Pokémon Platinum Review

Platinum never loses its luster… but it is not immune to the ravages of time.

Pokemon Platinum marks the beginning of what many members of the diehard Pokemon fanbase consider to be the high point for the series, being a title that dramatically improved on the rocky foundation of Diamond and Pearl.  The changelog is immense, and it all culminates in a title that is a fairly common answer when these people are asked what the best Pokemon game is.  But despite being a lifelong fan, I never picked up Platinum, so apropos of a new Pokemon game on the horizon I decided to finally see what the hubbub was about, secured myself a ROM and obscure version of DeSmuMe, and gave it a whirl.  Now after seeing the game from start to the Pokemon League… yeah, I see where these people are coming from.

Pokémon Platinum Review
Platform: Nintendo DS(Emulated)
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo

The world of Pokemon is one envisioned from a childish mindset, a borderline utopian society wherein people and powerful yet well tempered monsters live harmoniously, children are encouraged to explore and pursue their natural curiosity, and generally speaking whatever dangers or threats that one may encounter throughout this world is treated with a great deal of levity.  It is a world that one can criticize for a deluge of oversights and exceptionally curious decisions that have made people question the reality of it all for about two decades now. Such as how the routes between towns often lack any roadways, how the cities seen in each game often lack many societal staples in favor of only highlighting the most interesting locales, and the burning question of whether or not people eat Pokemon.  Because I’m sure some of them would be utterly delicious.

However, such minutiae is and has never been the focal point of the series, which instead offers a sort of escapist adventure throughout a peaceful and idealized world free from the abuse, malice, greed, and assorted cruelty that exists in our world.  However, for all the idealism that exists within this world, it is still one occupied by humans. Humans who inevitably and cyclically develop a form of discontent with this established society, and lash out against it in order to pursue their own desires.

Whether it be wealth, control, power, or some new ideal, there will always be humans who wish to change the world in their own image, and the magnitude of power possessed by these legendary, mythical, and overall deific Pokemon are what leads them to believe that their ambitions are obtainable.  And similarly, there will be those who struggle within such a society, those who feel some discontent with their lot in life, and will jump at the opportunity to blindly follow social change, only to, inevitably, realize their mistake once their leader’s plans inevitably falter, and they are reminded that any and all problems that exist within this world can be solved through determination, drive, and the goodness inherent to humanity.  A progressive and optimistic outlook that is indicative of the childish mentality this world was designed around, a mentality that there is no problem that cannot be solved, and that in the end everything will be alright.

This mentality can also be further seen in the legendary Pokemon and the underlying mythology of this series, all of which stems from the childish curiosity that has youths wonder and pontificate why the world around them exists, and what forces allow it to function.  Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum are the titles that laid out a fully fledged creation myth of the series that, when combined with prior and successive entries in the series, do create a sort of pantheon comprised of dozens of creatures that express control over space, time, Earth, sea, air, and even the underlying emotions and sensibilities that are innate to most humans.  Between more implicit details and explicit details that blur the line between internalized fact and fiction, there is ultimately a lot to look into here, plenty of facts and references to be interpreted, and generally a lot that helps this world feel more realized.

But this focus on deific entities also furthers the more optimistic ideals seen throughout the series, as these masters of time and space, these otherworldly beings with the outward capacity to demolish everything that ever was and ever have been, they can all be defeated.  They can become allies. They can be become friends. And by a child no older than 10. An individual whose mind has not been clouded by any hushed evils that lurk within this world, or a rigid philosophy that makes them blind to the true severity of their actions.

An unfortunate fate that befell upon the designated antagonist of this title, Cyrus.  An individual who is positioned as an enigmatic and curious figure minutes into the story, and while initially appearing to be an individual simply craving further idealism within this world, his motives steadily devolve into a deeply seated sense of dissatisfaction with everything around him, fueled by the belief that an alternative world exists, one that may better fit him.  Yet despite these brliefs, these theories, he nevertheless remains convinced that the current world should be replaced with this ethereally detailed other world, as he views the current world as inherently flawed and incomplete.

