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Examining what went wrong with Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Posted on April 13, 2024 by in Features, Switch

What went wrong with Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Whether you like Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl or hate them, you can probably agree that something did indeed go wrong during their development. Though the games do have some merit as faithful Sinnoh remakes, many dedicated Pokemon players consider BDSP among the worst of the main series entries. Today, we’re taking a look at the state the games were launched in, the kind of content that was added to them via updates, and how the games hold up in 2024.

BDSP Announcement & Reveal

BDSP Announcement & Reveal

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were first revealed during the 2021 Pokemon Presents – and to this day, it stands out as one of the most infamous Pokemon reveals of all time. The trailer starts with a view of a DS playing Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, which was a clear indication that a Sinnoh remake was moments away from a reveal. The hype was unbelievable! We hadn’t had a main series Pokemon remake since Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in 2014. Those games added a huge amount of new content, so players were excited to see how Game Freak reimagined the Sinnoh region. After a few more seconds of buildup, the trailer cut to the now-famous shot seen above.

The general response to this art style wasn’t very good. Unfortunately, this wasn’t what most players had envisioned at all. Though everybody’s got a different preference, it’s safe to say that a good chunk of players were hoping for a Pokemon Sword and Shield-style remake with normal character proportions and environments. Instead, what BDSP gave us was a 1-to-1 recreation of the original DS games. The decision to choose a chibi art style immediately drew criticism towards the game’s graphics – something that has never gone away even to this day. Players noticed that characters looked stiff, the environments looked empty, and next to no new content was shown.

Fortunately, players had a much better reaction to Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which was revealed immediately afterward and slated for a 2022 release. Whereas that game was developed by Game Freak, BDSP served as the first outsourced main series Pokemon games. The titles were handled by ILCA, a Japanese company that was often brought on to video games as a support studio. They’re also the developers of Pokemon Home. Notably, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl would be the first games ILCA developed all on their own from the ground up.

What did BDSP include at launch?

Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Launch Contents

There wasn’t a ton of news about Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl between its reveal and eventual launch in November 2021. That is to say, there wasn’t much new content revealed – and fans soon found out why when they played the game. As expected from the marketing, BDSP was a 1-to-1 remake of the original Diamond and Pearl titles with almost no content exclusive to Pokemon Platinum. This was a disappointment for many – it was sort of assumed that the remakes would incorporate content from Platinum where applicable, but that wasn’t the case here. As a result, BDSP missed out on an expanded regional Pokedex, a full Battle Frontier, the extended Distortion World, and more.

When BDSP cartridges eventually started shipping out to players, some noticed the games were quite literally incomplete. Indeed – the 1.0 version of the game doesn’t have any postgame whatsoever. After clearing the Hall of Fame, you have no choice but to wander around Sinnoh instead. The Fight Area, Resort Area, Survival Area, Battle Tower, and Ramanas Park locations are all completely absent. Furthermore, the music wasn’t complete, either. The final game’s soundtrack is overall quite good, but the 1.0 cartridge uses cheap-sounding temporary instruments instead. This would imply that the developers didn’t even have time to finish the music by the time the game shipped out. It’s a wonder the soundtrack turned out as good as it is! That being said, we have no idea what kind of time frame the developers were working with here – but we assume it was a strict one.

On November 11, 2021 – a few days before the game’s official release – ILCA pushed an update that rectified all of this. What’s the big deal, then? For now, there’s no problem. But twenty years down the line when the Switch’s update servers are gone, things will be a bit different. Let’s say you’ve just purchased a second-hand Switch and a copy of Brilliant Diamond. The update servers are long gone, and this Switch console hasn’t played Brilliant Diamond before. In this case, Brilliant Diamond actually offers significantly less content than its original DS version. The base version doesn’t even have a finished title screen yet. Many years down the line, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will kind of fall off without access to its updates.

What was included in the updates?

Pokemon BDSP Updates

Lots of bug fixes, for the most part! Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were full of bugs and glitches at launch, but not all of them were 100 percent bad. Some of them were fun! Speedruns used long-patched-out menu glitches that let you finish the game in under an hour. In fact, some players choose to stay on unpatched versions of the game to continue performing speedruns. It was also possible to clone Pokemon via a relatively easy Day-Care glitch. As you might expect, players used this glitch to clone Legendary Pokemon – understandable, but in response, ILCA pushed a patch that prevents players from depositing more than one of a specific Legendary Pokemon into Pokemon Home per save file. Let’s say you own both Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, and you catch every single Legendary Pokemon in each game. You then trade all of your Brilliant Diamond legendaries over to Shining Pearl with the intent of depositing them into Pokemon Home. If you go to deposit the second Heatran you caught, the game will not let you do it. You’d have to trade that Legendary Pokemon back to a game that has not deposited that Pokemon into Home. It’s a complicated and messy system.

