[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Diamond and Pearl

Introduction

Although Pokémon as a cultural phenomenon was over by the third generation’s debut in 2002, the Ruby and Sapphire versions of Game Freak’s popular franchise managed to move sixteen-million units, making them the best-selling titles on its platform. The successor to the Game Boy Color was a highly praised piece of technology for allowing players to have portable gaming experiences comparable to ones provided by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. However, just like the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance wouldn’t last for long before its own successor saw the light of day.

Just before the debut of Ruby and Sapphire, the president of Nintendo at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, proposed the idea of a handheld console with two screens. The product from Mr. Yamauchi’s imagination would be announced in 2003. However, they claimed it would succeed neither the Game Boy Advance nor the Nintendo GameCube. In early 2004, the console was formally unveiled with the codename “Nintendo DS”. The acronym stood for “Developers’ System” or “Dual Screen”. The system’s specifications were highly advanced for its time, having two three-inch screens and one gigabit of semiconductor memory. The most notable aspect of this console was that the bottom screen would respond to touch commands. It wasn’t entirely unprecedented, for Tiger Electronics released a console in 1997 dubbed the Game.com. Its poor sales ensured the innovative idea died with it – or at least until Nintendo realized its potential. Mr. Yamauchi’s successor, Satoru Iwata, was enthusiastic about the DS, believing it would bring Nintendo into the forefront in terms of innovation. Released in 2004, its most notable launch title was a remake of Nintendo’s own game-changing Super Mario 64.

Although the Nintendo DS wasn’t created with the intent to succeed the Game Boy Advance, this scenario is precisely what came to pass. With many franchises such as Tetris and Super Mario Bros. gaining original entries on this system, it was only a matter of time before fans of Pokémon began speculating on the next generation. The year 2004 saw the debut of Pokémon Dash – a racing game that exclusively used the touch screen. Much like Yoshi’s Touch and Go, Pokémon Dash received fairly negative reviews. Critics believed developer Ambrella relied entirely on the touch screen to ferry an otherwise entry-level experience.

Even so, fans wouldn’t have to wait long before an official announcement was made. In 2004, the development of the fourth set of mainline games, Diamond and Pearl, was made known to the public. They would be the first set of games not developed by series co-creator Satoshi Tajiri with Junichi Masuda instead helming the project alone. With the tough experiences of developing Ruby and Sapphire still fresh in his mind, Mr. Masuda was nonetheless determined to create the ultimate version of Pokémon. Diamond and Pearl were initially slated for a 2005 release, but the team needed more time to implement the new ideas they had. As such, their domestic release was delayed until September of 2006. They reached the West in 2007 and Korea in 2008, marking the series’ official debut in the latter region.

Both games fared well critically with many people praising the new ideas Ms. Masuda and his team brought to the table. Even better, by the time of its release, the series had begun to make a comeback. The children who played Red and Blue in the late 1990s were either in high school or moving on to college, allowing them to wax nostalgia about the series without fear of ridicule. Because of these factors, it is no coincidence that Diamond and Pearl ended up selling eighteen-million copies – two-million more than their predecessors. Were Diamond and Pearl emblematic of the series’ resurgence in popularity?

Playing the Game

The protagonist of these games is a young child who lives in a small settlement named Twinleaf Town. It is situated in the Sinnoh region, which is far to the north of Kanto. They are good friends with an energetic young boy named Barry. One day, they go to his house and the two of them head for the nearby Lake Verity. There, they meet Professor Rowan and his assistant. According to what they are saying, there is something of great importance in this lake. Noticing the protagonist and Barry, the two of them run off. In their haste, they leave a briefcase behind. Barry, being the inquisitive person that he is, decides to check the bag. At that exact moment, he and the protagonist are accosted by wild Starly. These two have no experience training Pokémon, but their current situation has backed them up against a wall. Realizing the gravity of the situation, they each retrieve one Poké Ball from the case and abruptly meet their new partners.

Diamond and Pearl, taking cues from Ruby and Sapphire, begins by placing the protagonist in a dire situation as soon as the game begins. While Professor Birch’s plight was somewhat humorous due to being chased around in circles, the protagonist’s situation is a bit more serious. The very first episode of the anime demonstrated that wild Pokémon can be a serious threat to those without the means to defend themselves. To ensure your character is able to fend off the Starly, you have a choice of three Pokémon: Turtwig, Chimchar, and Piplup. Respectively, they are a mobile plant resembling a small tortoise, a monkey with control over fire, and a water penguin. To indicate that he is, in fact, your rival, Barry will strategically select the Pokémon with a type advantage over your own.

Regardless of your choice, your first order of business is to fend of the rogue Starly. Diamond and Pearl retain the series’ trademark gameplay. A majority of the battles are solo affairs with one Pokémon on each side of the field. For each turn of combat, you input a single command and a round is subsequently played out. The Pokémon with the highest speed moves first. Once a Pokémon’s HP has been reduced to zero, it faints and can no longer battle. As the first battle in the game, the wild Starly doesn’t put up much of a fight. Even if you chose the Grass-type Turtwig, which the Flying-type Starly has an advantage over, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

The professor’s assistant arrives on the scene and realizes what has happened before taking away the briefcase. After receiving a pair of running shoes from their mother, the protagonist heads to Professor Rowan’s laboratory in Sandgem Town. They attempt to give back the Pokémon they used, but the kindly professor lets them keep it. In addition, he gives the protagonist a Pokédex and some Poké Balls with which to capture more Pokémon. Just like Hoenn, Sinnoh has its own Pokémon League. It is from this sudden turn of events that the protagonist makes the decision to leave Twinleaf Town and journey across Sinnoh, collecting the eight badges required to challenge the regional Champion.

