Sinnoh: Pokémon’s Nostalgia Juggernaut
Sinnoh remains an iconic region
With Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl on the way, the Pokémon franchise will arguably be remaking some of the most iconic games in franchise history. The original Diamond and Pearl games launched back on September 28, 2006 in Japan, but hit other nations primarily in 2007. A significant step forward, Diamond and Pearl were the first time the franchise was released on the Nintendo DS. Pair this with the fact that the Nintendo DS is the second best-selling console of all time, and the best-selling handheld console ever, the fourth generation of Pokémon is now a bevy of nostalgia for many people around the world.
Sinnohian Games Include:
- Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (April 22, 2007)
- Pokémon Platinum (March 22, 2009)
- Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (November 19, 2021)
Using the Nintendo DS
For many gamers, the Nintendo DS was the first time they interacted with the Pokémon franchise. After all, many people now had a DS in hand with how well the console was selling. Of course, when the iconic franchise made its debut on the platform, a lot of people dipped their toes into it for the first time. This is why you see many people still praise Diamond and Pearl for being their introduction to the franchise, and why they laud these games as being their favorites in the series.
Jumping from the Game Boy Advance, GameFreak set out to innovate with connectivity for the fourth generation of Pokémon with Diamond and Pearl. In fact, the games are still a great representation of the new online features the Nintendo DS was capable of. The introduction of the Global Trade Station (GTS), which allowed people to trade their Pokémon around the world with other players, was mind-blowing at the time. I could actually register the place I live and trade with people across the world?
The first time I received a Pokémon with a Japanese name, my mind was blown. Someone in Japan gave me that Pokémon, and I gave one to them! It was a precursor to the phone app we have today that serves the same purpose, the same app that we don’t even think twice about. All of the connectivity features that Pokémon has today found their genesis within Diamond and Pearl.
We can’t mention Diamond and Pearl capitalizing on the Nintendo DS without bringing up the iconic Poketch, the smartwatch-like device that remained a constant on the bottom screen for the player. A super useful feature that allowed players to see the time, their party’s current status, find hidden items, and way more. The franchise never explored a feature like this again and I’m not sure why. Even though we’re getting the Poketch back in the remakes of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, it’s just not the same. Tapping and scrolling through the bottom screen while exploring was something many players of the fourth generation remember quite fondly.
Most Nintendo DS models at this time also had the dual-slot feature, which allowed GameBoy Advance games to be played via the bottom slot. If one were to place a copy of a previous game from the GBA in this slot, like FireRed, they’d find Pokémon based upon that game in the wild in certain areas of Sinnoh’s world. In FireRed’s case, for example, Caterpie would show up in Eterna Forest and Ekans would appear on Route 212.
With how popular the Nintendo DS became, capitalizing on these features and utilizing them as a showcase for the console was an inspired decision. Now, all the way in 2021, when I think about what the Nintendo DS was capable of, Diamond and Pearl are some of the games I associate with it. It was an inspired decision at the time that really worked for Nintendo.
Sinnoh itself was a fascinating region, and it’s possibly still one of the more unique regions the Pokémon franchise has done in terms of its layout.
The games themselves took place in an interesting region of Japan — the northern island of Hokkaido. Using the geography of this area, GameFreak fixates the game’s world around the looming Mt. Coronet in the center of the world space. Players travel around the mountain and through it at several points during the story.
The culture of Sinnoh is based heavily on mythology. A hefty amount of legendaries flesh out the lore of the Pokémon world’s mythos. While we had Groudon and Kyogre before, who shaped the land and seas, Sinnoh goes to another level with world-building in the franchise.
Dialga and Palkia are on another level and are world-shattering legendaries that reside in their own realms of time and space. Arceus, introduced in this generation, is the creator of the entire Pokémon universe. And although GameFreak doesn’t really do a ton of storytelling, having this type of lore and background for the Pokémon franchise established is something I can appreciate when I look back on these games.
Sinnoh built on the biomes that the previous generation played around with by increasing the variety here. We start off with some very grassy routes, but the player later moves through mountainous biomes, foggy highlands, dense snow, and even swampy marshland that can impede your movement. In the post-game, the player explores through sandstorms, tropical areas, and even a volcanic space.
Everything about Sinnoh felt like it built cohesively off of the previous generation, advancing the games into a state that really resonated for people at the time.
The biggest change in gameplay was the introduction of the Physical/Special split for Pokémon moves. In the prior generation, a move being Physical or Special was determined by its typing. A Fighting-type move would do Physical damage based on the Attack stat, while a Fire-type move was always Special. This system meant that Physical-based Pokémon were at a disadvantage if their typing was Special.
Sinnoh fixed this issue by removing any relation with typings and making all attacking moves Physical or Special. The gameplay of Pokémon improved significantly from this alone, and to this day, the lack of a Physical/Special split makes the gameplay of the third generation feel archaic.
Now with the split, there could be viable Pokémon with a specific typing regardless if they were primarily a Physical or Special attacker. I could make a Physical-based Water-type work when I couldn’t previously. This was a pivotal step for the gameplay of the franchise.
I loved these games when I played them back then, and I became a complete addict. Since I had my DS with me all the time, I played Pokémon all the time. Especially as a New Yorker who would travel every day on the train to school, I really enjoyed playing my DS and immersing myself in the world of Sinnoh.
