Title: Pokemon Shining Pearl
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 11/19/2021
In this RPG adventure, you take control of a trainer embarking on a journey throughout the Sinnoh Region, in these remakes of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl from 2006! Some elements of Pokemon Platinum do show up in the side portions of the game, but none of the story elements do, so if you were expecting them to for this game, you’re out of luck.
Interestingly, I’ve been wanting to review a core Pokemon game for the website for a long while now, and outside of the Virtual Console releases, I haven’t been able to do so despite writing drafts for Moon, Ultra Moon, and Sword. (the latter of which, is still planned to be covered for SFG along with the DLC) Now, I’ve finally found an entry that I felt was easy enough to explain in words around its launch.
Being the third mainline entry to show up on the Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Shining Pearl decides to yet again change the art style. Let’s Go were decent looking remakes of Pokemon Yellow, even if they looked a bit too overly saturated and everyone looked like they had a plastic bath, Sword and Shield were fine, typical advancements in presentation, even if it suffered from awful weather effects in the Wild Area, and now Shining Pearl goes for a top-down, overhead view akin to the original DS entries, but with a 3D coat of paint. This definitely caught the ire of a lot of people, and I can sorta see why, considering how last year’s Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX made me feel as if Chunsoft missed their chance to give that game the Oath in Felghana style remix it truly deserved, and this game didn’t get one either. (unless you count the upcoming Legends)
With that said, I found myself absolutely enjoying the new art, vastly preferring it over the original Sinnoh trio by a longshot. The environments are lovely and colorful, battle backgrounds are far cooler than ever before, (some of the gym arenas really stand out here) and the UI is clean and snappy, meaning that yes, the horrendous Gen IV UI is nowhere in sight, even though a lot of visual aspects are retained from the original games for nostalgia purposes. (such as how text boxes appear, and Pokemon poses in the Pokedex)
The chibi characters in the overworld are fine for the most part, with a lot of them looking goofy in all the right ways, my favorite being how utterly ridiculous Dawn looks. Unfortunately, this chibi look can be a bit too goofy at a certain point in the game’s climax, since during a very tense moment everyone is still portrayed in this style, which ends up making the cutscene feel like a living meme, so it’s hard to take seriously, not that DP had much seriousness to begin with.
Thankfully, if you didn’t like how the chibis look, you’ll be pleased to know that Pokemon trainers look as expected during battles, with them transitioning to full models akin to how Final Fantasy VII did it. Your Pokemon all have their own move animations and whatnot, and while they are snappy, I much prefer to turn them off so they don’t drag out the battles, especially if you get into long fights using the same moves. The Pokemon models themselves are pretty much the same as they’ve always been, but that shouldn’t really be a surprise, with my only gripe for those models coming from how the following mechanic works: it’s super adorable and funny to have your Pokemon friends follow you, but with the chibi art style, a tiny sized, normal-looking Giratina looks completely weird next to the chibi Lucas I’m playing as.
The music on the other hand? Absolutely a brilliant surprise, continuing the good trend ORAS did of amazing remixes of both battle and overworld themes. All the battle songs sound way more energetic than they ever did, and my favorites from the originals ended up being my favorites here, remixed. I even found myself blown away by the quality of tracks such as the Pokemon League exterior or Eterna Forest, which made me very pleased indeed. For purists, you can toggle the DS originals after beating the champion, but unlike HGSS where I left the OG music on forever, I didn’t really want to go back to the clunky DS sound: the remixes are that great!
If you’ve played a Pokemon game, you know the drill. Hunt down wild pokemon, battle trainers with an assembled team, and take out Gym Leaders to reach the Pokemon League, it’s the same core gameplay loop as always, and being that this game is based off the DS entries, the source game in question ended up being one of the first big ones to refine said formula, mainly by adding the Global Trading Station and online multiplayer, and adding some QOL with the Physical/Special split and a fun post-game to explore, too.
In Shining Pearl, a lot of new traits from followup generations have been incorporated on top of most of these aspects, such as the Fairy Type and improved Experience Share from Kalos, the Bottle Cap mechanic from Alola, and the Ablity Patch/Mints from Galar, as typically expected from these sorts of remakes, and that leads to these games being a pretty fun romp, with the biggest problem from the original games completely eliminated: the abhorrent speed of the game.