The most obvious difference between Diamond and Pearl would be the fact that, unlike any of its predecessors, the gameplay takes place across two screens rather than one. This is immediately apparent in battle. The battle itself takes place on the top screen, but the commands are displayed on the bottom screen. While you could select commands with the directional pad as usual, you may also touch them using the stylus. Admittedly, it doesn’t significantly alter the gameplay, and considering you cannot control your character on the field with the touch screen, it is mostly a novelty.

This isn’t to say the touch screen is completely superfluous. In fact, early in the game, your character will obtain something that utilizes it to a far greater degree: the Pokétch. This device could be considered the spiritual successor to the PokéNav, but it provides different services to the player. On its surface, it appears to be a standard digital watch. However, it bares more similarities to the smart phones that were beginning to surge in popularity around this time. This is because the Pokétch boasts a multitude of applications – or apps. From the beginning, you can use the Pokétch as a digital watch, a calculator, a pedometer, and a Pokémon list. The first two apps serve self-explanatory functions, and although the pedometer seems fairly useless in a virtual environment, it is helpful whenever you’re attempting to hatch an egg or exploring the Great Marsh – the Sinnoh equivalent of the Safari Zone. Meanwhile, the Pokémon list displays your team’s health, potential status conditions, and whether or not they’re holding an item.

When exploring Sinnoh, the Pokétch is displayed on the bottom screen. You can cycle through the apps by pressing the red button. Touching the watch itself is often required in order to use these apps, though some function automatically. Although you start off with four apps, you can obtain more from the Pokétch Company or independent developers. There are a total of twenty-five apps that can be found. One displays a miniature map of the region while another allows you to check on the status of the Pokémon you have left in the local Day Care. The Dowsing Machine could be considered handiest of these apps, replacing the cumbersome variant found in previous generations. While you had to register the Dowsing Machine, or the Itemfinder as it was originally called in English versions, to the “SELECT” button and wait for your character to change directions to face the hidden treasure, all you need to do to now is tap the watch’s touch screen. If there is a hidden item, it will show up as a circle on the Pokétch.

The touch screen also comes into play should you endeavor to enter your Pokémon in contests. Replacing the Pokéblocks from Ruby and Sapphire are muffin-like treats named Poffins. The general idea behind them is identical to that of the Pokéblocks. They are made from the unique berries of the Pokémon universe. Upon consumption, at least one of a Pokémon’s appealing qualities will be enhanced depending on its flavor. Whether the Poffin in question is Spicy, Dry, Sour, Bitter, or Sweet, will prompt judges into perceiving them as cool, beautiful, tough, clever, or cute respectively. What flavor a Pokémon prefers depends on their nature, and corresponds to whichever stat is enhanced by it. Unlike in Ruby and Sapphire, your Pokémon’s favorite flavor of berries is stated on its profile page.

How, exactly, a Poffin is prepared is very different than the process of making Pokéblocks. While blending berries involved making strategic button presses, Poffins are made by stirring the batter while it is being heated. This is accomplished by using the stylus to touch the bottom screen and sliding it in the directions as prompted by the game. One would do well not to let the batter set in place for too long, for it will burn if left alone. If this happens, you will be left with an unappealing Poffin. Whatever flavor of Poffin you receive depends on the berry used. In general, berries that have no use in battle produce Poffins of a higher quality.

Sinnoh’s Pokémon contests, or Super Contests as they are called, are more elaborate than any of the ones Brendan or May could have entered. They are divided into three rounds. The first is known as the Visual Competition. Making use of various accessories, you must dress up your Pokémon to appeal to the judges. Said accessories have twelve aspects to them. You must choose carefully based off of the description and look of these accessories which ones to use. It simply wouldn’t do to give your Pokémon an elegant flower to wear if you entered them in a toughness competition, after all. You have a limited amount of time to dress your Pokémon using the stylus before the judges observe them.

The second round commences the Dance Competition. A Pokémon will be chosen to lead their competition, prompting them to follow suit. If your Pokémon is the lead, you must use the touch screen to have them perform a dance in an attempt to throw off the competitors. Naturally, if your Pokémon is following, you must have the mimic the dance of the lead. You can also make your Pokémon dance using the “A”, “B”, “X”, and “Y” buttons. Whichever Pokémon proves the best at leading and following will receive the most praise from judges.

The third and final round is highly similar to how the primary portion of the Hoenn Pokémon Contests played out. Your Pokémon is given four rounds to appeal to the audience. As before, this is accomplished by having them show off their moves. Because moves have vastly different functions in contests than they do in battle, you may find yourself having to give your Pokémon an unusual skill set to succeed. It’s also important to know that your Pokémon is appealing to three judges as opposed to one. First impressions are everything, so a viable strategy could be to appeal solely to a judge the competition is ignoring. On the other hand, you could end up stealing the competition’s advantage right under their noses by successfully appealing to an already impressed judge.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Diamond and Pearl is that they were the first titles to truly balance the core gameplay. Red and Blue established the basic rules of the series, but there were myriad execution issues. This was especially apparent if you ever had the idea to train a team of Psychic-type Pokémon only to realize nothing could reasonably stop you from steamrolling the competition. Gold and Silver introduced Dark and Steel-type Pokémon – both of which put an end to the Psychic dominance. Although this ensured the types themselves were better balanced, one key issue remained. That is to say, there was a rigid divide between physical and special attacks. “Special Attack” could be thought of as the Pokémon equivalent of a typical role-playing game’s “Magic” stat with the caveat that they cost the same to use as a physically damaging move. Although the idea of making certain types such as Fire and Ice inflict special damage seems sensible on paper, the proposition falls apart in the face of moves such as Fire Punch and Ice Punch. Despite one usually showcasing a degree of physicality to throw a clean punch, damage was calculated using the “Special Attack” stat.

