Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: How Faithful is Too Faithful?

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl change a lot about the way Pokémon remakes are handled. This new approach brings with it new questions about the future of remakes and the series itself and begs the question: What to expect for future remakes?

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: How Faithful is Too Faithful?

November always brings three things: premature Christmas celebrations, unreasonably cold weather, and controversial Pokémon games. This year sees the release of remakes of the Generation 4 games, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Pokémon games getting remakes is nothing new, but there’s something different this time around. These games have prioritized being faithful more than any other. Will this focus on faithfulness take us back to the classics and allow us to truly enjoy the old games, or will it hinder the creative potential of the series? Time to analyze how these remakes differ from the remakes of years past, and whether or not those differences are worthwhile.

Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the fourth (fifth, if you count 2018’s Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee) set of Pokémon remakes, but the first that Game Freak didn’t develop. Instead, a lesser-known studio named ILCA worked on them. This could be the cause of a number of inconsistencies that these remakes have brought to the table. It could also mean nothing. I’m not here to make reaching judgements on the developers of these games, but it is worth noting just for context.

Return to the Sinnoh region in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl!

 

When The Pokémon Company announced these games back in February, they made a point of stressing that they’re faithful remakes. Honestly, that’s for good reason. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are incredibly faithful. To an outsider, that might seem like a good thing. After all, if you’re gonna remake a game, the less you change, the better, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are various upsides to making changes to a game with a remake, something that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl don’t fully realize.

POKÉMON BRILLIANT DIAMOND AND SHINING PEARL ARE A DIFFERENT KIND OF REMAKE

You see, Pokémon has always had a unique philosophy when it comes to remaking old games. Rather than being direct recreations, the previous remakes all added loads of new content. Additionally, they made a myriad of aesthetic changes while simultaneously bringing the old games up to speed with the series’ modern standards. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are different. Instead of being a fresh take on the 15 year-old Diamond and Pearl, they’re practically the same games as before. Make no mistake, those games are a good foundation, but it marks a clear departure from established tradition.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl retain the exact look and feel of the originals.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl retain the exact look and feel of the originals.

Let’s use Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the remakes of Generation 3, as an example. When these games released in 2014, they updated the originals with everything that had been introduced in the 12 years that had passed since they came out. Every Pokémon that had been added since Gen 4, plus brand new Mega Evolutions for returning Pokémon, were just some of the ways in which these remakes expanded upon the originals.

Disappointingly, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have nothing like this. They cut the roster to only include creatures that existed circa 2006, despite the 4 whole generations worth of additions since then. The games have, with few exceptions, the exact same amount of content as they did 15 years ago.

CONFUSING DISCREPANCY

It’s not just content that the new remakes are missing out on, either. While the removal of HMs is a welcome quality of life improvement, I can’t say the same about reverting TMs back to single-use items. Inexplicably, there are a lot of areas that are inconsistent like this. For example, many Pokémon previously only available in the postgame are now easier to catch due to the Grand Underground. This is a good thing.

HM moves like Rock Climb no longer need to be taught to Pokémon to be used.

HM moves like Rock Climb no longer need to be taught to Pokémon to be used.

However, the games retain the ridiculous requirement of only being able to find Drifloon in a specific patch of grass on Fridays. Better start your playthrough on a Thursday if you want access to this very interesting Ghost/Flying-type. It’s just one example, but it conveys a sense that the changes to these games were made haphazardly rather than being carefully planned out.

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

Not only do Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl fall short in terms of content and gameplay, the aesthetics are compromised as well. In a technical sense, the presentation of the new games is very good. The models, lighting, and animations are all high quality. The art style, while contentious among fans, is charming enough to leave a good impression. Despite this, these remakes manage to fail in a few key areas in which past installments succeeded.

OLD LOOKS, NEW EYES

For one, no characters got redesigns. Previous remakes always gave a fresh take on the appearances of iconic characters like Gym Leaders and members of the Elite Four. The Generation 4 remakes do nothing of the sort. It was always fun to see new, interesting takes on classic personalities we know and love. A great example of this is Archie’s remarkable glow-up in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, which has no parallel in the latest installments. Some of these old character designs look so incredibly 2006 by today’s standards.

