Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Review: Go on Your Own Pokemon Adventure
A cold wind blows down from the mountain, swirling around a Pokemon trainer and their Empoleon. They’re rummaging around in some berry bushes, listening to music it seems only they can hear, and while there’s no sign of friends for miles, they seem perfectly content. For the first time in a long time, it feels like they’re on an adventure.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl might be what amount to 1:1 remakes of the series’ fourth generation, but after years of streamlined journeys, going back to Sinnoh manages to feel like setting out on a grand adventure once again.
It’s missing some important content from Platinum and could have benefited from a bit more time to polish a few rough areas. However, Pokemon BDSP are excellent remakes, a cozy combination of classic Pokemon and modern improvements that made me fall in love with Sinnoh like never before.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Review: Go on Your Own Pokemon Adventure
I stand by what I said about Pokemon Sword and Shield. Two years after launch, they’re still a joyous and refreshing set of Pokemon experiences — but they’re very much modern Pokemon games. Since Gen V, Game Freak shifted its focus to streamlining progression and trying to create a more character-driven experience.
There’s plenty to appreciate in that approach, but it also means modern Pokemon feels a bit empty at times: no puzzles or obstacles, short routes, few chances to get lost, and rarely a moment when you’re alone. Adventures with friends are fun, but modern Pokemon is often rather noisy, which the Wild Area felt like a mild antidote to.
Take that sense of openness and freedom, then stretch it across an entire Pokemon region, and you’ve got Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. You’re booted out into the world after a brief intro, and while there’s always a vague pointer guiding you in the right direction, there’s also plenty of room to do as you please.
More importantly, you can do it on your own without being interrupted every five seconds by another traveler whose sole purpose is leading you by the nose to your next objective. It’s a cozy, almost comforting, return to the classic formula, but while BDSP are mostly 1:1 remakes of Diamond and Pearl, there are some excellent quality of life improvements as well.
EXP Share works automatically for your entire party now. Personal preference will shape whether this is a good thing for you. For me, it’s one of the best things Pokemon has done in years and reignites that sense of excitement and endless possibility of putting together my Pokemon team.
Limited trainers and lower experience gained from wild Pokemon meant grinding levels one ‘mon at a time was always a chore. Unless you’re dedicated to a specific kind of run, it just wasn’t worth the bother using Pokemon you were unsure about or with lower stats. Who has that much time? Not me.
The EXP Share changes open the entire Sinnoh Pokedex. I even dabbled with Kriketot and Kriketune. Their stats are terrible, and Kriketune still intimidates me slightly, despite its cuter appearance in BDSP, but I did it because I could. The feature is also a good fit for Sinnoh’s bizarre selection of Pokemon before you get the National Dex.
There are so many oddballs here and limited choices for each type — if you like Fire, you get Ponyta and Ponyta, for example — means using even one or two unorthodox Pokemon can completely re-shape how you approach the game and deal with familiar opponents.
Another welcome quality of life change is how BDSP treat Hidden Moves. Figuring out which Pokemon should bear the burden of permanent moves added an extra layer of strategy in older Pokemon games, but by the time Gen IV rolled around, the system had long outgrown itself. Gen III added one new HM. Gen IV brought all the HMs back from before, except Flash, added two more, and made them vital for progress. Now you get to call a Bidoof using your Pokemon Watch and let it do the work for you.
Where do these Bidoof come from? Are they government-issued Pokemon, the civil servants of Sinnoh? Who knows. In a world where role models and influential leaders send children to fight gangsters, you learn not to expect answers.
Aside from becoming the Champion, your goal is uncovering what a group of nefarious gangsters is up to and why they’re stealing so many Pokemon. Team Galactic, sporting hairdos and outfits that would make Kalos’ Team Flare melt from sheer secondhand embarrassment, wants to reshape the world using the power of Pokemon evolution. Or maybe just two specific legendary Pokemon? And then there's Giratina... somewhere.
The trouble with remaking only Diamond and Pearl is you miss out on some of Platinum’s narrative changes that give Galactic boss Cyrus more motivation and character and better context to your encounters with the time, space, and origin Pokemon.
Still, there’s a unique, sometimes odd charm to Diamond and Pearl that Platinum smoothed over. Platinum’s progression through Sinnoh makes sense and follows a linear path similar to other Pokemon games. Diamond and Pearl tease you with Hearthome City before telling you “no” and shunting you east through the boonies and letting you back into civilization.
They’re also happy to troll you every now and again. Take Volkner, the Electric Gym leader, for example. Electric is pretty self-explanatory, right? Jolteon, Electabuzz, things like that? No. He throws an octopus and a four-handed monkey at you instead.
The other downside of sticking so closely to Diamond and Pearl is that BDSP don’t include the Battle Frontier, which cuts out a significant portion of the postgame content. It’s disappointing, though there is one interesting feature that, if it doesn’t quite make up for the lack of Battle Frontier, at least offers a new kind of entertainment: the Grand Underground.
Sinnoh’s original Underground is a fun, if barebones, detour focused on making you hunt for rare items and letting you build your own space similar to Hoenn’s secret bases. BDSP’s Grand Underground still has plenty of items to find, but it’s also tailored to nearly any kind of Pokemon fan.
The Grand Underground is home to dozens of Pokemon, most of which you won’t find in the overworld, or at least not until much later into your adventure. They wander around visibly in the Grand Underground biomes, so it’s easy to fill missing Pokedex pages or chain battles for Shiny hunting.
More appear after you acquire the National Dex, and you can excavate for items needed to get Legendary Pokemon in the postgame Ramanas Park area. Admittedly, that last bit isn’t much fun since finding the required items is a random process that could take ages.
It’s hard not to think something’s missing, since it technically is, but it also seems like Game Freak and ILCA have more planned for BDSP’s future. Players are already exploiting glitches to find Shaymin, which suggests either new content or events somewhere down the road. It seems at odds with how insistent the main game is on letting you get nearly every other legendary Pokemon, and I can’t help but wish ILCA maybe had more time to make it a complete package.
More time would have been a good thing after a Buizel growled at me from its butt. I can’t imagine how much time and effort it would take to create custom animations for every move and every Pokemon, but it’s pretty evident some of the stock animations don’t work quite so well in BDSP, and the Buizel incident was just one of the bizarre combinations I witnessed.
Another oddity is how BDSP handles your movement. You’re free from the four-point movement scheme of classic Pokemon, but the world is evidently not ready for it. I got stuck on walls, corners, and staircases far more than I expected just because object boundaries aren’t optimized to fit with 360-degree movement.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Review — The Bottom Line
- Excellent blend of classic Pokemon and modern improvements
- Finally feels like a proper Pokemon adventure
- EXP Share means you can pick any Pokemon you want, at last
- The Grand Underground is vast and full of rewarding things to do
- Lovely visual and audio reimagining of Sinnoh
- No Battle Frontier
- More animations needed
- No Platinum story content
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl probably should have included Platinum content, and I hope one day, Game Freak and the devs it works with have the time to make more dynamic animations. For now, though, I'm more than happy with BDSP. I've not felt this invested in a Pokemon game for ages and can see myself staying in modern Sinnoh long after Pokemon Legends: Arceus comes out next year.
[Note: Nintendo of America provided the copies of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl used for this review]