As someone who lost touch with the Pokémon games after the Yellow version came out I didn’t know what to expect with Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. I kind of guessed with the lack of colour (or letter as the new one’s demonstrate) in the title that this particular series might not be the usual “lonely kid takes on the Pokémon world one mini beast at a time to become the overall Pokémon champion”. What Pokémon Mystery Dungeon actually is, is a roguelike dungeon crawler role playing game – great.
Now, the overall concept of the main Pokémon series is that a young, friendless, and usually new to town kid gets introduced to Professor Oak who shares with him the story of the Pokémon world. You then learn that Pokémon Gym Leaders are this highly respected elite group of people who sit day after day in gyms which have been converted into ridiculous mazes littered with the Pokemon Gym Leader’s minions who’s sole purpose is to weaken your Pokémon so the Leader doesn’t have a hard time. You’re then given a choice of three Pokéballs to choose from and then lead out into the woods to “Catch ’em all” and become the Pokémon master.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is as far from that story concept as you can get. You begin with a fairly tedious cut scene in which a Pokémon Trainer (you) are experiencing some sort of strange talking light calling for help. You’re then witness to a flashback of a more weaker looking Pokémon being hunted down by a huge mean looking Pokémon. You’re then given a request to “Save the Pokémon world”.
From here you’re given the choice of five Pokémon (okay, it sounds a little familiar). I can’t reel off their names because as I pointed out before, I’m only really vaguely familiar to the first 100 or so Pokémon that starred in Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow. After you choose a Pokémon you then are somehow transformed into that character and then dropped from a stupidly great height and land without a scratch. You’re then awoken by another little dude of whom you also chose when choosing the form you’d take. This Pokémon becomes your ‘buddy’ for the entirety of the game.
Did I mention you now have the ability to understand every single Pokémon that ever exists? Yeah, that happens. Anyway, you explain what happened to you and why you found yourself falling from 1000 feet and remain completely unscathed as well as explaining that you’re a Pokémon turned human. The Pokémon who came to your rescue seems a little confused by your story but thankfully believes you – even though he states that he thought humans didn’t exist?
So after around five minutes of unskippable dialogue you’re thrown directly into the game. Your buddy, in my case Pikachu as he’s the only one I recognised, seems to remember something and in total Alice in Wonderland style realises he’s late for a very important
date meeting and thanks to your silent internal dialogue you release you have nowhere to go so you might as well tag along for the journey.
This is where the main concept of the game begins. Almost 100% of the time your main path is some how and mysteriously blocked so in order to get to the other side you must go through the rather uninviting cave. These caves are rather basic with various one Pokémon wide paths leading to various empty openings and other areas populated by water or grass. In these caves you’ll also come across wild Pokémon who seem to want to do nothing but harm you.
The combat in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is fairly underwhelming. I hoped with this game that some elements of the main series would remain as in, you encounter an enemy and a fight scene is launched. Not in this game. You fight exactly where you run into your foe. Attacking is very similar to the original because you’re given only four moves to choose from you select which move you’d like to unleash when your turn comes around by holding the left bumper and pressing A, B, X, or Y on the corresponding move these moves only have a limited amount of uses though before you either have to use an item to get the quota to refill or level up. This gives the game a sense of strategy as you’re often trying to work out what the stronger attack is on your foe, you’re also given the option to heal and use items which put an end to those annoying attacks which leave you on fire or poisoned but again, these can be limited so you better use them wisely.
What makes Pokémon Mystery Dungeon a little less tedious is the addition of your buddy who also helps during fights. Depending on his position during combat he’ll either launch ability attacks which lower the enemies defence or attack power, or if he’s in close quarters with the wild Pokémon he’ll launch a full on attack. Most of the time however he’s stuck behind you providing little to no help other than lowering their attacks.
Once combat is over you usually need to heal your Pokémon right? This is usually done with a heal potion or in this game by eating an Oran Berry. Or you could just walk it off. That’s right, once you’re out of combat and are in the process of trying to get out of the God forsaken cave each step you and your partner heals. It seems like a brilliant idea but it feels a little too easy.
Navigating the caves and dungeons becomes childs play too thanks to the second screen on the 3DS becoming a handy little map which shows itself as you explore. From this you’ll soon learn that once you’ve explored and revealed half of the map you can guess where the exit will end up being located. What makes things even easier is the special ability plate things located in some areas of the Mystery Dungeons, if you’ve been attacked with a move that lowers your defence or attack, just walk over one of these plates and you go back to normal. It did warn you however that if you’re using a power-up which increases your stats, they will be lowered.
