78 Reviews liked by RedWizard404

"But rest assured, it was spectacular"
Eye-opening little piece of videogame heritage - an early RPGMaker project that was released in 1997 for the PC-98, yet has many of the modern quirks you generally expect from similar titles that are shared nowadays. Being the sole handiwork of a young creator, there's a certain naivety to the way it presents its little vignettes of despair and hope, but they're handled with such sensitive care that they simply don't fail at being evocative. While I'm not particularly blown away by the subject matter nor symbolism, it's so easy to get swept up by how emotionally charged it comes across, and thorny in the ways all the most resonant stories are. I must extend some laudation for them having the courage to publish it at a time where this was far from the norm or in demand.
RPGMaker trappings are present, but relatively forgivable if only because I have no idea how inflexible RPGMD98 is. Despite structural rigidity, it manages to play with the form - the spell list is formatted like pages of a diary, the player's level suggests the character's age, etc. Rest assured, there is no combat, I have to wonder how easy it was to resist implementing it despite being the engine's primary function - there are a handful of modern atmospheric/emotionally forward RPGMaker titles that insist on it despite no benefit. Azusa 999 is even stylised in a way that honestly feels timeless (I honestly thought for the longest time that this was a Bitsy game!), minimalist environs and slim colour palettes - even atmospheric ambience shifts to match story beats, it really did suck me in!
Azusa 999's English translation was as recent as 2020, gracefully packaged with an application holder that casts aside the headache of setting up a PC-98 emulator, as well as a wonderful player companion guide by translator Obskyr complete with a historical foreword and cultural notes. It's all a wonderful read, and fills me with hope that any number of old, forward-thinking, experimental or personal projects from the early Japanese indie scene are still just waiting to be shared across the pond.

aw hell nah tahlemmeme really turned dat pig into a cake
But seriously though, I unironically like this a lot more than OG Bubble Bobble (which people unfortunately usually draw unfavorable comparisons to, even though this came out a year before that), so much so I'd say it's one of my favorite video games, and is one of the games that made me look into Taito so much deeper beyond their surface level classics such as Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble. It's the bloody source of my profile picture and username for crying out loud. Extremely underrated.
It's a very nearly perfect blend of puzzles, platforming, enemy-killing, and risk-taking all wrapped up in a very cute package. Also surprisingly has a lot of attention to detail for an 1985 arcade game, particularly in the graphics and sound design. While there are some weird blips in difficulty here and there, and feels almost unapproachable at first for a game like this, I still love it for what it sets out to do, especially for the time, and succeeding in most of it. Also, you can't go wrong with a funny witch, and Ptolemy is very much one of those.
I'd also advise at least playing the Arcade Archives version, or even better, the Sharp X68000 port since those allow you to save your progress when playing it through like a normal game, without as much of the weirdness of early arcade game design the arcade version has. It feels a lot better that way.

This review contains spoilers

Oh boy, its one of these. One of these games no matter what I think of Ill get half of people yelling at me. I honestly kind of dread writing this review cause there's a lot I want to say about it but it almost feels like everything I do is going to come off as just reacting to people's views on it. That's always kind of going to be the issue when experiencing things only because of the reputation they've accrued over the years.
"Theres no such thing as an antiwar film" Truffaut supposedly said, referring to how no matter how brutal or pointless war may be depicted on screen it will never actually convey the full horror of it, and the spectacle of war movies will in fact romanticize war. Saving Private Ryan has a fairly brutal opening scene depicting the D Day landings but it also boosted recruitment numbers for the american military so its a net negative for the world.
I don't know if I agree entirely with that sentiment, certainly there is some truth to it but I feel like its 1000% times more true for videogames, especially in the AAA space. I don't really buy it as intentional but there is nothing more dehumanizing and dull than the mindless act of mowing wave after wave of soldiers from behind cover in the godawful slog that is this game. It also kind of undermined (or perhaps strengthened depending on your opinion) the point of the famous "white phosphorous" scene cause I didnt realize that I was supposed to use the mortar, so I tried to do it normally, quickly running out of ammo and getting shot and dying several times until I realized what I was supposed to do.
At that point though, all I was feeling was anger and frustration, perhaps mirroring that of captain walker and his squad, when we got to the obviously imitating both the gameplay mechanics of Call OF Duty and the like and the real life footage of american drones wiping out civillians in the middle east. I didnt feel much horror then as my squad made it to all the dead soldiers and civillians in all honesty, though the image of the charred corpse of a mother holding her child, whilst pretty trite and forced, was somewhat haunting; it reminded me of visiting the atomic bomb museum in hiroshima.
The game is almost comical in how many of those forced emotional moments and the jarring contrast between "war is hell, civillians get killed etc" and just never ending stream of pop up gallery shootouts every 30 seconds. And yet, and this is the part where Ill get pelted with stones by the Backloggd™ intellectual elite, I do think there is a lot to appreciate about it, which is why Im giving it the middling score of 5/10 to be an insufferable fence sitter.
See, and again this is impossible to deal with without coming off as reactionary (not in the political sense) but there's a lot of unfair sneering about this game on this very page that I see as kind of unwarranted to some degree. First of all, to anyone who has given this game half a star, please name another AAA game before or since where you shoot at american soldiers (and no, PMCs don't count) , I'll wait.
You can't can you? That is honestly still refreshing that in a sea of awful, brown military shooters where you uncritically support american imperialism mowing waves and waves of brown people presumably just defending themselves from the massive war machine you're backed by to protect the business interests of the US, that this game would have the balls to have you shooting at (albeit rogue) american servicemen.
And I can just hear the pre emptive typing : "wow, making fun of military shooters, how profound, we all know they're bad and its insanely easy to mock/criticise them". And sure, that is somewhat true but here's the thing : this is a AAA game, you know, the ones where even today Ubisoft will release a game about you supporting US imperialism and invading other countries and insist its "not political".
Like yeah, you are right this game occupies the intellectual kiddie pool and hell, its profoundness is severely overstated but this is still pretty much as far as AAA (mostly western I'll admit) games get. Its like seeing a baby take its first steps and going "coh, can't even run the 100m, how lame". I think there's a place to appreciate a game that whilst fumbled, released as a military shooter trying to crticize its whole subgenre and customer base, by the ever money conscious AAA sector where you don't uncritically support US imperialism (and also there are some fairly in depth subversions of the US military, its not just "drones kill inoccent civilians", the hendrix stars and stripes, a lot of the jargon and details and stuff used by the actual military and even just the attitude of US soldiers is lampooned at least somewhat effectively) and shoot at US soldiers, which are sacred targets of worship in the AAA space and broader western culture as a whole.
In a columbo voice Oh and just one more thing. The big complaint about the game undermining its theme of choice has never really convinced me even before playing it. You're not allowed to choose? First of all clearly we're playing with the conflict between player and player character (like in Silent Hill 2 but player character conflict, Japan I guess) and the lack of choice or thought kind of mirrors how captain walker keeps justifying his actions as "I had no choice", without realizing of course he keeps pushing himself and his squad into positions where hell have to use horrific violence rather than just leaving like he should have in the first place. This of course mirrors the actions of the player who will get the sense that this man is a menace and will continue anyways because, well its a videogame I suppose.
And I know, "thats super dumb why would I stop playing cause of the make believe actions of a bunch of ones and zeros" and look I somewhat sympathize, its kinda corny and I think later games like undertale have kinda tackled this better but honestly I think you're missing the main double hit here. Not only is this of course calling into question the players that at time of release went looking for these kinds of experiences and how morally iffy it is to be looking for realistic simulations of being a tool of a genocidal murder machine as opposed to just playing doom or something like that but also "your choice might have been justified at the time but you put yourself in the situation where that was the case in the first place" is also a criticism of military action in general. So many accounts of horrific violence always parrot the same "it was us or them" mentality without mentioning that you being there murdering them for oil is what caused that situation to begin with. Its not murder to committ self defense against invaders, though seemingly in the west we only understand this when the invaded are white.
Honestly, there's more that I could ramble on about like the weird ptsd/unreliable narrator thing and the smartly done 2 "choices" in the game but I think this is where'll end this unstructured screed. In conclusion I disliked playing it, its definitely not as profound as its supporters said, but its existence is worth a lot more than its detractors will admit.
*leaves the room as I am pelted with rocks, arrows and ukeleles"

the natural end result for a medium that has absolutely no respect for its own history
while most remakes position themselves as replacements without saying it, you can still play the original titles they're based on and (generally) no one really loses. blizzard took a different tack and said fuck no
you know those crusty ass ancient discs you got sitting around? yeah, they're reforged discs now. in a great act of charity blizzard has done their absolute best to ensure that it's the only version of the game. you can play the classic mode if you download the 30GB of reforged along with it, but you can't patch it properly anymore, you can't play ladder, and your custom maps all belong to blizzard because valve clearly still has them malding to this day
it fuckin sucks, and while they responded by giving refunds and blah blah what the fuck ever, it's beside the point. they deliberately tried to overwrite the original, largely succeeded, and WC3 is a lesser game as result
as long as games are seen as toys that need fixing this will be a potential option on the menu. I'm fine with remakes or remasters in a general sense, I even like some, but it's an absolute shame that even seminal genre-defining classics aren't safe from this kind of meddling
Uther: "I dearly hope that there's a special place in hell waiting for you, Arthas."
