By Nils De Jonghe, GN Writer
Gamefreak is currently slaving away at their fourth real instalment of the Pokémon franchise. While many are cursing about the obscene amount of Poké titles (especially spin-offs) the general consensus is that the main RPG’s have yet to disappoint.
With the dawning of the Japanese release, a lot of details are already known - but not much of the story has been announced (not that Pokémon games are plot-heavy). What we do know is that Diamond/Pearl will follow the standards set by earlier titles. This means you pick either a boy or girl character who strives to become the region’s champion by competing in the Pokémon League. Along the way he/she collects gym badges and captures Pokémon, while keeping an evil organization (Team Galaxy) at bay.
A new Pokémon title is synonymous with new Pokémon. In a recent interview, it was revealed that they’re planning to introduce more new species than the very first iteration. This means an addition of over 150 Pokémon, boosting the total number over 500. As per usual, some will be exclusive to either Diamond or Pearl. A nice little touch this time around is that there will now be slightly different sprites per gender. However, most of them appear to be quite small; a female Wooper will have bigger antennae than a male, for instance.
The majority of the Pokémon shown look pretty good, though the large presence of baby Pokémon seems worrisome. These are the pre-evolved forms of existing Pokémon, which you obtain by breeding. It seems that whatever looks too big to have hatched from an egg receives a toddler variant, though hopefully this won’t be the case given their general uselessness.
Naturally, collecting such a massive amount of monsters sounds like an arduous task - one most gamers will probably pass up. Thankfully, this task will be slightly alleviated, courtesy of the DS’ online capabilities. Diamond/Pearl will be the first Pokémon title to embrace online play, and one of the first DS games to incorporate voice chat. While it isn’t the MMORPG people have hoped for, worldwide online Pokémon play is not something to sneeze at. Players will have the chance to battle each other (single or double), trade Pokémon and download teams off one another for the Battle Tower. When you download someone's Pokémon, said trainer will become a computer controlled NPC and will use the same Pokémon as the existing player. In this Tower you’re pit against a series of opponents until you lose, triggering the ability to upload your record and get a fitting ranking.
Online you can either battle random adversaries or fight your friends. The latter can only be done through the dreaded friend code system. Online trading has also received a welcome new feature in the form of a sort of trading post where you can request a specific trade whilst your partner is absent. If the other player agrees, the game will alert you and the trade will be made.
The offline multiplayer has been further expanded with the inclusion of super contests and the underground area. Super contests build upon the concept previously introduced in Ruby and Sapphire. In them, Pokémon appeal to a crowd and are judged depending on their performance. There are “Smart”, “Cool, “Tough” and “Beauty” contests, and you’ll need to use different strategies to win. These contests sport three different events. For example, you and your Pokémon can now dress up and be judged according to your appearance. Dinosaur Pokémon wearing tophats won’t be an uncommon sight in this game! How high you’re rated will also depend on the Pokémon’s stats in the desired category. Through a little minigame, the player uses berries to create special types of bread that boost the stats. The second phase of each contest plays out as a rhythm game, and the last one is identical to the first, as described above.
Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is situated in the Shinou region, a fictional mountainous region based on the Hokkaido area in Japan. From what we know, the region will feature a huge mountain range, a few sea routes and an icy field. The most exciting new terrain is perhaps the underground. After acquiring a drill, you’ll be able to head below the surface where new gameplay opportunities await, such as a secret base you can decorate with items such as desks, dolls, chairs, etc. This aspect also plays a huge part in one of the new offline multiplayer options. One mode is, oddly enough, similar to capture the flag, where players scout the area to find the other’s base and steal his flag. Along the way, you can set up several traps such as rocks, leaves, wind and fire pillars. There’s also a mode similar to Minesweeper where you chisel away parts of the floor in order to find fossils (which can be revived into Pokémon), elemental evolution stones and orbs. The latter can be used as currency for certain items.
Each newer Pokémon game has a central item: Gold had the Pokégear, Ruby the Pokénav and the FireRed remake had the Versus Seeker. The item of choice this time is the Pokétch, an LCD watch that is set to incorporate at least 20 handy features, of which only a few have been revealed. First, there’s a built-in chart that provides the weaknesses and strengths of your Pokémon’s type. Another known feature is the Breeding Center Lookup, which notifies you whether or not the Pokémon you submitted to the Daycare has spawned an egg. A small touch, but quite useful nonetheless. For some reason, the watch also incorporates a calculator. All of the above functions and the game’s other menus will have optional touch screen use. But let us not forget the main function of a watch: it tells time!
Time will once again play a crucial part to catch certain Pokémon. Each day will be divided into morning, daytime, afternoon, evening and night; when the sun sets, nocturnal animals such as Noctowls and Zubats will pop up. The difference between these periods will be graphically clearly noticeable.
After looking at the screens, one may argue that the game under-delivers, as the game’s style looks roughly the same as before, and the battle system still uses sprites instead of 3D models. However, after watching a video, you will see how crisp everything is, and that the game’s overworld is actually 2.5D, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. A 2D field with fancy 3D objects, in other words.
The battle system has also seen a small overhaul that will shake up the game’s balance. Casual players probably won’t notice it, but there is now a distinction between special and physical moves. In the past, you had special and physical types, and that meant every grass attack was filed under Special Attack. Due to this split, a grass move like Giga Drain will still run off the Pokémon’s special attack, but the damage done by another grass move like Razor Leaf, will now be considered as a physical Attack stat. This may boost the usefulness of some Pokémon, but could also nerf others. As mentioned, mostly hardcore players will either dismiss or praise this change, while others won't notice its existence.
Unlike Ruby and Sapphire, this title is backwards compatible with all the third-gen games (think GBA and GC), and will be compatible with Pokémon Battle Revolution for the Nintendo Wii. There are some catches, though. For one, you can only transfer your old Pokémon after completing an as of yet unknown task in the game, and even after that you will only be able to transfer 6 Pokémon a day per game.
After that’s done, your Pokémon will be dropped in the Pokémon Park, where you’ll have to re-encounter them in the Park and snag them. Thankfully, the Park Balls will act like Master Balls in that they guarantee a 100% capture rate, as your Pokémon will allegedly disappear if they aren’t caught 24 hours after the transfer. Transferred legendaries will have a lower encounter rate, as well. Further disappointing fans is the fact that once the transfer is made, it’s permanent and you won’t be able to trade your Pokémon back to one of the previous titles - so hopefully you can catch them within the 24 hour period.
Globally speaking, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is looking quite polished. If you’ve neglected the series after Pokémon Red, now would be the perfect time to get back into it. Diamond/Pearl's online aspect is something many people have been aching for, and will hopefully be done right. Hardcore fans will rejoice that they can finally test out their teams against fellow veterans without having resorting to programs that emulate the experience, and the new Pokémon (including the new moves) will shape a new metagame for them to explore with enjoyment. The new region looks very vivid, and if they play their cards right, the day and night system should make it even more so. People who haven’t touched the franchise in a long time should still find that is has the same charm as before, and then some.
The Pokébomb is set to explode on September 28 in Japan. America will sadly have to wait until most likely early next year; past Pokémon titles have had a period of about four months between Japanese and American release. That patience will almost certainly be rewarded, because as it currently looks this title has a very high chance of becoming the best Pokémon game thus far.
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