Apparently the caves are also randomly generated and change each time you enter, but I often found that once you’d entered “Mystery Dungeon X F1” you didn’t really set foot inside it again. Sometimes too you’ll find the illusive set of stairs, proceed ahead, only to find that the stairs for the next level had randomly generated right next to you. The only good thing about the endless dungeon crawling is that you don’t have to return into the caves in order to get back to Paradise or Post Town.
Like with classic roguelike games the caves are divided into virtual squares where one step counts as a move. Every step you take also gives the wild Pokémon located in the hidden depths of the caves a move too. The grid-like navigation becomes obvious within the caves as your Pokémon’s movements are very blocky and somewhat impossible to navigate around using the analogue stick, when I’m in a dungeon I found it easier to switch to using the D-Pad.
Fast forward to you and Pikachu escaping the Mystery Dungeon you’re then introduced to a new Pokémon who’s selling some land to your buddy. This is where you’re introduced into the second main theme of the game. Your buddy wants to build a peaceful utopia for you and all the other Pokémon to live and exsist. Pikachu names it Paradise, but for the moment it’s really just a baron desert full of rocks.
Essentially this part of the gameplay involves you completing various missions in order to populate Paradise and create a thriving ecosystem which includes shops, homes, and facilities for all the Pokémon to enjoy. After a cold night asleep in the wilderness you realise you need a house so you’re told to visit Post Town. Post Town is a little Pokémon village full of shops, homes, and facilities for all the Pokémon to enjoy.. wait a minute..
This is where the game starts to become a little dark. For some reason we’ve been given the impression that Pokémon and the Pokémon world is a happy-go-lucky place where everyone gets along. In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon that’s not really the case, due to the mysterious appearance of the Mystery Dungeons the Pokémon have become un-trustworthy miserable bastards.
Your first real mission is set to you by Gurdurr who says he’ll build you a house if you collect some magical stones. Skip past the Mystery Dungon part it’s very similar than before, you find the stones and return to Gurdurr, but all isn’t what it seems, you mysteriously “lose” the stones, and left picking up the pieces. Until you realise that this was some elaborate scheme to collect endless amounts of gems for Gurdurr who had no intentions of building you a house.
Eventually your home is built and along with that comes a fancy bulletin board. This is the third main part of the game. This board is where you can find all of your missions. They stem from rescue mission to other elaborate schemes and in return you earn money, resources for Paradise, or something else useful.
Because this game is on the 3DS you can’t really just PLAY the game. There’s much more to experience thanks to the unique features the 3DS offers such as the 3D. For a long time I’ve been a hater of the 3DS’s 3D feature, in all of the store demo’s it looked cheap and felt like one of those holographic images you used to find inside bubblegum packs as a kid. Since my wife bought her pink 3DS my opinion has changed somewhat now I’ve had the change to experience it at the right level for me. I’ll admit some games the 3D is just a featureless gimmick but in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon the 3D actually comes alive and for the first time ever I was impressed with the images that were presented to me.
Of course you can’t have a game on the 3DS without the Street Pass feature being involved somehow. In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon the Street Pass feature allows you to recieve help from other players in your location. They essentially help rescue your party if you’re in a bit of a bind.
The 3DS’s camera is also used in the game’s creative Magnagate AR feature which allows you to photograph certain shapes which then can open up portals which lead to different dungeons which contain better loot – though after around a couple of hours of play I’m yet to come across this feature in game.
Overall I feel that Pokémon Mystery Dungeon combines too much into one game. There’s too much to remember and it often strays off from the main story which was to help save the Pokémon world. You’re occasionally reminded of this by your characters internal dialogue but I saw no real development of this after playing the game for almost a day. The game also became very repetitive with; Dialogue, Cutscene, Dungeon, Cutscene, Dungeon, Dialogue, Cutscene, Sleep, Repeat. It soon became a game which I found difficult to pick up. The developers did try do diversify the game a little with the outcome of certain tunnels leading to a part of a puzzle. One mission required finding a lost Pokémon but one cave entrance was blocked by an un-passable river. After exploring two dungeons and coming out the otherside you had the option to push some logs off of the cliff into the river, after you had done this both sides a bridge of logs was created so you could enter the center cave and rescue the Pokémon.
If you’re someone who’s into RPG roguelike games then I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re like me who enjoys the main Pokémon series but isn’t a hardcore RPG fan, I’d steer clear of this title.