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Gameverse | July 31, 2021

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Why the Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Remakes Art Style is so Controversial

Matthew Byrd

Pokemon Diamond and Pearl

Today’s announcement that remakes of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are coming to Nintendo Switch was a big win for Nintendo. Not only do the remakes look to bolster a sometimes struggling Switch library, but they’ll allow Pokemon fans new and old to revisit what many consider to be some of the best Pokemon games ever made.

Even better, these remakes appear to fairly faithful to the original titles in many of the ways that matter most. That means no “Let’s Go” gameplay gimmicks or content cuts designed to compensate for the bolstered visuals and other enhancments.

Yet, there’s already a vocal contingent of fans who have wasted no time expressing their disappointment in these remakes. Why? Well, most of the complaints so far actually have to do with the remake’s art style.

See, the Pokemon Diamon and Pearl remakes utilize what is often referred to as a “Chibi” art style. It’s essentially a “tiny” and “cute” style that first rose in popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s as a kind of companion piece to more serious anime and manga. The art style has since attracted quite a fandom of its own.

It’s also an art style that we’ve seen Nintendo use before. The recent Link’s Awakening remake utilized a version of the Chibi art style to update that title’s original Game Boy graphics. At that time, though, there weren’t many complaints about the remake’s visuals, except from those who outright dislike the style altogether.

Why is this situation different? There are a couple of factors in play.

First off, the fact that Nintendo so recently relied on this exact style for another remake extends an existing concern that Pokemon developer Game Freak is “phoning in” their Switch work by relying on technology and ideas borrowed from other titles rather than their own designs. This is hardly a new complaint as fans felt that Pokemon Sword and Shield were also visually uninspired. We’re even already hearing similar complaints about the recently revealed Pokémon Legends: Arceus.

There is something to be said for how the early footage of this remake stacks up to not only other games with similar styles but even Pokemon Let’s Go which many argue did a better job of adhering to the traditional Pokemon style while offering more detailed visuals. That’s obviously all a matter of opinion, but it’s hard to deny that Let’s Go did stick closer to some of the handheld Pokemon games in terms of its basic visual design.

The other “popular” problem with the remakes’ art style is the idea that the original games simply looked better despite their technically inferior graphics. Again, this is a subjective stance, but there is actually something to this discussion that goes beyond opinion.

See, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl do indeed appear to stick fairly closely to the games they are based on in most respects. Many consider that to be a good thing, but when you remake a game and stick that close to the original level and character designs while changing the overall art style, some oddities can appear. To put it another way, everything in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl was designed to conform to the game’s original art style. None of those designs have been changed significantly (based on what we’ve seen so far), but the overall art style has been modified. That’s the main reason why there are certain elements of the remakes that simply don’t look right.

Again, these complaints tend to come back to the idea that Game Freak is still struggling to properly utilize the Switch’s hardware capabilities. That potential struggle combined with a combination of sometimes conflicting art styles can certainly result in visuals that simply feel off to some.

Is any of this really a problem? Again, it all comes down to personal preferences and opinions, but there ultimately probably aren’t that many people out there who are going to refuse to play these games on the basis of their new art style.

Even still, it’s going to be interesting to keep an eye on how Game Freak progresses from here. This is a studio that set a high bar for itself on the handheld market and is still working to translate that success to consoles in a way that doesn’t come with quite as many asterisks as we’ve seen have so far. Ultimately, though, the feeling seems to be that Diamond and Pearl are a necessary step in the right direction.