He cares not for history, order, or the tranquility or beauty inherent to the land the player steadily becomes intimate through the course of their adventures.  He is a force of supposed progress that wishes to do nothing more than inact ills upon this world, if only to satiate his own selfish desire— to enchain some of the most immensely powerful beings in existence, and use them as tools.  For everything in this world of vibrant characters, cheerful encounters, and general prosperity, is just that to Cyrus. Tools for him to manifest his own ideals. His drive bestows him with an immense charisma which he used to mislead others into following his worlds, committing acts of terrorism upon this unsuspecting populous, and disrupting the prosperity I keep banging on about. 

But what is this world he desired so dearly?  The world he destroys so much just to see for his own eyes?  A miasma filled collection of disconnected landmasses, a realm of nothingness and chaos meant to serve as a prison for a force of destruction, a third principle of reality that so deeply sullied the world as it was originally created that it was expunged and banished from both space and time.  It is in many ways a terrifying world, one that cannot sustain any form of life, and remains the most empty and barren location throughout all of the region of Sinnoh accordingly. It is eerie, disconcerting, and Cyrus is unable to see this, unable to see the true error of his ways, and accepting this world as his own, willingly locking himself within this prison, resolute in the fact that even if he cannot sustain himself here, he will at least perish within the confines of his own personal sanctum.

Or at least that’s what I think the developers maybe, possibly, and potentially meant to convey with this story.  The Pokemon series is quite adept at supporting such grandiose instances of introspection, but the actual stories themselves tend to be more than a bit compromised, lacking much in the way of character development, and often providing a base for one’s imagination to go wild.  But whether or not there is any actual philosophically hued narrative to pursue within this game is ultimately up for debate given how much information is made implicit or is simply forgotten about as the story progresses.

All in all, it is a game about fairly simplistic and tropey characters serving as stepping stones for the protagonist as they pursue a path of power and Pokemon mastery.  From the wise grandfatherly professor, their helpful aid, the energetic childhood friend-turned-rival, and the friendly assortment of gym leaders who typically get one scene to help develop them beyond just being some bloke or lass who stands in the back of some room, waiting for a plucky youngster to exploit their obvious weaknesses.  But I do truly believe that Platinum does do a bit more than that with the spiritual undercurrent seen throughout this region, which makes the title seem distinct, even as it is indulging in a number of narrative and structural familiarities.  But while I could highlight such trite familiarities, I’d rather focus on what Platinum does well.  

One of the more perplexing comments I often see from disgruntled Pokemon fans is the linearity of the series and how it does not offer much room for exploration or side areas, and… boy does Platinum have a lot of these.  Side paths locked behind late-game HMs, small routes that are devoid of any main story relevance, let alone entirely optional dungeons. An early encounter with a mythical Pokemon, a number of legendary hunts with fully developed dungeons, side routes, entire locales with unique looks or Pokemon that could easily be ignored, and a plethora of NPCs with unique gimmicks.  Areas that have the player pair up with another trainer, turning every encounter into a double battle where the pesky task of maintaining Pokemon becomes a non-issue… but they are unfortunately a bit too brief, infrequent, or just poorly implemented to be the idealized execution of this concept. Oh, and I cannot forget about the expansive number of post-game battle facilities.  Which I would have messed around with, but… my free time is limited these days, so I just stopped the game after beating the Elite Four. 

I can easily imagine people losing themselves in this game, rejoicing in the considerable amount of content this game boasts, and using it to set a sort of standard of what they want this series to be.  The world feels intertwined and vast. The story has the player hopping around the map, all while regularly passing through this daunting landmass in the center, Mt. Coronet, slowly but steadily seeing every sight across this island, before departing for new landmasses wherein the main story concludes and the true endgame begins.  It is a nonlinearity that regularly emphasizes how much progress the player is making, eventually being able to conquer every obstacle that previously impeded them, and make it to new lands whose discovery brings with it something new.  

