Remaking a game from scratch is never an easy task. The job of capturing the essence of the originals while also reinventing them to match expectations established by modern alternatives is a tightrope-walk at the best of times. In the past, Nintendo seems to have succeeded in this task. Gen 1’s FireRed and LeafGreen and Gen 2’s HeartGold and SoulSilver remain beloved reimaginings of their respective games. But as the power of the Nintendo Switch drives forward what we’re coming to expect from a new Pokemon game, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl seem to be moving in the opposite direction, casting the community’s mind back with a classic, top-down nostalgia play. Given the authentic recreations that these remakes have historically been, that approach makes perfect sense, but the new EXP Share threatens to break the whole thing open.
In its earliest iterations, the EXP Share item could be given to one member of your party to hold, granting it some of the experience points earned without needing to actually switch it in to fight. Later iterations offered that boost to your entire party, and in the most recent games, the item can’t be switched off. That’s proved a point of consternation for those players seeking more of a challenge, and in Brilliant Diamond, I’m starting to share their viewpoint.
By the time I reached the game’s second gym, my strongest Pokemon, a flying-type Staravia, was a higher level than all of the leader’s Pokemon. That’s not necessarily a new phenomenon – in my early days as a trainer, I would turn up to every battle with one chronically-overleveled starter Pokemon while the rest of my party was crying out for even the smallest bit of attention. But this time around, while my Staravia might have been leading the pack, all of my five other Pokemon weren’t far behind.
Arriving at the Eterna City gym, I’d already evolved my Turtwig into Grotle, my Starly into Staravia, and my Abra into a Kadabra – a feat that, in previous generations, I’d have had to fully commit my EXP Share to as a result of Abra’s extremely limited move pool. The only members of my early team that hadn’t evolved a few hours into the game were a Buizel that I swapped in to cover a missing type matchup and a Machop that only evolves at a relatively high level. Before I’d reached the third gym, I already had a Floatzel and a Machoke.
Again, none of this was impossible with earlier iterations of the EXP Share. I could have run around in the long grass for a few hours battling dozens of wild Pokemon, but I’ve barely left the beaten path. The only grinding I’ve done so far in Brilliant Diamond was to push Turtwig from level 15 to 16, where I’d misremembered it would evolve. Yet there I was, on the outskirts of Veilstone City, with a team full of evolved Pokemon, some double the strength of the first-tier opponents they’re coming up against. Team Galactic grunts are offering up fodder like Wurmple and Zubat. Trainers are throwing out Budew and Pachirisu to be pushed aside in a single blow. So far, only one of my Pokemon has fainted, the result of a Glameow throwing out an unexpected Thunderbolt at my somewhat underpowered Buizel.
(Team) Galaxy Brain
This isn’t to say I’m some Pokemon genius and that Brilliant Diamond is beneath my skillset, but it’s worth noting that I’m going into Gen 4 – the only generation I’ve not played before – completely blind. I’ve done that before with older games that I didn’t play at the time, but in some of those instances, I remember being swept aside by certain gym leaders.
This time around, the only meaningful hurdle I’ve had to overcome was a Skuntank with significant type advantages over two members of my team. The ongoing debate over the EXP Share has probably been decided. After two mainline entries and two remakes, Nintendo is unlikely to turn its back on the new system. It’s an idea that I’m broadly in favour of, finding little enjoyment in power-levelling against wild Pokemon.
But in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl – remakes of games that used the old version of the item and made sure that it wasn’t available straight away – the always-on EXP Share feels like it hasn’t been rebalanced, with the original difficulty curve crumbling when combined with a system that makes it easier to level your favorite Pokemon. I’ve never felt this powerful this early, and I don’t see that changing as I progress into the later stages of the gym challenge.
The Grand Underwhelm
That might have its benefits if you just want to be the very best, but it feels like it’s stripped Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl of their charm in a way that feels different to other recent games. The other most recent example of the new system, Pokemon Sword and Shield, might have felt easier than older games, but also pushed the boat out with the Wild Area.
Older remakes, like Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire or the Let’s Go games, offered a visual reimagining of their source material. By contrast, the top-down chibi-style art attached to Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl feels very reminiscent of the original Nintendo DS games, and after the grandeur of the Wild Area, the Grand Underground is more of an amusing curiosity. With more of a challenge to focus on, that return to a more traditional Pokemon experience might have worked, but the revamped EXP Share means the necessary difficulty simply isn’t there.
There are a few parts of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl that do change what was offered in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, but they aren’t meaningful enough to distract from what’s always been there. Stripped of any real difficulty, ‘what’s always been there’ is just another Pokemon game. Not long ago, that might have been enough, but with the franchise making strides towards reinventing that formula with Sword and Shield, and Pokemon Legends: Arceus, a traditional nostalgia play feels like an uncertain foundation to build on.
If you don’t fancy a return to Sinnoh, here are the best Pokemon games of all time to check out instead.