We arrive at Generation IV, which began in 2006 with Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, a Generation that saw many players return to the series after the alienating Generation III, their their super popular Nintendo DS systems in hand and ready to play. Be that as it may almost ten years have passed since and whatever lustre these games once had is far behind them. No Pokémon games are bad, but there is no doubt which entry sticks at the bottom of the list and that’s these two games. Despite this, there surely must be something that makes these games better than any other Pokémon game?
Of course there are aspects in these games, the same as any in the series, which do shine above the rest; however as an overall package these are the most uninspired entries to date. Many may decry this statement, as I’m sure many cherish these games as the best in the series, but it seems its more what Diamond and Pearl did for the series, rather than how the games play themselves, that is most fondly remembered. They brought a greater focus back onto the Pokémon that drew players into the series to begin with. Many older creatures also received new evolutions which made certain creatures like Rhydon and Electabuzz regain a sense of relevancy they’d somewhat lost along the way. This certainly worked advantageously for the pair of games, as many who did not feel comfortable with all the new creatures in the Hoenn Pokédex could once again catch the Pokémon they knew and loved. They also allowed players to communicate together globally for the first time which I’m sure was as exhilarating for everyone else as it was for me. We could also now had the opportunity to face the best players in the world at
the Battle Tower (face and be annihilated by that is). The Global Trade Station also invigorated the experience of trading Pokémon all over again and made completing that ever growing Pokédex just that little bit more manageable. It was largely thanks to these communication enhancements that birthed the Pokémon metagame today, which essentially has shaped the focus of the series since. Nowadays however, with the addition of Wonder Trades and the comprehensive Player Search System making communicating with other players effortless, Diamond and Pearl seem overly cumbersome with their fiddly friend codes and their Wi-Fi Plaza zones. Even more so, Nintendo has now shut down the Wi-Fi network for the DS so this part of the games is gone forever. So now that so much time has passed, what do we have left to work with?
Unfortunately there’s quite a bit to feel frustrated by with Diamond and Pearl. They are incredibly slow, like really, really slow and I don’t mean in pace; I mean so slow that even one wild Pokémon encounter could take longer than an entire trainer battle in any other entry to date. Simply walking around, getting through all that text, and waiting for a single round to pass in battle made a very noticeable difference to the experience. It is this reason that Pokémon Platinum is often the preferred game of choice in the Sinnoh saga as Game Freak significantly sped up how the game runs. The remainder of Generation IV still plays the slowest out of all the other Generations, but it is nowhere near as noticeable a difference as it is in these titles.
Another aspect that Platinum largely improved from the original games was the Pokédex itself. Diamond and Pearl used the same 151 number of Pokémon that Red and Blue did, likely to help encourage those former players back into the game. Whilst most of the remaining 342 then became available upon defeating the Pokémon League, this did not change the fact that for the main play through of the game there are a significantly limited number of Pokémon at our disposal. Unlike Red and Blue the Pokémon available were not given an even distribution throughout the adventure. For example, almost every Fisherman or Tuber or Swimmer will be using a Gyarados and just as many Hikers, Ruin Maniacs and even Team Galactic Grunts will be using a Bronzor. However their most effective counters were in horribly short supply; we had a choice between two Electric types and (unless you picked Chimchar as your starter), one Fire Type Pokémon. So if we didn’t want to use Shinx, Pikachu or Ponyta, then dealing with the hordes of Gyarados and Bronzor turned out pretty frustrating. Furthermore, the Sinnoh region itself struggles to stand out, with often poorly designed routes and a plethora of caves that often have little to distinguish themselves from one another.
However most routes will feature Bidoof or Geodude to capture and pretty much every cave has the same line-up of Wild Pokémon to find (not that the world was already fed up with Zubat mind). It felt very much like a certain handful of Pokémon were being used excessively, while the rest of the Pokédex were delegated to appearances few and far between, especially considering the most common creatures in the games had already been overly used in every game to date. Indeed, adding 59 Pokémon to the Pokédex in Platinum was certainly the right decision, but what’s worrisome is that it almost feels like this had been the plan all along (with several new Pokémon omitted from the original Sinnoh Pokédex), leaving Diamond and Pearl feeling somewhat incomplete in retrospect.
Despite this there are parts of Diamond and Pearl that still hold up well today despite their shortcomings. The villains and Champion deserve praise, with the Team Galactic Admins and Leader being thoroughly menacing individuals with the tough teams to match, and the first female Pokémon League Champion, Cynthia, since becoming one of the most beloved characters in the series. These opponents, namely Cyrus and Cynthia, pose some of the toughest challenges in the entire series. While part of the difficulty perhaps came from trying to balance the limited number of TMs available, it’s hard to think of any characters before or since who have posed such a challenge during the main storyline of the games. It seems difficulty in Pokémon died shortly after Generation IV and it’s nice to return to Diamond and Pearl to remind ourselves that at one point facing the Champion was a heart pounding roller-coaster ride where anybody could come out on top.
The post-game deserves praise also which brought a whole new island to explore and a multitude of ways to catch Pokémon not seen in the Sinnoh Pokédex. The Poké Radar was a great way of re-exploring the region to find creatures, some of which we had barely seen since the days of the Game Boy. Whilst that limited Pokédex was indeed detrimental to the main experience, it helped make the post-game experience feel more engaging. Catching Pokémon has always been a highlight of the series and in these entries the sheer number of methods to capture them does make it an experience full of wonder and reward. While Diamond and Pearl may fall flat in many noticeable ways, there are still parts of these games that shine brighter than any other, so we shouldn’t right them off entirely (nor the potentiality for them to be remade either).
Ultimately we just have to accept that Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl aren’t perfect. There’s still parts of them that hold up well today that’s for certain and many are hoping for that remake to come in future (myself included), but for now it’s hard to make a case for these entries being the best in the series. Important entries no doubt (perhaps the most important after Red and Blue) but in retrospect not the best Pokémon games to date.