By Patrick McAuliffe
As a young and stupid child, I was infatuated with Pokemon and played whatever iteration of the series that I could get my hands on. My first game was Ruby for the Game Boy Advance, with Crusher the Swampert and Sparky the Raichu reaching Level 100 far before the rest of my team and sweeping anyone in my way. I wasn’t very sentient at that point, but my most vivid early Pokemon memories came from Pokemon Diamond on the Nintendo DS, where I finally had an inkling of what I should be doing. This game was so full of new and amazing Pokemon, so beautiful in that time period’s art style, so rich in its story and culture that my assumptions about future Pokemon games were based primarily on my experience of Diamond. Now that the Generation IV remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (BDSP), are released on the Switch, the Sinnoh region gets the flashy new paint job that previous old Pokemon games have gone through over the years. My expectations for this game were both subverted and disappointed, but overall, I can’t say enough positive things about Pokemon Brilliant Diamond.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were developed, not by Game Freak, in a pivot for the franchise, but instead by a relatively small studio called ILCA that has developed games such as the NieR series. When the remakes were announced, you could imagine my ecstasy at what they would do with the games for the Switch. The first trailer was released and, to my surprise, every character sprite was done in a chibi-like, cutesy style, while keeping the copy-paste nature of the natural environment common to older Pokemon games (trees, rocks, waterfalls, etc). This was the first thing that set off small alarm bells in my head; I was worried that this would be so vastly different from recent games in the series that it was hard to return my brain to the days when sprites were mostly made up of the character’s head. Funko Pop-esque people like Professor Rowan and Cyrus were an unexpected and subversive twist, but not only did this stylistic choice look adorable, it reminded me fondly of those sprites from the old days.
One of Diamond and Pearl’s biggest critiques was the lack of Pokemon diversity. For example, only two Fire-type evolutionary lines were available before Platinum, one of which is the Fire-type starter Chimchar and its evolutions. Gen IV also introduced so many new and badass evolutions for previous Pokemon, but those Pokemon were unavailable in the base games without transfer from Gen III games like Ruby or LeafGreen using the dual-cartridge mode on the DS. I initially felt disappointed at this lack of diversity that ILCA carried over from the original games, but they did add a way around this roadblock to make for the most balanced team possible. Coincidentally, this method is found in one of my favorite original gimmicks of Sinnoh that has been retouched and perfected: the Grand Underground.
An archaeology simulator may seem like the perfect pastime for a Binghamton Review nerd like myself, but the Grand Underground is one of BDSP’s best features as a source for countless useful treasures to unearth and hundreds of different Pokemon to catch. This second feature is a new addition, as the original games didn’t have rooms of various geographical themes that featured different types of Pokemon, some of which are not in the Sinnoh Pokedex but can be caught before beating the Elite Four and upgrading to the National Dex. I was able to find a Houndoom (a Fire-type option for those that don’t choose the best starter) and a Lickitung (a cunnilingus master), both of which are unavailable on the surface and not in Sinnoh’s base Pokedex, among others. Better still, the Grand Underground is a great place to meet and play with friends and other players all over the world. The Secret Bases aren’t nearly as exciting or customizable as in the old games, but statues placed in your Base do allow you to control the chances of what types of Pokemon appear in the geographical rooms. All in all, the Grand Underground is one of the best aspects of BDSP.
I could not recommend this game highly enough. Despite some of its flaws that weren’t addressed or removed from the original game, ILCA did an excellent job on Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. I’ve seen lots of remakes come and go, and Brilliant Diamond barely beats out HeartGold for the #2 spot on my best remake list. Omega Ruby takes the #1 spot, but that’s only because of the additional features and modern adaptation added to make it feel almost like a brand new game. If ILCA had done this, it would undoubtedly be the best remake of an older generation to date. Despite all this, I love the direction in which this game went, and it makes me even more excited for Legends: Arceus that will be releasing in January 2022. A deeper dive into one of Pokemon’s most mythological regions is something that I am extremely hyped about. Until then, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are games with the feel of a classic Pokemon adventure that any Pokemon fan, new or old, should enjoy.