While Platinum improved a lot of that for the better, it still suffered from a clunky UI and boring, slow battles. Shining Pearl is far speedier than either Gen IV title, both thanks to a faster walking speed, faster cutscenes, faster text, and faster battles overall. Per usual, you can yet again turn off the aforementioned animations, making these quick battles even faster, making them pretty fun, even if a lot of them are generally easy.
With that said, the Gym Leaders and several boss trainers gave me a lot more trouble than I expected, especially considering how the previous remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, practically toned down the general difficulty to the point of autowin potential. These bosses will definitely surprise veterans, whether by using uncommon moves normally learned via Technical Machines, counterpicking against common types, and smarter AI than expected. They aren’t going to be bonecrushing or anything, but they’re definitely a pleasant reminder of the perfect way to do Pokemon difficulty: not too extreme, not braindead.
Speaking of ORAS, that game also did the not-so-nice thing of removing a ton of bonus content from the original games, even the base Ruby/Sapphire versions. Thankfully here in BDSP, a ton of stuff from DP are brought over fully intact or with minor edits at most, save for two mechanics: one being the obvious Game Corner, now replaced with a clothing store, (thanks for outlawing fun, Europe) and the other being the Underground: now expanded from an item hunting game to a gigantic explorative dungeon with Pokemon dens to go after. The downside here is that the secret base mechanic from the OGs has been heavily nerfed as a result, since you can’t chase flags anymore (the Pokemon dens would obstruct), and you can only decorate it with statues. On the plus side, there are a lot of statues, and I mean, a whole freaking lot, so you’ll have plenty to keep you busy down here if you wanna make a nice cave with your favorite Pokemon in statue form, or use them to manipulate the wild Pokemon spawns.
Other returning fun features range from Contests, which have been tweaked into a rhythm game that, despite initial doubts, still works out to be incredibly fun, and I’m also happy to say getting to Master Rank will kick your ass immensely just like in the originals, unlike ORAS Contests where you literally couldn’t lose them unless you tried to on purpose. The Poffin minigame is also back, albeit in solo play only, but now you can do it in Amity Square with your fellow Pokemon, too, which is a cute touch. There’s also plenty of returning sidequests like the Unown cave, along with the postgame Fight Area, one of my favorite post-games in any Pokemon game!
That being said, there is an elephant to address: Platinum content. Platinum fixed a bit of DP’s abhorrent pacing, but it was still bogged down pretty badly by the engine. However, it also added better Pokemon variety, QOL tweaks, new story elements, a remixed postgame, and a second quest that was the Battle Frontier. From the onset, ILCA made it clear that these games would be based off the OG DPs, and that’s been true. Thus, for the main game, you won’t fight Fantina third, you won’t go to a Distortion World to bully Giratina, you won’t battle Cyrus in Celestic Town, and you also won’t get the Battle Frontier in the post-game. This is of course, disappointing, especially after how ORAS completely forgot Emerald existed outside of a lame throwaway story chapter.
Yet surprisingly? Shining Pearl has its own fair share of fun Platinum content, while also adding in some original things that weren’t in Platinum, making for a game that is still content packed and super fun to 100%. The Grand Underground offers a few bonus mons from out of the Sinnoh Dex, meaning that yes, you can indeed get a few more fire types instead of being stuck with Rapidash, and you can even get Swinub and other mons earlier than intended as well. However, it doesn’t make the main routes packed with the variety of PT’s routes, which is still a shame. But you have a brand new remix of Pal Park that ties into the Grand Underground, leading to a way to catch Legendaries: but for the first time since ORAS, these post-game legendaries actually count toward your pokedex, and they’re super fun to hunt! It’s a grand miracle!
Even cooler is the Battle Tower: yes, the classic Palmer fight from DP is here, meaning that you’ll still get a superboss to work towards beating… But there’s a ton of other trainers in the Battle Tower to beat up too, ranging from Gym Leader and NPC pairs, to even some surprisingly clever matchups that’ll really give you a tough time! It honestly is the best version of the Sinnoh Battle Tower by far, and a much better outcome than if they just copypasta’d the SWSH tower like I feared they would.