Arthas: "We may never know, Uther. I intend to live forever."

When people try to imitate noir, they often lean too much in the wrong direction. What direction that is depends from story to story. Sometimes they center too much on the private detective aspect, forgetting that noir is more than just a gritty mystery drama. Its complex factions, con games, tense rivalries, ambiguous moralities. Sometimes it goes too deep on the gritty tone and doesn't think to have fun with the crime and mystery aspects. But more often than not, its a private detective in a hat solving a mystery and monologing. Sometimes I'm alright with that being the genre parody we get. Its good fun.
I think what impressed me about Lockheart Indigo is, for all its goofy 8-bit aesthetics, it hits such a nice noir tone. Beatris, the cyan 1960s detective, is explicitly disinterested in finding justice. She's a woman with a sick sister and bills to pay. She's here for money first. When shit goes sideways, her interest doesn't shift to heroism, it shifts to survival. Getting paid is crucial, getting the killer is crucial, but her central focus is providing for herself. While characters try to demean her for it and its certainly portrayed as a flaw, the narrative understands noir enough that its not a flaw she's going to be able to grow past. Its just how she has to live.
Pairing her with the far more self-obsessed Volkov family adds for a good contrast. Its an immediate nest of vipers, rich assholes climbing over each other to cling to their fortune. The gameplay involves straight-forward interrogations. Butter them up, chip at their ego, whatever tactic suits their personality. The different egoisms or anxieties of the cast make for good variety and help establish how easy it is for them to turn on each other to build their own fortune. It helps make the noir tone land. If you find the killer, what's left? The survivors will keep fighting and killing and striking at each other because its the only tools they understand. They can pretend to take a moral high ground against Beatris' own self-interest, but she can't match a candle to their own cycle of destruction. Beatris' "victory" earns her a 10k paycheck, 50k less than she was promised, and the survivors just have to stew in their mutual hatred. No one's happy. Its noir, baby.
The other key factor of the game is just how stylish it is. Locating colorful keys to match colorful keys to encounter color-coded characters to see colorful interrogation graphics. Its a stunning effort for a free rpg maker game. You gotta admire it.
Solving a sidequest unlocks a strange little post-game segment. The game lightly touches on the Volkov family backstory and the various times the family has circled the same patterns of murder. You get to walk around the manor of the early 1910s, observing just how similar the previous generations of the family acted to the modern ones. Still gossiping, still sniping, still letting jealousy rumble beneath the surface. It doesn't add much to the main plot of the game, but its just kind of a charming way to add more layers. To just demonstrate how constantly the family falls into these patterns. Its just good narrative hooks. I like to see it unravel. And a cozy little indie rpg is all I need for that sometimes.

Deus Ex: Invisible War somehow isn't the biggest stinker in Harvey Smith's directing career anymore



DOOM is phenomenal. ID software team really created the Fast FPS genre with this one. This is not worth understating. The only other game that came close to what this game was doing was Wolfenstien-3D. It only takes a few minutes of play to recognize just how sluggish it is. No title had this degree of 1st person haptic feedback by this point in history¹.
I love this one and I could gush about why in an endless multitude of ways. I could go for the comparative approach by looking at how this game does Fast FPS combat better than any game after it. How effective it is in creating atmosphere without relying on thick shadows and darkness (DOOM 2 really drops the ball here). I want to keep things simple though, so I'll just focus on this: DOOM solved the Door Problem of combat design before the genre was even the cashcow we know it as today. If you're unfamiliar with the Door Problem its quite simple: You as the player instead of entering an aggressive and dynamic room back off using the door as a shield with which to leash enemies, simplifying the dynamic within you control often in ways that rob the fiction of its bite.
Andrew Yoder has a great article that covers this phenomenon here . It's a fantastic read just in general if you have a chance but I want to pull 2 main excerpts. For one he notes that the Door Problem is not actually about the door, as he puts it "the door itself isn’t the problem. The problem is the relationship between these two spaces, a problem that the player experiences when crossing the threshold, which is often a door."
He also makes a much bolder claim which is that FPS combat has almost nothing to do with the gratification of violence from ballistic combat but instead is a complex game of territory control as he states
"Building a level for a classic shooter is not about killing scary monsters with cool guns, though this is part of their appeal. A classic shooter level also isn’t about its sequence of locks and keys. These are both means to an end, and that end is map control. As the player moves through a level, they are taking territory from their enemy and locking the level into a solved state."
So then how does DOOM solve this problem you might be wondering? It does this I believe in a couple ways. For one the weakest enemies, the Zombiemen and Shotgun Guy's have hitscan. What that means is there is no ballistic firing, these dude take a second to see if your in view, do their gun animation and instantly hit. So standing in place near a doorway means that these guys will hurt you, its not 'safe'.
On top of this you have the fact that if you try to escape to dispatch from a corner the 'Pinkies' which only do melee damage can cornor you and pummel you to death. This means that running around like a rabbit in an occupied zone is often actually safer than hiding. In part because of the fact enemies can hurt each other with projectiles causing infighting. You are rewarded for getting into the action rather than avoiding it.
The one other factor that raises the combat stakes is how bizarre enemy movement patterns are. In most contemporary shooter the enemies will walk in a straight line towards the player but in DOOM they do a zigzag and functionally wander in the players direction. This may seem bizarre at first glance but is justified by the demonic possession aspect in the narrative. This is crucial because if they were actually humans this pathing would be nonsensical. Regardless of their impressive symbolic justification for the unique movement patterns, when you actually play it it means you're always having to adjust your aim and be on your toes. Moving while shooting allows you not to have to move your retical as much. Precision is often best while moving as strange as it seems. This is yet another way in which the Door Problem is rebuffed, having to constantly adjust your aim when standing in one place is more ironically taxing than running around.
A lot of why this works is because there are no actual corridor levels in DOOM, every map has a reasonable open space for the combat encounters with the exception of some hallway sections in Map E2M6, "HALLS OF THE DAMNED". This is because the enemy pathing doesnt actually deal with hallways well, often getting stuck or confused. Thus the levels in DOOM are open and inviting allowing for players to dash around and get their bearings. Swapping weapons and planning their approach. It can not be understated enough that I think almost all the Maps in DOOM are fun to play on simply for the reason alone. I'm actually quite partial towards the later 2 episodes because of their wideness in comparison to some of the romero maps in episode 1 which feel claustrophobic and often require you to fetch keys.
In my mind this is what makes doom work and worth actually playing through and thinking about. This is not to say that there are no moments where hiding behind a door is the right call, but it no longer becomes the dominant strategy. It becomes another strategic tool in your wide arsenal.
With all that said I agree entirely with HPE's post on DOOM in both what it focuses on as its strength and the idea that 'Pistol Start' is the way to go. Pistol Start is where you die at the beginning of the level to only set you with 50 pistol bullets and none of the other guns or ammo. What this does is cause you to risk further into the map for resources and 'feel' out the level. On that point I played this game around the 2nd Episode in a very extreme 'purist' fashion: Ultra Violence difficulty, almost no saves, and pistol start. I played it like this my first ever play through of it and it greatly enhanced my play through of the game and appreciation of the artistic and novel qualities each map had for me. See, by this point Save Scumming would have been a relatively novel concept to the point that people may not have used it much beyond saving their point so they could come back later. Save Scumming started happening with point and click games which by this point had not been so profoundly popular yet. SCUMM only had the first 2 Monkey Island game by this point which didn't have a death mechanic anyway. Meanwhile the most applicable example of the King's Quest games were made up to Kings Quest 4 by this point, but the demographic for those games was not particularly the demographic for DOOM. My mom played King's Quest, she did not play DOOM. Point is most people were still playing No Save games so the prospect that you could leverage the save functions to create a new Door Problem via temporal trickery hadn't been established yet.
I mention this not to get into a rancid difficulty argument but instead to say that yes, in a contemporary context after the boom of save state emulation and anti death set back nueroticism a biased interface to save every 3 minutes and reload if you die is obviously going to trivialize DOOM. We all know how to play FPS games by this point, we don't need to make a game like this even more easier for ourselves. You will take out what you put in with this one. Play on at least the Pain difficulty and dont save often. Let yourself die sometimes and restart the map! Sometimes friction is good for you, it forces you to be more engaged with the system. DOOM taught me that and did it in the best way possible.
