Release Date: March 22, 2009
I'm pretty amazed that the Pokemon series is still going strong after all these years. When I first started to play the games on the original Game Boy, I was young and definitely saw the appeal. I'm not entirely sure that I even realized I was playing an RPG at the time, though; I saw Pokemon as being completely different and unrelated to stuff like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. As I got older, I slowly realized that the series was deeply rooted in JRPG archetypes, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I think the series serves as a really solid introduction for kids who might normally shy away from games that don't involve shooting or punching someone in the face, and I see the series as a gateway of sorts into a few other long-running series.
Although Pokemon titles may serve as an RPG entry point, they're definitely not simplistic. They can be a bit on the easy side, since I've never really come across a challenge when it comes to fighting against Pokemon or other trainers, but they're definitely much deeper than they appear. Just going by the idea of "catching them all," you've got a lot of work cut out for you if you want to completely fill out that Pokedex in any given game. Even the early games contained more than 150 creatures, and that was already a Herculean task, but with the later versions, including the one I'm reviewing here, there are nearly 500 possible Pokemon, and well, that's beyond a lot.
Pokemon Platinum marks the newest title in the main series for the Nintendo DS, and it's a follow-up to the very popular Diamond/Pearl combo from a couple of years ago. Pokemon vets can look at this as the Yellow to the old Red and Blue games, since it's pretty much a re-skin of Diamond/Pearl with some new features tossed in. Thankfully, it's not an easy attempt at cashing in without putting much effort into it, as there are plenty of additions that make this game worthwhile, even if you've already played a fair amount of Diamond and Pearl. Also, it feels like a great entry point for players who haven't played a Pokemon title in a while or have never played a game in the series. I've always felt that releasing two colored titles with every new release was a barrier of sorts to casual players, who felt they needed both in order to access everything. Since this single follow-up release has the majority of the content updated, it feels like a great starting point for new players.
Really, that's the point of perspective I'd like to take for this review because let's face it: If you're into Pokemon, you are in to it. I can't really tell you anything new, and chances are that you've already picked up or pre-ordered Platinum, so what I'm going into might be old hat anyway. Instead, I'd like to target players who have played a Pokemon title in the past and liked it, or to those who feel that they've waited too long to ever start the series. It just takes a little bit of time to get acclimated to how the game works.
The basic premise in Platinum is pretty simple. You live in a small town, you have an energetic best friend (later rival), and you both really, really love Pokemon. Describe two kids in Smalltown America right now, and you wouldn't be too far off from this. The difference is, of course, that Pokemon actually exist within the game. Naturally, you and your friend have decided that you want to be trainers, which kicks off the game's main quest. It's not exactly heavy on plot or dialogue, and while you can talk to a ton of random NPCs, they're almost always there to provide simple filler, and nothing really substantial occurs aside from a few events involving the main bad guys, Team Galactic. It's not Team Rocket, sure, but they still have some sinister motivation going on, and while they're not exactly the most fleshed-out bad guys in RPG land, they work well enough for this title.
Once you go through a small tutorial involving a local professor and his assistant, you'll gain your own first Pokemon and a few Pokeballs that will allow you to add to your collection. Combat is handled like a few older RPGs, most notably something like Dragon Quest, in that you'll get into a random encounter (only in high grass/cave areas, or other designated special spots), and you'll face off against a wild Pokemon, one on one. You can choose whichever Pokemon you currently possess to be a lead, so that he or she will enter into every fight automatically as your starter, but you can switch between Pokemon as often as you want during a fight; it just takes up your current turn to do so.
Battles work out like a more involved version of rock-paper-scissors, and while there are basic attacks for most Pokemon, ideally you want to take advantage of your opponent's weakness. There are a few different Pokemon types, mostly based on elements, and they all have a corresponding weakness or two. Finding out what works against who is key to winning battles, and it'll keep your stable of Pokemon alive much longer if you manage to grasp this point early on. I'll say that Platinum feels like it handles battles faster than I remember in Diamond/Pearl, and that could be because of the revamped battle animations. Alternatively, if you find that things are still going too slow for your taste, you can turn off battle animations, which speeds up the process quite a bit.
That's really the main gut of the game: gathering Pokemon and having them fight against other Pokemon. Platinum has a multitude of random trainers to face off against, and then there are the gym leaders, who serve as boss fights within the game. Platinum doesn't change up much here from the previous versions, but some of the gym designs have gotten a bit of a makeover.
Along with that, the visuals in general have seen some changes, and the sprites look different when compared to Diamond/Pearl. The difference feels somewhat minimal, though, since the games have never been particularly intensive in graphics. There is a new area that appears in the last quarter of the game that manages to kick up the design a notch, and it's one of the more innovative locales I've seen in a Pokemon title to date.
However, that's also one of my issues with this release. For fans who have already played the main story in Diamond/Pearl, a large chunk of the additions found in Platinum are at the tail end of the game, which seems a bit unfair for those who have already played through Diamond/Pearl a few times. There are changes that can be noticeable early on, but they're pretty minor in comparison to the new Rotom forms and a few of the new evolutions that don't pop up until later. Still, those who have stuck with the series for this long are probably seeing this as no surprise, and new users are not going to be aware of the difference.
Altogether, Pokemon Platinum is a really great follow-up to the Diamond/Pearl combo, and there are definitely enough changes between the games that I can see Platinum as being something that fans will want to check out. It's a shame that you have to repeat a lot of the game to get to the new stuff, but considering that the challenge isn't particularly high, and the series has seen enough refinement at this point to keep it from being any type of chore, it'll definitely keep you entertained. It's also a great entry point for new players, so if you've been on the fence about giving Pokemon a try, pick up Platinum and see what you think. It's not necessary to have knowledge of the prior games in the series to enjoy Platinum, and it's easily the best version that's currently available.