Preview: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
15 years after their release, Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl are finally getting remakes. Diamond and Pearl were originally released on the Nintendo DS back in 2006, where they were incredibly well-received and while they weren’t without their issues — some of which were addressed in the subsequent Pokémon Platinum — they became instant fan favourites. 15 years down the line, its remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, look to capture the magic of the original games, with an incredibly faithful look and feel, but plenty of quality of life additions and modern features. Thanks to Nintendo Australia and Nintendo of America, we were given an ANZ-exclusive look at a live gameplay session over Zoom (it’s 2021, what can you do?), showing off some of the new and returning features, as well as giving us answers to a few burning questions that Pokémon fans have had on their minds. So, let’s get stuck in!
Our preview started in Route 208, just west of the wonderful Hearthome City, and immediately it was easy to see that a lot of love and care went into this game. The developers of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are ILCA, the company that developed Pokémon HOME, which makes it the first main series Pokémon game not to be developed by Game Freak. Any fears that this would lead to an inferior experience were quickly assuaged, because Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl look absolutely gorgeous. The overworld is sharp and bursting with colour, with shadows and sunbeams bouncing about and a subtle pseudo-tilt shift effect applied to quietly separate the point of focus from the background. It’s very reminiscent of the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening, with the chibi-like overworld models themselves looking even more toy-like than they did in the initial reveal trailer. Every part of the world looks lovingly recreated, with gorgeous waterfalls and rocky outcrops looking as good as they ever have in a top-down game, and despite the expanded view window — the games are in widescreen now, after all — the previously quite small Route 208 looks surprisingly and suitably large. I don’t think the size of the area has changed all that much, if at all, but the transition to 3D, even if it’s top-down, adds a fantastic sense of depth and scale that you just couldn’t get from the DS.
The games’ art style probably won’t be to everybody’s taste, but it nonetheless is a charming, modern take on the originals’ top-down 2D art. I played Pokémon Diamond in my early teens, so I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but I imagine for those who played the games as a child, especially if it was their first Pokémon game, it probably looks a little like what their childlike wonder imagined it to look like in their heads.
Transitioning to battle, however, drops the familiar, top-down view and transitions to a battle scene that looks like it was taken right out of Pokémon Let’s Go or Sword and Shield. Full-sized models and cinematic camera sweeps abound, the battles look how every kid wished they would when they played the earlier generations. It’s nothing new of course, we’ve seen these kinds of 3D battles for quite some time, starting with X and Y all the way back in 2013, but it’s still nice to see Dawn tossing out a Poké Ball in an HD, 3D scene. It just feels right, after all this time.
The battles are where we also start to see some of the quality of life additions, too, though players of recent games probably won’t be too surprised. Like every main series game since Sun and Moon, you’ll see matchup details next to your moves when fighting a Pokémon you’ve battled against in the past. For example, if you’re up against a Luxray for the second time, and you throw out a Torterra, it’ll tell you that Earthquake is super effective, while Razor Leaf will show that it’s not very effective. There’s also a quick throw option for Poké Balls when in a wild battle, with which pressing the Y button will bring up your list of Balls to quickly chuck one, instead of having to navigate through the bag menu. You can access Pokémon boxes in the field, too, which is a nice little addition. Again, nothing that will blow the socks off of anyone who’s played recent games, but nice touches nonetheless.
Another couple additions that will be familiar to Sword and Shield players might be a little bit more controversial. The first not so much: the games now feature auto-save, to prevent you from losing your hard-earned progress should something terrible happen. It can be turned off, however, if you’re really keen to relive the lost hours of your youth. What can’t be turned off, however, is the new Exp. Share, which, like Let’s Go or Sword and Shield, now applies to the whole party. That means every time you defeat or catch a Pokémon, your entire party will receive experience, even the ones that didn’t participate in battle. By the looks of it too, there haven’t been any major changes to the level ranges of opponents — at least not in any of the footage I’ve seen — compared to the same trainers in Diamond and Pearl. Defeated trainers also seem to give more money compare to their original counterparts, and between these two changes, you would be forgiven for worrying that these remakes might be a little (or a lot) easier than the OG games. I don’t know if experience gains have been tweaked, or some kind of other balancing has taken place, but it’s likely to be a small concern for some nonetheless, and something to look out for when reviews eventually hit ahead of launch. Like previous games, it would’ve been nice to have the option to turn it off for an extra challenge, but alas, it seems that’s not in the cards right now.