I think my favorite example of this is when the player first makes their way through Mt. Coronet, finally equipped to traverse its labyrinthine interior, and reaches route 216, a snowy landscape that represents a stark contrast to the temperate greenery seen throughout much of the game.  This environment holds with it a subdued sense of beauty as seen with the steady snowfall and relaxing music, but the preceding story beats encourage the player to remain steadfast in their journey and persevere, even as the weather worsens into a fully fledged blizzard. It’s moments like this that cause Platinum to stick out in players’ memories as something a touch more special than many of the more recent Pokemon titles, and I must admit that the level of affection and care put into its world did surprise me at times, and kept me smiling as I made my way through.  Which is good because the gameplay sure as hell didn’t.

The Pokemon series is commonly criticized for not evolving itself mechanically, even though it is considerably more sophisticated than the original titles, which were busted to such a degree that it was almost embarrassing.  The series has slowly but steadily improved itself through implementing minor quality of life features that most do not notice when they first arrive, but going back to older games really does make me realize just how much I grew to appreciate certain things.  

Things like HM management, single use TMs, the inability to automatically sort one’s bag, free EXP for all party members, the ability to register multiple key items, needing to consult a nature table, grid-based movement, and that stupid bump noise that happens whenever you walk towards a wall.  Dealing with these cumbersome and clunky mechanics does a lot to endear oneself to the innovations seen in the more modern games, but my foray with this title also caused a number of qualms to bubble to the surface that can be applied to even the most recent games. 

Such as moveset management, needing to go to a person to change the names of one’s Pokemon, and how slow the battle system has been since its inception, and many, many more that aren’t going to be addressed even in the upcoming Sword and Shield.  Quality of life features can be hard to wrap one’s head around, and I still think it is something that the series has yet to be fully addressed, likely due to something more akin to a cultural reason or design mentality that allows for things like egg moves, IV breeding, Heart Scales, and EV management to persist.  I mean… I do get the appeal to some degree. It’s work. Work is fun. Work is rewarding. Work is fulfilling. And by making the thing difficult to obtain, you feel accomplished once you finally get it. But on the other hand… work for the sake of work is a load of balderdash that ought to be discouraged.

So, yeah, there are a lot of little things wrong with Platinum, but easily the worst part of Platinum is its glacial battle system, which… I don’t think I could have mustered the patience to play through this game unless I was emulating it, and fast forwarding through most battles at 6 to 8 times the normal speed.  That might sound crazy, but aside from the crunched and abused audio that gracefully danced throughout my ears while I was speeding the game up, I found being able to play through a Pokemon game at such speeds to be an incredibly quality of life feature that did wonders to increase my enthusiasm towards this game, and general enjoyability.  Even minor things like the trite Pokemon center conversation or dashing throughout a route in order to get some grinding in can be made immensely more enjoyable through the implementation of a button that can triple the game’s speed.

Oh, but the joys of emulation don’t stop there.  I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I used an obscure version of an emulator for this, right?  Well, I remember hearing about a version of DeSmuMe from a few years back that allowed 3D DS games, not to be confused with 3DS games, to be coated in layers of anti-aliasing, making their rough low-poly exteriors into something gorgeous when combined with resolution upscaling.  This managed to successfully transform a fourth generation of Pokemon games, a generation that I considered to be fairly ugly after the iconic sprite work seen in Gen III, into a vibrant and genuinely beautiful title that left me dazzled at points.  I mean, my memories of Sinnoh were based solely on tiny excerpts from strategy guides, blurry online pictures, and playing the game on an original Nintendo DS. Going from that to this is simply stellar.  However, I cannot say the same about Pokemon Platinum itself.  

Platinum does do a lot right, and I can very much understand why it is commonly cited as one of the best entries in the series, as its narrative, region, and quantity of quality content all make the game a fulfilling experience.  However, Pokemon games are very prone to obsolescence, where it can be very difficult to go back to older entries due to their lack of quality of life features.  This worsened my time with Platinum to a degree, and even when the game does shine, I regularly felt that it could have shone brighter if its shortcomings were addressed and improved upon.  Which, unfortunately, is what I feel about literally every mainline Pokemon game.  I like all of them, but goodness could they all use a fair bit of quality of life improvements and general refinement with regards to their progression, narrative, and mechanical minutiae.

Also, in case the original page for the custom version of DeSmuMe I used goes down, I made sure to save the original zip file so that more people can make 3D DS games look as good as possible.

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