless instead of awe-inspiring, Team Galactic’s grunt theme starts off with what sounds like someone playing on one of those tiny cat pianos. It’s so frustrating when you remember how previous remakes treated remixes. Go listen to the HGSS remix of National Park and remember that they could’ve done something like that here.
Even with all these issues, I didn’t loathe playing BD. It could have been much, much better, but the overall enjoyment of the Pokémon experience will always be there. There are very light additions to the experience that shouldn’t be ignored, such as the ability to access your boxes from anywhere, as well as the ability to use the online functions from anywhere. However, you have to activate them by speaking to certain NPCs, so it’s not automatic for some reason. So many things in this game, and in Pokémon in general, are a few steps forward and a leap and bound back, frustrating! I feel like such a chump still getting some fun out of a game that’s obviously rushed and unfinished, but I did, so I won’t lie to you.
I feel really bad for ILCA here. This is their first game as a lead developer, and it sure doesn’t look good. However, I don’t blame them at all. This is because of Game Freak, who selfishly decided there NEEDED to be a game in 2021. Legends: Arceus is in less than a month, which is only around three months after BDSP released, so there’s no reason why this game had to be shoved out the door besides pure greed.
In the lead up to the remake’s announcement and release, I replayed Pearl version for the first time since I was a child. I sincerely think you should just stick to that, or even better, “acquire” a copy of Platinum for an actually improved version of the game. BDSP is unnecessary. It’s crass. It makes me very tired to think too hard about it. I thought I’d keep chugging along even beyond what I had to for the review, but not even the allure of shiny hunting has kept me occupied with this one. If you can’t keep even me playing a Pokémon game into the new year, something is really wrong here.
More like DULL Diamond!!!
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is a great snapshot at how capitalism kills art. A chance to update games that don't hold up to current scrutiny is squandered in a mad dash to get a game out in 2021.