There is a lot of other factors I particularly enjoy about DOOM, I love the fact you can see your character portrait in the HUD, an alienation that later FPS games would introduce. I love how 'strafing' become this unique movement function that feels so satisfying. The horizontal mouse movement and QWE propulsion feels SO much nicer than the normal WASD layout I've become too accustomed to, it also means I can hit the number buttons easily. There are about 100 small little details like this I find deeply satisfying, but I wanted to hone on that 1 reason you should want to try and respect DOOM: It literally solved the Door Problem this early on.
I feel like I should just tell you I wrote this entire thought in a fevered and smiling state. DOOM really did it so well. I wont lie, this game really does bring out my happy Boomer side :D
Sidenote: I reccomend playing a sourceport of DOOM, im particular Chocolate DOOM. Steam DOOM is fine but has some really irritating visual additions. Do not play any version of DOOM with vertical aim, it cant be trusted.
1. I would understand if you don't believe me here. Surely there was an action shooter by this point that did what DOOM did? No there wasnt. Watch [Errant Signal's Children of DOOM series if you dont believe me] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O91tro2XwxM&list=PLvTOVWzS1f6-ptFCaXVnl41LZIc4x8Zmo). This is by all accounts one of the first First Person Action games but absolutely the first shooter of its kind. Nothing else was doing this. It's a technological marvel. The fact the backgrounds and enemies look stunning as you run around is absolutely astonishing.

bear with me on this one
it’s an admirable feat for pixel pusher union to supplant the domineering individualist (and disturbingly often, bordering on authoritarian) power fantasies common to the medium with a collectivist power fantasy, and certainly it’s worth noting that the fledgling studio has put their money where their mouth is by operating as a worker-owned cooperative. still, one look at tonight we riot’s tongue-in-cheek steam page and you can easily see how they’ve mobilized to target their chosen niche. the only two prominent reviews chosen to represent their title shine a spotlight on the game’s overt politics. one, offered by variety, is a rather bog standard but affable description of the title’s unapologetically political nature, and the other undercuts variety’s blank cheque review vis-à-vis this political quality because it is written by a middle-aged economist chud who claims the game is socially ‘repulsive’ with all the intellectual grace and cutting rhetoric of that one infamous matt bors comic (‘yet you participate in society. curious!’) this kind of clearly ironic spotlight on bad-faith condemnation doesn’t necessarily call the sincerity of PPU’s endeavour into question, but it does function as a kind of signal to the intended audience. ‘come on, look at this petty bourgeois rube…don’t you want to stick it to this guy who so clearly represents the structures of power you’re starving to utterly demolish, to gloriously overthrow?’
while i am loathe to admit it, and while he obviously didn’t intend it in this way, the chud may have a point in the grace note of his dismissive conjecture when he suggests that as an alternative to tonight we riot, you can ‘download streets of rage 2 for a dollar’. that title is, of course, a dystopian beat ‘em up in which four turned-vigilantes from varying socioeconomic classes unite to thwart the machinations of white collar criminal mr. x, a man whose accrued wealth, power, and despotic nature gives him carte blanche to inflict systemic pain on wood oak city and to treat disenfranchised individuals as nothing more than cogs in his exploitative machine, which disempowers the entire city on a macro-level and on a micro-level, whittles down the beauty of everyday life – the desolation of wood oak city contrasted with the opulence of his headquarters, the devolution of martial arts’ inherent philosophical honor seen in shiva’s character or in the eagle mini-bosses (that martial arts is often a path out of poverty remains a despairingly easy connection to make), the mechanization of society running as an undercurrent throughout the streets of rage 2 campaign. ive always argued that a hallmark of streets of rage is its humanist bent when contrasted against other beat ‘em ups, corny though it is. you’re fighting for the future, the only way you know how, which maybe in itself turns out to be a problem. this is prominently, albeit inadvertently, demonstrated through the franchise’s successive entries, which implicitly question just how sustainable those hard-fought victories are. the fight goes on, the rage never dies down, the future must always be defended by egalitarian vanguards – the existence of a world untainted by corruption and power is never denied.
i bring all this up not only because the existence of a better world is a thread that both of these titles share in common, but also because by contrast, tonight we riot has no easily identifiable hooks to sink into; there’s no imagination here. if i described the game to you as ‘insular leftist agitprop brawling power fantasy’, everything that could reasonably come to mind for you is on offer here, like it’s some kind of derivative checklist borne from endless amounts of doomscrolling. the trumpian caricature, a narcissistic billionaire – he’s the antagonist, and when you whittle away his means of production and armed forces throughout the game he turns out to be the most pitiful opponent you’ve ever faced. check. okay, we got the literal invisible hands of the market as a mecha boss battle. check. we threw in leftist myths with a degree of universality and cuteness behind ‘em in the form of shoutouts to loukanikos and possibly even el negro matapocos, check. corrupt media denouncing your efforts only to then demonstrate fear as your success continues, check. it is what it is – unambitious, serving as an attempt at an antidote to a perceived conservative culture in games. you could make the argument that conservatism in gaming isn’t borne out of anything other than malaise – apoliticism taken to its furthest extent, with developers treating their audiences as pigs lining up for escapism slop. but then that ignores the culture that breeds this sentiment, and it ignores the role the state plays in the creation of all kinds of media. just as the pentagon finances film if they can be depicted benevolently, so too does the military fund games like call of duty and use these titles as recruitment tools. so maybe there is in fact a need for titles that do the opposite.
but, see, here’s where i get kind of hung up on this. depicting collective action in a mechanics-driven arcade format is difficult. that’s the primary reason the individual is venerated in action games – it’s borne not out of conservatism necessarily, but out of constraint and out of an understanding that any of these concepts could easily be abstracted and then transposed onto the actions of the individual. the only title that springs to mind that may serve as an exception to the difficulty in portraying collective mechanics is the fantastical and tokusatsu-influenced the wonderful 101, which many in action-game circles purport is one of the greatest games ever made, so while it’s not a politically driven game per se already there’s a particularly high bar to clear for this kind of thing. not beholden to any tokusatsu schmaltz, the way in which tonight we riot depicts this collective action – by still conforming to standards of dozens of arcade action titles – feels hollow to me. the fact that it’s not well-designed by any metric or even cathartic to play is ancillary to me. (and no, it’s not cathartic to play when it wears the aches of the world as pastiche and when its core gameplay loop still revolves around managing faceless comrades, who can and will get brutalized, played out against the backdrop of a brazenly idealistic take on a revolution…the game tries to sidestep concerns that you’ll see everyone as gamified Units To Sacrifice and Expend by having no narrative hooks/leader role protagonists but it’s not a great solution either. also good god those controls are horrid) the problem for me is that what should be ample opportunity to subvert expectations or preconceived notions is done away with in favour of a terribly bland arcade experience that seems to only exist to affirm people’s political beliefs, like some kind of reward for Good Online Leftism, and it’s made worse by how insular the whole thing is. it uses the language of an aging aesthetic and of a particular kind of power fantasy and just wears its skin without doing much more with the concept. im left wondering who is left for this to appeal to, and i kind of have an answer, but it’s not a particularly nice one so i see no reason to write about it.
‘why get hung up about a game that still unabashedly shares your politics, it’s fine that it exists! six days in fallujah just got greenlit again out of nowhere in the most unhinged move the medium has seen in years, talk about how that’s fucked up instead!’ im only writing this because i do care! because i think games of this kind should do more than be escapism or reiterate what we already know ala cynically celebrated films like parasite, itself revered in a similar vein to tonight we riot. i think there’s genuine room for emotionally mature experiences that respect audience intelligence, that reveal deep and moving truths, and that achieve more than just being the same kind of escapism under a different ideology or that exist only to plainly acknowledge blanket issues (i don’t expect remedy but i do love insight). and i think it’s part of a weird overall trend in discourse that largely revolves around the sanitation of art and the rejection of anything that doesn’t 100% conform to our stringent politics.
ultimately, tonight we riot has no charred or abrasive edges, in spite of what it sells to you – it’s every bit as inoffensive and unremarkable as it claims to not want to be.

This review contains spoilers

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Pokemon Shining Pearl: Faithfully Flawed, Creatively Stunted
A short documentary by battlehuntz
Edited/proofread by @realtaylorhallam on Instagram
I’d like to preface above all else that as much of a precise critique as I’d like for this to be, there’s going to be more personal reasons for it. These games are remakes of the first game I ever owned, and I think that will certainly play a part in how I view them and the story behind this. Nothing I write comes from a place of hatred for the developers or the series, but rather a place of love and wishing it was handled better. Critiquing Pokemon games on the internet draws a crowd of strawmen who will blindly bash and those who will blindly defend. I don’t write to appeal to either of those, and this will be my personal viewpoint and experience with these titles. I write as a form of healing; as a way to get my thoughts out when I feel strongly. I want my work to accurately reflect how I feel and be of the best quality it can possibly be. And this won’t be some review of pure negativity. I’m writing this first, before I write this work. I write this for the younger me who loved the originals and Pokemon Platinum, and for an older, more jaded me. I wanted that to be stated before I delve into this short documentary.
