The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation IV

Games
Pokémon Diamond Version
Pokémon Pearl Version
Pokemon Platinum Version

Platform
DS

Region
Sinnoh

New Pokemon
107
.

+6. It’s all in the details

I remember quite vividly the day I brought home my copy of Pokemon Diamond to play. It would be an understatement to say I had followed the game’s Japanese release rather closely, and yet I was still surprised, not to mention floored, by the sheer number of tiny yet noticeable changes the game brought to the series as the first entry I could enjoy on my already treasured DS. From the way my Turtwig appeared to physically eat a berry in battle, to the slightly randomised animations of certain moves, to the vastly improved bag and PC Box structures, to the way buying 10 Pokeballs would just grant you a free Premier Ball, completely un-advertised, all these small touches added up to give me the same wide-eyed feeling of wonder I had experienced four years prior with Gen III. And at that point in my life, I had not thought that was possible.

.

+5. Day and night, done right

After the bitter disappointment I felt at Ruby and Sapphire‘s day-night cycle, or lack thereof, I was thrilled to see the series bounce back in this department with Diamond amd Pearl. And how. The games arguably took the concept further than it has ever been, not only changing up wild Pokémon encounter rates based on the time of day, as it had been in the past, but adding graphical filters for more specific times than just generic day and night – bathing sunset battles in a brilliant orange glow, for example. Then they went even further, granting just about every route and city two slightly different backing tracks – one upbeat version for daytime, and one more mellow counterpart for the twilight hours. The Pokemon Center nighttime music just screamed “chill” and I loved it. Bravo.
.

+4. A point of difference

It was something that always perplexed me about the older Pokemon games, especially after watching the anime as a kid – if Pokemon behave largely like animal species in the wild, wouldn’t the males and females of some species look different from one another, just like real-life wild animals? Gen IV finally gave me a straight answer, and the answer was yes. Dozens upon dozens of Pokémon species were given visual gender differences in the transition from Gen III to IV. Occasionally obvious, like Hippopotas/Hippowdon’s entire colour scheme, but mostly understated and subtle, like the spots on Butterfree’s wings, the number of gill branches on Wooper or Ludicolo’s fur pattern, the extra effort put into Pokemon aesthetics was great to see. I’m a little disappointed the idea didn’t carry through to generations V and VI, at least not in the same widespread way.
.

+3. Evolution leaps forward

As the popularity of the third generation of Pokemon wound down, the proverbial wish lists of series fans began to grow louder and louder across the internet. Chief among these were the inevitable desired evolutions to Pokémon from previous generations, but given how little Gen III bestowed in that department, hopes weren’t exactly high. Then came the reveals, and what a bountiful banquet of wish fulfilment they were. No less than eighteen new evolutions for older Pokémon came into being with Gen IV, and while some seemed like stranger choices than others – like whether we really needed an evolution for Lickitung – almost all of the new evolutions gave their respective families newfound attention, not to mention competitive potency. What’s more, they all looked badass. Except Magmortar. Ew.
.

+2. What lies beneath

How freaking good was the Underground? Whether or not you were a fan of the Secret Bases from Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, the vast network of subterranean tunnels beneath Sinnoh were a welcome change of pace from the regular Pokémon game rhythm that you could access at almost any time, and it was almost always worth your while to do so. Arguably the most consequential “side attraction” in Pokémon history, digging through the walls of the Underground was often the best, if not the only, way to acquire rare and important items like evolution stones, heart scales, and coloured shards, not to mention fossilised Pokémon. And doing so involved intelligent spatial strategising, resulting in moments of agonising near-victory at times as you watched that prized trinket collapse beneath a pile of rubble. The real-time multiplayer interactions and minigames were great fun as well, giving players a glimpse at what a potential Pokémon MMO might be like. I can hear that endlessly catchy theme music in my head right now…
.

+1. Let’s get physical

Gen IV’s most important (and amazing) lasting legacy will always be the hallowed “physical/special split”, which at the time was a long overdue change for the series. Beforehand, whether a move was seen as “physical” or “special” was determined solely by its type. This meant that Hyper Beam was somehow deemed to be a physical move, and thus was calculated off the Attack stat, whereas, say, Bite and Crunch were special, meaning Pokémon like Mightyena could do next to no damage with what should have been their strongest (and most lifelike) moves due to their pathetic Special Attack stats. Diamond and Pearl brought with them a generous helping of common sense, and like a sight for sore eyes they rectified the bizarre lapses of logic that had crept up on the series’ move database. No longer could the physically weak Alakazam spar with the best of them using elementally charged punches, no more did Gengar’s balls of ghostly energy fail to even scratch foes, Salamence’s Outrages suddenly hurt a lot more, and Sharpedo became an absolute offensive monster.
.

