Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Pokémon Shining Pearl


A Shining Pearl among Pokéremakes

When I got my Nintendo DS as a Christmas gift back in 2006, one of my aims was to experience Nintendo’s beloved Pokémon series, which before then I had yet to experience, and thus dove into the franchise via the Diamond/Pearl generation. I did somewhat enjoy what time I spent with it, although there were various issues that to me prevented it from truly excellent. As remakes would be a tradition for the series, developer Game Freak would during the Nintendo Switch era produce full rereleases of the two games, Brilliant Diamond and the iteration I experienced, Pokémon Shining Pearl, which features many improvements over its precursors.

As with prior Pokémon titles, the player can name and customize their protagonist, afterward beginning in a small village from which he or she travels to record all wild Pokémon in the Pokédex a professor grants them, dealing with the ambitions of the sinister Team Galactic along the way and ending with the challenge of Pokémon combat’s Elite Four and the Champion that ranks above them. There’s some good backstory, although there are repeated tropes such as the rivalry with the main character’s best friend, and Team Galactic is a bit too similar to Team Rocket, and once you’ve experienced one game’s plot, you’ve experienced them all. The translation is definitely legible and free of spelling and grammar errors, but there is a bit of a Japanese feel such as the titles prefacing the names of NPC opponents, and some stylistic issues such as the use of “OK” instead of “okay.”

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and happily, Shining Pearl does a good job in this area and is overall an improvement over the original version’s mechanics. The combat mechanisms function much the same as in other entries of the series, although much akin to the original generation, fights with wild Pokémon are still random in areas such as tall grass and caves, the player able to nullify encounters with lower-level ones with different types of repellant spray. As in RPGs in general, moreover, the random number gods can often be cruel in terms of encounters with specific Pokémon, especially if players fudge their chance to capture certain rare ones.

When beginning a wild encounter, the player has a number of available options such as attacking with the Pokémon leading their party of up to six, or attempting to capture the adversary via one of several different types of Pokéballs, although at the outset doing so with only Quick Balls is advisable since they have the best chance of acquisition when commencing one of said engagements. Normally, weakening the opponent as much as possible guarantees the highest chance of capture when utilizing other types of Pokéballs, although one can find it difficult to do so without accidentally killing the opponent Pokémon. Trying to capture foes once again can invoke the cruelty of the random number gods.

If the player wishes to battle, each Pokémon can have up to four abilities of different types and effects, with a roshambo formula where certain abilities are super-effective against certain enemy types, standardly effective, not very effective, or with no effect against others. This naturally adds a layer of strategy to combat, necessitating that the player forms their party carefully, usually with a mix of different Pokémon types, with many possibly having up to two different elements. One major improvement over the original generation is that if a player has previously killed or captured a certain Pokémon, the game indicates the effect moves will have against the enemy.

Another significant superiority to the initial generation is that offing an enemy Pokémon (in addition to capturing one) nets all of the player’s party not fainted experience for occasional level-ups, in which case their stats increase and they may receive the opportunity to learn a new ability, with the chance to replace a current one if at the max of four. This makes raising even weaker Pokémon easier as they don’t have to actively face the enemy to obtain experience, although those that personally face the enemy obtain the bulk of experience.

To obtain money for purchasing new goods such as healing items, the player must face NPC Pokémon trainers in between towns and in caves, having to pay a monetary penalty if they lose. A certain accessory any Pokémon can equip doubles the amount of cash obtained from these battles, and later in the game, the player gains a Pokétech Watch application that can allow them to reface these NPCs in combat. When these nonplayer trainers are close to one another, the player might have to face up to two at once, in which case the Pokémon leading the player’s roster go into battle, with the protagonist able to swap them out during their turn.

However, swapping a Pokémon consumes the player’s turn and makes it vulnerable to the opponent’s attacks, a step down from the superior systems in other RPGs such as Final Fantasy XBreath of Fire IV, and Wild Arms 2. The endgame where the player has to face four champion trainers and their leader can also be irksome given the inability to back out and that if they lose against them, that have to reface them from the beginning, although luckily, players keep whatever experience they obtained at the time. The game mechanics generally work well in spite of their flaws, making the gameplay experience of the series significantly more accessible than in prior titles.

Shining Pearl also interacts well with players, with easy menus and an always-convenient save-anywhere (except in the middle of battle) feature, along with a message below the menu options providing clear direction on where to go next to advance the central storyline. The Pokétech Watch the player eventually acquires also allows them later on to revisit previous towns with the Fly Hidden Move, players no longer needing to make their Pokémon learn these skills in order to use them, although one can potentially overlook certain things without the assistance of the internet. Regardless, interaction is well above average.

The soundtrack is one of the game’s highlights, with plenty of catchy music on the routes in between towns and rockin’ battle themes, along with distinct cries for the various Pokémon. The sound effects are good as well, and the near-death alarm when a Pokémon reaches critical health is significantly less annoying than in the original version, dinging only thrice to indicate low HP. Generally, the rerelease is an aural delight.

Shining Pearl looks the part, as well, with the original incarnation’s chibi sprites remade in three dimensions, although battles render the various characters in more anatomically-correct proportions, with endless gorgeous Pokémon designs that don’t have any reskins whatsoever. The environments are pretty as well, with vibrant colors and minimal jaggies and pixilated textures, although there are minor issues with the indirect contact of Pokémon in battle when executing moves against one another. Regardless, the graphics are some of the strongest on the Nintendo Switch.

Finally, the game can last players a while, with half-decent replay value in the form of significant postgame content and catching all Pokémon, although a guide may be necessary to do so, alongside the divergent incarnations of the same game, slight in-game hell, and the various things that seem to add a few unnecessary hours to the game such as unskippable battle text (although turning off Pokémon battle animations can lessen the padding a little).

In summation, Pokémon Shining Pearl is very much what a remake should be, given the drastically-increased accessibility of the core game mechanics, tight control with clear direction on how to advance, the superb soundtrack, and the polished graphics. There are issues, however, that mainstream gamers need to consider before purchase such as the irritating in-game, the ability to overlook certain things without referencing the internet, the generic Pokémon plot, and the lack of refinement regarding the localization. Regardless, I firmly believe that if the remakes indicate the direction in which the series is headed, it very much has a bright future.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy borrowed by the reviewer to the standard ending.

The Good:
+Easier to raise Pokémon than in original generation.
+Good control with decent direction.
+Great soundtrack.
+Polished graphics.

The Bad:
-Somewhat irksome endgame.
-A few things easy to overlook without a guide.
-Typical Pokémon plot.
-Localization lacks polish.

The Bottom Line:
More accessible than the original version.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 6.5/10
Localization: 6.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.5/10
Difficulty: Variable
Playing Time: 30-60 Hours

Overall: 8.0/10

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