(Spoilers ahead for all three game’s story and gameplay)
More than a decade ago, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were the first games in the franchise to be released for the Nintendo DS Lite. They were considered by gamers to be one of the system’s most popular games of its time — a killer app, if you will. It kicked off the franchise on a new platform with a bang, on was was to become one of the most popular gaming handhelds ever made.
But regardless of the nostalgia that many fans may hold for it, how do these first three entries for the DS era really hold up in today’s standards? Do Pokémon Diamond, Pearl as well as Platinum prove themselves to be tried and true successors to the core games that came before it?
Let’s kick things off with the most important aspect: gameplay. Right from the get-go, Diamond and Pearl’s (D/P’s) gameplay should feel right at home for you, assuming you’ve played any one of the other titles in the series. You explore an overworld, you talk to people to receive items. When you enter a patch of tall grass or get spotted by another trainer, you enter into the game’s turn-based battle system. From there you’re given the option to fight, use items, switch to another Pokémon or simply run (which you can’t when battling trainers).
It’s the same battle format that has existed for as long as there has been a Pokémon. and D/P pretty much continues that tradition. However, that’s not to discount the changes that both games have brought to the table. The battle mechanics, for instance, introduce a refined version of the damage categories for every move in the game. Prior to this implementation, a move’s type (fire, grass or water type etc.) determined whether the move was either a physical attack (damage calculated by using the user’s attack & opponent’s defense stat) or a special attack (damage calculated by using the user’s special attack & opponent’s special defense). In earlier games, fire-type moves were categorised as being only special attacks, while other types such as normal and fighting, were restricted to being only physical based attacks.
In Diamond and Pearl, every single type now has their own array of physical and special attacks. This is referred to by the fanbase as the “Physical/Special split.” This means that in D/P, the variety of moves, potential movesets and builds for certain Pokémon are greatly expanded. It means that certain Pokémon who had a high base attack stat for example but could only get access to special moves due to their type are given a second chance at being much more useful in battle. It’s a very subtle, yet a highly impactful change that many, many fans have praised and acknowledged. It fully amends any potential flaws which would’ve otherwise crippled the core battling system.
Meanwhile, the game’s setting: the Sinnoh region, is overall kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, the setting includes locations and environments that vary in their look, mood and atmosphere, which is always a good sign. Each one has their own fair share of off-beaten paths that reward players who explore them with rarer, higher quality items such as rarer TM discs (which your Pokémon can learn new moves from), higher selling goods, powerful healing potions and held items that prove useful during battle. This involves a shit-ton of backtracking however, involving the use of HM moves.
Long story short, they’re garbage tier moves that are rendered almost useless (not all of them) in battle. It’s usually thanks to their low base power or any lack of bonus effects that would’ve otherwise made them much more useful. And to add insult to injury, you have to wait until getting to the sixth gym leader just to have them removed from your Pokémon. You can’t reach certain secret areas without them and they’re even mandatory for progressing through certain points in the main story. Yeah, they fucking suck (thank god for Bidoof though). In certain places, just getting from point A to B can be such a chore — the snowy area outside of Snowpoint city being the biggest offender here, as your walking speed will slow to a literal goddamn crawl once you’ve entered. This is unfortunately the same case when traversing through aquatic segments like lakes and river paths.
Aside from the slow traversal speed, you’re also more than likely going to encounter your hundredth Magikarp or Tentacool by just jumping into the water to begin with. Just some friendly advice, stock up on repels… lots of them. Other areas meanwhile include patches of fog or darkness that can completely obscure your vision as well as the path you’re trying to take. Once again, you’re prompted to use specific moves outside of battle to order to get rid of them. Yeah, it can be rewarding finding new paths and secrets within previously visited areas by using the means in which you didn’t have access to before, but Diamond and Pearl’s execution of this feels really undercooked.