One day in August 2007, my parents bought me a Nintendo DS with Pokemon Pearl. As it was my first game I ever owned, I, inherently, became biased toward it. I’d had no point of comparison, so the attachment and nostalgia developed with ease. Time passed, and in 2009, Pokemon Platinum, an upgraded version of the game was released. This changed a lot of the game, introducing much improved and near-needed pacing, leveling, remade locations, 59 more Pokemon in the Sinnoh Pokedex, and much more extra content. As a kid who only had Pearl as a point of comparison, Platinum was mind-blowing. Time passed, and I realized the flaws of Diamond and Pearl (DP) became more apparent, be it their slow story pacing between the second and third gyms, their atrocious level curve, or their lack of 1/3 of the new Sinnoh Pokemon within the main story. My love for Platinum stayed present, but Diamond and Pearl’s reputation certainly waned for me. Around this time, a clamoring for remakes of the Sinnoh games began. The begging for remakes lasted an entire four years, since the release of Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon in 2017. I absolutely wanted them as well, but worry still remained in my thoughts. The Hoenn remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), were more contentious in the fanbase for being very different takes than their original versions, so there was a divide between fans on what route a Sinnoh remake should take. There was not, however, any divide between fans on the inclusion of Platinum's added content.
Prerelease Panic:
The day was February 26, 2021. During a Pokémon Direct that day, two games were revealed, being Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (BDSP), and Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Even though fans had begged for a Sinnoh remake for years, the immediate reveal of BDSP saw a backlash juxtaposed to Legends’ praise. With BDSP, we were shown the remakes in a chibi style, with quite frankly, ugly battle models and immense oversaturation. Beyond graphical worries, an immediate worry stemmed from one phrase in the press release: “faithful remakes of Diamond and Pearl”. A wave of fear regarding what this meant echoed through the months between trailers, with fans wondering what this meant regarding the Pokemon distribution and pacing of the game, and any other content Platinum had solved and/or added.. In the Summer of 2021, a trailer for the Switch OLED showed the game’s battle graphics had been touched on, but no further news was shown until the middle of August, during another Direct.
The August Direct brought about a period of engoodening for BDSP. The prior graphical improvements were shown in immense detail, with much better models, saturation, and lighting. Perhaps the biggest things taken note of though, were the presence of Pokemon from the Platinum Pokedex, and the announcement of the Grand Underground feature. The Grand Underground served to be an expansion of the Underground from the original games, but now containing wild Pokemon, including those who weren’t available in the main overworld. All worries of reduced Pokemon variety seemed to be quashed by that moment, especially after the reveal of new artwork for Pokemon who were not on Diamond and Pearl’s Pokedex. There were more features which grabbed the eyes of fans, such as trainer customization and following Pokemon as well, further contributing to a wave of positivity for the game. Future trailers showed the removal of the Hidden Moves (HM) feature which plagued traversal in the original games by forcing you to teach specific moves to your team in order to overcome hazards that were necessary to overcome. BDSP’s mapping of the HMs to the Poketch feature was a massive improvement, slating the games to have the potential to be the best version of Sinnoh, even. However, things such as Platinum’s much improved levels, pacing, and overworld variety still had yet to be confirmed: a trailer showing several locations that used their Diamond and Pearl maps began to make fans worry about what would happen with these remakes. People asked, “what does the word faithful truly mean?”. The pre-release and subsequent leaking of the game began to make that, and more, viscerally clear.
The pre-release of the game began to validate the worries echoing throughout the community. The previews given to reviewers revealed many bizarre choices, such as the Diamond and Pearl maps, Technical Machines (TMs) being single-use consumables, (backtracking on the tradition of them being reusable that had lasted a prior decade) and the Trainer battle theme playing in wild Pokemon battles inside a demo of the Great Marsh area. The most notable issue, however, was that the battle themes were unfinished, being placeholder MIDIs of the tracks, ripped from Diamond and Pearl. Beyond one IGN reviewer who somehow thought this was intentional to sound like the DS games, most people did agree these were placeholders, but worries about the game’s development status began to mount after such an unfinished build was shown to reviewers. Roughly two weeks before release, the game began to leak, further validating these fears. The leaks began to quickly spread across the internet, highlighting issues such as a missing title screen and minimally fixed battle themes. This was version 1.0. This was the state the game had shipped in, and if you didn’t have internet access or the 2.5 GB to update the game, this was the game you were saddled with. Otherwise absent from the game in this build were aspects of the postgame, such as a functioning Heatran encounter, Turnback Cave, and the new Ramanas Park. Most importantly, however, the build confirmed every gameplay fear the public held. The games contained Diamond and Pearl’s level curve. The games contained Diamond and Pearl’s pacing. The games contained Diamond and Pearl’s Pokedex, complete with only a single fire type beyond the starter. The games contained the original Diamond and Pearl’s very own source code, cementing the idea of game-developing laziness. As more updates began to emerge, many Platinum-exclusive Pokemon were accessible in the Grand Underground; however, their evolutionary items either were made far more tedious to obtain, or locked to the postgame, despite having locations that functioned perfectly fine in Platinum, further stifling the variety of BDSP. A new trailer revealed the contents of the new Ramanas Park, being an area to catch legendaries. The content showcased within the trailer was fine, but the main detail of the trailer was the existence of a patch, slated for November 11th. With this patch, leakers finally gained access to the completed game, while countless glitches, such as an ability to enter a void of sorts and skip the game, and multiple instances of getting stuck remained. With eight days between this update and release, the game’s situation was both rather clear and rather grim.
Personal Playthrough:
Early afternoon, November 19, 2021, my game arrived. Having to take 15 minutes merely to update a game in order to have it work correctly already annoyed me as I had to contain my excitement to relive my childhood. But upon startup? I had fun with the game. In many ways, I was a bit charmed by how it looked in handheld mode. Battle backgrounds were very pretty, and the lighting was very nice, especially as I played into the evening. It’s nostalgic to hear the music of your childhood mastered and translated into more complex MIDIs as well. When I hit the Grand Underground, I remained there for hours. I was addicted to gaining access to so many team members and a lot of variety such as early access to evolved Pokemon like Gastrodon and Lickilicky, and rarer Pokemon that would normally require HMs to access like Elekid and Magby. However, a singular thing instantly damaged and hindered my experience: the controls were, and still are, quite bluntly, disgusting. It feels as if your character gets caught on every object possible if you use the joystick to run, and if you use the D-Pad to move on a grid, it doesn’t reset properly like in the Generation 6 titles, so your grid-based movement will always be uncannily off grid and inaccurate. This makes the game extremely taxing to play. Many a time I found myself in the Grand Underground, chased by Pokemon, only to be caught on terrain in the way that the game’s collision simply didn’t route me around, which forced me into battles. I even got a Shiny Meditite from this, highlighting just how much this occurred for me. This was extremely frustrating in areas with tight ledges, such as Mt. Coronet and Victory Road, as resetting to grid movement isn’t possible: It’s inherently unfun. Not to mention, the part where Platinum’s pacing and content feels most noticable, which is right after the second gym, doesn’t have this to benefit from. Rather than being treated to new encounters such as Nosepass or Gligar, you find yourself dealing with swaths of Geodude, Machop, and Onix. It’s not fun. The inability to simply go and fight the Hearthome gym immediately, unlike in Platinum, harms pacing even further, making the slog to the third gym very difficult. As someone who typically doesn’t mind a party-wide EXP Share, the inability to turn it off results in immense overleveling for the majority of the game, as both Maylene and Wake having equal levels offsets the level balance for most of the main story, resulting in your party easily outleveling most bosses. A tweaked friendship mechanic results in several occasions of your Pokemon gaining Pokemon Amie bonuses, such as extra criticals, status healing, or living on 1 hp when they’d be KO’d without you choosing for this to happen. This, combined with the levelling and stunted variety of fights directly harmed a lot of my experience, as everything felt too easy. Less variety made the plethora of Sinnoh’s sidequests much less enjoyable to go through, as there wasn’t a variety in the fights I’d face. When every other trainer packs a Ponyta due to it being the only fire type in the region, a severe problem is present, I feel. All these awkward removals of quality-of-life changes was and remains unfun. Of course, my game did eventually end, and while I’d loved much of the OST and moments where backgrounds were gorgeous, I was generally happy I was finishing. However, nothing prepared me for the level curve that was the Elite Four. Obviously, Champion Cynthia has always been subject to memes about her difficulty, and her reputation precedes her. However, in Diamond and Pearl, and now BDSP, the levels jump a massive 17 levels from the eighth gym’s ace. Now, the very EXP Share I ranted about making the game easy was the only thing preventing my team’s mutilation by the Elite Four’s teams, given competitive stats and items for maximum difficulty. It’s absurdity. As fun as the fights could be, their very situation was befuddling. Was this a game for children, as the 99% of the game preceding this indicated, or one for hardcore players? I’m truly not sure what I played, or how to feel. Diamond and Pearl were games that desperately needed a fix. Platinum served this very function, and effectively replaced them. Why was mediocrity remade instead of choosing to expand upon greatness, or at the very least make greatness even more accessible? What happened? My nostalgia was present, which made me have fun, but it was fun under disappointment, fun that could have been greater, and fun that was had under the knowledge of that fact. Since I’ve ranted much about Platinum being excluded, I’d like to truly explain why that is, and why Platinum’s existence matters as much as I’ve said.
