Pokémon Diamond and Pearl

Ever since its conception during the previous decade, Nintendo’s Pokémon franchise has captivated gamers worldwide with its addictive gameplay chiefly centering on capturing every kind of its titular creatures, with most new installments of the series coming in different flavors. With the release of the Nintendo DS, it was only natural that a new pair of Pokémon titles, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, see their release on the portable system. The new games aren’t perfect, although they continue the series’ tradition of simple, addictive, fun gameplay.

Players randomly encounter Pokémon in tall patches of grass or in caves, or fight them when trainers throughout the game’s world literally force the player into battles or in special tournaments necessary to advance the main storyline. The player chooses a starter Pokémon at the start of the game, and can capture plenty of new ones with various kinds of Pokéballs. After a battle begins, the player summons his or her default Pokémon and can use a diversity of commands, such as four different kinds of moves with a fixed number of uses the player can replenish at facilities, items, throwing a Pokéball to try and capture the opponent Pokémon (which doesn’t work in trainer and story battles), switching with another Pokémon, or escaping.

Winning a battle nets all participating Pokémon experience, which can result in the occasional level up, with a number of stat increases and the occasional new skill (though a Pokémon can only hold four at a time). Sometimes, depending on certain conditions (other than a Pokémon reaching a certain level in certain instances) a Pokémon might evolve into an upper form, resulting in humungous stat increases. Furthermore, the player can only acquire money from winning battles against trainers (which aren’t repeatable) and in tournaments, or from selling items. Players can also use the Nintendo DS’s wireless capabilities to trade Pokémon.

Combat is easily the game’s highlight, with the strategy of exploiting opponent Pokémon weaknesses playing a significant part, although there are a number of flaws and baffling incongruities. For one, there’s a ten-second gap between encountering enemies and actually beginning battles, since the game during that time barrages players with unnecessary animations. Furthermore, though battles are one-on-one and normally don’t drag on forever, they still feel a little slow for one-on-one battles, even when players turn off skill animations. Is it really necessary, for instance, to make players wait for their Pokémon and the enemy’s HP gauges to slowly deplete or increase during damage or healing? Moreover, switching out Pokémon wastes turns during battle. Why the developers made these baffling design decisions is beyond this reviewer’s comprehension, although combat doesn’t detract too heavily from the game.

That aside, the newest Pokémon titles *almost* have good interfaces. Many of the basic controls and menus are alright, alongside the save-anywhere feature, although there are some annoyances, such as a lack of direction at times on how to advance the main storyline, a lack of warning before facing off against random trainers who literally *force* the player to fight them, the difficulty of sorting items in the menus, and a lack of explanation on certain menu features, how to get certain Pokémon to evolve, where to find missing Pokémon (some of which require the player to own Gameboy Advance iterations of the series), and so forth. Still, interaction is by no means bad, although it could’ve been better, as well.

Always difficult it is to judge creativity in the latest chapter of long-running RPG franchises, though Diamond and Pearl do plenty to separate themselves from their predecessors, such as utilizing the Nintendo DS’s features (with a watch-like feature on the bottom screen, for instance, showing things such as the current time, where to find berries the player is growing across the world, and so forth), and even having some quirks such as needing to use Gameboy Advance installments of the franchise to acquire special Pokémon (which is in effect the only way to view all Pokémon and truly “complete” the game). The latest titles do maintain the core gameplay of its predecessors, yet are by no means unoriginal.

Story has never been the Pokémon franchise’s strong suit, and the latest iterations aren’t any better in this regard. The protagonist, male or female, is a random nobody who has the stereotypical goal of capturing (or in this case seeing) every Pokémon in the world and winning some Pokémon championship thingy. There’s very little, if any, development and suspense throughout the game, and in the end, there’s really no defense of the plot other than the statement that more people read Playboy for the articles than play Pokémon games for their stories.

Some of the music is okay, with a few good pieces at times, such as a few battle and town pieces, although the general package is lackluster, and its quality leaves a bit to desire. Sound is alright, with most Pokémon having distinctive sounds in battle, but nonetheless, the latest Pokémon titles *almost* have good music.

One could best describe the visuals in Diamond and Pearl as 2.5-dimensional, with most of the scenery at first glance seeming two-dimensional albeit with a three-dimensional scroll during most instances. The scenery works well, although the character sprites appear like disproportionate hobbits, and while the Pokémon art in battle is nice, the battle scenery and animations leave much to desire, with even titles from previous generations such as Shining Force II and Dragon Quest VI having better combat visuals. In the end, the graphics, along with the music, leave plenty room for improvement.

Finally, finishing the main storyline of either version can take at least forty hours, although gamers can play either title infinitely, given the endless degree of extra and post-game content. Overall, Diamond and Pearl are worthy additions to the Pokémon franchise, with their gameplay sticking out the most, although their other aspects leave something to desire, and since true completion requires gamers to own previous versions of the series, they might not be the strongest starting points for newcomers. In the end, the true appeal of both titles is to players seasoned in previous installments of the series, although newcomers will certainly find something to celebrate in Diamond and Pearl.

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