The reason this is important to know is because Diamond and Pearl were the games that finally fixed the problem once and for all. This means exactly what you think – which stat is used for damage calculation now depends on the move itself. Fire Punch and Ice Punch now use the “Attack” stat instead. The opposite holds true as well, as evidenced by Hyper Beam now being considered a Normal-type special attack.

This ostensibly minor change has profound ramifications on the usefulness of certain Pokémon. To wit, Gold and Silver introduced a Pokémon vaguely resembling a weasel called Sneasel. Although one could get the impression that their late availability implied a degree of endgame viability for the persistent, the reality didn’t reflect such a supposition. Although it is a dual-typed Ice and Dark Pokémon, Sneasel have high “Attack” and “Speed” stats. They were consequently borderline useless in their original games, for any attempt to utilize a same-type attack bonus would require them to use their vastly inferior “Special Attack” stat. As Diamond and Pearl distinguishes this characteristic on a move-by-move basis, Sneasel, along with its newly-introduced evolutionary level, suddenly went from being complete jokes to some of the most powerful Pokémon in the game, owing to their ability to exploit key weaknesses and topple Pokémon with low “Defense” stats by striking first.

This change also manages to give far more utility to moves that had existed since before the dawn of the fourth generation. One Fighting-type Pokémon, a Hitmonchan, prided itself in its ability to hurl various manners of elemental punches, including Thunder Punch, Fire Punch, and Ice Punch. Because all three moves were considered special attacks, they weren’t terribly useful owing to the Pokémon’s poor respective stat. Because they’re now all sensibly considered physical attacks, Hitmonchan and other Fighting-type Pokémon capable of learning those moves are now capable of exploiting a variety of weaknesses effectively.

Another move that greatly benefited from this new divide is Waterfall. Before, it was seen as an inferior version of the Surf move, dealing less damage and only targeting one enemy in Double Battles. Because Waterfall was, and still is, a Hidden Machine (HM) move, you frequently had to use it on the field in order to advance at certain points. As of Diamond and Pearl, it is now considered a physical attack and can potentially cause targets to flinch. This gives Water-type Pokémon with an “Attack” stat greater than their “Special Attack” stats a powerful move that, while lacking the raw power of Surf, serves an effective defensive purpose, robbing the opponent of their turn once out of every five attacks.

Along those lines, I could tell the creators approached the development of Diamond and Pearl with the intent to address flaws that had existed since the series’ inception. The biggest improvement, by far, concerns item management. There is now space for every single item in the game, meaning you no longer have any need to swap inventory in and out of storage via the main character’s computer. You can also hold up to 999 of each item, ensuring that you are unlikely to ever have to discard anything needlessly. If you’re daft enough to try to obtain 1,000 of a single item, the overflow will invade another slot. Needless to say, this is very unlikely to occur in practice.

The greater emphasis on storytelling in Ruby and Sapphire, though appreciated, ended up being something of a mixed blessing. In the first two generations, you could complete the game without ever encountering a Legendary Pokémon. They were doubtlessly important to the backstory of their respective regions, but seeking them out was optional. Ruby and Sapphire challenged this notion with the Weather Trio – two of which, Groudon and Kyogre, were the games’ respective mascots. Appropriately, the plot of each game in some way involved these Pokémon, forcing the player to encounter them. Because the plot wouldn’t advance until you either caught or defeated these Pokémon, the moments were often considered a brick wall. After all, nobody who took these games even remotely seriously settled for knocking out a Legendary Pokémon; they would instead do anything in their power to capture them. If you could only encounter this Pokémon once, why would you settle for any other outcome?

There was a silver lining in that one could simply use the Master Ball to end the conflict immediately. However, savvy players realized this simple proposition may not have been the most efficient use of the device. Traditionally, you only get one guaranteed Master Ball per playthrough, so it would seem to be a bad idea to use it on a difficult, yet manageable encounter when you could save it for the higher-leveled Rayquaza or one of the Eon Duo – the latter of which are roaming Pokémon you normally have to chase down to capture. There’s also the more pressing matter that, in order to use the Master Ball in the first place, you obviously needed to have found it. In a stark contrast to the two preceding generations, the Master Ball is found lying around in a dungeon as opposed to being a reward tied to advancing the plot. Even worse, once you obtain the seventh badge, the dungeon is sealed off, thereby rendering the Master Ball unobtainable.

What does any of this have to do with Diamond and Pearl? The answer is straightforward. If you accidentally knock the Legendary Pokémon out as a result of an ill-timed critical hit or a minor miscalculation, you can return to the place where you encountered it for a second chance to capture it upon becoming the Champion. Even better, the Master Ball is given to you by a major character following an unavoidable battle. Given the large amounts of dialogue that occurs both before and after encountering the Legendary Pokémon, this is greatly appreciated.