The Platinum Problem:
As I’ve mentioned, a dichotomy exists between the perception of DP and BDSP when placed next to Platinum. On its own, this wouldn’t make much sense, as Platinum is built from DP’s bones. However, Platinum’s changes morph it into a much different and better game, and the definitive version which BDSP should have built from. Diamond and Pearl is missing 1/3 of it’s new Pokemon from its dex. Things like Electivire, Magmortar, Dusknoir, or Yanmega? Postgame or GBA insert only. Their items? Postgame only or carried by them. In Platinum, they naturally spawn along the Sinnoh region, with natural locations for their items. This extends to items for Pokemon who already existed in the Sinnoh dex, such as Weavile’s Razor Claw being moved earlier so that players can use one for more of the game than right before the league. The new Pokemon are also seeded into trainers’ teams, making fights more fun and diverse. For example, Diamond and Pearl only had two fire types to work with, while Platinum had five. Areas like the Old Chateau seem nigh worthless Diamond and Pearl unless you want a Gastly, as Rotom is locked until postgame. Platinum allows you to catch Rotom on that first visit. The most notable area, however, remains the Fuego Ironworks. This optional area along a river on Route 205 feels juxtaposed as the most underwhelming reward for exploration in Diamond and Pearl, while serving as such a rewarding area in Platinum. In DP, your reward is a patch of grass full of Pokemon you’ve already seen, namely the Gastrodon and Floatzel evolution lines who spawn in a rather large capacity throughout the region, as well as a Fire Stone which is unusable on anything that spawns in the main game. Platinum’s Fuego Ironworks spawns Magmar and Magnemite, meanwhile, granting access to two excellent evolutionary lines which do not spawn elsewhere, whilst also giving the player this same Fire Stone, for it to have use due to the Eevee line’s presence in Platinum, granting access to Flareon. This diversity greatly enhances Platinum, and to see this be locked to the player alone in BDSP’s Grand Underground truly holds back a lot of enjoyment and engagement for me.
Much less major, but variety related all the same, Platinum added move tutors to multiple areas, along with reworking movesets for the Pokemon it had there. Shinx was allowed to learn a physical electric move, Spark, prior to its evolution in Platinum, whereas Diamond and Pearl didn’t allow this until level 18. In the case of move tutors, the ability to exchange shards, a common item in the game’s underground, for new moves in order to diversify movesets created a much more exciting and rewarding gameplay loop, creating optional rewards whilst incentivizing a side feature. To lack these in a future release feels as if it misses the very point of them and their utility. As BDSP imports movesets from Sword and Shield for many Pokemon, greatly stifling many of them, this, along with several of Platinum’s movesets, felt much more essential in the equation. Though minor comparatively, these remain conveniences which are all but ignored and cast aside. When a modern game forgoes the conveniences and variety of a work that precedes it by twelve years, it begs to question why none would not simply elect to play Platinum.
Beyond the Pokedex, pacing remains Platinum’s most prominent improvement over its original versions. Diamond and Pearl notoriously feature a stretch between Eterna City and Veilstone City, spanning roughly four or five hours of gameplay between badges. When this results in stopping by Hearthome City, located between the two, while also not visiting its gym, the pacing feels notoriously dragged. Platinum allows the Hearthome gym to be challenged upon its first visit, creating a stronger gameplay loop for it, with no brutal stretch of nothingness. Platinum’s pacing further changes through reinforcing a linear pacing as opposed to DP’s more open third and fourth badges. As DP forces Hearthome City to be skipped upon first visit, the third and fourth badges are seeded as Veilstone City or Pastoria City, in any order the player chooses. Oddly, however, the path to Pastoria City doesn’t open until the player has reached Solaceon Town, which lies halfway between Hearthome City and Veilstone City, leading most to choose Veilstone first. This nonlinear choice, tilts leveling drastically for the remainder of DP’s runtime, as both Veilstone and Pastoria’s gyms have the same level curve, forcing the routes around them to be drastically underleveled. As the game progresses, the effects of this linger, as trainers are perpetually as underleveled as those gyms, a sentiment which extends to the Gym Leaders, and through every fight until the aforementioned abysmally scaled Elite Four. In the case of Platinum, a defined order, and thus defined level scaling is imposed, making the order Hearthome third, Veilstone fourth, and Pastoria fifth. Due to the linearity of this, gym leader levels naturally scale along with the wild pokemon and trainer battles surrounding them, resulting in a much more naturally leveled and paced game. This extends into the Elite Four as well, with their levels being lower, while fitting within the confines of a higher-leveled game overall. It’s fantastic. Naturally, BDSP’s adherence to DP’s pacing, in a game with a forced Exp Share will result in a gross overleveling of teams, especially in this midgame section. As the matter was so commonly ranted about by fans, it felt like it was something crucial to address, but alas, that is not what happened.
Perhaps it’s remiss to even attempt discussing the story of a Pokemon game, but I truly believe Platinum made me have an attachment of sorts for the Sinnoh cast, which I cannot say in the case of Diamond and Pearl. DP and BDSP’s casts are rather bland, with there being quite little to each character. Whether this is Barry remaining an impatient buffoon the entire game, Cyrus, the “charismatic” leader of Team Galactic showing nothing to validate this quality, or Champion Cynthia’s interest in mythology or the region being nigh absent, there’s quite little to make these characters enthralling to players. So how then, was Sinnoh’s cast able to be seen as something iconic, with a memorable batch of characters? Platinum’s reworking of Sinnoh’s story gave these characters improved agency and motivations, while also adding little details to other characters as well, greatly making the world feel lived in, and creating the attachment that so many have to it. Starting with Barry, a more simplistic case, as not much is truly added to him, but what is is enough to show a maturity in the character despite his impulsiveness. The game’s opening shows him sticking up for the player, after pressuring them to go into tall grass with no Pokemon of their own. Sticking up for them and admitting this ultimately results in the player getting their own Pokemon, while giving Barry more nuance. Towards the end of the game, before heading to the Pokemon League, Barry has a similar moment of maturity in telling the player that he can’t beat them in his current state, but will train and catch up to them. It isn’t a massive overhaul for the character, but it’s moments that feel much more real, and allow players to get something of an attachment to him. Overhauled completely, however, is Team Galactic’s leader Cyrus. What Diamond and Pearl presents Cyrus as is inconsistent: is this a man who feels nothing, or one who desires to rid the world of strife? We’re given little insight on the matter, or his plans or charisma. Platinum chooses to interpret Cyrus differently, giving extra scenes and dialogue to him both to entail his plans and motivations, and ultimately flesh him out. Platinum introduces Cyrus at Lake Verity, miring on his plans to capture the Lake Guardians, while also showing him at Eterna City, researching and defacing the statue of the Legendary mascots and deities of the Sinnoh region, Dialga/Palkia. Further developing Cyrus is his encounter at Celestic Town, providing the player with their first battle against him, and his a show of his disregard of human emotion. Most importantly, though, is a speech scene which Cyrus gives to his grunts in Veilstone City. Rather than simply state his charisma, this speech shows it to the player, showing the way his words enthrall and captivate his indoctrinated grunts. Of course, Cyrus himself mentions this to be nothing more than a lie, helping to clarify his motivations while also showing his manipulative, charismatic nature. A scene which changes Cyrus also changes the way in which Champion Cynthia is portrayed as well, being the climax of the Team Galactic story in the new Distortion World. Through this, a value of life and desire to protect others is shown through Cynthia and her actions, with her viewpoint starkly contrasting that of Cyrus’s disregard for life and emotions. Cyrus’s story in Platinum ends not with the inconsequential disappearance of DP and BDSP, but rather with his choice to remain in the Distortion World, away from others whilst swearing to create his own world from within. Ultimately, this creates a cast of characters who the audience is able to attach to, making their journey through the world feel more real and enticing. Platinum doesn’t choose to stop at the main story or existing characters either, be it through details like Cynthia seeing the player off to the postgame area, or meeting Gym Leaders outside of their gyms. Most notable, though, are the characters Looker and Charon, additions to Platinum who were left absent from BDSP. Looker, an eccentric agent of the International Police, became something of a series staple, regularly appearing in plotlines or postgames investigating criminal matters, and serves as an ally in Platinum’s plot. While not particularly major, Looker provides more humor and engagement, almost as a mockery of many of the plot’s aspects, which makes him very entertaining to watch. Charon on the other hand, serves as an extra villain, being a scientist for Team Galactic. Charon’s contributions to the story are not as large, but he serves as an antagonist for the postgame, and also contextualizes the new Rotom forms of Platinum, being implied to have discovered them. Once again, I do understand if characters in a Pokemon game do not hold any meaning for you. I can understand that, but for the core experience of the world, having more depth or content to them feels essential for conveying as such. To remove this, as BDSP did, is taking away something which fixed a legitimate problem.
