As I mentioned previously, copies of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl were underneath the tree for my daughter and I Christmas morning. My daughter took Brilliant Diamond while I got Shining Pearl. We were not able to jump right into the game on Christmas Day, it being a busy family day, including a 5 hour round trip drive up to my father’s place, but we got going soon enough. I dove in first and had to prod my daughter a bit to follow suit, but once she got into the game, it was a return to a fun, old school experience.
And, as I noted in my month in review post… and will no doubt repeat… the old school aspect of it is kind of what makes the game so far. There is the simple intro, the immediate send-off from your character’s mother who seems happy to send a 10 year old off into the world on their own, the hyperactive rival, and the pre-analog stick grid-like layout of a game designed for the DS series D-pad. It was enough to put nostalgia in play.
Of course, the whole thing is very much on the same engine as Pokemon Sword & Shield… what choice did they have with it being on the Switch hardware… and with that there come some changes. Yes, you can play in old-school DS mode and move with the D-pad while holding down the B button to run… or you can move with the left analog stick, always in run mode, to make your way around the world.
I honestly find the analog stick both a blessing and a curse. You are not limited to the four cardinal directions and are always in run mode when you use it. But that ability to run off at an angle means that lining yourself up for things like doors in the grid designed world can be a bit of a challenge at times… and all the more so when you get your bicycle and are moving much faster. Sure, the bicycle’s speed always made overshooting your target an issue, but the analog stick seems to amplify it.
And you can’t just ignore the stick, because I’ve found a couple of places in the caves where you need that diagonal movement to hook a corner without dropping off a step and having to run back around to try it again. So I mostly use the stick unless I am trying to thread a needle somewhere.
The new engine also renders everything in 3D, so while the game runs you around in a flat, 2D looking mode for much of the time, it cannot resist reminding you that this is not just old school sprites on a flat background. You will have some 3D at various points.
I guess it is 3D all the time really, but out in the wild grass or in the caves it still really feels like the old 2D mapping. But running around town you do have a sense of that third dimension, even if the camera is locked in place.
There are other changes you get with the new hardware and engine. As with some later titles in the series, experience share is on all the time for all Pokemon in your party, as opposed to it being keyed off of an item held by a single Pokemon. I actually like that change as it does make keeping a party somewhat close in levels much easier. Back in the day it was some work to not just have one all powerful, fight all the fights leader in your party who got all the exp and then five more Pokemon 15 to 20 levels behind. I remember having to correct that imbalance, which you can bowl through most of the game with, once I got to the Pokemon League and the final battles in the game.
There is also the Poketech, the utility smart watch with a bunch of apps on it… the iPhone was launched after the original Diamond & Pearl, so smart phones show up later in the series… which on the old DS occupied the lower screen. But the Switch only has one screen, so the Poketech UI became a window you can pull up with the R button (and dismiss by holding down the R button for a few seconds) if you need to use it.
Mostly you don’t need to use it. A lot of the apps on it are just for show, like an analog clock. But you do need it some of the time for things like hidden moves.
Which brings me to another change, which is that hidden moves, or HMs, are gone, at least as items in the game. They went away in the series at some point way down the road, but in the Diamond & Pearl era they were still canon. The core Pokemon RPG titles are essentially a series of gated content areas through which you need to advance. Levels are a gate they use, as the Pokemon you face as you advance rise in level. But there are also various puzzles and challenges, one of which is defeating the local gym leader.
On defeating a gym leader you are given the ability to use a hidden move which allows you to overcome a type of terrain obstacle, which is one of the content gates. You can’t just skip the gyms because you can’t cut plants or break rocks or climb or fly without the hidden moves, and you’ll need them to get places. In the old game you were given an HM, an item that was put in your bag, which let you train a Pokemon to have one of those moves. Once trained, an HM was permanent for a Pokemon, unlike the technical machine, or TM, abilities. You had to train the skills you needed to get about the world to a Pokemon in your party, which meant creating travel mules with those skills because they would be otherwise limited by those skills in battles. Not that the HM skills were bad, but they were not always optimal for a given Pokemon.
Honestly, I didn’t even notice that HMs were well and truly gone until I got a few gyms in. I did see that you no longer got HMs. Instead a stack of a few TMs with the skill in question would be available to you, but I went and made a travel skill mule out of a trusty Bidoof, loading him up with cut and rock smash and surf. I did this because this is the way it was done back in the day.
And then my daughter pointed out that you no longer needed to have a Pokemon in your party, that after defeating a gym leader the move would be added to an app on your Poketech which would allow you to use it without having trained it.
The TMs we were being handed were just in case we happened to like a particular move. Surf and fly, for example, are pretty good moves even without the travel element.
This is another case of me needed to wear my glasses when I play now, because I was kind of skipping past a lot of the dialog at the end of gym battles, including the bit about those moves.
There are a few other items that have changed or that are new. I seem to think the game telling you where you ought to head next on the utility screen is new, though maybe I just forgot that after all these years.
Otherwise I have been quite enjoying the retro Pokemon experience in Pokemon Shining Pearl. It is a bit easier than I remember it, though I am sure that is much more a function of having played most of the series since then than game itself. The gyms and the puzzles to get through them are even better than I recalled.
I did get stumped for quite a bit at the Snowpoint City gym, which was just like the old days. You have to do things in just the right order there. On the other had, solving all the puzzles in the Hearthome City gym, which were math an memory related, left me feeling I had missed out on some fun.
The problem is that if you get the answer right and go to the door indicated… and the problems are all simple math… you end up missing out on all of the build-up fights, and the xp and rewards that go with them, and just fight the gym leader Fantina.
And, once you defeat her, the rest of the gym won’t battle you. Oh well.
And, of course, there is Team Galactic, the villains of the tale. While not as iconic as Team Rocket, they are every bit as haughty and arrogant when you encounter them, and they have the usual Bond villain style plan to take over.
I am six gyms into the game, but am taking a break for a bit. Well, sort of a break. I could keep on blitzing through, but my daughter is off to visit my aunt and cousin for a couple of days and asked me to stop getting so far ahead of her. She is a couple of gyms behind. So I said I wouldn’t collect any more gym badges until she got back.
But that doesn’t mean I have stopped playing. I have been going back to make sure I didn’t miss anything on my play through so far. (I did a just before bed run to a new town and was in such a hurry I am sure I missed a bunch of stuff.)
And I am also training up a couple of new Pokemon as once I get to the Pokemon League and the final battles I am going to need a range of Pokemon up past level 50 to win. I have been working on the Jirachi that the old couple gives you early on in Florama town as well as raising up a Magikarp in to a Gyrados, always a good Pokemon to have on your team.
And once my daughter is home I’ll be off the leash and able to carry on. Of course, finishing the main story and defeating the Pokemon League won’t mean the game is over. There is always a lot of post-story activities. I might have to dig out the original Pokemon Diamond & Pearl guide book that is on my shelf. I wonder if the information in it is still an accurate guide as to where to go and what to do in this remake.