Silly Grown-up, Pokemon Is For Kids!

User Rating: 9.5 | Pocket Monsters Diamond DS
Yeah, you wish! Seriously though, Pokemon Diamond seems to be for just about anyone and everyone. The premier of a true Pokemon RPG (role-playing game) on the DS also marks my first foray into the series. For our anniversary this year, I talked my wife into getting his & hers, if you will, Pokemon games. I opted for Diamond because some of the exclusive Pokemon (not least of all Lairon) for the game were ones I liked (I was familiar with them from playing the card game with my kids, and watching a few video episodes with them as well), and my wife opted for Pearl because, well, she didn't care and there was no sense in us getting the same version. And so our adventures began…

Story: Diamond and Pearl (the matching game – the games are identical, save for some exclusive Pokemon in each respective version) are set in the region of Sinnoh, a rather laid-back countryside where Pokemon and humans scratch out a living side by side. However, a group of fanatical thugs, known as Team Galactic, have come to Sinnoh seeking a mystical power said to reside in the region, and the team's presence there threatens to shake the very foundation of this otherwise jolly land.

Sound grandiose? Well, that's because the game, itself, as well as its characters, are at times larger than life. There's an over-the-top urgency involved with Team Galactic that collides with the simple nature of the citizens of Sinnoh, making for some silly fun that children of all ages (such as myself) will greatly enjoy.

The drama of this Team Galactic, as well as the competition with your friendly childhood rival, is what drives the game, but in the end it's about "Catching Them All!" Last I checked, there were just under 500 different Pokemon that can – either through trading, uploading to your DS from past games, or by searching the region of Sinnoh – be added to your Pokedex. Find `em, catch `em and battle `em to become the Grand Champion.

Gameplay: The adventure begins when you choose to play either as a boy or girl. I opted for a girl I named Betty. You then name your rival and gameplay begins. Diamond is very much a true RPG and, though, surprisingly, it does touch on some pretty profound themes once in a while, it is an otherwise light-hearted romp with extremely deep gameplay. I'm guessing most of you are already well familiar with how it goes, but just in case…. The basics are: catch and battle Pokemon (or pocket monsters – cute little, or sometimes quite huge, creatures that can perform all sorts of zany attacks and whatnot) in turn-based fashion.

You'll start out in your small town, but eventually make your way across the whole of the Sinnoh region. When viewed on the map, Sinnoh looks somewhat small, but, as you get out there and actually explore the land, it becomes clear that, without a doubt, the region is vast. You'll explore caves, forests, mansions; visit towns and cities; battle Pokemon trainers and take on gym leaders to earn badges, thus unlocking new abilities for your Pokemon. In addition, there is a seemingly endless amount of "stuff" to do. Aside from the main story events, there are many little things that you can involve your character with that open this game up into an enormous virtual playground.

Now, Diamond (and Pearl) – from what I've heard and read – is an amalgam of a tried-and-true recipe from past games in the series, so fans should know what to expect. But coming from a guy who's never experienced, for himself, a Pokemon RPG, the game's quite impressive. The battles are fun and, if you're not over-leveled, require a healthy amount of strategy. Of course, as with almost any RPG, random battles can make you sigh from time to time when they seem never-ending. But the game provides a remedy for that in the form of something called a Repel, which allows you to explore or make your way through wild-Pokemon areas without being hassled by unwanted encounters.

An aside about battles: I do have one minor gripe, though. Most encounters, whether with wild Pokemon or trainers, will entail a one-on-one (at a time in the ring, so to speak, not necessarily for the duration of the encounter – you may actually end up using several Pokemon in one encounter, as may your opponent) battle between one of the six Pokemon you're currently carrying and your opponent Pokemon. However, occasionally you'll be doing two-on-two battles. There are times during these encounters when you don't require both Pokemon to attack, and since Pokemon attacks use something called PokePower (or PP), which dwindles each time an attack / action is used, you'd like to conserve it when you can. The game does not give you the option to have your Pokemon either guard or rest or anything similar during battle, which would allow you to save your PP. When you're working your way past a slew of trainers and / or Galactic grunts, and suspect there's a boss battle at the end of that journey, you want to conserve where you can. So, though a seemingly minor issue, it is something I wish was different. That said, it never became a huge deal, and I only got pwned once by a gym leader early in the game and had to retry.

Exploration, though, is perhaps the main focus in Diamond. There are nooks and crannies in almost every place you visit, and many times you'll need to backtrack after receiving a particular skill before you can access certain areas. It's a ton of fun to be able to come back later in the game and finally explore someplace you were previously unable to access yet always curious about. There's a lot of that in Diamond, too.

Of course, there's the Pokemon themselves. Discovering all the many Pokemon and the things they can do and evolve into is not only a ton of fun it's down-right addicting. Somehow I managed to plug in just under 70 hours of gameplay in about two weeks (Note: At the time of my writing this review, I only have seven of the eight gym badges to be earned in the game. It's my understanding that there's something called the Elite Four, whom I must go up against at some point as well. So, there's still plenty of gameplay left for me to enjoy). Good thing Diamond / Pearl was released just before my vacation time. However, not only is this certainly the most time I've spent with a game in such a short period, it's perhaps the most time I've spent with a game in total. Simply amazing!