Alongside a reworked story, Platinum reworked the overworld designs and visuals of Sinnoh, opting for more landscape diversity as opposed to DP’s reliance on bright greens and rocky terrain. Examples could be as simple as a few coloring tweaks, like dimmer caves, or as significant as entirely reworked gym designs in some areas. Fantina’s asinine and basic math puzzle from DP and BDSP is utterly overhauled in Platinum, opting for a dimly lit maze, guided by a flashlight, for example. The Lost Tower on Route 209 serves as another example of Platinum’s world design improving the atmosphere of areas, with Platinum’s candlelit, dark blue haunted tower being starkly juxtaposed to the bright greens of the overgrown state of the tower in DP and BDSP. In more minor cases, cities are given graphical tweaks to differentiate them, be it Platinum giving Hearthome City brown streets to differentiate it from the streets of other cities, or Veilstone City’s stone chiseling being a gray color, as opposed to DP and BDSP’s reusing of the same rock platform textures of every other area. A dimmer, space themed Galactic HQ in Platinum provides more menace to the evil team, juxtaposed to the bright, factory-like area shown in DP and BDSP. Perhaps the largest change in Platinum’s landscapes, though, is the postgame area, or the Battle Zone. While there’s an expanded Battle Frontier in the place of the Battle Tower of DP and BDSP, the entire landscape and climate of the island has shifted to reflect it being a separate landmass from mainland Sinnoh. Platinum sees the island overhauled entirely, with the grass a much more verdant green, the trees replaced with palms, the rocks a darker color to reflect volcanic, tropical origins, and the sand colored a darker brown to reflect being stained by nearby volcanic ash. I mention these changes first, as they all center themselves nicely around Platinum’s biggest landscape change for the postgame: Stark Mountain, the den of the legendary Heatran, is an active volcano, complete with flowing lava. Contrasted with the mountain being merely another mountainous cave in DP and BDSP, the unique landscape provided in Platinum creates a stark difference (pardon me I had to laugh at that) in engagement and the worldbuilding of its area. I mention this because I truly do believe it’s vital to make these areas less homogenized, especially in games centered around a mythologized region with diverse terrain. Why should players desire to catch the lord of a volcano in a regular mountain, when precedent has shown it dwelling in an active volcano in the same region? Ultimately, the matter makes BDSP feel as homogenized as its namesake through choosing to ignore the improvements of another predecessor.
Artstyle Aggravation:
The chibi artstyle of BDSP is perhaps its most contentious aspect. Its fans would cite its faithfulness to the DS games, while detractors desired a more blatant reimagining of Sinnoh. I lie somewhere in the middle. While I think the chibi is able to look quite good in proper lighting, such as the misty mornings, cloud cover, the unique berry tree designs returning, or gorgeous sunsets of BDSP, I do think it’s not without major shortcomings. On occasion, a trainer model will just zoom in before battle, and moments like this are when I began to see the faults of the artstyle. Being as blunt as possible, malformed chibis aren’t meant to be viewed up close as these cinematic models. This game genuinely can look amazing in the proper lighting, but that’s when the camera is zoomed out. Watching cutscenes take place on a grid, complete with the models moving so robotically on it, stopping with each turn, is exceptionally jarring and difficult to watch. What worked on the DS due to a suspended disbelief and a well-done grid is made quite jarring through the slower model movement. When the Cyrus cutscene occurs in full chibi, it makes a lot of the shortcomings apparent. I cannot, in good faith, believe Gamefreak only saw this game as a chibi work, especially with Platinum’s Spear Pillar cutscene’s use of perspective and models allowing for the player to perceive the cutscene outside of its chibi confines. A zoom-in on a hyper chibi Cyrus in front of Dialga/Palkia leaves little for imagination, while also being exceptionally disappointing next to the grand scale cutscenes of the past decade. While I’ve mostly praised the lighting, with it absolutely being BDSP’s strongest point, it does falter in routes with rain. Overworld rain effects smear this game’s aesthetic greatly, with it being a miracle they only occur in two routes. In the originals, rain was merely marked by darker screens and a rain effect. In BDSP, rain blots out any and all cloud cover, but also removes any shadow effect, be it from characters, landmasses, or trees. It looks, frankly, dreadful. This graphical effect makes the areas look like they are in early development, and the shadow removal can make depth perception of characters appear as if they are floating, while also making the grid of grass patches visible. The southern half of Route 212, a rainy, swampy area, was always a favorite of mine visually in the originals, and now appears unfinished due to this, which is upsetting. Perhaps more minor, but this being the only remake with no character redesigns will always be jarring. I do believe the Sinnoh designs still hold up, but it’s a bit sad to not see a unique spin put on them. Though I’ve lamented the artstyle some, I do want to say I primarily adore the battle backgrounds. Though I detest the orange void background given to many cities, or the void on the cycling road, the vast majority of these backgrounds look phenomenal. Whether it’s the reflective caves added in the Underground, the reflective water, the sunset effects in the sky, or Mt. Coronet looming in the distance of many a background, these mostly are an absolute treat to see. The absolute best one must go to Dialga, though. The purple and orange sky, glitching as time collapses over the Spear Pillar is such a phenomenal aesthetic for the situation at hand, embodying the tension of the moment. While I cannot say the same regarding Palkia’s small spatial hole in in the background of a blue sky, it isn’t a bad background in the slightest. While I see grievances for Team Galactic’s backgrounds being a generic space themed location, which I do understand, I do enjoy the expansion of a solar system in the background as they ascend in rank, fitting their namesake. The last graphical matter is the Trainer models, which I’m mostly positive towards, barring a select few. While I think most of the Gym Leaders look great, for example, there’s a few times I feel a notable model is rather weak. The model for Mars of Team Galactic, for example, treads an uncanny valley, not resembling her much at all facially. Cyrus’s model feels almost oversaturated, being so brightly lit that it’s jarring. Others have absolutely fantastic animations, though, like seeing a confidence we’ve sparked in Volkner, or the confidence Champion Cynthia exudes in her battles. I think the artstyle of this game is not without merits in the slightest, but it is one with flaws that I can see as enough to make someone wholly dislike it.
New Features:
The first, and perhaps most obvious new feature is the Grand Underground, which turns the Sinnoh Underground into an area with more spawns, helping improve variety and allow for more Pokemon to be used. This idea was fantastic, but was executed rather questionably in its pre postgame Pokemon distribution. Pokemon that aren’t on the Sinnoh dex are seeded as “rare” spawns, which means that only one can spawn in a cavern at a time, if that, so it makes capturing them and leaving the shackling of DP’s dex significantly tougher. It’s a great thing to have these Pokemon there, and also to have several others, like honey tree, safari zone, or otherwise inexplicably lategame Pokemon spawning sooner as well, since again, this leaves more in the player’s control without unwarranted waiting. However, it’s rather imperfect, as while there are many items left in this area, all too few are evolutionary items, so Pokemon such as Rhydon and Dusclops cannot evolve until postgame, rare spawns like Elekid and Magby have to be found holding their evolutionary items, which have a 5% chance of spawning, and many other issues. Most egregiously, is the exclusion of several Pokemon which were on the Platinum pokedex from this feature, ultimately leaving them until postgame. Listing them off, these are: Tropius, the Tangela line, the Eevee line, the Porygon line, the Yanma line, and the Nosepass line. It’s absurd. While Tangela and Tropius do become available in the postgame underground, the others are found elsewhere, making them more frustrating to obtain. The postgame does nicely tweak the Grand Underground, though, making much more spawn, and easing on the rare spawn rule. It’s incredibly fun to catch Pokemon such as starter Pokemon in the wild, and I’ve got no qualms with that. I will be frank though, leveling in the Grand Underground seems skewed similarly to aboveground. As it scales with badges or acquired HMs, it feels like the area can allow the player to catch overleveled Pokemon, ultimately resulting in a lot of team shelving as opposed to the variety the area touted itself on bringing. Finally, the handling of the area itself has radically altered, being that you can no longer grow the spheres dug from walls, with them being a flat large or small size now, traps can no longer be planted to deter your base from being found, and the cosmetics of Secret Bases are limited to Pokemon statues which serve to tweak appearance rates for Pokemon. It’s an odd feeling to have this home away from home feel so depersonalized, as while I like customizing my encounter rates, I sometimes wish I could furnish my base and make something worth showing off, as I could on the DS. Lastly, the trading spheres feature has returned, and has been used for acquiring TMs, as they’re breakable once again. The prices for these can be extremely high for something which can only be used once, and it feels as though it’s not worth the investment for them. If there’s something wholly positive in this feature, it’s the environment. The caverns are pleasantly decorated and varied, between deserts, volcanoes, swamps, and crystal caverns. It’s very nice to see a unique diversity in these biomes, especially as the aboveground opted for something so reduced. While I have arguably had the bulk of my fun with this feature, its flaws still hang very apparent.
