Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: Soundtrack Review
The next musical offering in generation eight titles gets listened to several times by one man – so what are his two cents?
The original Sinnoh titles, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, had their fair share of beloved music tracks, from areas like Eterna Forest and Mt. Coronet, to Cynthia’s two themes that have struck fear into many a Trainer. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (BDSP) are the remakes of these games – so how well do they capture the music? Have they matched the originals, or even improved on some tracks, in this humble writer’s opinion? I’ll pass my Judgement on the general approach and specific tracks that caught my ear.
First, let’s briefly consider how other remakes have tackled the question of remaking the music. Recent titles like Pokémon Let’s GO, Pikachu and Eevee! and Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (ORAS) mostly played it straight – that is to say, the music was very faithful to the original tunes. No flashy new introductions, and the style was close to the original. Only a few exceptions occur in the Hoenn Remakes, such as the Ska styling of the Team Admin Battle theme, while Let’s GO had no such examples. This differs somewhat to the approach in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (HGSS), which often gave new intros to various sounds, such as the very flowery piano leading into National Park’s theme, to the short introduction to New Bark Town.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl sticks closer to the former, with no radical introductions. However, there are some changes here and there in use of the bass, some different styles of a few tunes compared to their originals, a few purposefully off-key notes “corrected”. There’s no right or wrong way to approach a remake soundtrack, just preference. I personally prefer to see some new versions – after all, if I wanted to hear the originals note for note, I could use the DS Sounds (which by the way is a great inclusion to see return – a toggleable fan-favourite feature that would be nice to see extended to other aspects).
But I digress – I do appreciate the changes to some songs, for better or worse. The general atmosphere of songs from the original have been largely preserved. And they usually sound good – and that’s the most important part! Here I’ll highlight my selection of songs with some quick thoughts on them.
I begin by highlighting the
21 guns Route 209 theme, one of the classic tunes of Sinnoh. The use of trumpets in the introduction, and then again at 0:41, is what makes this a strong cover – it’s a nice layer that the original did not enjoy. The rest is true to form, with a good balance of percussion, piano and accompanying instruments.
Route 216 was one of my favourites from the originals, and I was pleased with its new version here as well. The introduction has a nice calmness to it, before it becomes more upbeat and transitions to the main tune. It has a nice bounciness to it, and switches between lead instruments often to keep it fresh, which is useful for a route you’re likely to spend some time in and primarily covered in snow.
Route 225 presents a good time to talk about the day and night themes. It’s nice to see this preserved in the games, where the night themes of many areas would be a calmer version of the day theme. Not so for this route, where the pitch and energy are increased. This was the case in the original, but one thing struck me as lacking – at 0:45, there’s a quick use of cymbals, but this was a loud pair of claps in the generation four titles. It’s odd to see the remix drop this, although not the first time I’ve noticed this (looking at you, E4 theme from the Hoenn remakes). It’s minor, but they did insert more intensity and energy that this tune could have used to match the original arrangement.
Another of the postgame routes, Route 228 stands out to me for what it adds, rather than takes away. The saxophone shines in this song, especially in the second half of the tune, really adding more depth to the MIDI version of the original tune.
Let’s extend the night and day comparison with the counterpart. This was less convincing to me – it still sounded good, but the piano is softer, and less of a central piece here compared to the original (also embed below). I also noticed some note changes – around 0:30 the segment in the original has higher, off-key notes that are “corrected” in the new version. I’ve noticed a bit of this in other songs as well – some off-pitched or more unusual bits are somewhat sanitised along with the higher quality instrumentation. I don’t believe these necessarily needed to be changed – the higher notes added to the energy of the piece, and you could argue fitted the haphazard layout of the postgame routes, such as 228. It may be the right or wrong decision by arranger Shota Kageyama for your ears; I think it’s interesting at any rate.
Towns and Locales
For the most part, I liked the Towns and City themes. Oreburgh however felt like a bit of a miss with its night theme. Compared to the original, the harmony is so much quieter, and easy to miss – the bass is nearly non-existent, and it feels like an oversight or a sound balancing issue here.
Not the case for Hearthome City, which keeps both sides in while adding a nice bossa nova styling to the song. If anything it would have been nice to hear this used more to give a bigger distinction to the song from the original. It starts a bit quieter than the MIDI version, but brings the intensity up in the final half of the song.
The Victory Road theme is not one that may come to mind for many from the original, but I wanted to highlight how menacing it sounds. It, along with other cave themes, has a sort of unease to it that the original didn’t capture quite as well to me. It’s the use of varied instruments in higher definition that does the trick – the sudden insertion of strings for a bar near the end, and the constant repetition of the piano trills, keep up the feeling of a final obstacle to navigate.
Valor Lakefront (night) benefits from an improved soundfont as well. It’s a chill, quiet theme, but it has some more depth now. I think this might be why the accordion features much more here than in the original, with a different supporting melody. With the better instruments, you can hear it more clearly, and so it can add more to the tune without overwhelming. For the most part I think the BDSP songs do well with additions and changes, but as noted above, a few do feel a tad off. Valor Lakefront is not one of those.
This version of the Lake theme is great – the introduction is chill and uses great repetition, and the crank-up in tempo that comes from the change in key signature for the last part of the song is very well executed. The 8-Bit Music Theory YouTube channel did a great video explaining the technique in this song (metric modulation) – it’s worth a watch!
I felt a particular highlight of the BDSP soundtrack was how they approached the Team Galactic themes – therefore, it gets its own section. To start with, the Team Galactic Grunt battle theme was quite good. One part that sticks out is the early segment at 0:13 to 0:21. It sounds rather different, even if there was also an organ section in the original tune. I personally liked how different it was, although it might not be to everyone’s taste – the bass section is notably different to. The rest is closer to the original, and I think that is great too.
I always like that the Galactic Admin theme not only adds more layers to the Grunt battle theme, but also ups the tempo significantly. This version is just plain solid in executing this higher intensity piece.
Team Galactic HQ stood out to me as well with the stronger, clearer jazz take on the original tune. I love the long notes in the intro, which rapidly evolves into a sequence of short rapidfire ones occasionally held up with a longer note. It’s an energetic tune which suits the theme of infiltrating their base, and the jazz flavour is leant into more here with the brass instruments.
As for the Team Galactic Boss Battle theme? The highlight is the strong bass in my opinion. It remains noticeable throughout the song, which is true to the original, but it’s nice to see it return. The introduction sounds a little richer than last time as well, and relistening I forgot how varied this tune gets. The breakdown at the end of the loop is a great way to bring the reset about too.
It needs to be highlighted – the battle intro themes are sometimes the most memorable tunes at times. These have disappeared in more recent titles, so it’s great to see them return, from the Hiker’s stereotypical Oom-pah tune, to the sultry Sailor theme, and the energetic Ace Trainer introduction that matches the expectation of a tougher battle in the middle of the Route. It adds personality to the otherwise often forgettable, repetitive NPC classes. Bring them back, Game Freak!
There are a few iconic battle themes in Sinnoh, and one would expect the Battle! (Dialga/Palkia) to be one of those. However, I found the remix disappointing. It was a bit hard to place it, but it felt a tad empty and simplistic, which doesn’t work in this instance for a climactic boss battle. On relistening to the original, it appeared obvious one thing is missing – the drums are greatly diminished! There was a constant loud thud every bar, which not only fitted the theme of time, but gave something for the listener to latch onto, even subconsciously, and fill spaces between similar piano parts. There’s also what I can only describe as a weird sound effect used around 1:53 for a few seconds – it does little but distract from the song instead of enhancing it.
A much better version of it made over a decade ago in my opinion, is what was used in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Granted, it mixed Spear Pillar into the song, but it is much more varied, has a stronger and deeper use of percussion (particularly when it kicks back in around 2:20), and plays with tempo to create more tension.
Onto something more positive. We have Cynthia’s battle theme, which is one of the songs that transcends multiple Pokémon games, and reflected in fantastic memes. I think they did a good job here with it – it remains upbeat and uses enough instrumentation to keep the now overly familiar tune fresh. I suppose one remark is that they went a bit more techno than I might have expected (rather than, say, orchestra), although it is a genre Masuda likes, and you can see evidence of it in the original tune. I like it, at any rate.
And back to disappointing! It’s the pixie (Azelf, Mesprit and Uxie) battle theme, and the introduction… yikes. It sounds so flat and off to me here. The increase in volume at the start sounds diminished in effect compared to the original, and a very clear difference is the lack of bass. The bass was the driving and primary instrument early on in the song, and remained present – here it’s easy to miss entirely. Replacing the electric organ here with a bland synth is another misstep. A let-down by Kageyama here.
We can’t wallow forever though. Giratina’s theme does a better job, and introduces electric guitars to the instrumentation quite nicely, adding a sharpness and tension to its parts. I do feel the changes in volume is a bit diminished here, but it still captures the haphazard original well, while keeping a menacing feel. There is less of the high pitch noises at the start which may have been regarded as too harsh on the ears, but it takes away something from the tune to remove those. The heart monitor-esque cutout barely a minute into the tune though is still there, and I’m all for it – it fits so well with Giratina.
It is also worth quickly talking about the new themes – the Minor and Major Ramanas Legendary Battle themes, the latter shown below. The two have a similar tune, albeit with a different intro and key signature, and the Major Ramanas theme, reserved for more “notable” or cover Legendary Pokémon (sans Suicune). It results in a more tense and serious take on the same tune – a neat touch I thought. I liked the use of repetition with slightly rising notes in the bridge (around 1:01) leading up to the next segment of the song in particular, which built tension nicely. The beginning section with the strings, by the way, sounds reminiscent of the more sparse notes in the opening of the Kanto Wild Pokémon Battle theme. It may well be coincidence, but it was something other listeners noticed too.
That said, for one of the very few new tracks BDSP adds, it does not have the same level of impact or “wow!” factor as, say, Zinnia’s battle theme, or Ho-Oh’s battle theme, which were also new compositions in remake titles.
Two more highlights
The Grand Underground is one of the places you will find yourself in for a good chunk of your playtime, and is personally the highlight of the remake titles, even without the traps or variety in decorations for your Secret Base. Happily, the theme for the Underground is very good too. It is grand in aim and execution, with a good mix of brass and strings. It hasn’t yet gotten old on me, and that’s a plus.
Lastly, we have the remix of the Game Corner theme. It goes hard and really embraces the techno vibe, and I love when it just feels like it’s about to loop, and then at 1:06 it kicks in with a new short segment, before rapid drums really brings us back to the beginning.
So where does it leave us? Overall I really liked the soundtrack for these games. Many of the changes, beyond a vastly improved soundfont, are subtle and work for the better. A few tracks do feel a bit weaker, and there’s little new in the soundtrack compared to other remakes to enjoy, but when the remix is good, it knocks it out of the park. I’m unsure if it is my favourite Pokémon OST of the remakes, but it’s certainly one of them.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl does a good job, but there is one more comparison to anticipate – how it matches the offerings of the other Sinnoh game about to release, Pokémon Legends: Arceus. The style is quite different there, with evidence in the trailers released thus far that some larger experimentation may be at hand with the original tunes – and there’s bound to be more new tunes as well. I’m eager to find out what awaits.
What was your opinion of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl‘s soundtrack? Let me know your favourite tune!
Edited by Aldo, Arcaneum and Siddhar.