Nearing the release of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, Nintendo was upfront that the Switch remakes were meant to be faithful recreations of the original DS games. But I don’t think I realized just how faithful they would be —the remakes are so true to the 15-year-old originals, that they miss out on a lot of little changes that have helped more recent games like Pokemon Sword & Shield feel like definitive Pokemon experiences.
This is most likely not on developer ILCA. It marks the first time a mainline Pokemon game is made by a studio other than Game Freak in the series’ 25 year history, and it’s a remake. All the circumstances surrounding Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl feel like something that, by design, couldn’t innovate or deviate much from Game Freak’s original blueprint on the Nintendo DS over a decade ago. No, this isn’t about the art style being in-line with the DS games’ chibi forms or it not featuring a National Pokedex of more than 800 Pokemon. It’s about smaller changes the series has made to make these games less cumbersome to navigate.
The first thing that stuck out to me is that Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl don’t have wild Pokemon in the overworld like Pokemon Let’s Go and Sword & Shield do. This was a major shift that became standard when the series came to the Switch, and its absence in these remakes feels antiquated and unnecessary. The benefit of removing random battles was that it not only allowed you to avoid or partake in battles as you saw fit, but it also made finding and capturing specific Pokemon simpler because you saw what fight you were getting into long before you made contact with a wild creature. Now you’re just running into whatever Pokemon is near when you walk through tall grass or in the open space of a cave.
I’ve already been having trouble with this as early as Eterna Forest, an area that I got to in less than two hours of play. I’d been looking for a Wurmple that I would evolve into a Silcoon, but Wurmple can also evolve into Cascoon based on random traits. So I ended up catching a fair amount of Wurmples as I basically flipped a coin to determine their evolutionary lines, but finding them meant falling prey to plenty of other Pokemon in the area. This also affects people who hunt for Shiny Pokemon, which are ‘mons with different-colored appearances from their standard counterparts. These can be easily identified when they appear in the overworld, but the entire process is more complicated with random battles. This is how Pokemon operated a decade ago, but it’s not the way the series has operated in the last several years. And in the interest of modernizing a classic, it feels like a needless omission. Especially when the games’ Grand Underground areas do have wild Pokemon in the overworld.
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But it’s not just how you engage with the Pokemon world in your game, but Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl take steps back in how you communicate with your friends, as well. Back in the old days, players would have to go to a Pokemon Center and enter a dedicated room to connect with other players. To battle or trade, you had to make your way to a specific area. This meant if you were otherwise preoccupied with the main plot, or nowhere near a Pokemon Center, you couldn’t easily play with your friends at a moment’s notice. Recent games like Sun & Moon and Sword & Shield circumvented this by allowing you to connect anywhere in the world through a menu, meaning you didn’t have to take a detour from what you were doing to have a quick battle or trade with a friend.
Eventually, after you use the game’s online features, you’re able to connect anywhere, but it still uses the original Diamond & Pearl’s Union Room rather than just letting you simply select through menus. This takes you away into a new area where you have to signal what you want to other players present, then agree to trading or battling. You still have to use room codes, which have been implemented as recently as Sword & Shield, and through this system I’ve been unlucky (or uncreative) enough to have strangers show up with while I was trying trade with a friend.
The Pokemon Center is also the primary place in Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl where you can make changes to your party. You can only have six Pokemon on hand at any given time, and any additional monsters you capture will be sent to a PC accessible at the various Pokemon Centers around the Sinnoh region. But other Switch Pokemon games allow you to open up the PC and make changes to your party from anywhere in the world. Now I’m running back and forth between a wild area and the Pokemon doctor’s office to move my Pokeballs around, and the constant backtracking is frustrating after playing Sword & Shield so recently. Update: Turns out this feature rolls out later in the game.
What’s strange about these decisions is that there are things Pokemon outgrew that were changed to modernize the series that were addressed in Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl. Features like Hidden Moves, attacks that also have an overworld utility to help the player make their way through the environment, were all a pain back in the day, as they would take up move slots that would have been better served with more useful attacks. The Pokemon games have by and large moved away from these entirely. In remakes like Pokemon Let’s Go, Game Freak kept those environmental obstacles in place while still also keeping how the player overcomes them centralized in something other than attacks. Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl puts all these in an app the player uses to call on wild Pokemon, rather than putting the burden on their party. It’s such a smart design decision that acknowledges that just because this is how Pokemon once was, doesn’t mean this is how it has to be.
These aren’t changes I expect ILCA to go back and implement post-launch, both because Pokemon games don’t usually see a lot of overhauls in the few updates they receive and because the game is still functional without them. They’re just puzzling decisions in the spirit of preserving an old game that has since been improved on. I’m enjoying my time back in Sinnoh, but I’m disappointed a game that has taken me back to the series’ past has me fixated on the future paved by the games that followed. Because unfortunately, that future is something Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl don’t commit to.