Tying into the underground is the new Ramanas Park, in the place of the Pal Park from the originals. This feature allows the capture of all Legendary Pokemon that aren’t normally in the Sinnoh games, with the Legendary dogs and Ho-Oh, and the legendary birds and Lugia being the only exclusives to Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl respectively. The acquisition of these legendaries makes itself rather addictive, as it’s rooted in digging up mysterious shards underground, and then trading them for slates designed after the cartridges these Pokemon originated on, which spawn the legendary, allowing you to battle and catch it. Catching the legendaries spawns a statue of them in their room, and gives you a statue for the Grand Underground. It’s a grind, but it’s fun and rewarding to get legendaries like this, especially when some spawn extra items, such as their signature items or berries which would otherwise be inaccessible in these games. It’s a genuinely fun grind for these, much akin to the wormholes of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. The rooms the Legendary Pokemon spawn in resemble their legends, or areas they previously spawned in, and are visually stunning. One of the coolest is easily the Distortion Room, in which you battle an umbral level 100 Origin Form Giratina for the Griseous Orb as its Platinum battle theme plays, with the room designed like the Distortion World. It’s beautiful, even if I wish there was more Platinum content in the game. This is a feature I feel ties itself rather seamlessly to the game itself as well, with the Regi trio from it allowing access to Regigigas without transfer, a massive pro to BDSP compared to the originals. I have no complaints with this feature, and I think it’s a genuinely fantastic postgame incentive.
More minor are the last three new features, being the new Contests, walking Pokemon, and customization. Beginning with the former, contests have been reworked from a mode in which players dress their Pokemon up, make them dance, and then compete through showing off their moves, into one in which their Poke Ball is now decorated with stickers to impress an audience, and then they and the rest of the contestants collaborate in a rhythm based dancing game. I’m not sure why this mode was changed, but I have no strong feelings towards it in either direction. It’s a very simple change, but it’s also quite bizarre that it was changed to begin with. The walking Pokemon, however, is a bit of a doozy. If you’ve followed this series, you’d know the feature, which debuted in HeartGold and SoulSilver, is rather clamored for and coveted by the fans. It’s absolutely something minor, but the concept of having your Pokemon follow you inherently breeds an attachment and love for them. The first BDSP trailer showed this returning, and the fanbase collectively freaked out, though a few were justifiably a bit jarred by the Pokemon just using shrunken down models that could clash with the style. The ingame execution of the feature is also rather flawed, with it most notably having these following Pokemon suffer from slow following speeds generally, and a lack of a pathfinding system. What this means is that the player will tend to outpace their Pokemon, or have them get caught on other characters or terrain in the overworld, forcing the game to teleport them by way of a Poke Ball animation. This happens frequently, and while it’s not too immersion-breaking thanks to the animation providing context, it’s still damaging all the same. The feature also finds itself limited further through Pokemon not being allowed to follow in caves, buildings, or snow, which ultimately makes it inactive for a great portion of the player’s time with the game. Oddly enough, it doesn’t unlock until the first visit to Hearthome City, roughly six hours in. Further discrepancies occur when walking Pokemon simply teleport into their Poke Balls before a trainer battle starts, or can be ragdolled away by characters who move in cutscenes. It’s a very shoddily implemented feature, and it’s very sad to see after years of players requesting its return. Lastly, the trainer customization, while only tied to a single outfit like in Let’s Go, is a more minor, but still interesting addition. It isn’t much, and it unlocks relatively late in Veilstone City, but it’s nice to have that customization added retroactively. There isn’t much to say, as I think it’d be much harder to add a detailed customization feature in a game where your character looks like Lego Duplo, so for what it’s worth, I think this feature is quite good.
Fuzzy Faithfulness:
The very idea of faithfulness is what drove this remake to be what it is. Every prior Pokemon remake has been known for rather noteworthy changes, while also including the new Pokemon and forms of its current generation, and its mechanics, while even referencing later regions sometimes, just to breed a bit of continuity. None of this, barring Generation 8 mechanics, is in BDSP, due to them calling themselves faithful remakes. But sometimes, the faithfulness of the matter is called into question. Why are post-Generation 4 items, like Eviolites or Air Balloons, not present, but an untoggleable party-wide EXP Share is? Technical Machines are single use, making teaching your Pokemon moves much more tedious for the sake of faith to DP, but some moves, such as Return, are absent to comply with Generation 8 mechanics? What does the matter of faithfulness mean in the overworld, even, when my movement speed in the infamously slow snow is now slower than it was in the long grass or mud areas, which already run slower than the originals? We have a fully expanded underground, with roaming Pokemon, but no flag capturing, sphere growing, or trap setting like in DP. We have an overhauled contest feature, in which contests feel more like a rhythm minigame than anything else. This wasn’t in DP, so what prompted the change? We have a new park area for capturing legendaries, once again, a change which wasn’t in the originals. If these changes, which are rather substantial side content, are present, why are we not given more changes? What does being faithful mean other than a direct desire for a worse game? Moments like the Rotom room acknowledging Charon’s existence, only to cut off his name because of him being absent from the game, serve to hurt this further. What’s the point of this? For the sake of faithfulness, the world building of Sinnoh has been set back to 2007, and for what?
Inconsistent Touch Screen:
This is a short and minor segment, but with a game that allows touch control in handheld mode, I find it worth documenting. While a touch screen feature is implemented for the Poketch feature, a watch which originally was relegated to the bottom screen of the originals, the way in which it carries over to the modern day is generally shoddy. Things such as needing to cycle through the apps so slowly, with no back button (that Platinum had) make this grating, but needing to open and use a specific app to dowse for hidden items no longer works as well or seamlessly as it did when integrated into the bottom screen. The Poketch being overlaid and toggleable in the right hand corner of the screen is nice, but when apps like the dowsing machine aren’t touchable in this minimized mode, a lot feels very tedious. This is similar in that whilst trying to make this translate to docked mode, the Poketch gets a hand cursor so it’s not inherently unusable, but this makes the process even slower than before. The Poketch isn’t the only touch screen issue, though. Perhaps the main reason I’m making this is the Poffin minigame, in which treats are cooked for Pokemon to perform better in contests. This minigame was a touch screen function on the DS, using the stylus to stir batter and cook these treats. The Switch did, of course, have to make something for those with docked mode, so this is simulated by rotating the sticks on it, but this is also rather slow and unresponsive compared to the DS’s mechanics. However, this is not why I write this. Handheld mode, the mode with touch screen functionality, chooses not to use it for the Poffin game. I have to stop to ask why this is, because it removes what would be such an unquestioned implementation from discussion. Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is asking the player to rotate their JoyCon sticks in the handheld mode, especially with a system so infamous for its controller drift. This rapid rotation is known to cause this sort of drift to accelerate, so removing a workaround just feels sloppy.
The Music:
Perhaps because it recreates a stellar OST, but the soundtrack of BDSP in its finished state is great. I’ll be one to admit I teared up upon hearing the Eterna Forest theme in a trailer, hearing the feel of it recreated so perfectly. Other tracks even make me realize I was misinterpreting some instruments from the original OST, such as Valor Lakefront (Night) having a backing accordion, or a saxophone playing in locations such as Solaceon Town. So many themes are perfectly recreated, and while I do wish there was an occasional reimagining, akin to Ecruteak City in HeartGold and SoulSilver, I will take a pleasant listen after consuming the placeholder MIDI cesspool of leaks. There is one track, though, that I feel went above and beyond to change itself, and that’s the Elite Four theme. Originally, this theme was a Gym Leader theme in a different key, but now, it’s a remix with backing guitars, helping to intensify these final fights, strengthened by their competitive sets further intensifying them. There’s some themes I can’t help but say feel lacking, though, which I do hate saying in a region with a (no pun intended) brilliant OST. The Galactic Grunt theme starts incredibly strong and powerful, but the organ part that plays no longer feels ethereal or spatial like before, but rather just detaches itself from the intensity of the rest of the song, leaving it rather out of place. While not a bad song on its own, Cyrus’s theme suffers as well, being decidedly less intense and focused than the original theme, lacking much of the buildup and percussion that made the drop as the song began to loop all the more fun to hear in battle. Of the few new compositions we have, I’ll pleasantly say they’re rather great as well, such as both Ramanas Park legendary themes being exceptionally catchy whilst fighting these Pokemon. Sometimes, music from Platinum, like the Frontier Brain theme, is missing, and that’s where I draw a line and will admit I’m outright sad. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire lacked a Battle Frontier of their own, but made sure the theme itself was present in the game, accounting for the absolute banger that it was. Why am I forced to hear Cynthia’s theme for Palmer, when precedent of BDSP put Platinum’s contest themes, and Giratina’s theme in the very same game? Obviously, this is a minor frustration, but it’s still odd. As a whole though, the soundtrack accomplishes what it set out to do, being a faithful recreation of a good thing, which can’t be said for the games themselves.