Unfortunately, the Battle Tower exposes my biggest problem with this remake, and that’s the regression of QOL features. You still have Bottle Caps and those other things I noted earlier, but EXP Candies? Gone. Unlimited TMs that were fun to hunt and collect all of? Gone. Name Rater and Move Relearner in Pokemon Centers? Gone, you even need to grind for heart scales to relearn moves. In some ways, the game feels a bit too faithful to Gen IV, to the point that grinding for this Battle Tower and some post-game rematches will pretty much mandate you beat the god-powered Elite 4 a kajillion times just to reach level 100. Money’s easy with the amulet coin at least, so vitamins and the like are still easily obtainable and usable, but when the last major Pokemon game does so much good for QOL, it’s pretty absurd to have the next game go from adding even better QOL features while also bringing back stuff nobody cares about. We shouldn’t need to mindlessly hunt roaming Pokemon like a wild goose chase in 2021, they were always stupid, and same goes for TMs being breakable, when they aren’t as easily obtainable like TRs in SWSH were. (Luckily, you can at least buy a good chunk of them, but some moves are still really tough to reobtain!) Yes, I know BDSP aren’t even VGC capable, but when the in-game competitive area has such a weird barrier to entry due to regression of quality of life, it kinda makes me wonder why they even bothered to improve the Tower so much to begin with, if they didn’t make it simple to prep your teams for it.
Of course, one thing could help with that, and that is glitches. Somehow, Shining Pearl is full of them, but they’re the Ocarina of Time-esque ones you have to actively hunt for to trigger. Except here, these glitches are honestly so out of this world that it makes me wonder how these remakes didn’t just immediately evaporate into dust, considering that you could dupe Pokemon and items, (meaning rare candy duping ironically is the best way to fix my problem with the Battle Tower grind) go out of bounds, skip trainers, and beat the entire game in seventeen minutes. All because of being able to mess around with the menu.
The (is it really?) good news is that a patch was recently deployed to fix some of these weird bugs, but other bugs still remain as of the time of this review, such as being unable to use Berry Juice in online matches, due to it being marked as a banned item for whatever reason. It’s very odd to see a main Pokemon game with any sort of bugs whatsoever, but for a game to have this many, and somehow come out being as fun and enjoyable as it is? Honestly a baffling miracle to see from former SUNSOFT developers, probably not helped by the pandemic.
In conclusion, Pokemon Shining Pearl was a fantastic turnaround from the derailment that was ORAS when it came to faithfulness: the side content from base DP is here and accounted for, albeit with a couple of mild tweaks, and the postgame has been expanded to arguably be more addictive and engaging than Platinum’s, save for the unfortunate lack of the Battle Frontier. However, while the good aspects of DP are here without the bad, slow engine, these remakes unfortunately manage to end up being a bit too faithful in some irritating aspects, mainly in terms of lacking QOL features the series takes for granted these days.
When recent generations of Pokemon have managed to do amazing strides with competitive quality of life, making TMs and levelups easier than ever for the competitive online and post-game, seeing Shining Pearl revert back to limited TM usage and painful level grinding against the Elite Four over and over again just feels like a completely ridiculous move. Yes, there’s no battle spot, so VGC wasn’t even made for this game in mind, but when there’s a freaking enhanced battle tower with all these awesome trainers to fight against, and the barrier to entry is shockingly higher than most Pokemon games in the past decade for no real reason, despite other QOL features like the experience share being carried over, it just leads to these remakes feeling a tad disjointed.
And then there are the aforementioned bugs, which, while again, not really practical that you’ll run into during a casual playthrough, are so numerous and laughable to the point this game’s sequence of events feel like they’re as easy to snap in half as Ocarina of Time. When those bugs end up being the best way to prepare for the aforementioned battle tower and make up for the lack of QOL features, that’s even more silly, and sadly, does ultimately lead to these remakes not feeling nearly as Shining as they could have been, despite the amount of love and polish in other areas of the game that’ll definitely make these my preferred method of replaying Sinnoh for years to come. Still, I couldn’t help but also wish these just got the extra polish they desperately needed.
I give Pokemon Shining Pearl a 7 out of 10.