Adventure JRPG Narrative Review

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl – Review | A Shining Gem?

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to this: I was a humongous Pokémon fan when I was a kid! It was even more prevalent for people in my age range, as I grew up when Pokémon made its western debut in the late 90s. Coupled with the anime series, movies, the trading card game, and merchandise up to your ears, it was a fantastic franchise to grow up with! I still have a lot of nostalgia for Pokémon’s early days, but as I grew older, I started to lose interest in the series. Even with jumps to new hardware, the formula grew stale, and after the release of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl on the Nintendo DS, my interest moved on to other JRPGs with more interesting stories to tell and battle systems to learn. So it’s quite fitting that 14 years later, I’m returning to the region of Sinnoh in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, but from the perspective of an adult!

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl is a full remake of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, one which aims to bring the original title to the Nintendo Switch. The game was published by Nintendo and, in an interesting move, wasn’t developed by the creators of the original game, Game Freak. While they’re busy with developing Pokémon Legends Arceus (which as of writing, will release in Janurary 2022), developing duties were handed to ILCA, which is mainly a support studio that assisted with massive titles like Dragon Quest XINieR: Automata, and Yakuza 0. It’s hard to believe the original game is 15 years old, so a remake on modern hardware is certainly appreciated, especially for younger Pokémon fans who never played the original version. But has the title aged well and is it worth replaying for fans of the 4th Pokémon generation?


Stop me if you’ve heard this before: You play as a boy or girl living in the Sinnoh region with the humble dream of becoming a Pokémon trainer. After exploring your home turf with one of your friends, you acquire one of three starter Pokémon that’s either fire, water, or grass typed. After meeting with a Pokémon professor, they give you a Pokédex to catalog all the Pokémon in the region. Oh, and you have 8 Pokémon gym leaders to defeat that will allow you to challenge the Elite Four and become the Pokémon Champion. That’s well and good, but there’s also a criminal organization running rampant across the region, and it’s up to you to stop their evil schemes.

The Pokémon setup is as classic as it’s always been; it’s as iconic as Mario saving Princess Peach from Bowser or Mega Man taking on eight Robot Masters to stop Dr. Wily. While those games tend to have unique twists on these tried-and-tested formulas, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl is not one of them. It’s one thing to stay true to your winning formula, but it’s another to play it too safe and not try to innovate. Granted, Pokémon games have never been known for having the grandest plots, with the journey itself being what is most appealing. It’s your adventure! The teams of Pokémon you form and the way you become the Pokémon Champion could be entirely different from someone else’s. That’s the true magic of the Pokémon games and when you look at it from that perspective, it’s genius game design!

It’s a shame that the story itself just comes off as set dressing and mainly serves as a means to get from point A to B. There is some pretty decent foreshadowing to events that happen later in the game, but that’s nothing new for this franchise. Even so, I liked a few of the characters you regularly interact with. One of them is your quote-on-quote rival; he never sits still in one place and isn’t exactly the brightest berry in the bunch, but that’s why I like him! Another character I liked is a woman named Cynthia, who you’ll regularly come across on your adventure, with her even helping you out occasionally. She comes off as quite intelligent but is also thoughtful to the people around her. She’s become a fan-favorite character for a reason!

The villains this time around are a group called Team Galactic and they’re an absolute joke! I felt more intimidated by Team Rocket, and that’s saying quite a bit! Their antics come off as more of a nuisance than a threat, so I was never able to take them seriously. Their leaders aren’t much better; they’re just your stereotypical bad guys and the main villain is as dull as paved concrete. When you put it all together, the story is serviceable, but not spectacular. It’s a shame because this was the fourth mainline entry and they could have taken some risks to the established formula to really spice things up.


Do I even have to explain this? It’s a Pokémon game; they’re the most popular RPGs in the industry for a reason! But for the three of you who aren’t in the know, I guess I’ll elaborate. In your typical RPG, you’ll have a party of around three to four characters, with you possibly getting more you can interchange as the story progresses. Pokémon takes this same concept and greatly expands on it, as you have the chance to acquire literally hundreds of party members in the form of creatures called PokémonAfter catching them in the wild, you can make teams of six Pokémon to battle other trainers’ Pokémon with… I seriously hope none of you are drinking every time I say the word Pokémon. With this much variety, everyone who plays these games will have a completely different team than you and it’s that kind of freedom that a lot of RPG players adore! It helps that catching Pokémon in the wild is always a ton of fun too! It’s always a thrill to see a new Pokémon you’ve never seen before and add it to your collection, and they can be pretty tough to capture, keeping things interesting and engaging.