-4. The waiting game

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You hit a patch of tall grass while making your way through a route under some truly terrible weather. Your beefy Staraptor at your side, you suddenly stop running, frozen in place for a split-second. The screen flashes, goes black for a bit, and then tufts of grass bounce up in your face as the screen turns light blue. Then it changes again, and a shape forms.

“A wild Bibarel appeared!”

Pause. Animation.

“Go, Staraptor!”

Animation. Pause.

“The fog is deep…”

Pause. Animation.

“Staraptor’s Intimidate cuts the wild Bibarel’s Attack!”

Pause.

“What will Staraptor do?”

Pause. Options appear.

“Got away safely.”

Pause. Fade.

Irritation as a result of unnecessary animations and such is nothing unique to Gen IV of the main series Pokémon games. But Diamond, Pearl and Platinum are especially bad in this area. I don’t know whether it was the developers’ inexperience with the DS hardware or what, but there are noticeable pauses all throughout the fourth generation games that exacerbate certain design decisions and add up to some truly annoying gameplay stretches. These pauses weren’t there to the same extent in the GBA games, and by Gen V they were gone, so Gen IV ends up feeling rather slow in comparison.

“Saving a lot of data…”
.

-3. Regional blues


Every Pokémon region you explore throughout the main game series is enjoyable to traverse, for the most part, with enough variation and surprises to keep things interesting and keep you playing. So this subjective complaint is mostly a relative one, but I just find Sinnoh the least memorable region yet served up by Game Freak. When your region’s signature feature is three lakes, you’re not exactly setting up for a booming tourism industry. At times the home of Diamond, Pearl and Platinum kind of teeters on the edge of being defined by a rather dynamic snow and ice theme, but doesn’t quite commit enough to it, which is a bit of a shame. Despite being home to the coolest Pokémon League Champion in the entire series (with the most spectacular intro music), the best thing I can probably say about Sinnoh as a unique locale is that its native Shellos/Gastrodon look different depending on which side of the central mountain range you find them, and that is pretty cool.
.

-2. Team homogenisation

Have a gander at your friends’ in-game Pokemon team as they play through the story of Pokémon Diamond or Pearl, and chances are you can guess at least half their team members. They’ll have their starter, they’ll have a Shinx/Luxio/Luxray, and they’ll have a Starly/Staravia/Staraptor. Those are pretty much guaranteed. Then, if they didn’t pick Piplup, they might have a Shellos/Gastrodon, until they get frustrated by its lack of speed and switch out for Buizel/Floatzel. If they really like fire-type Pokemon, they’ll have a Ponyta/Rapidash, because that is literally the only choice Sinnoh offers in that area (Flint, the Elite Four member for whom the popular type was supposedly a specialty, could only put two actual fire Pokémon on his team).

It’s one of the most predictable through-lines in the history of Pokemon games, and it comes about as a result of some questionable wild Pokémon distribution combined with the general so-called “power creep” of Gen IV’s new ‘mons. I mean, why wouldn’t you pick Luxray and Staraptor? They both hit like trucks! And yet when a friend of yours wants to battle you, and it’s like looking into a mirror? Yeah, not very exciting.
.

-1. Legendary overdose

Gen V is technically slightly more guilty of this phenomenon, but Gen IV certainly provided the precedent. You can indeed have too much of a good thing, especially if part of that thing’s appeal is its rarity. Catching Mewtwo deep in the Cerulean Cave in the original Pokémon games, chasing down a legendary dog in Pokémon Gold or Silver, solving the multi-phase riddles throughout the Hoenn region leading to one of the ‘Regi-‘ trio battles – these ordeals felt like special events, next-level challenges unlocked as rewards for trainers who had conquered the trials of a perilous adventure. Diamond and Pearl diluted this feeling with a combination of sheer numbers – no less than fourteen legendaries feature in the game – and comparatively simple, quick methods of reaching them. With the exception of Mesprit, who is a good old fashioned roamer, I can’t say I really had any trouble reaching and catching any of the Gen IV unique beasts, and by the time I was done, the term “Legendary Pokemon” didn’t quite hold the meaning it used to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: