Pokémon is a deeply beloved franchise, but its long-lasting success was never a guarantee. After incredibly popular releases in the ’90s and early 2000s, The Pokémon Company released two games that pushed the series into the modern age — Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were released for Nintendo DS in 2006, and were the first that connected to the internet. To many, these titles were touchstones for so many first-time Pokémon players, and laid the groundwork for a new generation of fans.
When The Pokémon Company initially announced the remakes, which are now playable on the Nintendo Switch, the fandom came to life. The responses online ranged from the classic exaggerated “LET’S GoOOOoOOOOOOO,” to condemnation and disgust over its cutesy art style. These passionate responses reflected a fandom that’s been asking for the remakes of Diamond and Pearl, or “Sinnoh remakes” as they’re called by fans, for years. They’re so highly anticipated thanks to a generation of nostalgic players, along with a purist fandom that seeks to bring Pokémon back to what it “should” be. Beyond that, these classics’ internet connectivity created a thriving meme culture that lives on today.
Fans have been waiting a long time for this remake, and anticipation has had time to build. It has been over 15 years since the original Diamond and Pearl were released stateside. For reference, the time between the original and the remakes for Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and Pokémon Gold and Silver, was roughly 12 years, and nine years, respectively. But this wait has only served to build anticipation. Diamond and Pearl have long held a special spot in the fandom, because the games make an assertion about Pokémon’s staying power. Namely that “Pokémania” — a term used to describe the Pokémon boom of the ’90s and early 2000s — wasn’t going anywhere. Pikachu and his cohorts were here to stay.
After the release of the hit games, Pokémon Gold and Silver, some told producer Junichi Masuda that Pokémon was on the outs. “Everyone was saying, ‘That’s it. The Pokémon fad is over! It’s dead!’” Masuda said in an interview with Game Informer. But Game Freak, the primary developer behind Pokémon games, and Masuda took these claims as a challenge and created a three-game plan from 2002 to 2006 — starting with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and ending with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl to refresh the Pokémon franchise, and show that it could be a lasting, international brand.
Fans eagerly embraced these new releases. Steve Black Jr., host of Pokémon podcast It’s Super Effective and streamer, told Polygon about how the games refreshed his interest in the franchise. “The original Diamond and Pearl are special to me because it restored my confidence in not being ashamed in what I loved,” Black told Polygon over Twitter. “I was one of the kids bullied out of liking Pokémon when Ruby and Sapphire came around,” but Diamond and Pearl brought him back to the series.
Pokémon is largely a franchise that’s powered by nostalgia, and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl cater to the generations of players who grew up with these titles. What makes these remakes special goes beyond what they’re doing; they’re special because they represent a sort of generational reset within the franchise, as each title brings new first-time players into the fold. It also didn’t hurt that the original Diamond and Pearl also got a boost because of how wildly successful the Nintendo DS was — to date, it’s the best-selling handheld console ever with more than 154 million units sold. Those games had a large and distinct audience of first-time players, making it primed for nostalgia.
“Pokémon was gigantic around generations 1 and 2, but Pokémania died out around generation 3 and was considered no longer ‘cool’,” pixel artist and streamer Tahk0 told Polygon over Twitter. “This led to what I personally believe was the true ‘second generation’ of kids who got into Pokémon because they got a culturally fresh start with Gen 4.”
Diamond and Pearl were long-time Pokémon fan Josh K.’s first foray into the franchise. “Personally, being 9 years old when they came out, Diamond was my ultimate obsession,” he told Polygon, via Twitter. Josh K. had fond memories of playing the game with people at school and at camp. Since he was so young, and the internet wasn’t as available to him, it still felt like the world of the game was big and mysterious. “When somebody told me about Arceus, Shaymin or Darkrai in 2007, I didn’t believe them until they showed me on their own DS. These games still had the last bit of video game secrets and mystery for me,” he said.
Diamond and Pearl were the first set of Pokémon games to allow people to connect to the internet. The original fandoms were among the first Pokémon players to create and contribute to meme culture around games, as each one came out. Left and right, fans posted jokes about the lack of fire Pokémon or the crushing strength of the Elite Four leader, Cynthia’s Garchomp. One of the most liked tweets in response to the remake announcement, was a repost of the 2011 “Cybergoth Dance Party” video that combined the once-popular meme with Cynthia’s battle theme and her team.
But not all hype is related to intense personal connections people develop with the game. While the Pokémon fandom is certainly not a monolith, there is an increasingly vocal sub-group of fans dedicated to preserving their idea of what a Pokémon game “should” look like — for example, each subsequent Pokémon game should include every Pokémon that’s ever come out, and in more extreme cases, good games must have good-looking trees. These requirements are often ambiguous, but this particular form of fan interaction crystallized around the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield, in an event known as “Dexit,” where fans voiced their anger online over the lack of Pokémon in the games, accused developer Game Freak of lying, and floated conspiracy theories as to what happened to the cut Pokémon.
“I think the hype around [Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl] revolves around the general dislike of Sword and Shield,” Grant Stoner, a writer and Pokémon fan, told Polygon over Twitter. “Fans wanted these games to rectify the mistakes of the previous titles, even though Diamond and Pearl weren’t as favored as Platinum.”
Others just feel that it’s good to get a standard Pokémon game from an earlier era.
“From what we’ve seen with other remakes and new IPs, Nintendo has the power to make these games flourish and bring in fresh faces to the Pokémon scene, but very often the quality just isn’t up to par,” Saira, a lifelong Pokémon player, told Polygon over Twitter. “Because this is a remake and not a remaster, a lot of us simply want Nintendo to do the gen four games justice and bring back the iconic music, the minigames to play with friends, and everything else that we’ve grown to love about Pokémon.”
Regardless of where you fall, it’s clear Diamond and Pearl played a pivotal role in Pokémon’s legacy. It created an online fanbase, and served as a sort of blueprint for one of the most massively successful series of all time. As Tahk0 put it, these two games were the first “fully ‘Pokémon’ (as we know it now) Pokémon games.”
The rest is history. The franchise not only lived on, but continued to reach new heights of success with spinoffs like the mobile app Pokémon Go and continued commercial success with its mainline games. The Pokémon fandom has a seemingly endless well of fans it can pull in, and the original Diamond and Pearl games were the original carriers of that ambition.