When it comes to battling other Pokémon, it’s what many of you have come to expect. Every Pokémon has a unique type to it, such as Grass, Dark, Flying, etc. Each type takes less damage from some types but can be susceptible to others, which is where a lot of the strategy and team-building derives from. It’s worth noting that these remakes include the Fairy type to existing Pokémon that were introduced in Pokémon X/YPokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl takes things one step further though, as this was the first Pokémon generation to introduce the special attack and special defense statistics for your Pokémon. This means that moves can either have a physical or special attack property, dramatically changing how certain Pokémon moves work and making Pokémon that were once not that strong into absolute powerhouses! This change has stuck throughout the rest of the series and it’s not hard to see why. It greatly deepened the series’ rather simplistic combat and made fights require more strategy in order to win!

Unfortunately, for a decent portion of the game, battles are far too easy. The original versions of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl are known to be some of the hardest games in the entire series, but that isn’t the case in the remake, at least in the first half. This is all thanks to the very divisive decision to have EXP Share active at all times. If you’re unaware, the EXP Share mechanic is where you attach an object with that attribute to a Pokémon who isn’t in battle and they’ll receive experience points just like the Pokémon who actually fought the fight. In stark contrast, in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, EXP Share is active at all times and every member of your team gets experience points, even if they never fought in that battle. This creates a huge balance issue, as you’ll often find your team overleveled for many of the trainer battles you encounter, quickly making battling them a dull experience because they’re too easy to beat. At least the gym leaders and the Elite Four are better balanced to match your Pokémon’s levels and provide a much-needed challenge!

Exploration is done from a top-down perspective. with the game doing a solid job directing you where to go from the in-game map, so it’s very hard to get lost. The Sinnoh region is decently large, so that helping hand is much appreciated! Movement can be done with either the d-pad or the analog stick and let me tell you, being able to play a traditional top-down Pokémon game with an analog is like a dream come true! Gone are the days where you’re stuck on a four-sided grid; now you can move in any direction with finesse and results in exploring feeling much more natural. It’s going to be very hard to go back to using the d-pad in the older titles! One drawback Pokémon fans are sure to recognize are the Hidden Moves, better known as HMs made for traversal. This mechanic forces you to equip these moves to your Pokémon for required skills like smashing rocks to open pathways or surfing across the water to find new areas. The original version of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl was the worst offender of this, requiring you to get eight HMs in order to finish the game! In a fantastic quality of life decision, after unlocking the ability to use them after defeating a gym leader, these moves can now be performed by wild Pokémon, thereby not requiring your active party to have moves that are only practical for exploration. Again, it’s going to be very hard to go back to the older games with this brilliant design decision!

But what is there to do if you aren’t interested in raising Pokémon in brutal combat? There’s actually a decent amount of activities to partake in! The first is taking part in Pokémon Contests. Each Pokémon have stats for attributes like coolness or intelligence and these can be used in talent competitions against three other Pokémon. The contests have been expanded in this remake, with them now acting like a rhythm game, while also setting a move to your Pokémon to give you an advantage in certain situations. It’s a simple change, but I really enjoyed seeing my Pokémon dance on stage and while the rhythm game is simple, it was too charming to hate! Contests also make use of the Ball Capsule mechanic, letting you customize the Pokéball you keep your Pokémon in with effects like confetti, petals, etc. It’s a small addition, but it helps add a great sense of individuality when you summon each of your Pokémon and these Pokéball effects can even be seen in battle.

In order to increase your contest statistics, you’ll have to feed your Pokémon food called Poffins. Throughout your travels, you’ll find colorful plants that can be picked up for berries, and these berries are used to create Poffins. Pick four berries and you’ll be taken to a straightforward, but addicting mini-game. All you have to do is spin the analog stick to spin the Poffin mixture while making sure not to go too fast or too slow, otherwise, you’ll ruin the Poffin. It’s very easy to learn and it’s oddly satisfying to see a Poffin slowly turn brown as it cooks.

But by far my favorite feature in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl is the newly reformed Grand Underground! In the original, the Underground area was a drab location with endless caverns with almost nothing to do. As you might imagine, players quickly forgot about it. By comparison, the Grand Underground in the remake has completely flipped the script and is the best new feature that was added! While those caverns still exist, you have more of a reason to explore. While exploring, you’ll notice yellow marks on the map and if you observe them, you can dig into them to get gems to trade with other spelunkers, along with Pokemon statues; I’ll mention their function shortly. The mini-game where you dig into the wall was highly addictive and the rewards you can get from it are worth your time to find.