On the subject of capturing Pokémon, I also enjoy how Diamond and Pearl introduced three new varieties of Poké Balls: Heal Balls, Quick Balls, and Dusk Balls. As the name implies, Heal Balls are capable of restoring the captured Pokémon’s HP in addition to curing a non-volatile status condition they may have been afflicted with. Admittedly, Heal Balls are only truly useful during the beginning portions of the game when your ability to purchase Potions is drastically limited. Because they have the same capture rate as a standard Poké Ball, they are mostly obsolete by the time you can purchase Great Balls. Luckily, the other two Poké Balls have a much wider range of use. Quick Balls are far more effective if used on the first turn of battle. Although this sounds slightly counterintuitive when even beginners know it’s best to weaken a Pokémon before attempting to capture it, the weighted odds are a little more in your favor should you choose to use one. They could be thought of as a downgraded version of the Master Ball, though they are much easier to find. Lastly, Dusk Balls, as one might infer, work well when used in dark areas such as caverns or other dungeons. Then again, there is a lengthy period of time every day in which these Poké Balls work perfectly fine outdoors as well – all you need to do is to wait for the sun to set.

Although Ruby and Sapphire were vast improvements over the two preceding generations, many fans expressed disappointment that the land of Hoenn was bathed in perpetual daylight. There was still a persistent clock similar to the one implemented in Gold and Silver, but it usually only came into play when planting berries or evolving certain Pokémon. However, even when the mechanic was implemented in its original form in the second generation, it came with a severe downside. The persistent game clock caused batteries implanted within the Gold and Silver cartridges to wear out far more quickly than a standard one due to always being in use. After a relatively few numbers of years passed, many players were shocked to learn their data had been completely erased and they couldn’t create a new file until they got the battery replaced. Even Ruby and Sapphire weren’t entirely immune to this problem, for a year’s passing in real time would cause the internal clock to freeze. The glitch could be fixed through various means such as linking a copy of Ruby or Sapphire with the GameCube title Pokémon Colosseum or using an accessory called the e-Reader, but it was an irritating process.

Diamond and Pearl were allowed to circumvent these potential problems before they had a chance to begin, for one of the Nintendo DS’s most touted features was an internal clock of its own. This takes all of the strain off of the game card’s battery, ensuring it doesn’t wear out too quickly. Not only that, but with time being measured using the DS’s clock rather than the card’s, you don’t even have to worry about desyncing the clock by leaving your time zone.

In Gold and Silver, the phases of the day had little transition. You would be playing the game until 5:59pm only for night to fall the very next minute. In Diamond and Pearl day-to-night transition is much more gradual, which helps with immersion. Otherwise, the mechanic, at its core, functions identically to how it did in Gold and Silver. The most obvious effect is has on the experience concerns the wild Pokémon you may encounter on the field. Some will show up on a route regardless of the time of day, but others follow a distinct sleeping pattern. The distinction is sensible enough with Pokémon resembling real-life nocturnal creatures such as bats or owls only appearing at night and those based off of diurnal ones appearing in greater numbers during the day.

Finally, I have to give Mr. Masuda and his team a lot of credit for vastly improving their games’ artificial intelligence. As you journey through Sinnoh, you may discover that your opponents’ Pokémon are fully capable of using TM moves as well. Before, this was primarily a luxury only afforded to the player and certain Gym Leaders. Here, random trainers you encounter on the field can surprise you. Coupled with the fact that many Pokémon in these games are capable of learning moves capable of covering their own weaknesses, even trainers who specialize in a certain type can give you a run for your money. You may think it’s a good idea to send a Golem against the birdlike Staraptor and capitalize on the Flying-type Pokémon’s weakness to Rock attacks. You would then be caught off-guard when you discover – too late – that Staraptors can use Close Combat, a rock-shattering Fighting-type move. In other words, you need to study the mechanics extensively to have any success in these games.

When listing the various improvements Diamond and Pearl bring to the series, one could conclude they allowed the series to take another step forward. However, I have to say there are more than a few issues holding the games back from realizing their full potential. As you play Diamond and Pearl, you may come down to the conclusion that the presentation is decidedly choppy. Junichi Masuda and his team had a lot of difficulties coping with the significantly improved graphical capabilities of the Game Boy Advance when making Ruby and Sapphire. The development process was so stressful that Mr. Masuda had to be hospitalized at one point.

Although there is little evidence to suggest that the development process of Diamond and Pearl was similarly taxing on its team, their inexperience with the console is apparent playing these games. The frame rate is appallingly bad, with battles and other activities dragging out the experience for a far longer time than necessary. The game taking a long time to execute basic actions is especially obvious whenever you swap Pokémon in or out of your team. If you, in any way, interact with the storage system, the game will take an additional ten seconds to record your progress. This doesn’t sound terrible on paper, but it does add up over the course of a playthrough. Given that the DS itself is a more powerful system than the Game Boy Advance, these issues are highly jarring.

The reason this bears commenting on is because you likely will have to switch Pokémon quite often in these games. Just like Ruby and Sapphire, every single one of the eight badges grants the player character the use of an HM move outside of battle. You need to use these moves in order to circumvent obstacles blocking your progress, whether it’s by breaking weak boulders, riding a Pokémon across a large body of water, or using a winged Pokémon to clear the fog. I will say upfront that I like how the use of these moves is implemented. To a greater extent than in previous generations, the strategic placement of these obstacles grants Sinnoh an overworld design reminiscent of Ocarina of Time. You gain new abilities to open up new areas, and while the plot prevents sequence breaking, there are plenty of optional areas that can only be accessed upon obtaining the HMs. It’s a much more organic method of giving players a gradually opening world than making them traverse an entire ocean.

