Diamond & Pearl Introduced Pokemon’s Best Battle Mechanic Of All Time

It’s no secret that Game Freak hasn’t properly revamped Pokemon’s battle system since 2002’s Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire. That’s not to say it hasn’t seen any improvements – the graphics are better, obviously, and lots of intriguing facets of combat have been added into the mix like abilities, Mega Evolutions, and more. Ultimately, though, Gen 8 was still running on the same basic battle code as Gen 3, as evidenced by the fact it takes about an hour to get through a single turn thanks to the seven trillion text boxes that pop up. Honestly, it’s beyond ridiculous at this point.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been incredible additions to Pokemon’s battle mechanics over the last 19 years (wow that makes me feel old). In particular, Pokemon saw its most important combat innovation ever with the launch of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl way back in 2007: the physical/special move split. We take it for granted now, but this was a real game-changer 14 years ago – neither competitive Pokemon nor in-game PvE battles would be quite the same without it.

The reason I’m bringing all of this up now is because The Pokemon Company recently announced Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, the long-awaited Switch remakes of the Gen 4 Pokemon games. Intriguingly, Game Freak isn’t working on Diamond & Pearl – instead, it’s focusing on Pokemon Legends Arceus, a game set in Feudal Sinnoh several hundred years before the events of the Gen 4 we know and love transpire.

Given that we’re getting two Sinnoh games over the next year, I thought it would be worth celebrating Gen 4’s greatest achievement. I already wrote about how Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl appear to be bringing back the beloved Underground, which I’m personally chuffed about. I also feel like I should mention that Weavile is another one of the best things Gen 4 brought to the table – I love my weird, sneaky, icy robber weasel, and even though the rest of the Sinnoh ‘Dex wasn’t particularly special, Weavile more than makes up for it.

Ultimately, Gen 4’s best idea was the physical/special move split we still use to this day. Prior to Diamond & Pearl, damage-dealing moves all fell under the same umbrella. We still had Special Attack and ordinary Attack – and the same split with Defense – but these were separated by types as opposed to individual moves. Fighting moves scaled with Attack, while Psychic moves scaled with Special Attack – defensive stats obviously corresponded to the same structure. It was fine, really, but it could never have possibly amounted to even a fraction of the versatility we see in Pokemon’s metagame today. Imagine going into a competitive lobby without knowing what a Bulky Special Sweeper was (for PvE players, you’d probably notice this in terms of your Dragonite’s Dragon Claw potentially dealing more damage than Dragon Pulse despite having a lower base attack value… yeah, I know, it seems complex, but it’s fine once you get the hang of it).

The result of this wasn’t just more meaningful movepools, like choosing Surf over Waterfall if your Water ‘mon was a Special Attacker. It completely changed tactics, too. For example, Grass is super-effective against Rock. Consider that Leaf Blade and Energy Ball both have a base damage value of 90, but if you hit an Onix with Energy Ball, you’re going to pack way more of a punch. This is because Onix has a much higher Defense stat than Special Defense, meaning that hitting it with a Special attack exploits its weaker defensive stat. Obviously you need to take whether you’re using a Special Attacker or ordinary Attacker into account here, too – ideally in this scenario you’d want a Special Attacker to use Energy Ball, as opposed to a regular one hitting Onix with Leaf Blade, which would deal significantly less damage.

That’s just one arbitrary example – there are a whopping 898 Pokemon out there, all with their own stats and movepools encompassing physical, special, and status techniques. This ostensibly simple change – splitting damage-dealing moves into two distinct categories – led to the creation of infinite permutations when it comes to battling, and makes the addition of new ‘mons with every generation far more impactful. The fact it’s so taken for granted now that people sometimes think it’s always been there just shows how seamlessly interwoven the physical/special move split is into the core of Pokemon – I can’t imagine the series without it, and I don’t imagine I’ll ever have to.

Gen 4 was great for lots of reasons, but if I had to sit down and pick out one specific thing it accomplished that changed the entire future of Pokemon after it, it’s definitely the introduction of the physical/special move split. It might even be up there with Gen 2’s introduction of Dark types, which I still reckon was a stroke of genius from the folks at Game Freak. Yeah, Fairy types are great too, but Dark types did it first. Plus, Umbreon is cooler, cheers.

Next: Pokemon Legends Arceus, The Feudal Sinnoh Spin-Off, Could Be Pokemon’s Rogue One – AKA The Best Star Wars Movie

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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