Look & Sounds: Though Diamond is, in fact, my first Pokemon RPG, both my sons have been playing Emerald and Mystery Dungeon for a while on their GBAs. So, I'm not wholly unfamiliar with the presentation of the games in the series. Compared to its GBA counterparts, Diamond is not that different in its appearance. However, one very new change is the fully 3-D environments while exploring the great outdoors. The game maintains the chibi-like appearance and fun nature of past games, but the added dimension really makes a wonderful contrast to the 2-D character sprites that are still present. The insides of buildings, however, are still 2-D and that's kind of disappointing, but it almost lends to the appreciation of the 3-D elements when you get that contrast.

In any case, there's a lot of variety when it comes to the game's appearance. You get snow, sand and rainstorms, plenty of mountainous areas, caves – the works. The character sprites are adorable, and though I wouldn't mind seeing the entire game become polygonal in the next installment, everything comes together to make a very cute and endearing game. One of my main fears before getting the game was that Diamond would be too syrupy sweet, but, together with the witty dialogue and depth of gameplay, the game's look works perfectly to put you in a sort of Charlie Brown-esque universe; that, I like.

The sound of the game has even greater depth, and there is a wonderful variety of very cool themes. Some areas even have different themes depending on the time of day it is (which is kept track of by your DS' internal clock). All the music makes great use of the DS' stereo field, and even when you're in battles the sound of your Pokemon – placed on the left, bottom side of the screen – can be heard from the DS' left speaker, and the opponent Pokemon (on the opposite side of the screen) can be heard from the right speaker. Sound effects, too, are relegated to the speaker of which they are relative onscreen. It's great, little touches like these that really help you to lose yourself in the game.

There are some shortcomings, however, in both the sound and graphics of Diamond. On the graphics end, I would have liked to have seen a bit more action from the Pokemon during battles. Again, seeing Pokemon RPGs go fully 3D would be nice, but it's not entirely necessary, perhaps. But the in-battle graphics don't animate all that much and the overall experience would be very static if not for the energetic battle music supporting the scenes.

On the sound's end, the Pokemon sounds, themselves, I think, are ready for an update. Some of the Pokemon sound pretty cool when they do their signature screams, but most – and we're talkin' about a lot of Pokemon here – sound very archaic, like something from the original Gameboy days. I think we can do better than that on the DS.

Those minor gripes aside, both the sound and graphics are a huge part of what make the game as fun as it is. Pokemon Diamond is a delightful place to hang out and that's why I've logged in so much time with the game already. I enjoy the overall feeling the game gives me.

On the presentation front, well, there really is little that can compete with this game. JUMP Ultimate Stars – an import fighting game from Japan – is about the only thing that comes close, with respect to bang for your buck. But here you get a huge story playthrough; you get tons of side things to do, like the Super Contests, poffin making and berry harvesting; online trading, battling and chat. Additionally, the menus cover every bit of info you could want to inquire about. I've actually had to get on the forums to ask about several things, simply because the menus are comprised of so much stuff and info that I couldn't remember where to check. But every Pokemon stat, item description and other tidbit of knowledge you'd want to know about is in the game. Navigation of the menus, too, is very easy. The game offers you the choice, in most cases, of scrolling through with the face-buttons or the touch-screen or a combination of both.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pokemon Diamond offers players details, details and more details. Surprisingly, almost none of it is extraneous, unnecessary junk. You wanna do well in the Super Contests? Well, check to see what kind of food your Pokemon likes; then check to see what kind of berries are flavored that way; make a poffin, and fill your Pokemon's belly. Pokemon Diamond in a word: Depth.

I imagine there's a ton more I could say about Diamond, but I don't think the text space for posting a review would allow for it. But to sum up, Pokemon Diamond is THAT game I'd been waiting on – the one that would help curb my game-buying habit. Too few DS games have much life in them. There are a few, yes, but none, I think, can quite compare to Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl. You don't need to be an RPG fan, per se, and you don't have to be under 18, either, to enjoy these games. In the great words of Gamespot reviewer Greg Kasavin, "you just have to have a pulse."

Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!

-GD

The Breakdown

Presentation / 10
I can't imagine asking for more in this department. You can get easily distracted from the story by the mammoth selection of other "things" to do in this game. Plus, it's all neatly partitioned, with menus that offer info on every conceivable thing you'd be curious about or need to know.

Graphics / 8.5
They're getting better, that's for sure. The new 3-D environments are great. The contrast with the 2-D sprites only adds to the delight of the polygonal elements, but it would be nice to see the Pokemon animate a bit more during battle. Ultimately, though, I would like to see the games become completely 3-D in the future, or at least more added to that dimension.

Sound / 9
Despite the rather archaic sounds of the Pokemon, there is an enormous variety of sounds. But more importantly, there's a vast selection of musical themes; they're all wonderful, with great instrumentation and great use of the DS' stereo field. The sound and music in this game add a whole lot to the overall experience.

Gameplay / 9
A really tight turn-based battle system; tons of variety due to the ungodly amount of Pokemon and moves available; the game's pacing is right on the mark; and there are a lot of fun distractions as well. The amount of "random" battles, as is the case with many RPGs, can be sigh-inducing, and there's no way for you to conserve PokePower when it's not necessary for your Pokemon to participate in battle.

Replay / 10
Did you read the review? If not, go back please and check it out. Seriously, though, there's an amazing amount of time that can and will be sucked from your life because of this game. I mean that in a good way. There are worse ways to spend your time. Diamond and Pearl are fun and they seem to just keep on giving.

Overall / 9.5