However, even if it does serve a gameplay purpose, there is no denying that managing HM moves is as annoying as it has ever been. Although these games don’t go quite as far as forcing players to use three Water-type HM moves, it’s still not recommended to have a Pokémon that knows both Surf and Waterfall if you can help it. This is because it’s redundant to have two Pokémon of the same type on your team. Then, of course, there’s the problem with HM moves in how their usefulness in battle varies wildly. The designers had the foresight to increase the amount of damage Rock Smash inflicts, but it’s still a weak maneuver that is quickly outclassed – as is Cut. As before, you don’t want to teach these to a Pokémon you intend to use extensively lest you saddle them with a move you won’t be able to get rid of until fairly late in the experience.

The designers even went as far as introducing two new HM moves: Defog and Rock Climb. It was good of them to demote the otherwise useless Flash to a TM move and excise Dive entirely. I will also say Rock Climb is a useful offensive maneuver, inflicting respectable Normal-type damage while also having a 20% chance of confusing the opponent. However, Defog isn’t a terribly good substitute for Flash. When used in battle, it lowers the target’s evasion. It’s usually a better idea to increase your own Pokémon’s stats than lower those of your opponents’, for any work you may have put into doing so will be for naught the exact second you fell them. It does have a secondary use, being able to clear the opponent’s various barriers such as Light Screen or Reflect, but this is highly situational at best. It’s largely redundant because there is one move called Brick Break, which accomplishes the same thing in addition to inflicting damage – assuming it isn’t being used on a Ghost-type Pokémon, of course. Defog can negate your opponent’s usage of Safeguard, allowing you to inflict status conditions upon them, but it’s such a rare circumstance that it’s best to simply resort to a secondary strategy.

Worst of all, it’s not even terribly useful outside of battle either. Navigating areas without first removing the fog isn’t difficult at all. There is just enough visibility to help you find your way around. The only downside is that entering battles with the fog still present will drastically decrease your Pokémon’s accuracy. This may seem like a significant downside until you realize your opponents’ won’t be able to land a hit either. In practice, this means fog is only a problem in areas with trainers present, as you cannot run from these encounters. Even then, you can get around the limitation by using moves that bypass accuracy checks, further decreasing Defog’s usefulness.

One of the most significant new mechanics introduced in Ruby and Sapphire was the concept of Double Battles. As the name suggests, these were battles in which both combatants use two Pokémon at once. The only downside is that the idea was underutilized. Outside of one set of Gym Leaders and the occasional duo wandering the countryside, every trainer encounter was a traditional Single Battle. Furthermore, in Ruby and Sapphire, it was implied that the programmers had to deal with technical limitations, for no duo you ever faced moved from their spot.

Double Battles have been brought back for Diamond and Pearl, though after the main campaign of Pokémon Colosseum featured them exclusively, they return to being secondary in these games. Nonetheless, there are a few subtle improvements. The most notable is that duos can spot your character from a distance and travel to them in unison. Not only that, but under certain circumstances, you can be spotted by two unrelated trainers at the same time. If this happens, you must battle them both simultaneously.

However, your character might not necessarily have to face them alone. On occasion, your character will be accompanied by another trainer – sometimes, they even have to team up with Wally. The idea of forming a tag team had been around since Pokémon Stadium, which allowed four players to compete against each other, though it wouldn’t be until this set of games that the idea was properly implemented in a single-player campaign. As long as a trainer is following your character, encounters are turned into Double Battles by default. On top of that, if you run into a wild Pokémon encounter, two will appear at the same time. It’s important to know that if you ever encounter two wild Pokémon, you can only toss a Poké Ball after knocking one of them unconscious. Because it would be quite frustrating having to return to the Pokémon Center every time your partner’s Pokémon were injured, both teams are fully healed after each encounter.

All in all, Multi Battles, as these matches are called, are an interesting concept – particularly whenever your character teams up against the local evil organization. Despite this, the idea isn’t quite implemented flawlessly. Although Wally has plenty of Pokémon to spare to the point where you can potentially have twelve team members on your side in certain battles, the idea occasionally falls apart. There are quite a few situations in which your tag team partner only has one Pokémon. Usually, they’re powerful enough to hold their own against the trainers you encounter. When they’re not, you could find yourself fending off two trainers with only one Pokémon. This is because if your partner runs out of Pokémon, you can’t send out one of your own as a substitute. Because the artificial intelligence in these games is sophisticated enough to exploit weaknesses, you can expect them to take advantage of your partner’s disadvantageous type matchup every single time.

What I feel to be the biggest problem with Diamond and Pearl concerns its balance. Although you must make the standard decision between a Fire, Water, and Grass-type Pokémon at the beginning of the game, your freedom of choice an illusion. The only sensible option is Chimchar – the Fire-type starter. This is because Chimchar and the other two Pokémon in its evolutionary line are three of five Fire-type Pokémon available in Sinnoh. The other two Pokémon, Ponyta and Rapidash, are generally not preferred due to their comparatively weak stats. Most serious teams are going to want at least one Fire-type Pokémon on their team due to their ability to exploit the one of the Steel-type’s three weaknesses. If you don’t choose Chimchar, there are going to be several Pokémon that will give your team a lot of trouble. The lack of Fire-type Pokémon available even affects one member of the Elite Four. Despite having a clear Fire theme to him, his team has a deceptively large variety of types because only two families are available. Admittedly, the balance isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the first generation, but it feels as though the developers should have known better by this point.

