As a long time Pokemon fan, Diamond and Pearl has been a game I’ve been looking forward to since the DS first launched. And after waiting and refining my past lineups and making a special purchase of a third GBA Pokemon game (Emerald joined Leafgreen and Sapphire), my reactions are somewhat mixed on where this game would fall in the series quality-wise. Diamond is quite possibly the most-unique of the Pokemon games thus far. From the starters to the legendary monsters, to the characters, to the expanded move-set, followers of the series simply have to acknowledge that the jump from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Leafgreen and Firered to Diamond and Pearl is pretty great. Most importantly, in some ways, Diamond could be the best game in the series. The original generation has that sentimental spot as the original pair (and later, trio) of games had that appeal of being that one game that we actually put effort into in order to beat our friends, while watching the cartoon and collecting the cards. The Color generation took dynamic strides, adding in a clock feature that completely revolutionized the series, adding a day/night cycle that influenced the wild Pokemon while adding in a bigger, more diverse cast of characters. The Advance generation added a great number of Pokemon, seriously pushed the dual-type concept, while really pushing the underused dual battles, where trainers could pair off and battle, in addition to other odds-and-ends like (actually useful) Gamecube connectivity and a far more obvious expansion to the number of attacks. Diamond, in most ways, does all of this, but it isn’t free from shortcomings.
In Pokemon Diamond, as with all others before it, the story is just an excuse for you to fight things to train your little monsters. The plot retains the same general scheme that has been around since the beginning of the series. The hero of the game, freshly spat out of a small town in the middle of nowhere, is just outside of city limits, leading an ordinary life until they end up chancing into a scientist (Professor Rowan) who conveniently carries three one-of-a-kind Pokemon (Piplup, Turtwig and Chimchar) around with them which naturally leads to them getting to keep the Pokemon they borrowed, resulting in a painstaking journey to catch every one of the little demons in the country, while their best friend does the same (but conveniently has the type opposite their own). They end up discovering that some organization (this time, Team Galactic) has a sinister plot underway (to manipulate time) and they must somehow end it. They end up needing to face off against eight gym leaders, the Elite Four and the Pokemon League Champion while intermittently facing off against their old pal.
Pokemon Diamond really doesn’t take strides forward in the story department, but it actually takes a step or two back. A very consistent problem is a sense of detachment from the actual story. While this is sometimes a good thing for games like Oblivion, in Pokemon Diamond it just ended up confusing, often leaving you clueless as to where the hell to go next. Additionally, Team Galactic isn’t the constant, notable threat that the mafia-like Team Rocket or the eco-terrorist groups Team Magma and Team Aqua were, and the dealings with them didn’t hold the story together as well as in past games.
Diamond’s gameplay is nearly identical to pretty much every other game in the series. You have a party of six Pokemon you captured, you go around, buy Pokeballs to throw at wild Pokemon, and all the other stuff that was there in every other game in the series. Each Pokemon still has an ability, unanimous amongst a species, though among some of the newer species there can be two (for example, Bronzor can have either Fireproof or Levitate, both of which address one of its elemental weaknesses). There are many new attacks, which is important because of how some elements (grass and bug, specifically) didn’t have many especially good attacks.
More importantly, though, is the division of the stat that the Pokemon draws an attack’s power from. For example, an attack like Bite is classified as a Dark element. In past games, Dark attacks were based on Special Attack (which also gets tapped when breathing fire and summoning tidal waves), even though the Pokemon is…well…biting its opponent. Now, attacks like Bite, even though they are Dark, is based upon the Arrack stat. While this sounds like a menial difference, it has a deep impact on the game, especially when taking a Pokemon like Hitmonchan, whose Ice Punch, Fire Punch and Thunder Punch attacks all used to be based upon its (terrible) Special Attack in past games, which are now using his (great) regular Attack. This seriously shifts around the usefulness of some Pokemon, and allows a significantly greater number of attacks to be usable. All of this allows for a definitively greater amount of customizability.
As of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, there are four-hundred ninety-three different Pokemon, one-hundred-and-change first appeared in these installments of the series. The other key shortcoming in Pokemon Diamond is how you can barely tell this. Even though there are all these new Pokemon, many of the ones encountered early on and retained end up being already-familiar ones from past games like Magikarp, Geodude, Zubat, Machop and Wurmple. You do encounter a fair number of new Pokemon, but most of them end up being just plain useless, or are water Pokemon that just plain don’t even compare to Gyrados (seriously, if Piplup is selected to start with, there end up being five water Pokemon to choose from right out of the gate). Because of this, when players are four badges deep, they have a team that looks like it’s fresh from a Gameboy Pocket. To the game’s compliment, it has several new evolutions for past-generation Pokemon that are simply neat, adding new, cool, viable Pokemon like Magmortar (the new evolved form of Magmar with some Mega Man-style arm cannons) and Togekiss (the new stage two form of Togepi). Also, many of the highest forms of the new Pokemon are actually pretty badass. Luxray, Empoleon, Staraptor, Bronzong, Lucario, Drapion and several others are a significant step away from some of the cuter evolved Pokemon like Raichu and Seaking.
The real big thing about Pokemon now, though, is the online play. Using the DS’s Wi-Fi compatibility, you can trade and battle with your friends online. While there is no random match-making available, there is still enough greatness present in battling and trading your friends (using friend codes, as per usual) to let the online play be excellent.
There are many reasons to buy Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. It’s easily one of the best games on the Nintendo DS, and fans familiar with the series will be able to dive right in and get into the game. Hardcore players will love being able to finally get online play and actually be able to find competition outside of a handful of kids they kind of know. The game is also guaranteed to offer many, many hours of fun. All in all, even though Diamond falls short in completely establishing its own unique adventure, it is still and excellent game and definitely worth picking up for DS owners.