The 4th generation of Pokémon games are my personal black sheep. They contain the only Pokémon games in the main series that I had never completed in the Pearl/Diamond/Platinum and HeartGold/SoulSilver versions. For one reason or another, I wasn’t in the mood for Pokémon gaming back then. I did buy Pearl when it came out and before I restarted a file, I had 10 hours invested into it so it’s not like I never gave it a chance. I’ve been watching a tremendous amount of ‘Let’s Play’ videos and documentaries on the history of the series lately and it’s gotten me in the mood for some more Pokémon. I thought there was no better excuse to go back and finally complete the last main entry in my favorite video game franchise, and so I did. Here’s my verdict.
My god has Pokémon changed over the years…. and for the most part, the better. But there’s one complaint that always comes up when I talk about recent entries and that’s the difficulty level. Pokémon Pearl was the most challenging Pokémon game I’ve played since the original Red and Blue. Like any RPG out there, you can make it as easy as you want by grinding indefinitely, and if you choose that route, you’ll likely think I’m crazy, but I chose the complete opposite. I went from point A to B from start to finish without any grinding whatsoever. Once I had captured my team, I used repels during most of the adventure to accelerate things even more. And sure, that would make any game harder than it is, but you got to understand that I’m no beginner when it comes to Pokémon so I already have an advantage that most wouldn’t.
What truly makes the game challenging is the following factors. Leveling up takes a lot of time. Even defeating Pokémon five levels above yours doesn’t gain you that much experience. Another extremely important aspect of Pearl & Diamond is the fact that you’re going to face diverse teams. While most trainers will sport the series tradition of only having one type, most will surprise you by having two or more types in their party. And I’m talking about gym leaders and Elite 4 members here, you can’t just start with a water type and spawn Surf and expect an easy victory. Finally, Elite 4 members challenge you with five Pokémon each while the champion has six. Not only that, but these pocket monsters will be five to ten levels higher than your top Pokémon on your team. This forced me to finally cave in and evolve my Pikachu just before the final fight with the champion. Ash would be disappointed in me.
+ The very best batch of starters I’ve seen. While Infernape is kick ass, Fire/Fighting is not uncommon. After-all, Blaziken from Ruby & Sapphire sported that very same dual type, but then it gets pretty interesting. Not only is Empoleon’s design bad ass, but he might also be the only water/steel mixture in the entire game. Finally, you have Torterra who seems to have a freaking forest on his back with spikes thrown in for good measure. Being Grass/Ground doesn’t hurt either. We haven’t seen such unique starters before, or since.
+ I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the over-abundance of HM moves in Pearl/Diamond. For me it added to the challenge and made things more interesting. It also forces you to take mental notes of areas you’ll have to come back and visit later on.
+ Super visuals and audio presentation for the time. This game looks pretty nice on a DSi and the songs are some of the best I’ve heard in the series so far.
+ Post game content is excellent. Battle Tower is back from Pokémon Crystal, and there’s also tons of legendaries to catch after you’ve dealt with the Elite 4 including the odd, but fan favorite Regigigas.
+ All your Pokémon can be transferred all the way to Pokémon X & Y if you’d like too.
+/- While you may no longer use the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi Connection to battle in the 4th and 5th gen games, this is where Pokémon finally made its online debut. It was a bit underwhelming to say the least with bare-bone features and connection issues all over the place. Still, this was a huge step for the franchise back in the day and one that has made Pokémon a stand out in the e-sport industry thanks to Pokémon X & Y.
– Probably the worst storyline in the franchise after X & Y. It’s practically non-existent, and when you do get a truly epic moment in your final standoff with Team Galactic, it’s ruined when you face the leader of the gang, a truly evil guy, and realize you only have four Pokémon to worry about during the battle.
– For some reason, it takes forever for the health bar to lower during battles. Surfing on water is also extremely slow. I heard that these were all fixed with the Platinum version, but they’re indeed annoying.
Never underestimate Pokémon is the feeling I’ve come back with after having completed Pearl for the first time. This is a series I’ve cherished since Red & Blue and every single entry in the series has been rock solid. While I’m not sure where it would rank in my personal favorites, it’s still a game I’d recommend any day to any portable gamer. Like the franchise itself, Pokémon Pearl might not be perfect, but it’s damn enjoyable. Fun from start to finish, you can’t go wrong with Pearl/Diamond. If like me, you’ve never experienced the DS classics, you might want to reconsider.
Final Score: 9.0/10