Pokémon Platinum

Many game companies, during the past decade, have developed the perplexing habit of releasing super-deluxe-enhanced versions / director's cuts of popular titles after their initial releases, perhaps due to the allure of the almighty dollar or yen. Popular recipients of this treatment include recent Final Fantasies, the PlayStation 2 Kingdom Hearts titles, and Nintendo's beloved Pokémon franchise, created by developer and fellow Aspergerian Satoshi Tajiri. Whereas Square-Enix has a No Export for You policy regarding its games' updated rereleases, the Big N has allowed Anglophone players to experience these enhanced versions, the latest of which is Pokémon Platinum, a title largely preserving the addictive gameplay of its predecessors in spite of its faults.

Gameplay is largely the same as it was in Diamond/Pearl, albeit with the addition of new content such as additional Pokémon, a new "distortion world" that plays some part in the plot, and a Battle Frontier specializing in different kinds of Pokémon battles. Like in Diamond/Pearl, random encounters occur in grassy patches on the vast fields connecting towns, as well as in caves. Certain items can mercifully and temporarily nullify encounters with weaker Pokémon for a limited number of steps the player takes. Many NPCs populating these fields and caves, moreover, may occasionally force the player into a fight when they come into their view.

One-on-one (or in special cases, two-on-two) battles occur between one (or two) of the player's six active Pokémon and the encountered Pokémon (where battles are always one-on-one/ one or two of the NPC's Pokémon. Be it a standard random encounter, the player can attempt to capture the Pokémon with one of many different kinds of Pokéballs, which have better effect the lower the antagonist Pokémon's HP is. Alternatively, the player can attempt to kill the opponent Pokémon with one of up to four of their active Pokémon's abilities, each of which has a fixed number of uses refillable, alongside HP, at special facilities in towns where the player can also utilize the game's Wi-Fi capabilities to perform tasks such as trading Pokémon (which is actually necessary to complete the National Pokédex once the player receives it) or battling other players.

A Pokémon's skill, depending upon its type, can have a weak, normal, or strong effect against its foe, with the rochambeau formula of different types of Pokémon being strong against certain skills of specific types and weak to other types providing decent strategy throughout the game, and the player able to increase the power of specific skill types by having Pokémon hold items. However, some genius at Game Freak thought it would be cute to force players to sit through the player and opponent Pokémons' HP meters rolling down and up to indicate damage/recovery, which can really burden the pace of tough battles, as well as an unskippable startup sequence that precedes every fight. In fact, the game is bearable, at least in this reviewer's experience, only if the player turns off attack animations.

There are options other than using a Pokémon's skills, including using consumable items, escaping (which the player can't against NPCs, and which doesn't always work in normal Pokémon encounters), or switching the active Pokémon, although doing so wastes the player's turn, a step down from the superior character-swapping systems of other RPGs such as Breath of Fire IV and Final Fantasy X. It would have also been nice to tell which of the battling Pokémon will take its turn first before choosing a command, as well as keep track of enemy Pokémon weaknesses in battle (a Pokétech watch application allows the player to figure out strengths/weaknesses only outside of combat).

Upon killing an opponent Pokémon, all the player's Pokémon participating in its termination receive experience divided among them, with level-ups naturally occurring after they acquire enough experience, in which case their stats increase ; they may also be able to learn a new skill, although if the leveling Pokémon already has four skills, the player must have it "forget" one of them; the player also acquires money if the battle was against an NPC. If all the player's Pokémon die, then they return to the nearest town's Pokémon Center for recovery, at the penalty of some money if the battle was versus an NPC, although if the player wins such a fight, then they receive a certain amount of money.

The player eventually obtains an item that allows rematches with NPCs, helpful in grinding for both experience and money. Other features include breeding Pokémon in a certain town for eggs, which hatch after a number of steps if the player has them in their party. All in all, despite the mentioned flaws, the typical Guide Dang It of completing the player's Pokédex (with ownership of other Pokémon titles and/or Wi-Fi in fact necessary for solo viewership of all Pokémon), and some occasional nasty spikes in difficulty (though the player can mercifully hold a large number of healing and stat-buffing items), gameplay in Pokémon Platinum is strangely fun and addictive.

The game's controls fare just as well. Always welcome is the save-anywhere feature (with this title largely refuting the strangely-popular complaint that more liberal save systems make games easier), with shopping being easy and the menus being easily navigable as well, although quicker item menu scrolling would have been welcome. The ability to exit dungeons quickly with a specific item, not to mention a warp skill the player ultimately acquires, serve the game well, too, although maps for the dungeons would have been nice. Finally, Pokémon Platinum makes decent use of the DS's touchscreen and stylus, sure to pacify those who oddly protest the lack of such features. Overall, interaction in the game is decent, although there are certain aspects that could have been better.

It is unfair to damn Pokémon Platinum for being unoriginal because a) it's an updated rerelease, and b) the original Diamond/Pearl versions contained enough features to keep the Pokémon formula fresh, particularly the touchscreen and Wi-Fi capabilities. That aside, the plot does admittedly recycle the typical "capture all Pokémon" goal of its predecessors, with a replacement for Team Rocket, Team Galactic, being present as well, not to mention a supposed rivalry between the protagonist and a friend. The new "distortion world" scenario doesn't add much plot either, and ultimately, those who anticipate a deep, well-written plot will be in for surefire disappointment.

Aurally, the game fares better, although that isn't saying much, given the general weak, sometimes cacophonic quality of the soundtrack, even if all tracks have nighttime remixes and some are actually enjoyable such as the Gym Leader battle theme; the jarring Critical Annoyance may also occasionally make players want to plug their ears with glass or mute the volume. Graphically, the game doesn't fare any better, what with disproportionate character sprites and limited Pokémon animation and scenery in combat; scenery outside battle, however, looks more pleasant, with the 2.5-dimensional overworld in particular being the highlight of the visuals. Overall, Pokémon Platinum sounds and looks okay, but could have certainly sounded and looked better.

Finally, the game will last players at least forty hours, although seeing every Pokémon, completing all sidequests, and Wi-Fi training and battling can stretch this out to well over a hundred hours. In the end, Pokémon Platinum, despite its general rehashing of content from the Diamond/Pearl versions and largely insignificant additions, is a fun, if flawed, experience for those who haven't played yet experienced those versions or even the Pokémon franchise. Even so, the series has demonstrated through its existence that RPGs need not innovate too greatly in order to be enjoyable, or even sell well.

The Good:
+Capturing/leveling/breeding Pokémon is fun.
+You can save anywhere.

The Bad:
-Battles could've been a lot faster.
-Doesn't have much of a plot.
-Music/graphics could have been better.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 4/10
Music/Sound: 6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 40+ Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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