Back for more beastly action! I will now elaborate further on my run of Pokemon Diamond. Before even starting to play the game, I wanted the said run to be characterised by two words: simple and basic. I wanted my first foray into the Pokemon universe to be a pure and bare-bones one, during which I would focus solely on the fundamentals. I wanted to play it my straightforward way, and that’s exactly what I did; and I’m now going to dissect that oh so basic run in front of your very eyes.
By detailing my run, I hope to offer a different view of how Pokemon games can be played and a new insight into the depth and flexibility of the series. I have no doubt that I am not the only gamer who dutifully avoided the series for many years due to its heavy focus on completion and collection, thus depriving myself of many hours of fun without even knowing it; and if I can change the mind of such gamers and lead them to give a try to the series by showing that Pokemon games can be played and enjoyed without any sort of collection galore, then I’ll consider my gaming deed of the day to be done.
The rules of the run
I jumped head first into Pokemon Diamond without any prior knowledge of the rules of the Pokemon universe; the only things I was vaguely aware of was that there was a strong notion of elemental complementarity at work, and that the battle mechanics could be incredibly complex. I had seen some headache-inducing tables about the amount of damage dealt in battle by every type of Pokemon, browsed some threads about battle strategy that read like esoteric writings, and had my brain whirling while discovering the enormous amount of data available about every single Pokemon on Bulbapedia; all things that could have legitimately convinced me to do my homework before diving into Diamond. However, I was not inclined to read any strategy guide or FAQ; I usually use these only when I’m totally stuck or when I clear a game and want to get a deeper insight into its secrets. I thus decided to proceed as usual and to rely entirely on my gaming instinct, trusting that my experience as an RPG veteran would allow me to navigate safely and ease my way through Sinnoh—and through the Pokemon universe as a whole.
My first goal was to focus mostly on exploring and discovering the Sinnoh region, along with uncovering the story. My expectations regarding the narrative side were not quite met, as I explained in my last post, but I certainly got my fill on the exploration side. Sinnoh may be tiny, but it was a real joy to roam it and make it my own. The sweet and gentle vibe of Diamond greatly reinforced the pleasure I took in discovering that world: this is by far the least stressful RPG I’ve ever played, and it’s just delightful to take a break from your usual foe-laden, hazardous RPG once in a while and play something truly relaxing instead.
But the meat and potatoes of Pokemon games is not the exploration of the local region, however charming and enjoyable this process may be; it’s obviously the recruitment of Pokemons. (I know that technically, this is more like capture and enslavement; but my soft gamer’s heart prefers to see it as a recruitment of sorts, and imagine that ‘Mons allow me to catch them because they want to join me.) With respect to that bread and butter of the Pokemon series, my stance was one of a potential adopter who would visit an animal shelter and check all the animals until they find one with which they click instantly. I wanted to base my recruitment solely on my instinct and gut feelings about the ‘Mons I encountered on the field. If practical thinking was needed at some point, I would act accordingly, but the main motto was definitely: “Awww, you’re so adorable! Come into my Pokeball!” With such guidelines, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I ended up with a team of ‘Mons that closely resembled real-life animals. Let’s now expand on the run per se!
I ground it my way
Here is the basic data about my run. I fittingly named my trainer ‘Diamond’ and selected a Piplup as my starter, which I affectionately renamed ‘Piply’. I encountered 140 Pokemons (counting evolved forms) on the field and during my battles with trainers, of which I captured 10: Shinx, Goldeen, Ponyta, Stunky, Magikarp, Happiny, Shellos, Starly, Sneasel and finally Dialga. I subsequently freed Goldeen, Stunky, Magikarp, Happiny and Dialga, which was really heartwarming; I only regret that the game didn’t treat me with a small animation of them returning to the wild. Oh, well. My final dream team comprised four ‘Mons: Piplup aka Piply, who became a proud Empoleon; Shinx, who evolved all the way up into Luxray; Ponyta, who over—considerable—time became a fiery Rapidash; and, last but not least, Sneasel, who remained that way because I couldn’t get my hands on the special item needed for that Pokemon’s evolution. You’ll notice that I used the determiner “who” instead of “which”, against all grammar sense, and that’s because I grew really attached to my ‘Mons over the course of my playthrough: they were partners and friends to me, not just mere enslaved animals. These fab four were great troopers ready to tackle any battle; I let them fight in turn and by the time I finished my run, they had all reached a respectable level 50. I also had two supporting team members, namely Starly, later evolving into Staravia, and Shellos; these two didn’t take part in battles and their sole purpose was to learn and perform the moves ‘Surf’ and ‘Fly’. To wrap up that exposition, here are a few details that puzzled or amused me:
—I didn’t meet a single wild Pikachu. Could the ubiquitous mascot of the series as a whole actually be a super-rare Pokemon in the games, or at least in this one? Well, I certainly didn’t expect that.
—On the contrary, enrolling Dialga was a total breeze, thanks to a special Pokeball with a 100% catch rate provided a bit earlier in the game. I’d have thought Legendary Pokemons would prove to be a much harder catch—so much so that I didn’t expect for a single second to be able to catch the resident Legendary of Diamond, while I was totally sure that I would get my hands on a Pikachu. You never know what life has in store for you, let alone Pokemon games! Anyway, this 100% catch rate Pokeball seemed like a cheap trick, and I never felt like using Dialga in battles: it seemed really insulting to force the Time Pokemon itself, co-creator of Sinnoh, to take part into something as petty as a battle against a wild ‘Mon or a belligerent trainer. Out of respect for that mighty beast, I freed it after some time; it deserved to be out there, roaming the very world it created, rather than squeezed into a Pokeball.