What’s also undercooked is the pacing, which is probably the biggest issue in all three games. For the first 10 minutes or so in particular, you can just feel your hand being held tightly by the developers. In the process, you’re forced to participate in numerous tedious tasks such as reading walls of dialogue text, backtracking to certain places, doing forced tutorials, doing more smaller side objectives as well as talking to more human npcs. All of this BEFORE you can face the first gym leader. Segments like these can really harm that illusion that you’re embarking on this grand journey, choosing where to go next and choosing which Pokémon you want by your side. It also doesn’t help that the level design, especially for the game’s early segments can feel pretty linear. From the beginning, you’re constantly funneled into which gym to challenge next. While I’m not advocating for a fully flexed open world with this game, especially since it’s on the DS Lite of all things, a more open-ended approach to the level design (e.g. actually choosing which gym to challenge next) would’ve been hugely appreciated.
In today’s gaming climate, there’s a consensus that the recent 3D games have been just so piss easy to play, and that statement is rightly justified. Though looking back at how the DS games approached their difficulty, the difference is almost night and day. Diamond and Pearl’s is no exception of course, as the difficulty is probably the best feature of all 4th generation games. This comes down to a number of factors, firstly with the exp share.
The rate and amount of experience your Pokémon receive post battle is vastly lower compared to that from the 3D games. This is due to the fact that the exp share (which you couldn’t control in Sword and Shield) doesn’t provide experience to every single monster in your party. Instead, it only affects the Pokémon who’s holding it during a battle. Hence, you need to prioritize and think about which pocket monster you want to train. You’ll also need to muster some patience in order to grind for later levels, not only for obtaining more powerful evolutions of your Pokémon, but so your team is better equipped for the game’s tougher battles.
Speaking of tough battles, the elite four, champion and even some of the gym leaders are no joke, they will put up a fight when the time arises. If either your Pokémon are too under levelled or you don’t abuse healing/revive items 24/7, then your chances of losing an important battle will increase substantially. You’ll start to notice this more once you travel to the Pokémon league. And from that point onwards, the difficulty gap begins to increase significantly. Often times, the opponent’s Pokémon will more than likely out level yours if you don’t invest in increasing your own ‘mon’s level. During wild encounters or trainer battles, you’ll start encountering more and more Pokémon within the level 50 to 60 range. And man, it gets better from there once you start battling the elite four as well as the champion. Some of the monster line-ups & move sets at their disposal can throw you off if you’re not careful (I’m looking at you Flint). That being said however, the overall challenge never crosses the line to being unfair. It all comes down to whether you have the right pocket monsters, with the right moves for the right battle.
Additionally, the opponent AI also doesn’t seem to tip the point of being overpowered. Never in my playthrough did I witness an NPC opponent resorting to cheap or dirty tactics or move sets that can completely wipe out a more novice player. Overall, Diamond and Pearl’s difficulty is balanced enough that both players of the spectrum can have a fulfilling experience in overcoming both game’s obstacles.
On the technical side of things, it’s painfully obvious that D/P aren’t the most graphically complex games on the DS Lite system, but they really don’t need to be. Considering the hardware/software limitations the DS lite had for its time, #GameFreakLied didn’t arrive early. The overall 2D, 16-bit anime aesthetic, couple that with the blend of a 3D rendering of the overworld, background environments and cutscenes are enough to keep any player content with its albeit limited resolution. They have an endearing charm and mood that fans can’t help but gush over and still hold up genuinely well to this day.
The character designs for some of the humans in the meantime are also fairly recognizable, at least to anyone who’s familiar with or played the games. Same can especially be said for the newly introduced Pokémon. While the roster/pokedex itself this time around isn’t quite as large as we previously got with earlier gens, it still makes up for this by including unique features, such as introducing evolutions for older Pokémon from previous generations.
