Even in the context of a series that regularly receives criticism for feeling formulaic, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are particularly familiar. As remakes of the fourth-gen titles Diamond and Pearl, these are homages to an era of Pokemon when the series was just starting to settle into a comfortable niche. Not only that, but these are extremely faithful remakes, right down to the visual style and classic combat mechanics. That makes the experience feel downright homey, if not a little deja vu-inducing.
Even those who haven’t spent the last few decades repeatedly catching “em” all know the gist by now. You’re a plucky kid who goes on a grand cross-country adventure training pocket monsters and ultimately becoming world champion. It’s recognizable in the same way that you basically already know that Mario is going to have to save the princess, and has a certain level of simplistic appeal.
That same brand of simplicity is present in the mechanical underpinnings. Diamond and Pearl hailed from a simpler era of Pokemon, before full 3D became the norm. Instead, they harkened back to the series’ roots as an overhead, sprite-based RPG. There would be clear delineation between a grass “tile” and a town “tile” and you would move from one to another as if on a checkerboard. You can see some of those roots at work in the Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes too. While your character has a full range of movement in the world and the geometry isn’t terribly blocky, there are some obvious anachronisms–how NPCs always move at right angles, for example, or how floor tiles are sized to fit your character perfectly. It’s only mildly distracting and, for the most part, is just charming.
Equally charming is the art style itself, especially in the overworld. While the more recent Sword and Shield have adopted a more lithe, elongated style that looks similar to the various Pokemon animated series, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have translated the squat pixel art of the originals into an equally squat and adorable animated chibi style. Your character looks appropriately retro while simply exploring in the tall grass or walking around town, but the style looks especially great when the camera zooms in closer during dialogue sequences. At those points, the artwork really shines because you get to see the contours and vibrancy of the characters. They look almost like living vinyl dolls.
Similarly, many of the eponymous Pokemon themselves benefit from this new art style, especially the designs that are more elegant and simple, like the pleasantly plump Starly. Some of the more complex designs suffer for it, though, since the little flourishes can look awkward. That’s a problem when you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time looking at a Monferno’s red-outlined butt, but otherwise isn’t too distracting. Your own characters and NPCs also change from their squat chibi forms into more Sword- and Shield-like models during battles, and those look perfectly fine even if they have less personality.
On top of the visual distinctions, these remakes pack some quality-of-life tweaks from later games that make it easier to go back to this generation. Borrowing a page from Sword and Shield, EXP Share is on by default and distributes experience across all the Pokemon currently in your party, which makes grinding out levels much less of a chore. Likewise, acquiring Hidden Moves provides you with permanent access to them regardless of who’s in your party, which will automatically take care of navigation tasks like breaking rocks or surfing through the water without needing to keep a dummy-Pokemon on-hand. And you can access your Pokemon boxes from anywhere, rather than needing to head back into town and check in at a Pokemon Center. You can have a Pokemon of choice follow you as well once you’ve progressed, which adds a nice sense of personality to your friendship with the little pocket monsters.
The other major addition is the Grand Underground, a revision of the original Underground mechanic that borrows some elements from more recent games. You can see Pokemon roaming freely, and some Pokemon can only be caught by exploring here, similar to the Wild Areas in Sword and Shield. The change doesn’t feel massive, but it does seem primed to add longevity to the endgame once players have fought through all the gyms and bested the Elite 4.
For all of its adherence to the tried-and-tried Pokemon formula, Diamond and Pearl and their remakes are notable for breaking from the format, though only slightly. There’s significantly more story quests that take place between gyms, especially the back half, that prolong the adventure and help break up the pacing. Some Pokemon games can feel repetitive as you simply rush from gym to gym, so this is a welcome change. Plus, unlike most Pokemon games, you’ll actually wrap up the main story revolving around a mysterious legendary Pokemon before you ever reach the eighth gym. And it will never stop being funny that a 10-year-old just walks into a sports competition flanked by a Pokemon space-time god because of this.
While the main adventure is mostly smooth sailing, there is a surprising difficulty spike when you reach the Elite Four and Pokemon Champion, the final challenges representing the end of the main quest. This five-battle gauntlet is meant to be the most challenging in the game, but it ramps up to such a higher degree than anything else in the game that it can make for a rude awakening. The rest of the game also generally keeps pace with your levels without too much grinding, especially with the advent of the EXP Share, but for this final challenge you’ll probably need to spend a significant amount of time grinding to get your party up to snuff. There’s a reason this game’s champion, and especially the final Pokemon, has a reputation as one of the toughest in the series.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl keep enough classic elements to feel like a comfy nostalgia trip, while smoothing over enough of the rough edges that they feel relatively contemporary with other recent Pokemon games. It can’t be easy for a storied franchise to pay homage to its legacy while also modernizing in this way, but Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl strike the right balance. It’s the classic Pokemon you remember, without most of the little annoyances you’ve forgotten.