Analyzing the Story

Like the three regions before it, Sinnoh is heavily based on a region in Japan. While the Hoenn region encompassed Kyūshū and Okinawa, Sinnoh draws inspiration from the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaidō. As such, while Hoenn had a subtropical feel to it with its numerous beaches and prominent volcano dominating the center of the island, you can tell Sinnoh has much more of a seasonal diversity than the three that preceded it. Dividing this land in half is the imposing Mt. Coronet, which is a parallel to the Ezo Mountain Chain. Moreover, while there are a few seaside tourist traps to be found, Sinnoh is notable for being the first region to feature an area covered in snow. The closest the series came to featuring snow before these games was Mt. Silver, the Pokémon World’s equivalent to Mt. Fuji, and a few dungeons with a clear ice theme to them.

While Sinnoh appears to be just another region in this world, these games continue the trend set by their predecessors in how they incorporate Legendary Pokémon into its backstory. Ruby and Sapphire introduced three such Pokémon – Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza – that are frequently referred to as the Weather Trio. The cataclysmic battle between Groudon and Kyogre shook the entire planet to its core. With one entity having power of the lithosphere and the other the hydrosphere, the fierce clash raised continents and drowning others in ocean water. The epicenter of this fight was the city of Sootopolis. The people could only look in horror as the world’s end drew near. Only when Rayquaza, the one with control over the atmosphere, intervened did the fighting finally cease. Artist Ken Sugimori stated that he wanted to recreate scenes from his favorite films featuring giant monsters – the kaiju – when illustrating the scenes from this battle.

Diamond and Pearl follow suit with a second trio of Pokémon: Palkia, Dialga, and Giratina. However, while the Weather Trio brought about untold levels of destruction, these three are linked through the concept of creation. Indeed, it is in the fourth generation that we, at last, learn of the setting’s creation myth.

Countless eons ago, existence was naught but a chaotic mishmash of nothingness. At some point, a singular egg appeared seemingly from nothing. From this egg hatched a Pokémon known as Arceus. Because of how it came into existence, it is also called the Original One. Once hatched, the being created another egg. From it hatched Palkia, Dialga, and Giratina. These three Pokémon formed the very foundations of the universe – time, space, and antimatter respectively. After the universe was formed, Arceus created a second egg from which hatched three new creatures: Uxie, Azelf, and Mesprit. These Pokémon, representing the concepts of Memory, Willpower, and Emotion, were the ones responsible for begetting all intelligent life. However, the peace between these beings wasn’t to last. Giratina was banished to a pocket dimension known as the Distortion World for its violent nature shortly after the world had been formed.

It doesn’t take someone well-versed in mythology to find a clear subtext in this backstory. Although there isn’t a religion dedicated to worshipping Arceus, it is all but stated to be this universe’s equivalent of God Himself. After all, Arceus was the being responsible for creating the universe, its laws, and the beings that dwell within it. If you can recruit it, you’ll learn Arceus has the stats to back up its lofty status. Though it appears to be of the otherwise unassuming Normal-type, it is capable of switching its element at any time. It’s only natural, for it helped shape the basic elements of the universe. Even Giratina’s banishment could be seen as an analogue to Satan’s fall from Heaven, which would, in turn, make the Distortion World this universe’s equivalent of Hell. Then again, Giratina is shown to be more overly aggressive than actually evil, attacking only when it feels the Distortion World is being threatened.

Just like in Ruby and Sapphire, these Legendary Pokémon are a key component of the villainous organization’s scheme. While the conflict between Team Magma and Team Aqua was a parallel to the historical battle between Groudon and Kyogre, Diamond and Pearl scales things back slightly by pitting the player character against one criminal organization: Team Galactic. The organization’s name is a reference to one of Game Freak’s earliest titles called Pulseman, which was originally released on the Sega Mega Drive in 1994 – two years before the debut of the first generation of Pokémon. While the Galaxy Gang from Pulseman dealt in an extreme form of cyberterrorism, Team Galactic’s goal turns out to be far more nefarious.

The leader of Team Galactic is a man named Cyrus. It doesn’t long before you realize there is something seriously wrong with him. He almost never emotes. When your character inevitably triumphs over him, he doesn’t exactly take his defeats graciously, but he is not meaningfully affected by them either. He even hands your character a Master Ball for defeating him. Under normal circumstances, someone giving their own enemy an immensely helpful item would denote a begrudging respect, yet Cyrus’s action doesn’t come across as altruistic. What can be extrapolated from this is that he is not a person who operates under a conventional morality. He has overt misanthropic predilections, yet doesn’t seem to view Pokémon with any more respect, seeing them and humans alike merely as tools with which to realize his goal. Coupled with his perpetually stoic demeanor, one would be forgiven for believing him not to even be human.

Cyrus’s ultimate plan could be read as a twisted version of what Maxie and Archie were trying to accomplish. Maxie wanted to benefit humankind by expanding the world’s landmass while Archie sought to broaden the ocean in a misguided attempt to help marine life. Cyrus, on the other hand, has a goal much grander in scale. By imprisoning Uxie, Azelf, and Mesprit, he can create an artifact known as the Red Chain. With this, he can, depending on which version you purchased, summon Dialga or Palkia. Using their power to bend time and space, he will reshape the universe in his image. It will be a world without any kind of suffering, but also completely devoid of emotion or spirit. Having introduced a God analogue, it’s thematically fitting that the villain of these games would have a god complex.