Going back to Sinnoh in 2021 is defined by Pokémon Platinum though, and I believe even with some remakes, it’ll stay that way.
Platinum added characterization to Cyrus, the unemotive antagonist of the games. Although Cyrus makes a few appearances through the story of Sinnoh, Platinum doubled down by having Cyrus appear more often with plenty of dialogue to flesh out his beliefs.
See, while Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl absolutely deserve to exist, the fact that they’re being so faithful to the original Diamond and Pearl remains a little disappointing. It means that many of the story beats that Platinum used to become one of the best games in the franchise’s history will be unfortunately omitted for the sake of being faithful — including the Distortion World, which put players through a loop by shifting the dimensions and controls of certain aspects of the area.
I can’t recommend Platinum enough for the definitive Sinnoh experience, as good as Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl might end up being. The only thing holding Platinum back in my eyes is playing it on the original hardware. Platinum is thankfully a bit faster performance-wise than Diamond and Pearl, but the original games are extremely slow. I’m still not sure how I even played those games at the time with how they ran like molasses.
It’s why these remakes deserve to exist, although some aspects of them are a bit disappointing due to tunnel-visioned faithfulness. It will be unfortunate that we likely won’t ever see Sinnoh portrayed in the current generation’s style (ala Sword and Shield), playing something more traditional is fine enough. It seems to me that GameFreak is saving their more sprawling experience for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which I thought about considering as a Sinnoh game in its own right.
Having an experimental prequel to the Sinnoh games is something I’m interested to see realized, and it’s a surprising amount of love for a generation that GameFreak seemed to kind of neglect in the past once that generation ran its course. To be fair, they do that with every generation to a certain extent, but Sinnoh has a very avid vocal fanbase of people who love it, especially with how popular the Nintendo DS was.
Sinnoh is right up there for me in that upper-echelon of Pokémon games in the series. Hoenn, Sinnoh, and Unova being back-to-back with one another is just an insane run of quality games. I’m not even mentioning Johto and Kanto either, which came before those three.
It was just a really solid generation overall. The story doesn’t have this super heavy gravitas around it, sure, even with the additional scenes in Platinum. Platinum had some genuine difficulty in some areas and I think it’s a really solid Pokémon experience. I’m sure everyone is dreading the Cynthia fight in the remakes as well, although we’re all much older now, so we’ll be able to traverse that battle much easier.
One thing I do hope the remakes include is the event encounters. Sinnoh had three main ones — Darkrai, Shaymin, and Arceus. These all were small story encounters that the player unlocked by visiting a specific location in real life to download an item to their game copy via Wi-Fi.
Shaymin’s encounter involved receiving a letter from Professor Oak about something in the far reaches of the region, with the Professor making a cameo himself. The encounter allowed the player to catch Shaymin before ending.
Darkrai’s was haunting and my favorite of the three. You receive a key to a motel in Canalave City, a motel that has been abandoned. Inside, you’re ushered to sleep by a mysterious man, and wake up on an island — an island where you face Darkrai in battle. You wake up in the motel after the battle and when you walk outside, an NPC informs you that you were gone for over a week! It sprinkled a bit of creepiness into Pokémon, which I really appreciate.
Arceus had an encounter as well and even its own battle theme and was to be unlocked via an item called the Azure Flute, but the distribution for the event never occurred. Arceus would instead be distributed itself, leaving this encounter unobtainable through normal means in the games. I’m not expecting it to appear in the remakes either, especially with Pokémon Legends: Arceus on the horizon. Any focus around Arceus will likely be regulated to that game.
A Bright Future?
GameFreak has plenty on their hands when it comes to Pokémon Legends: Arceus. While the game initially saw comparisons to Breath of the Wild for the way it was presented as an innovative open-world experience, GameFreak has since clarified that the game will not be along those lines. Instead, the game will be focused more around condensed areas, much like Monster Hunter.
While a totally open-world Pokémon game is something fans would want, it’s still a radical direction that GameFreak is taking the Sinnoh region in with this new game. Innovation is something the franchise has been lacking for a long time, although in my eyes, GameFreak can innovate the series in specific ways without gutting the core gameplay loop that makes these games fun. It’s not that GameFreak shouldn’t innovate in my opinion, it’s the specific areas they should focus upon.
Playing other JRPGs like Final Fantasy X and Octopath Traveler made me happy to see that Legends Arceus is implementing a similar mechanic when it comes to turn-order in battle. I’d like to see other additions for battle mechanics like other JRPGs, however. Multiple status conditions on a target, new types of status conditions, such as petrification perhaps, and a reduction in 1v1 battles would be ways to keep the battle system fresher.
Regardless of my thoughts, Legends Arceus seems like a step in the right direction for the franchise. Even if it flops, I’m merely glad that GameFreak tried to innovate. What I’m afraid of is GameFreak going the other way and refusing to innovate in the future if the game does indeed flop.
It’s important that GameFreak gets their upcoming Sinnohan games right. Sinnoh is important to a lot of people, and their games are some of the best-selling in the franchise. Platinum still means a lot to me for what it was at the time, so I want GameFreak to treat Sinnoh right. Treat it with respect, like the nostalgia juggernaut it is.