Reduced Rollout:
So you’re probably wondering why I chose to wait until April to start this project. If you’ve followed this game, though, you’d be aware of how dreadfully slow its update rollout has been, along with a lack of any word regarding things. To start, the games were released in November, but several features were absent, such as the Global Ranking Room and the GTS, now renamed the Grand Wonder System (GWS), and turned into a wonder trade mechanic. These features were not added until February and March, respectively. I waited to begin this essay until then so I could meticulously compile evidence on the game in a finished state, and not on a game with literal features missing. The GWS is a bit odd even in its released state, as it doesn’t accurately depict the location of where Pokemon come from, but rather tells players to put down any spot on the map as where they’re from, and on subsequent trades, encouraging them to put the same spot as the person they previously matched with. It doesn’t provide an accurate geographic representation despite being a feature about connectivity, but it is Wonder Trade, and therefore it is fun by virtue of the nature of surprise. At the time of writing, this game still lacks Pokemon Home support as well. While this isn’t a part of the core gameplay, the game is almost half a year old, and lacks any way to transfer its Pokemon elsewhere, which is annoying in the cases of having Shiny Pokemon, or being attached to teams and wanting to preserve them. This has happened as a result of BDSP being built off of the Unity engine, much unlike any Gamefreak headed projects, which has made connecting to Home and being programmed correctly much more difficult. I am not angry regarding the matter, but it is frustrating. I wish the team the best with adding this support, as they have a lot of work cut out for them.
The Lack of Interviews:
Perhaps the most concerning thing regarding the state of these games is the lack of interviews. Most prior Pokemon projects, even the divisive Let’s Go and Sword and Shield saw interviews with the developers, serving as a way of communication between the creators and their audience, while also contextualizing a state of the development. There wasn’t any of this for BDSP, and this is especially problematic given the muddied faithfulness I’ve mentioned, and the clear development cycle issues indicated through the various builds and patches. Perhaps the worst aspect of this, though, is it’s left the Pokemon fanbase to turn to speculation. This fanbase is the same one which spun a development cycle marred by crunch into a myth of Gamefreak being “lazy” for the sake of their Youtube content. This is the same fanbase that either cannot believe the games’ development periods have split teams and span years, or think any instance of red and purple is a hint to the upcoming Scarlet and Violet games. Allowing a fanbase with a penchant for misinformation and pollution of the online discourse to speculate is a massive mistake. We open Pandora’s box for Youtubers who merely research the series to smear it with partial evidence, or for some to defend it blindly. While it’s quite clear BDSP did have development issues, until we get any interviews, we will never be privy to a full truth on the matter or its design process. We were never given clear meanings of much of its promotional blurbs, like the previously mentioned faithfulness, resulting in a jarring product for all parties, especially during the period in which the games leaked. I sympathize with these developers. I know I’ve spent an essay explaining that I didn’t have the best time with their product, but I sympathize and would like to know more, and that is a casualty of this. It’s a sad story, but it feels sadder not knowing.
Hopes for the Future and a Closer:
To close this, there’s a lot of emotions I’ve felt rolling in me from this game, but primarily they’re just sadness and frustration. I adore the Sinnoh region and its world, but that world didn’t really take its full shape until Platinum. In some ways, BDSP does feel like returning home, but in many others, it’s like returning home to finding out that your parents converted your room into an office without telling you. The disappointment I felt worried me, as this was the third Pokemon release in a row, since Let’s Go, where I’d felt disappointed by the game. I don’t believe the “Pokemon went downhill when it went 3D” mindset, as I liked Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire quite a bit, and absolutely adore the Alola games. However, the direction the franchise was taking on the Switch was deeply worrying me that my childhood series was going to be something I outgrew, with its direction degrading. Thankfully, only two months after BDSP, we got Legends Arceus. To say that game made me happy would be an understatement. It was like joy was returning to me after a long hiatus, the first Pokemon game I wholly enjoyed since Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Best of all, Legends: Arceus was an incredibly engaging new take on Sinnoh, showing the region in a Meiji Japan style, while still feeding crumbs of nostalgia to me. For me, that game made me feel like a child again, the very feeling that BDSP left me longing for. Legends: Arceus aimed to respect the version of Sinnoh I grew to love in Platinum, and felt so vindicating as a Sinnoh fan. While BDSP disappointed me, this game made me feel like I was falling in love with Sinnoh for the first time again. And although I don’t love BDSP, I know I can return to Platinum and replay it to my heart’s content, which will always be a comfort. However, these days of my childhood are also confirmed to be over through BDSP. The days of being able to simply put a game in on the way back from the store, as I did as a child, are over. The children of today would be greeted with a placeholder title screen, and unfinished music, and that hurts to think of for me. Not everyone out there has the internet to update the games, and it’s sad to think of how many people will experience these games in that state. If anything gives me hope, though, it is Legends: Arceus once again. A game that shipped finished, without the need of a massive patch, hopefully bodes well for the future. I just hope we do not have to repeat any of BDSP’s rollout.
I find myself frustrated, writing as a critic, because as disappointed as I am, and as able to admit my first games were, and still are flawed, I can see what they meant to me. Diamond and Pearl register as games I’d never pick up again, and perhaps BDSP faithfully do the same. However, against the odds, those games stabbed themselves into my heart. They started my most longstanding hyperfixation. And though I criticize them now, the joy they gave a younger me, incapable of holding much criticism, was very, very real. They gave birth to something I consider rather beautiful, as well. I have a soundtrack I regularly revisit, sometimes choosing to lie down and wistfully remember the simpler times. Platinum blossomed from DP, and formed a definitive, better version of a game I hold nostalgia for. It formed something I’ll always enjoy and always take comfort in. And though the comfort is lessened, I find myself remembering my first day getting my first game. My Piplup in BDSP had a Serious nature, the very same as my first Piplup in Pearl, fifteen years ago. I find myself frustrated as a creative, and I find myself, a critic, shackled by these emotions and memories that resurface. We can tear down works constantly, with little consequence, as negativity is favored by human nature. It’s more enjoyable to watch someone rip something apart than to watch someone gush. Algorithms favor negativity, as do others. I hope I’ve not merely written a piece about that, but rather one comprehensive to what I feel. The negativity I feel is real, but it’s remiss to disguise the fact that I had fun with these, and their originals in a way. I don’t desire a culture where we write something off as meaningless, and as mediocre as Diamond and Pearl may be, the memories they gave me and so many others carry more meaning than most art I’ve consumed. I don’t see mediocre art as the valueless junk that some would. As much as I can say Diamond and Pearl are mediocre art, they gave birth to great art. And now in BDSP’s case, a mediocre package still holds a beautiful soundtrack, and had Legends: Arceus created alongside it, a game which captured the joy of my childhood while making me feel a new joy. With Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, I see a package I did not wholly enjoy, but one which I still felt some connection with. Negativity inspired me to write my essay, but that negativity grew from a love that I find surfacing as I write. I want better, as I know a younger me got better with Platinum, and began to acknowledge that. I see a bittersweet farewell to a childhood in these games, and yet, the moments of enjoyment remind me I am still the same person who grew a hyperfixation all those years ago. I hope I’ve ultimately made an essay that shows my feelings accurately, but also the love from which they’ve grown.
As a footnote, I’d like to give a massive shoutout to my editor/proofreader, Taylor, who saw a lot of the spelling and grammar mistakes I made, or areas lacking in concision. This was something I’d worked on as soon as I woke up or right before bed on many days, so my spelling wasn’t the best at 4 in the morning or after a stressful day waiting for my final grades. He truly has helped make this as good of a product as I envisioned. I wanted to write this since release, but school and BDSP’s rollout got in the way of that. I had so many ideas, and so many bouts with Mania and low points throughout the semester that I was afraid my ideas would just get lost in the undertow. They didn’t, and stayed as strong as they could so I could put out something I needed to get out. If you don’t feel creative madness, I envy you. I envy the idea of not having thoughts of your passions raging in your head, or being so engaged in work that you'd put it above others or your own well being. However, this madness is a gift in its own way. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t use a gift I have. There were days where looking at this behemoth made me want to vomit, or made me feel a sort of imposter syndrome regarding my work. I’m just glad it’s over and I feel proud of it. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. It means a lot.