Another potentially controversial, er, not-change is the return of single-use TMs. Since the series’ fifth generation, TMs — or Technical Machines, which teach a particular move to a compatible Pokémon — have had unlimited uses, meaning you could teach them to as many Pokémon as you like, as many times as you want, without worrying about running out, or saving it for the perfect situation. Prior to that, if you used a TM, that was it, it broke forever. Sometimes you’d get multiple of a particular TM, and sometimes you could buy certain TMs as many times as you like, but some were single-use, and usually good ones at that. The Nintendo rep in the session assured me that there would be plentiful amounts of every TM you’d want, and I have no reason to doubt them, which opens up the possibility that there might be new ways to obtain TMs. Maybe buying them, maybe digging them up in the Grand Underground (more on that in a moment), or maybe your walking buddy (another new feature) can find them and give them to you. It’s hard to know at this stage, and it’s a bit of an odd decision to stick with single-use TMs so long after they were phased out — even Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire had infinite TM usage.
The usage of HMs has, however, been brought up to modern standards, with HM moves no longer taking up a slot on your valuable Pokémon, and all but eliminating the need for dedicated HM users like Bibarel. Instead, you enlist the help of wild Pokémon to help you out with cutting trees, smashing rocks, surfing over lakes, and flying from town to town. It’s very Pokémon Ranger-esque, and very cute; I’m not sure if the Pokémon that come to help you can vary at all, or if you’re stuck with Bibarel every time you surf, but at the end of the day I’m just thankful they’re not taking up valuable move slots like they used to.
There’s actually two ways to use HM moves as well, curiously. There’s the standard way, where you press A on the environmental object you want to interact with, which then shows a familiar splash screen of the Pokémon helping you out. But then there’s also the new Pokétch, a smartwatch that hovers in the top-right corner of your screen and is filled with helpful little apps. One said app is the HM app, which allows you to quickly select an HM move, and seemingly use it without the little splash screen animation. It probably won’t mean much to most people, but being able to smash a dozen rocks in your way without having to watch Bidoof pop up on the screen every time is going to be a godsend for more than a few people. We do seem to be stuck with the single-button Diamond and Pearl Pokétch design, which is a little bit disappointing, but the good news is that it’s not permanently stuck to the screen. With the press of a button, you can hide it, show it, or expand it for easy use — which, by the way, you can use the touch screen for. Neat! It can’t match the convenience of having one on the second screen, but it gets 90% of the way there nonetheless, and it’s great that you can take full-screen screenshots without any UI getting in the way.
Back to the Grand Underground, there’s been some incredible changes and additions there, as well as a few more odd choices. The entire underground map has been completely redesigned from the ground up, while still keeping the vast majority of the features people know and love about it. You can still create secret bases, and you can still dug up treasures and fossils in a minigame that appears to be a 1-to-1 recreation of the originals’. You can even dig up statues of Pokémon to display in your base, which come in both a standard and a shiny variant, the latter of which is quite a bit rarer but looks to be largely just a polished version of the former. Unfortunately, statues are the only thing you can decorate your secret base with, but they are more than just a pretty (rock) face. Putting statues of a certain type in your base can boost the encounter rate of that type in Pokémon Hideaways. Hideaways are special sections of the Grand Underground where wild Pokémon roam the overworld (or underworld, I guess), as opposed to the purely random encounters in the above-ground. Here, you’ll be able to find and catch all sorts of Pokémon that might be difficult to find elsewhere, which combined with statue boosting could help smooth out some of the type coverage woes of the Diamond and Pearl Sinnoh Dex.
Moving quickly onto the last couple of things, because I am quickly running out of both time and space in this article. Super Contests return (yay!) but seem to have done away with the dress-up aspect found in the originals, with style points now being awarded for Ball Capsule designs instead. You can also play contests online with friends, which is pretty cool. Poffins are back too, with more or less the same gameplay as the original games, though you can now make some with your whole Pokémon team in Amity Square, which looks extremely cute and is very reminiscent of Sword and Shield’s curry. Honey trees return as well, and work exactly the same way you remember. The entire UI of the game is gorgeous, capturing the look and feel of Diamond and Pearl with a bunch of modernisation thrown in too. And perhaps most importantly for some, issuing commands to your Pokémon in battle now no longer has a short wait time after it, with Pokémon launching right into their moves more or less as soon as you select the right move.
There’s a few more interesting things I saw on display during that session, but unfortunately I can’t talk about them just yet. I’ve no doubt there’s plenty more surprises in store in the coming month as marketing videos go out, so make sure you keep an eye out, both here on Vooks and on Pokémon socials prior to the games’ release. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Battle Frontier was asked about… and promptly dodged. The Nintendo rep replied that there’s still more to be announced, but didn’t outright say there was no Frontier either. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but hey, you really never know sometimes. Maybe we’ll get lucky.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl launch on the Nintendo Switch eShop and at retailers across the country on the 19th of November. You can click here to find a bargain using our Aussie Bargain Roundup.
Images provided by Nintendo, taken from the official website, or captured from provided B-roll footage.