—Since the booklet encourages you so explicitly to choose your trainer’s sex in accordance with your own, I expected some kind of romantic development to take place at some point, most likely between Professor Rowan's young assistant and yourself. However, nothing of the sort happened, which makes me scratch my head and wonder what was the whole point of that initial advice. Weird, indeed. Or maybe I’m just too old to ponder how much of a trauma it would be for a child to play as a character who’s not of the same sex as they are? Poor thing, that could obviously tear their very soul apart. (Insert sarcastic smile.)
—Diamond gives you a so-called 'best friend', in the most tsundere sense of that word—understand, an over-excited wannabe trainer with an strong inferiority complex that he tries to overcome by constantly daring you to fight him. I took an undeniable pleasure into beating him to a pulp every time he foolishly challenged me that way, claiming that he was the strongest. Ha! You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, you fool! I guess Diamond woke up the childish strike in me, making me enjoy this kind of silly competition again, if only for a short period of time.
After this juicy slice of trivia, let’s lay down a wider picture of my run. As I said, I stuck to the basics, dutifully ignoring all the mini-games that were thrown regularly at my face to distract me from my somewhat arid path. I didn’t dress my ‘Mons with accessories, I didn’t enrol them into any weird Pokemon pageant, nor did I walk them into the park. (Not that I could have, anyway: they were deemed not ‘cute’ enough to deserve that walk. Well, be it.) I only cooked a couple of Poffins to treat them with, which was rather funny and relaxing, and fished just enough to catch a Goldeen and a Magikarp. When it came to battle strategies, I decided from the get-go that my fighting team would count no more than six ‘Mons, but it turned out that even this modest number of beasts was too complicated to manage once on the field, which prompted me to concentrate solely on my Fab Four. As a result, my elemental options were obvious limited, which thus lead me to resort to that good ol’ fixture of RPGs: Grinding, ladies and gentlemen. I ground my way through Sinnoh, tackling patiently every single battle, crushing every single one of these pugnacious trainers who dared to challenge me. It was hard at times, but I always soldiered on, earning the eight Gym badges and finally reaching the coveted Elite Four Headquarters. This ominous building was looming large over me, daring me to engulf into its depths and challenge the resident trainers—which I did, of course. However, I did so in the most reckless way. I went in without stocking any vital items, just to sneak a peek and get a first impression; I beat the first Champion with great difficulty, and then saved my progress before realizing that I couldn’t leave the room and refurbish or heal my ‘Mons, basically painting myself into a corner. I tried forging ahead and beating the second Champion, but it became painfully clear that I would run out of items before I could beat all of them, so I basically quit playing at that point. I could have let the Champions batter me in order to escape that mess and get the opportunity to refurbish and grind a tad more, but I was not interested. At that point, I had been playing for 35 hours and I felt like I had gotten my fill of Pokemon action for the time being. Next time, I will prepare better and take these mighty Trainers down, I swear. For indeed, there will definitely be a next time, and most likely several of them: I’m not done with the Sinnoh region, and I’m certainly not done with the Pokemon series as a whole.
That sweet lingering feeling
In fact, my run of Diamond may very well be the beginning of a long and solid love story. I didn’t have a thundering crush on that game like I did on all-time favourites of mine like Avalon Code or Link’s Awakening; this is more of a softcore, slow-burning affair that is slowly but surely growing on me. My run of Diamond left me with a sweet and warm feeling that gently flows back into my mind every time I think about the game. I loved the gentle exploration and the relaxing atmosphere; combined with the utter freedom I was given regarding recruitment and fighting, it makes Diamond a deliciously fulfilling and gratifying experience. Granted, it is not the most amazing or thrilling game I’ve ever played: the pace is slow, the fighting system is quite dated and fights can sometimes drag on painfully, and it can be really grindy at times; and yet, this game is incredibly memorable in its own soft, tender, non-invasive way. It nested into my gaming memory and carved itself a niche there—a very soothing, comforting and heartwarming niche, shall I say. Even restarting the game to collect my data for this post felt like coming back to a familiar and welcoming place, and I actually felt very much inclined to restart a playthrough right on the spot.
However, I will not succumb, for I have juicier plans in mind: I’m definitely going to purchase and play more Pokemon entries, starting with the DS ones. On the long run, I may very well purchase every single episode of the franchise; for despite not having a completionist style of playing when I indulge into games, I am indeed very much the collector and the completionist when it comes to game series. Talk about irony! At any rate, I’m sure I will grow to love the series more and more as time goes on and games are played. I’m also quite sure that the best is yet to come, especially when one knows that Diamond and Pearl were far from being deemed outstanding entries in the franchise. From what I’ve read, they were rather criticised for their lack of innovation and outlandish roster of ‘Mons, and were perceived as a low point in the series. Many stated that Pokemon had lost its edge and was starting to grow stale, and Platinum didn’t change the series’ fortune significantly; only the subsequent release of the Black/White pair turned the tables, revigorating disappointed Poke-aficionados as well as the series as a whole in its wake. Knowing that, it’s fair to assume that if I loved Diamond despite its supposed lack of greatness, then surely I will adore entries that are deemed better.
So, I have grandiose plans about the Pokemon series, and it thrills me to think about the countless hours of joy that lie ahead. My immediate plan is to purchase the Black and White versions, along with their sequels Black 2 and White 2, as well as Soul Silver/Heart Gold and Platinum. Pearl is not on my buying list right now, but I will certainly purchase it sooner or later, especially if I decide to collect the full series. I’m done with Sinnoh and the Pokemon series for now, but I will be back—and quite soon at that, if my current craving for more Pokemon action is to be trusted. As for now, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!