For the most part, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are “faithful remakes” – as The Pokémon Company likes to call them – of their namesake DS games. The skeleton is there, with the same towns, routes, trainers, and Pokédex of monsters found throughout the adventure. You still start from humble beginnings in Twinleaf Town, where starry-eyed trainers receive a Pokédex from Professor Rowan and their choice of starter Pokémon. From there, you meet your friends and rivals, Dawn and Barry, and set off along your journey to conquer eight Gyms and become champion 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 the story is new or surprising, but I found that acceptable – and preferable – after being away from Sinnoh for over a decade.
ILCA opted to recreate the DS games’ chibi characters in 3D and keep the world’s top-down perspective, which accentuates the feeling of these remakes remaining faithful to the source material. This is a deviation from how previous remakes have modernized their graphical styles and feature sets. That’s not to say the visuals look dated. New graphical enhancements to lighting, shadows, and water look great. The abundance of reflections on surfaces throughout the world and especially during Pokémon battles is also impressive. Unlike characters in the overworld, fights utilize full-size Pokémon and trainer models with unique environments determined by your location in the world. These scenes look great and are mostly free of framerate drops or the slowdown that plagues 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 strength and weaknesses of moves in battle are great additions, which I always like to see. Pokémon also no longer need to be taught HMs to utilize moves like Rock Smash or Cut to navigate puzzles or obstacles in the world, something that would have taken up a move slots in the original titles. EXP Share is, on its face, a great way to cut down on unnecessary grinding to ensure your lesser-used Pokémon are battle-ready. However, the developers haven’t taken any measures to balance this feature, and there isn’t a way to turn EXP Share off. As a result, my teams felt over-leveled as the game progressed, making big matches against Team Galactic or any of the Gym leaders feel easy and insignificant. I steamrolled through challengers on the surface of Sinnoh and had to find more formidable foes elsewhere.
My favorite place to explore has been the Grand Underground, a massive subterranean cave system lying beneath the surface of Sinnoh. I mean it, this place is enormous and spans just about the size of the main map. Here you dig for countless gems, fossils, and statues in the walls and Hideaways. These Hideaways are larger areas found within the Grand Underground, complete with biomes and higher-leveled Pokémon you wouldn’t normally find above ground, many of which aren’t a part of the standard Sinnoh Pokédex. I found the challenge I craved above ground in these Hideaways as I captured new, exotic creatures to diversify my team. Players can create Secret Bases by digging customizable rooms in the cavern wall. Placing special Pokémon statues inside these rooms altered which monsters I found within the Hideaways. Those looking to catch ‘em all should spend a lot of time in the Grand Underground, excavating precious items and tweaking statue combinations to fill out the Pokédex.
Other activities include the Pokémon pageants called Super Contest Shows, which I liked more than I thought I would. You’ll wow judges with a simple rhythm game and unleash a pre-chosen attack at the perfect moment to score points. I also loved customizing my Pokéballs with the Ball Capsule system. With an expanded system from Diamond and Pearl, you can slap various stickers on the capsules to create unique animations and earn extra points when tossing a Pokémon into these Super Contest Shows. Stickers add cool flames, bubbles, sparks, or musical notes to give an extra bit of flash and flourish, granting a level of personalization absent in the DS games. Even better, your Ball Capsule animations show up in battle but won’t affect how fights play out in any way.
While Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl don’t move the needle in terms of what Pokémon games will look and play like moving forward, they mostly hit the mark in being faithful to the originals. I’ve really enjoyed my time re-exploring Sinnoh, despite my qualms with the lack of critical path difficulty. They’re a welcome throwback to a simpler time when I felt completing a Pokédex was a somewhat realistic task to undertake. Veteran trainers will find plenty here to scratch a nostalgic itch, and new trainers who missed out the first time around have a solid adventure to embark on.