It’s just a shame that you have to wait until the very post-game just to get access to the new evolutions — a glaring design issue which was thankfully rectified in Pokémon Platinum. I’m not gonna lie here, the Sinnoh region has probably some of the most badass looking Pokémon designs I’ve seen from the franchise so far. Apart from the starter Pokémon (and their chad-tier final evolutions), you also have Lopunny: a god damn playboy bunny waifu, Lucario: a fighting/steel type dog able to shoot spirit bombs, Honchkrow: a crow that’s also a mafia boss, good ol’ Garchomp: a literal landshark on steroids (never change old friend) and finally my boy Luxray: an electric emo cat equipped with x-ray vision. And all of that’s before getting to the legendary Pokémon of this region, who perfectly live up to their mythical status. The main legendries: Dialga and Palkia (as well as Giratina for Platinum) have an intimidating presence just by looking at them, with some epic lore to back them up (like controlling the mother fucking space-time continuum and all that shit).
And can I also mention how awesome their cries sound? The sound design for each of the 4th generation Pokémon perfectly epitomise their personality and attitude. So much so that even their updated versions from the 3DS games sound pale in comparison. What sounds even better though is the soundtrack. My god is it iconic. You can tell that a lot of effort was put into giving each location a certain character and mood to them, even to the point as to include day and night variations to each track. I can still remember every tune and beat from each location I’ve visited, with route 209’s being my personal favourite. Some of the tracks used for battles do an incredible job at immersing you into the heat of conflict, giving you that sense that you might not make it through unscathed (*cough* Cynthia *cough*). The tracks in general are just simply brilliant and arguably the best in the whole series of games. They’re just extremely uplifting to listen to at times, and it’s no mystery that to this day, I cannot help but shed a tear of nostalgia the very second I hear one of these tracks.
Now onto the biggest feature that many fans, including myself have applauded D/P for: the addition of online battling and trading. It pretty much works how it sounds, you can now battle and trade with other people via the Internet using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (which has unfortunately been shut down since 2014). As a result, it’s now far more easier for people to fill in their pokedex, or to make specific types of teams with their own unique battling strategies, builds and playstyles. Another use of the online aspect is with the addition of the underground feature, Diamond and Pearl’s answer to the secret bases from Ruby and Sapphire. The place essentially acts like a labyrinth, filled to them brim with rare items (which you can excavate), traps and other, various opportunities for players to interact with each other. For instance, players can still make secret bases like they could in gen 3, with the added online, competitive aspect that they can now steal other player’s flags in order to use them to improve their bases. Other features included are traps — you lay down to just pretty much troll other players, as well as vendors who sell various items in exchange for spheres (the underground’s currency). As for the items you can obtain, they range from healing items such as revives, various types of stones including fire and water stones and even fossils which you need if you wish to include some fossil Pokémon in your party.
In terms of the story, it’s pretty much the same old song and dance. You play as a trainer, you get your first starter, you run around catching other ‘mons and battling gyms, evil team with a generic goal pop up before you, you fuck ‘em up, go to the Pokémon league, defeat the champion and boom you’re done. Diamond, Pearl and Platinum don’t do anything hugely significant to change the core flow of the narrative or in worst cases, “subvert expectations” – Rian Johnson, 2k17. For instance, team Galactic (the main antagonists) play out identically like past villains before them, such as Team Magma and Team Aqua from Ruby and Sapphire. The only difference being is the scale to which they aim to go for, which in this case is ruling over a newly created universe (caused by the destruction of the current one). They’re anything but original.
However they are just intimidating enough to be considered a threat. Not to mention that their goals are much more coherent, unlike most of the newer villain teams from the 3D games. In the end, the narrative does its job enough to guide the player from point A to B. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t need to be the driving force for people to complete or enjoy the games.
So, with all of the features and design choices that both games consist of, where does that leave Pokémon Platinum? Well for people who were living under rocks regarding this, Platinum was released roughly around 2 years after Diamond and Pearl’s release for the rest of the world. Once Platinum too was released, it has since been regarded by the fanbase as a direct upgrade to Diamond and Pearl in almost every sense and aspect.