This revelation casts the relationship between Cyrus and the organization he commands in an interesting light. His predecessors, Giovanni, Maxie, and Archie, though all possessing vastly different motivations, from each other, had one commonality: the genuine, mutual loyalty of their subordinates. Although the grunts would fail time and again, every member in these organizations knew what they were getting into when they agreed to join. The same isn’t true of Team Galactic. The grunts, despite their garish haircuts and outfits, are all garden-variety thugs who enjoy being in the organization due to giving them carte blanche to do whatever they want. Their basest moments involve killing others’ Pokémon and detonating a bomb in order to drain a lake. When they tell their victims to stop whining and laugh at the Magikarp flopping around in the mud puddles, one gets the sense they don’t care about Cyrus’s goals as long as they can reap the benefits of being in an organized crime unit.

In most cases, pitting the left hand against the right is a terrible idea. Cyrus realizes that, as incompetent as the entry-level hooligans are, keeping them in the dark is for the best. Despite not thinking like a normal human, he realizes nobody save for the criminally insane would support him if they knew of his aspirations. Indeed, when confronting his inner circle, you learn they only know a fraction of his master plan apiece. One knows Cyrus wants to become a god, a second is aware he seeks to create a world without emotion or spirit, and a third realizes he must erase the current universe to make this happen. Only when Cyrus is seconds away from seeing his plans come to fruition does he admit the full truth. When he does, some of them immediately regret their actions. Notably, his second-in-command, Saturn, attempts to redeem the organization after Cyrus is defeated. I can say playing through the storyline to its conclusion is highly satisfying. To an even greater extent than Brendan and May, it makes the protagonist of these games emerge a true hero.

Unfortunately, while I can say the story manages to stick the landing, the same could not be said of the gameplay. The irony of this situation is that, despite having a smaller impact, becoming the new Champion is much more difficult than saving the world. One of the greatest improvements the third generation offered was that it greatly reduced the need for players to grind levels – to the point where your team could be strong enough to take on the Elite Four even if you opted to run from every single wild encounter.

For the most part, this remains true of Diamond and Pearl as well – up until you reach the Pokémon League, that is. The region’s final Gym Leader, Volkner, has a team that hovers around the late-forties range while the strongest Pokémon of the Elite Four’s first member is of Level 57. The signature Pokémon of the Champion is a Level 66 Garchomp – one of the most powerful creatures in the game. To have any chance of winning, you must grind levels for several hours in Victory Road or another area with strong, wild Pokémon. It admittedly isn’t quite as bad as preparing to fight Red in Gold or Silver, but when one considers that the concept of grinding levels for hours had been rightly dropped by the mid-2000s, one can’t help but feel the designers either didn’t playtest the final portions of these games or grasp the direction in which their peers were heading. It does make triumphing over the Champion satisfying, but what these games do in the final act is like running a marathon only to trip just before reaching the finish line.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Great music
  • Item management is made much easier
  • Intriguing scenario
  • Legendary Pokémon can be refought
  • Physical and special moves are divided sensibly
  • Introduced online play
  • Interesting region design that gradually opens up
  • Day-to-night cycle returns
Cons:

  • HM move management is annoying
  • Somewhat poor balance
  • Unpolished programming
  • Unreasonable level grinding required
  • Multi battles can be daunting

Comparing Diamond and Pearl to the three sets of games that preceded them makes for an interesting conversation piece. Red and Blue were usually considered sacred cows by a majority of the longtime fans while the holdouts from the same group, citing the first generation’s blatant balancing issues, declared Gold and Silver the pinnacles of the series instead. By this point in history, Ruby and Sapphire had not quite received their vindication, so many fans, taking note of the myriad features introduced in Diamond and Pearl such as the ability to play with a friend over Wi-Fi, felt the fourth generation to be an overall improvement over the third. This is not a perception that lasted, and in the passing years, Diamond and Pearl were eventually considered to be among the weaker sets of games.

I personally can somewhat sympathize with the detractors because the flaws plaguing Diamond and Pearl are extremely blatant. Having to grind levels for hours just to survive the endgame, putting up with the long load times, and planning around the poor balance are all issues a series shouldn’t face more than a decade after its inception. At the same time, I feel the reason these flaws stand out more is because at their best, Diamond and Pearl had so much more to offer than any preceding Pokémon installment. It has an incredibly intriguing scenario that pit players against the single darkest villain in the mainline games, and the design of Sinnoh was an improvement over Hoenn’s due only having a few water routes.

From this, I can, at the very least, say that the fourth generation of Pokémon was the first to not be an unequivocal improvement over the one it succeeded. This admittedly does make the idea of playing Diamond and Pearl in their original forms a difficult proposition. If you want to experience the fourth generation of Pokémon yourself, seek out a copy of Pokémon Platinum instead. In a similar vein as the Yellow, Crystal, and Emerald versions, Pokémon Platinum was an updated rerelease of Diamond and Pearl. However, while its three predecessors merely offered a nice bonus feature here and there, Platinum successfully addressed a majority of the worst flaws weighing down Diamond and Pearl. The result provides a far more naturalistic experience that allows newcomers to appreciate the fourth generation’s innovative facets.

In the early 2000s, Pokémon was dismissed as a passing fad. Diamond and Pearl could therefore be credited with ensuring the series had its permanent place alongside Nintendo’s other big-name franchises such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, or Metroid. Even if they suffered from glaring execution issues, the very fact that these games sold well and managed to keep the series relevant to longtime fans and newcomers alike makes them worthy of their place in history.

