Now 25 years old, it’s safe to say that the Pokémon franchise is one of the most enduring pop culture phenomena in the world today, even branching out to other media like live action films and television series. It’s also a franchise that’s happy to return to older classics in its gaming history though, and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl are the two latest examples of that. The original Diamond & Pearl launched on the Nintendo DS about a decade and a half ago, so it was high time we got reacquainted – we played through Brilliant Diamond in doing so.
As in most Pokémon adventures in gaming or television, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond starts an adventure-bound teenager looking to explore the world and meet as many Pokémon as possible. It’s a familiar concept by now, even if the setting is a little different this time. Set in Sinnoh, you’ll battle Team Galactic and meet with Professor Rowan – new names, but all building on familiar tropes in the franchise.
The environment of Sinnoh and its visual style certainly feel like a new direction though – going with a chibi style for the characters and returning to an isometric point of view. It’s certainly not the most technically impressive Pokémon title yet, but that didn’t stop Link’s Awakening from being a great game either. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond feels comfortable on the Switch in its current form, not stretching the console to its limits and performing well even in handheld mode. But where other long-running series like Dragon Ball Z have many serious strides forward in recent years (visually speaking), we can see fans being disappointed about this one playing it safe.
On the plus side, the look and feel ensures that this is a title that taps into the love for the old DS titles. A reworked soundtrack makes familiar melodies sound great on a TV or speaker setup, and sound effects have that authenticity to them that Pokémon fans enjoy so much – with different characters all echoing the generation they’re from by having matching sound effects. It’s something that Pokémon games have been doing for a while, but combined with the visual style this one feels a lot closer to the DS era than Sword and Shield did, tapping into the nostalgia that many have for that time in the franchise.
That also means that things can feel overly familiar though, and not just because this is another Pokémon adventure where you can collect as many Pokémon as your heart desires – although the count stops at 493 once you’re unlocked both Pokédexes in the game and have filled them with every Pokémon the game offers – which mirrors the originals, so don’t expect to see any from the newer generations. In fact, it’s also worth noting that a handful of these Pokémon are exclusive to either Shining Pearl or Brilliant Diamond, so you can’t get a complete set unless you trade for the missing ones – which is going to possibly frustrate those not interested in online play.
Those players are missing out on a host of features that are new in these Switch versions though, because the online component has been expanded for this remake. You can battle and trade, but you can also search for and redeem mystery gifts for additional objects and/or Pokémon.
You’ll also find expanded content elsewhere, for example when you travel to The Grand Underground – which now becomes an even more worthwhile destination as you can find new Pokémon to add to your Pokédex this time. This wasn’t possible in the original release, and makes this area far more appealing – giving the game a bit of a dungeon crawler vibe as you progress and find ever more rare and powerful Pokémon while facing stronger opponents.
But despite these changes, the core formula remains untouched – as it should be, of course. You’re still setting out with (at most) six of your Pokémon from the Pokédex, and battles still let you gather XP and level up/evolve. Leveling up has been semi-automated and streamlined though, as your entire party now benefits from a win. It makes for a slightly easier experience, and makes the game a bit more suitable for the younger crowd that’s into Pokémon but doesn’t want to worry about party leveling strategies. Tactical choices in battle still matter though, but you don’t have one massively overpowered characters fending for the others this time.
This is a solid new Pokémon release and fans will love it, but those who still like to dust off their DS will not find a major step forward here. The HD visuals are nice, but not spectacular, and the gameplay is overly familiar despite a few tweaks here and there. Still, that means it’s a modern take on a DS classic, and that’s fine by us.