The perfectly arranged grids of trees look a bit strange in 2021.

The perfectly arranged grids of trees look a bit strange in 2021.

What’s also very 2006 are the environments. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl already technically had a 3-dimensional overworld. Because of this, the scope of graphical advancement is limited. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If they had spiced up the world to make it look more vibrant and alive, it would work wonders. But that isn’t the case, so the final product ends up looking very flat and primitive compared to its contemporaries. When you look at the way past remakes completely overhauled the visual style in a way that showcased the old vistas from a completely new perspective, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl’s static, grid-like overworld looks incredibly dated.

A LOST SENSE OF PURPOSE

Inconsistency is so prevalent in these games that it’s almost a theme. Not only are they internally inconsistent, but they’re out of pace with the other remakes as well. Rather than being a true evolution of the classic games, the latest remakes opt to take the safe route. To tell the truth, these games are more so remasters than full-fledged remakes. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, they’re very well-executed, in fact. It just means that they end up feeling a bit pointless.

Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire - Side-by-Side Comparison Trailers

 

After all, why even revisit these games if not to add something new? In a series that commonly injects new life into old games, what we have here feels remarkably sterile. As a long-time fan of the series and someone with fond memories of the originals, I would have liked to see more from these remakes. Again, they’re far from bad games – I actually like them quite a lot. However, they feel like a missed opportunity. The Game Freak remakes had a point to them, but I fail to see as much value in these.

POKÉMON BRILLIANT DIAMOND AND SHINING PEARL SET A WORRYING PRECEDENT

Many of the problems with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are shared with the Let’s Go games, a set of pseudo-spinoff remakes of the first generation. Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee introduced very little in the way of new content and largely kept things the same. This is simultaneously more and less egregious than what the latest games did. It’s worse because they were almost direct remasters of much more primitive games. It’s also more forgivable, considering their dubious status within the series and the existence of traditional remakes in the form of FireRed and LeafGreen.

The Let's Go games have many things in common with the latest remakes.

The Let’s Go games have many things in common with the latest remakes.

What’s more important is the precedent this might set for future remakes. Before Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, I thought of Let’s Go as an anomaly that the series would move away from. However, the state of these games seems to imply that this kind of remake could become standard for the franchise. That’s quite disconcerting, since Generation 5 could not nearly as easily be done justice with a 1:1 recreation like this. Personally, I would not like to see the games continue in this direction.

SOME FINAL WORDS

At the end of the day, I’d like to make it clear that my intent with this article is not to bash the new remakes mindlessly. I know all too well how toxic the Pokémon fanbase can be, and it’s not my goal to take part in that. However, as a huge fan of the games, I wish there was more to make them stand out.

As it currently stands, there’s little functional difference between these remakes and a direct port of the old games. It’s hard not to be a little bit disappointed, despite my enjoyment of these games and the series as a whole. That’s no excuse to launch vile personal attacks against the devs, accusing them of being lazy. Like most problems with games, it’s more of a management issue. It’s simply important, as a fan of something, to also be able to point out its flaws and want it to be even better than it already is.

These remakes are so faithful that they retain oddities of the original, like the strange look of this statue.

These remakes are so faithful that they retain oddities of the original, like the strange look of this statue.

Essentially, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are decent games bogged down by missed potential. There are so many tiny discrepancies to pick apart that the entire foundation of the product is shakier because of it. In the end, remakes aren’t just about playing old games again. If we wanted to do that, we could just fire up DeSmuME and load in a ROM of Pokémon Platinum. The real purpose of a remake is to revitalize. To show not what a game used to be, but what it would be if it came out today. If you can’t get that right, you’ve failed in some way or another, regardless of the quality of the package. In short, if faithfulness means compromising creative potential, then it’s less of a virtue than people make it out to be.

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