I previously reviewed on here Pokemon Yellow, Pokemon Ultra Sun, the fan game Pokemon Uranium, and Pokemon Sword and Shield. I am a longtime fan of the series, so on opening day, gift card in hand to cut the cost down by a cool 20 bucks, I got my copy of Shining Pearl. Yet as I play through it I have one question going through my mind:
Don’t get me wrong. Shining Pearl – the version I got – is a very, very good game. In fact, it’s so much better than Sword and Shield it’s retroactively embarassing.
The chibi style is a…choice…and I still think a poor one, BUT it doesn’t actually look bad. Backgrounds, mostly, look absolutely great.
Just…why chibis? Why? Why use chibi models in the overworld and go to more detailed, normally proportioned – and really good looking, by the way – character models when pokemon battles start? The aesthetics clash.
The answer is “To look like an updated version of Diamond and Pearl, which used chibis then switched to regularly proportioned models in battle 13 years ago”, and yes, true. They did indeed do that. But they had a particular idea in mind when they did that. The overworld was supposed to be a representation of what the “real” world looked like, which you’d get a glimpse of in battles. But in this game the chibi models are themselves so detailed it just looks like a jarring switch in art styles, because it is. And the reflections in the floors, the little animations of doors, and even the water are so realistic looking it clashes with the chibis, and it doesn’t help that in cutscenes we zoom in on their plasticine faces.
It looks…not bad. Not bad at all, in fact, just off.
Weirder still is that most of the battle backgrounds actually look fantastic, easily the best the series has ever looked. I don’t know if they redid a lot of the animations or they just implemented them with the pokemon models better, but even move animations look really good most of the time. Sure, certain moves are still a swing and a miss, but with hundreds of moves you’d expect that. The point is that mostly, and frankly for the first time since the games moved to the Switch, battles look really good…most of the time.
For whatever reason when you battle in towns, but not in buildings, the background disappears and you battle in a void. I can only assume that due to time constraints they made the choice not to create battle backgrounds that matched the individual towns, since you only rarely battle there, but it is jarring. I also am not a fan of the generic background they use for team Galactic battles, but since you battle them in the same spots as other trainers that’s clearly an aesthetic choice rather than a technical limitation.
Still, I can’t help but think that Pokemon on the Switch has still never looked better than it did in the Let’s Go games, and I would ultimately have preferred that art style.
The Underground has been upgraded into the Grand Underground, and is indeed improved from the original Diamond and Pearl. Now there are various biomes full of rare pokemon dotted throughout the Underground, giving you more incentive to explore and cool things to discover. The way pokemon interact in these areas is a little bland but ultimately this is a fine addition to the game. It also gives you access to pokemon that were in the Platinum Pokedex, thankfully lengthening the paltry Diamond/Pearl Pokedex.
Aha. There’s the word. We’ve reached the elephant in the room: Pokemon Platinum.
The biggest and worst change is the decision to make the EXP All mandatory and not update the level curve from Diamond and Pearl. In fact, this is such a bafflingly stupid decision I genuinely wonder who made it and how they came to that decision.
The level curve of Diamond and Pearl is already way too low – something Game Freak had already realized 13 years ago, when they upgraded the level curve in Pokemon Platinum, the first remake of Diamond and Pearl.
Now not only does Game Freak go back to the already too low level curve of Diamond and Pearl, they ALSO make it so that leveling up is trivial. I am actually okay with the EXP All in concept, but the level curve needs to be updated to match with it properly. They not only don’t update the levels – which is really what they should do if they implement a feature like this – they don’t even use the higher level curve of Pokemon Platinum!
Why? Why make this decision. Seriously. Somebody help me understand. I truly don’t get it. The upshot of all of this is that the game is trivially easy, absurdly so. If you thought Sword and Shield was easy, this game is easier (in fairness, until the Elite 4, which has the same level curve but upgraded movesets and stats that make them much more difficult).
More than that, the game implements none of the changes that made Pokemon Platinum so much better than Diamond and Pearl. Platinum updated the story to give the villain more presence and make it make more sense. None of that is here. Gyms were redesigned, in nearly every case for the better. None of that is here. The upgraded level curve isn’t here. Platinum upgraded the pokedex so there were more options as you moved around Sinnoh. This was implemented only in the Underground area, which is a huge missed opportunity. Why not use the pokedex of Platinum in the main campaign and use the Underground to add in DIFFERENT pokemon?
Worst, of course, is the loss of the Battle Frontier. That is a massive amount of missing content. It has been replaced by…nothing. It just isn’t there.
There is no distortion world, another Platinum feature, which is a mixed bag at least. The distortion world sounded great conceptually, but in practice it was HORRIBLY implemented. In Pokemon Platinum the boss battle with Cyrus, the main villain, takes place after you climb all the way to the top of Mt. Cornet then navigate through an escher-esque dream world called the distortion world.
This all sounds great and like it would make for a great climactic battle, but it’s ruined by the fact that if you lose the battle with Cyrus – who is pretty difficult! – you don’t respawn just before the battle or even just before the distortion world, but back at the last town you visited, meaning to rematch Cyrus you need to climb Mt. Cornet and navigate the distortion world AGAIN, every single time you rematch him. And suddenly what should have been great is an infuriating slog.
Best of all would have been to fix this, which is as simple as adding a teleport point that allowed you to warp back immediately if you lose to Cyrus, but if you’re not going to do that taking it out is an objective improvement. Still, isn’t a remake supposed to improve on what we have, not take stuff out?
Also, and while this comes off as an aside it really isn’t, it was a massive mistake to go back to random encounters instead of overworld pokemon, probably the best update to the series that has come out in a very long time. They’re better in every way, and they’re not here. Why? I don’t know. They definitely CAN do it the new way, since they do in the Grand Underground. They just…don’t.
So that’s where we end at. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are very good games, easily better than Sword and Shield and the best games Pokemon has come out with since the gen 7 Ultra games. The art style is a little weird but it does look good, and battles actually look great. They are certainly better than the original Diamond and Pearl, if for no other reason than that they fixed the famously slow engine of those games.
But I struggle to recommend anyone buy them when a remake of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl already exists in Platinum, can be easily emulated for free, and is objectively better in virtually every way. Unless you really, really like some specific aspect only available in these games, just play Platinum. I don’t know – like I genuinely don’t understand – why they didn’t remake Platinum instead of Diamond and Pearl. I don’t understand the choices they made with this game. I just…don’t get it.
I’ll be getting Legends Arceus, though. For the first time since the physical/special split in generation four it looks like Pokemon has finally overhauled the whole system, and I am VERY much here for it! You can await your review here. Hopefully it’s a good sign Game Freak spent all of their time on that and outsourced BD/SP.