Back to the updates, though. The first “major” content update was in February 2022. It added Global Rankings, Group Rankings, and made Union Rooms compatible with up to eight players instead of four. The next update was in March 2022, which added functionality for the Global Wonder Station in Jubilife City. This lets you perform Wonder Trades with other players online. Most importantly, however, BDSP added the single coolest Pokemon event: the ability to catch Arceus. If you have a Pokemon Legends: Arceus save file on your Switch that has captured all 242 Pokemon, you can find the Azure Flute in your house in Brilliant Diamond or Shining Pearl. From there, you can travel to Spear Pillar and use the flute to summon a staircase that takes you to Arceus. Here’s the cool thing, though: outside of old events, this is the only way to Shiny hunt your very own Arceus. The odds are a brutal 1 in 4096 and the resets take quite a while, but it does give BDSP a repeatable (and not time-limited) way of capturing Arceus. Nice!

The March 2022 update was actually the last update BDSP ever received. It did get events for Manaphy, Darkrai, and Shaymin, but they’ve all long expired by now and almost certainly won’t receive re-runs. Overall, BDSP didn’t add a ton of new content via updates. The ability to hunt for a Shiny Arceus is neat, but that’s something that most players will stay away from. One other problem is the Shiny Charm – in this game, it’s either glitched or has been purposefully changed to only work on Eggs. That’s a shame, because filling out the National Pokedex of 493 Pokemon is quite challenging in BDSP. There are also a variety of Legendary Pokemon who would be much easier to Shiny hunt with a functional Shiny Charm in your bag. Unfortunately, this was never fixed. It was either overlooked or designed to be that way on purpose. We’ll never know for sure!

What’s BDSP like now?

What are Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl like now?

Right now, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are decent ways to experience Sinnoh. The games play things extraordinarily safe and don’t really have any ambition to speak of. That might disappoint some Pokemon fans who were hoping for a complete reimagining of the region. But if you like to turn your brain off and train or hunt Pokemon while you watch TV or do something else, BDSP can be enjoyable! The Sinnoh region’s design as a whole is still rather solid, and that hasn’t changed in the remakes. There are plenty of little things to do every day after you’ve beaten the game, too. You can get daily stickers, daily berries, play the Loto-ID, check for Pokemon Swarms, and more. It’s nothing too exciting, but if you’re in a Pokemon mood, BDSP are decently serviceable if you’ve got nothing else to play.

As for the art style, it’s still sort of an interesting decision on the developers’ part. The graphics are modeled after the sprites in the original Diamond and Pearl, which doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. In the original versions, characters had chibi proportions because that’s just about all the DS could handle at the time. The characters didn’t really look like that – that was just the game’s way of fitting a bunch of overworld characters onto a small screen. When you started a battle with a trainer, seeing them with normal proportions on the menu wasn’t anything unusual. In Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, however, overworld characters keep a chibi look while their battle models have normal proportions. This makes the sudden swap from chibi to normal somewhat jarring. BDSP bases its graphics off of hardware limitations, which doesn’t seem to be a very good design philosophy. Not to mention, when the camera zooms in on overworld characters, you will often find their face textures are blurry and choppy.

That being said, BDSP does have a couple of small visual advantages. The game has a dynamic lighting system that changes the color of the sky in tandem with the real-world clock. At sunset and at nighttime, the lighting drastically changes and gives the game a different feel. For the most part, though, the game doesn’t look quite as good as the original version on DS – the chibi graphics don’t capture the same charm as hand-drawn sprites.

Why did the games turn out like this?

Why did the games turn out like this?

The simple answer is that we don’t really know. We’re not exactly sure who made the decisions here – was it Game Freak that told ILCA to make a faithful remake, or did ILCA make this decision themselves? The former certainly seems more likely, but it’s impossible to draw any conclusions. There haven’t been any major interviews with BDSP staff at the time of writing, so all we can do is guess. It’s not entirely confirmed, but this tweet seems to suggest that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl only had about a year and a half of development time. That’s a strict deadline – especially considering they had to make all the graphics, make remixed soundtrack, do the programming, update move animations, and much more. Just because BDSP didn’t turn out the way everyone wanted doesn’t mean its development cycle wasn’t difficult!

Given the recent news that the new Pokemon Works subsidiary has been established in the same building as ILCA, it seems likely that they’ll be brought on to help with more games in the future. The question is – what could those games look like? There’s absolutely no official word on Pokemon Black and White remakes from ILCA, but if such a thing were to exist, we’d hope they’re given more time to flesh them out and add new and returning content. After all, BDSP are the highest-selling remakes in the Pokemon franchise – sort of. Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee technically outsold them by around 10,000 units. That being said, BDSP’s financial success likely will not go unnoticed by Game Freak and the Pokemon Company.

Of course, it’s important to note that we’re no experts on game development, nor how Game Freak or The Pokemon Company should handle the creation of their games. Even if Pokemon games are rushed, there’s something to love about every main series entry – even if some are better than others.

What are your thoughts on Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl? Did they meet your expectations, or were you hoping for a little more? Feel free to let us know in the comments down below.

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