Final Score: 7/10

25 thoughts on “[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Diamond and Pearl

    • It was interesting because I actually ended up skipping Gen IV originally because I wasn’t really interested in the series at the time. As a result, it’s the only generation so far in which I played neither of the original versions. I ended up playing Platinum last year, and coming off of my playthrough of X, I found it to be the superior title. This did mean I had to research the differences between the campaigns, but it wasn’t too difficult. In any case, Gen IV may not be my favorite set of games, but it does manage to retain most of Ruby and Sapphire’s momentum and deliver a solid experience in its own right.

      It also contains one of my favorite gaming moments wherein I had to take on two Ace Trainers at once with similarly leveled Pokémon (an Espeon, a Gyarados, a Staraptor, and an Infernape) due to them one-shotting my partner’s Lucario. The best part? I won despite having two fewer Pokémon. That Multi Battle screenshot I included, while not mine, I do believe is from the specific encounter in which it occurred.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Diamond and Pearl were the games that kind of brought me back to playing Pokemon games regularly, as I didn’t play Ruby and Sapphire on the GBA. Also, the Tiger Game.com…. I remember actually asking for one of those for Christmas as a kid, lol.

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    • I actually ended up taking a long break from the series after Ruby and Sapphire. I couldn’t tell you why; I think I let the “Pokemon is a fad” crowd get to me – I know, it’s shameful. Fortunately, I ended up playing White in 2012 and immediately began following the series again. I ended up playing Platinum last year to fill in the gap between generations.

      I myself had never heard of the Game.com until Screw Attack made a video of the worst consoles ever made. Did you actually end up getting it?

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    • Glad you enjoyed the review! The fourth generation occupies a weird place among fans, but I’d say it was a decent continuation of what Ruby and Sapphire accomplished.

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  2. I didn’t play Pokemon on DS, but really enjoyed the older games (Red/Yellow) on Gameboy like many. It’s easy to see why the games were so well loved. They were so brilliantly designed and fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed they are. In fact, I’ve sampled each mainline entry thus far. Diamond and Pearl may not have held up quite as well as Ruby and Sapphire, but they managed to retain most of the previous generation’s momentum, I’d say.

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  3. Unfortunately, I kind of checked out of the Pokemon series after Ruby and Sapphire. I haven’t played one of their releases since. I didn’t ever make a conscious decision in that direction, but I guess I just didn’t see them fitting with my adult life they way they filled it as a child. I get the impulse to go back and pick the games up every once in a while, but it’s never strong enough to get me to actually do it.

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    • You know, we seem to have a lot of strange parallels in our gaming paths because I ended up checking out around this point as well. What ultimately reeled me back in is a very strange combination of factors. One of them was my playthrough of Mother 3 in 2011. After learning that Black and White were considered spiritual successors to Mother 3, I wanted to see their take on that game’s themes. Surprisingly, I would argue Black and White had the more sophisticated take, approaching its clash of ideals with a lot more nuance and relenting that both sides have a point. I also thought I didn’t have enough time for Pokémon, but then I ended up playing the 100-hour-long Persona 4, so I realized that really wasn’t an issue. Therefore, I have to say that if you’re ever interested in revisiting the series, Gen V is the best place to start.

      I was originally content to skip Gen IV altogether, but then I changed my mind when I got the idea to review the series last year. Having only one set of games to fill in the gap, I decided to seek out Platinum.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Gen IV was the one I skipped due to having temporarily lost interest in the series. I do remember other students being excited for the games, however. Then again, considering how big of an improvement Platinum was over Diamond and Pearl, waiting may have been for the best.

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  4. I was honestly Pokemon’ed out after Firered, but I ended up picking this up after a few recommendations back during my earliest forum days. Maybe that’s why these are my least favorite games in the franchise, nothing about the games remotely appealed to me, whether it’s the new critters it introduced, the region having the issues of HMs at their very worst, or how the story feels like peak Pokemon Team feeling they’ve something going on with their writing and turning out it’s nothing but hot air, not helping is the pacing of the game, the engine speed is the pits, and the game visuals simply not being appealing in the slightest with the introduction of 3D models just because the DS could do them, how odd the overworld sprites look and how lacking the color palette feels compared to the far more vibrant GBA games. I appreciate the physical and special split, but that’s as far as my love for Sinnoh goes.
    It was this alongside my branching out to other JRPG franchises (which rarely didn’t deliver far more satisfying narratives and characters than Pokemon ever did) that finally made me fall out for Pokemon until X came out, unfortunate given when I finally gave Gen 5 a shot through Black & White 2 out of sheer obligation to have experienced at least every region until Alola, they turned out to be neck and neck with Soulsilver as my favorite entries in the franchise, and I’ll give they’re technically better designed and polished games than whatever my nostalgia goggles might have for Johto and its many difficulty issues.

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    • Well, I would say that HM move management is less annoying in these games because you’re never made to dive, but you have a point. However, I also have to say that I stand by my assessment that these games are a little better than many fans give them credit for. Yeah, the games aren’t well-optimized, but Platinum managed to fix most of those issues, and while Team Galactic aren’t the most well-written villains out there, I do think they provide many interesting story beats. The games are flawed, but I would say they make for overall better experiences than Gold and Silver because, while the endgame level grinding is insufferable (even in Platinum when it was greatly alleviated), you still only have to do it one time as opposed to twice in Gold and Silver.

      I will say that Black 2 and White 2 are my favorite games in the series, but I’ll save my thoughts for the review.

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    • Thanks! Hope he enjoys reading it. And you’re welcome; I may not be able to post often, but I don’t intend to stop reviewing games anytime soon. They’re posted every Sunday morning.

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  5. Pingback: July 2019 in Summary: Another Arduous Month | Extra Life

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