Beyond digging for loot, you’ll see large question mark blocks on the map; these are Pokémon Hideaways and have various Pokémon walking around, ready to be fought and added to your collection. There are multiple reasons this new feature works: firstly, there are no random encounters in Pokémon Hideaways, so you can search for Pokémon you actually want to get. Secondly, you can create a Secret Base while traveling the Grand Underground and you can place the Pokémon statues you’ve found through mining to alter the types of Pokémon you’ll find in the hideaways. Thirdly, these Pokémon can be quite high leveled, so if you’re looking for a new party member or a way to level up your party, they’re a great means to grind experience. I regularly found myself returning to the Grand Underground, digging for new statues to add to my Secret Base, and hoping to find a new Pokémon to add to my team!

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl is a decently sized Pokémon title, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself taking over 20 hours to become the next Pokémon champion! But what is there to do after the credits roll? Aside from the modes I mentioned previously, not much sadly. The Battle Frontier from Pokémon Platinum was not brought over to these remakes; the same is true for some of the expanded story segments that help deepen the game’s lore. After seeing all 150 Pokémon in the Sinnoh region, you’ll receive a National Pokédex, adding hundreds of new Pokémon to capture, which will really satisfy completionists looking for a lofty goal to achieve! Beyond that, all that’s left to do is re-fight the eight gym leaders and the Elite Four, but they now have much stronger teams, which will no doubt quench the thirst for those of you looking for a real challenge! I’ll be honest, I never really dabbled into the post-game content in the Pokémon titles, and these rather lukewarm options presented here aren’t going to change my mind on them anytime soon.


For the last 20 years, the main Pokémon games weren’t known for being on the cutting edge of visuals and that makes sense. They used to be exclusively released on handheld titles, prioritizing accessibility and portability above all else. Times have changed since the days of the original Game Boy and now portable systems can compete with hardware that was previously exclusive to consoles, and Pokémon has had a rough and controversial transition to it. Say what you want about Pokémon Sword/Shield, but they were the first console games for the mainline Pokémon series and their visuals left much to be desired; the same is true for Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl. You’ll often see low-resolution textures and the animations and models of the Pokémon are quite lacking. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were reused from the 3DS versions, with them only being upscaled for higher resolutions.

While there are issues with the technical aspects, I’d argue that wasn’t the main appeal of the Pokémon games; rather, it’s the fantastic art direction! It couldn’t have been easy to design literally hundreds of fictional creatures, but they’re all visually distinct and you’re bound to find a favorite. While the writing for the characters isn’t the greatest, their designs are wonderfully distinct, expressive and above all, memorable! Whether they’re the main trainer designs, the outfits worn by the antagonists, or the gym leaders’ unique appearances, they’re immediately recognizable and that’s no small feat for games with such a large amount of characters!

In a surprising twist, the game uses a mix of two visual styles: one is a chibi design when exploring the overworld and the other is the more traditional art style that has characters with more realistic proportions. The chibi look perfectly captures the top-down perspective of the older Pokémon and the shrunk-down character designs are cute and charming! While they work from a distance, the game often zooms into these chibi models and the aforementioned low-res textures are most apparent here. Even so, I’d love to see this visual style return in future titles!

The soundtrack has been completely remastered and the results are rather mixed. While some of the rearranged tracks are done well, others don’t exactly hit the mark. Either way, one subtle touch I appreciated was that the soundtrack alters some of the songs depending on if it’s day or night. It goes a long way to set up an ambient mood and really liked it.


As ILCA’s first project for The Pokémon Company, this is a solid showcase of their skills! The new additions and changes to this version are definite improvements, even if it means a large amount of your journey will be an easy jaunt across the Sinnoh region. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl is a faithful remake of the original game that will surely be a nostalgic trip down memory lane for many of you! So if you’ve either never played the original version or want to relive your time with it, this is an easy recommendation. However, if you’re not a fan of the Pokémon franchise, this game won’t change your outlook, as it plays too safe and doesn’t take too many risks to the established formula.


Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Purchase: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond / Pokémon Shining Pearl

If you would like to see more JRPGs, you may be interested in our review of Shin Megami Tensei V or Persona 5 Royal.

Many thanks go to Nintendo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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