In late 2006, I took a Tokyo train a few stations down to pick up a copy of Pokémon Pearl on a whim, which had launched in Japan earlier that day. Over the ensuing months I spent hundreds of hours in the Sinnoh region, where I was pulled deep into the nascent online community. Needless to say it’s held a special place in my heart ever since — the first generation that I played entirely in Japanese, and one that has a way of transporting me back to one of my favorite times in my life.
In the years since, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl have been given comparatively short shrift, much to my chagrin. Developer Game Freak didn’t even see fit to include Diamond and Pearl’s starters in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, despite the fact that their (mostly) open world Pokémon adventure is set in an ancient version of Gen 4’s Sinnoh Region. Most of the love for latter day Pokémon games are generally reserved for the likes of Black and White, with little respect given to Diamond and Pearl's striking atmosphere and the myriad improvements it made to Ruby and Sapphire.
On reflection, the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl generation was mostly about refinement. It brought back several features that had been cut in Ruby and Sapphire, redefined the balance of the competitive game by splitting physical and special attacks, and introduced several much-needed evolutions for Pokémon like Roselia and Piloswine. Most critically, it introduced true online play, paving the way for the community to grow into what it is today. But to say that a game refined the existing formula isn't a terribly exciting legacy, which is perhaps the biggest reason that Gen 4 wound up getting lost in the mix of history.
Still, that didn't stop the community demanding Diamond and Pearl remakes, if only because they were next in line after 2014's Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. But when they were finally announced earlier this year, the community was left feeling slightly bemused. Compared to the gorgeous, fully-updated remakes afforded Gen 3, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl seemed to be on the losing end of things. My initial reaction was to be irritated. Gen 4 getting the short end of the stick once again. Typical.
Now I'm kind of glad Game Freak took the remakes in this direction. Over the course of a 40 minute hands-off demo, I found myself once again transported back to the region that remains my sentimental favorite. The remakes are at pains to preserve the look and feel of the originals, and until I saw Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl in action, I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Returning to the overhead camera angle is refreshing, in some ways bringing me all the way back to the days of Red and Blue on the Game Boy. Even the distinctly tinny soundtrack isn't all the different from how it was back on the Nintendo DS. If only it had kept the 2D sprites, it would be perfect.
It’s wildly different from the more recent Pokémon Sword and Shield, which attempts to mix somewhat modern graphics with online social elements like the Wild Areas and raids. By comparison, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are a throwback — a nostalgia trip. It even brings back the old Union Room, a kind of visual lobby system introduced back in the days of Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green in 2004. It’s really interesting to compare them to see how the series has progressed in recent years, particularly in terms of how it has trended toward MMO-like elements such as raid battles. Being the first in the series to support online play via wi-fi, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl certainly had their share of early online social elements, but the balance of the gameplay still favored content that could be enjoyed without an internet connection.
A Window Into a Different Era
Being remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are of course loaded with various odd artifacts from the Nintendo DS era. Poffins can be created by using the touchscreen. The Pokétch — an in-game device that previously lived on the DS’ second screen — will now occupy the top corner of the Switch’s screen if you wish, allowing you to easily check on your Pokémon’s friendship or hunt for items. This was an era when the DS’ touchscreen was still a fresh and novel concept, and lots of the remake's features hearken back to that period in one way or another, from the screen-tapping rhythm game of the Super Contests to the ability to put stickers on Pokéballs. Even the random badge polishing mechanic is back.
Of course, they aren’t one-to-one remakes of the original games. Among other additions, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will feature the more robust version of Exp. Share, meaning that XP will be doled out across the entire party (which for whatever reason can't be disabled). It will also be possible to customize your character’s appearance thanks to a new shop in Veilstone City that sells unique outfits, with Pokémon able to follow you around on the world map. Notably, Hidden Machines [HMs] will be returning in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, but will be handled slightly differently than before. Instead of teaching a monster a move that is then irritating to remove, a “wild Pokémon” will appear to perform the action instead. It’s a tweak that manages to preserve the spirit of the original system while removing much of the hassle.
But probably the biggest change is the Grand Underground — a series of tunnels where you mine items and build secret bases. In addition to supporting online play, it will feature biomes filled with special on-screen Pokémon that are influenced by statues you put in your base. It's here that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl come closest to matching the current generation games, but its approach is still firmly grounded in the originals.
Most of the improvements it makes are welcome, if only because Pokémon Diamond and Pearl are probably the least enjoyable generation to actually pick up and play in the modern era. Even I'll admit that the battle system was painfully sluggish back in the day. The memory of watching a monster’s health bar sloooooowly drain to zero after a critical hit is still burned into my brain even after all these years.
In removing some of their more abrasive elements, the remakes should be able to bring some of the region’s strengths back to the forefront. In particular, I hope they manage to capture its mood — the vaguely menacing title screen, the grinding gym battle music. There was an unsettling vibe to these games that still stands out in my mind to this day.
One way or another, it will be a relief to go back to a simpler period in Pokémon history — an era without Gigantamax forms and Mega Evolutions, and with a Pokedex that’s actually close to manageable. I’m excited to once again tromp through the snow drifts around Snowpoint City; to journey to the Spear Pillars, and to battle Cynthia, who after all is still the best Champion in my very biased opinion.
Mostly, though, I’ll just be glad to have Chimchar back at my side after all these years. Welcome back, buddy. It’s been far too long.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN. Her natural enemy is Blaziken, who gets far too much attention compared to Infernape.