Pokemon Diamond / Pearl / Platinum

I can still remember getting Pokemon Platinum for the first time. In my mid-teens, I’d grown up with the franchise; it had felt inevitable to me that I would play it. I completely missed the first pair of games in this generation, Diamond and Pearl, so I’d been hankering to catch up to what my friends had been playing. But people grow up, and sometimes people grow out of things they once loved. Such had been happening with my friends around me, and so I can remember those days playing Platinum were tinged with trepidation, as if I was expecting it to disappoint me.

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Pokemon Diamond / Pearl / Platinum (NDS)

Released Sep 2006 | Developed: Game Freak | Published: Nintendo

Welcome to Sinnoh, and Generation IV of the Pokemon franchise. As always, we step into the shoes of a bright-eyed kid ready to launch off into an adventure. The narrative and characters are more fleshed out than ever but it is still a bit hit and miss. I really like the work done to characterise your rival, Barry; at first an excitable kid who runs at mach speed and bumps into everything (even his text is set to scroll faster than any other in-game text, such is his motor mouth) over the course of the game he matures excellently and for the first time in the franchise we get a rival who wants to become the strongest Trainer but isn’t a massive douche.

The bulk of the game’s plot is, as usual, taken up by the local villainous team. In this case it is Team Galactic. I’m torn on these guys – for a start, their visual design is utterly ridiculous and it’s impossible to take them seriously as they swan about in dollar store space suits and bowl cuts, and their dialogue is moronic at best, and yet they commit actual acts of terror across Sinnoh, putting them at least on par with, if not worse than, Rocket from the original games in terms of villains who get shit done. Their leader, Cyrus, kind of lets it all down by the end though as their grand plot boils down to deeply predictable anime-villain melodrama and I can’t help but roll my eyes at it – in all honesty, it’s almost too comically dark for the franchise and it tries to be so serious that it swings back around into lunacy.

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As you might expect from Pokemon’s first foray onto the DS, this new generation comes with lovely upgraded tilesets and sprites. Battle animations are more elaborate than ever, and there’s even some lovely use of 3D models to help make Sinnoh pop; some cutscenes are now rendered using these models to give them more impact, and I’m always kind of impressed at how well the DS can do 3D graphics. The updated release, Platinum, notably makes an improvement on Diamond / Pearl visually as well, replacing some sprites in the overworld with 3D models and updating some sprites to be more interesting.

Sinnoh’s design is very different from Hoenn, for good and for ill. I think there was criticism at the time over Hoenn’s map, given it smashed together many disparate locales (deserts, rainforests and volcanoes, oh my!) and the latter third of the game was all set on open water routes. Sinnoh by comparison is relatively tame – there’s only one major water route you’ll come across in the main game, so Surfing is relegated to exploring routes more thoroughly. Sinnoh is built around one massive feature: Mt Coronet, a mountain range which splits the country in half. You spend a lot of time crossing back and forth as your journey takes you in and out of the mountain at various points; conceptually it’s a nice idea but it does leave Sinnoh feeling a bit bland as most of it is quite dull standard grassy and mountainous routes, and on top of that, the colour palette is very drab and muted

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Still, even if it doesn’t look wild and vibrant I’m tempted to say it’s worth playing these games for the soundtrack alone. There’s some serious levels of chill – check out the chillhop vibe to Lake –  and in contrast to the bouncy and lively horns of Hoenn, Sinnoh has a smoother, jazzier soundtrack on the whole, which is right up my street. The local professor, Rowan, has a relaxed piano theme that slowly washes over you; it’s positive but lacks the urgency of say, Oak’s theme, and his assistants Dawn and Lucas have a light-hearted bossa. Even the classic Pokemon Center theme has been jazzed up with excitable drums, expressive basslines and those fantastic stops and truncated notes in the main melody.

Jubilife City (Day) brings a catchy smooth groove – I love the light synths here so much – but it’s counterpart Night theme makes it even better though with the addition of the saxophone. The soundtrack makes a point of covering a lot of different jazz subgenres. There’s an awesome French Jazz feel to Encounter! Sailor; every Pokemon game has at least one trainer type that you meet and then don’t want to start the fight because the music is too good and this one is Diamond / Pearl / Platinum’s. In a rare non-jazzy moment, the reverberating droplet synths are gorgeous, and the bright chords harmonize beautifully in Snowpoint City; finally, for all the faults I can level against them, Team Galactic at least come with some excellent music, particularly, their Encounter theme, which is a bouncy jazz-funk number

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One thing that really bothers me about these games is that the Pokemon distribution is really not good. This is one of my biggest gripes with this generation of Pokemon games – one thing I thrive on in Pokemon is the sense of discovery that comes with new and unknown Pokemon and these games don’t offer that well; so many of the monsters you come across are recycled from previous games, and the new ones that you do see are spread thinly once you get past the opening routes. These games are also extremely sluggish – obviously Pokemon is slow anyway given it’s a JRPG series but Diamond / Pearl / Platinum take the piss; they feel so much slower than any previous entry that it becomes a real slog to get through the normal loop of grinding levels and fighting battles.

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Still, these games do have probably the biggest and most impactful change since Gold / Silver / Crystal introduced new types, friendship, and breeding, and that’s the Physical / Special split. Prior to these games, a lot of Pokemon were at a significant disadvantage due to the lack of this split. Elemental types were categorized by whether they were physical types or special types, and the power of their moves were tied to the appropriate stats – either Attack / Defence for physical types, or Special Attack / Defence for special types. This led to some nonsensical interactions; for example, Bite is a clearly physical action but because Dark was classed as Special, it used the associated stats and unfortunately many Dark-Type Pokemon had higher Attack than Special Attack.

Not so in these games. Now every move is defined by both their elemental Type and by whether it is a Physical action or a Special move. This has helped to make far more Pokemon viable battlers; in essence it seems to have been Nintendo’s biggest move to help the competitive battling scene since the inception of the franchise, though its effects can also be felt by casual players just working their way through the game.

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So, was Platinum the crushing disappointment my teenage self expected it to be? Well, sort of. It’s hard not to express exactly what I loved, and continue to love, about the Pokemon franchise, but often it comes down to whether or not any given game can instill in me that rush of joy and excitement as I explore a new world and encounter new monsters. For 3 generations of games, the franchise managed that perfectly but unfortunately Platinum released at a time in my life where I was disengaging from things I loved. It would take the remakes of my beloved Gold / Silver / Crystal to finally get me excited about Pokemon again, and so Platinum fell a bit flat for me and that feeling has endured over the years. It is by no means a poor game – I’m sure for many it’s a favourite – but for me it is too tied to those memories that whenever I replay it that disaffection resurfaces. I can appreciate it on a mechanical level, for certain, but any more than that is lost to me.

3/7 – MEDIOCRE. A game that makes you go, “Well, it’s alright…” but it’s a kind of drawn-out, unsure, and reluctant decision? These are those games. Might just be worth playing if you can get it on the cheap.

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