The changes that Platinum brought along, mostly affected the overall gameplay and aesthetic of the setting. The national Pokedex for example, has now been expanded from 151 to 210 Pokémon. Meaning that players are much less restricted with which Pokémon they can catch and train, especially during the early hours of their adventure. Fire types in particular needed this update, as there were only a miniscule amount of them back in Diamond and Pearl. Many areas throughout the region have also been given a visual enhancement, with more detail put into the overworld and its assets. More attention has also been invested into the sprite animation for both the Pokémon and some of the key characters/trainers.
The best addition however has got to be the endgame content of Platinum, which completely dwarfs that of D/P’s in a heartbeat. It does this so by bringing back certain features like the battle frontier, along with new facilities which weren’t present in the gen 3 games. The icing on the cake is that you can now have your own private villa/mansion on the tropical outskirts of the region (why? ‘Cause fuck it, it’s awesome anyway). Meanwhile, the main story is near-identical to what it was in D/P. Albeit that this time it includes a new area during the story’s final act called the distortion world.
The distortion world is essentially a single pocket dimension, which serves as the home for the game’s mascot Pokémon: Giratina and actually offers a nice change of pace thanks to its otherworldly look, along with the M.C. Escher platforms that defy our laws of physics. It’s just a damn shame however, that there’s almost jack shit to do outside of the main story, and outside of that you only go back there just to get one key item. It’s such a wasted opportunity on such a large scale. Despite this however, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. As platinum brings some much-needed enhancements and quality of life improvements to the table. It may have been regarded as a bit of a glorified DLC during its release, but its pricing today grants a pretty good deal for anyone who’s short on cash.
Overall, Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum represent a very important stepping stone, for refining the core battling mechanics as well as the rest of the series’ core gameplay flow into what it is today. 13 years since D/P’s initial release in Japan, these games helped streamlined the overall experience that both new and veteran fans could enjoy at their own pace. In the process however, they never got out of their way to strip any of the challenge that many have come to expect from these games to this day. They never resorted to sugarcoating any of the key battles such as gyms, which tested your mettle and knowledge as a Pokémon trainer (*cough* X and Y *cough*).
Both Diamond, Pearl as well as Platinum aren’t perfect games by any stretch of the imagination. Odd design choices (a staple of Game Freak as it seems), along with poor pacing and some sluggish exploration hinder them from being regarded as the best titles of the series. With that being said, if you’re still looking for which version is the best to purchase, then Platinum would easily come out on top, considering how it’s a straight upgrade of the other two games. Regardless, all three games have still managed to etch a legacy, along with an everlasting, positive reception among the fanbase. They helped kick off the DS era for the Pokémon franchise with a bang, and the future games for that system have continued that tradition ever since. So, when most people like me look back at them, we can’t help but feel that warm, heartening tint of nostalgia when witnessing the Sinnoh region and its inhabitants in all of their 2D, anime, 16-bit glory. The feeling of stepping into a fresh/new world, a fresh/new journey with a fresh pair of shoes.
With new friends and new Pokémon that you’ve made ties with. Beholding and partaking in events and moments that can just leave you in a state of awe. And most importantly, the feeling of beating seemingly insurmountable adversity (something that Sword and Shield has done away with entirely), resulting with a smile on your face and seeing all of the hard work and effort you invested into your team, finally paying off. Knowing very well that you wouldn’t be here, where you stand now, defeating the champion and taking a place in the hall of fame, if it weren’t for them.
Knowing well that in every single battle you take, those very Pokémon you chose from the beginning will be standing by your side until the end. Simply because you love them so much, and they love you back, and that sense of everlasting friendship and affection will last until the very day that you finally pass away from this world. That is the sheer, simplistic beauty that this series as a whole is capable of encapsulating, and Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum (despite their flaws) nail this remarkable experience, to a tea.
In the end I give Pokemon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum a solid 7/10, it still holds up today like it did back then.