Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Series


I can actually still remember myself back in the year 1999. Yes, Pokémon was slow to come to Israel, but when it did, it exploded just as it did in the rest of the world. I was still in kindergarten at the time, but Pokémon was everywhere – cards, drawings, pencils, folders, you name it – Pokémon was there. If you can actually read, I honestly don’t think I need to introduce anyone to the concept of Pokémon. That’s just how big an effect that series had all around the world at the time. While the adults were calling it a fad and waited for us to move away from it, there’s a song that captured our feelings at the time perfectly: “No, they never can understand Pokémon.” 
My story with Pokémon is a long one, from being the first game I played on a console, to the origin of the name I have decided to go by online. While I am not at the same level of fanaticism I was when the third and fourth generations were released, and definitely not at the same level of when I was five, I still play and enjoy the game from time to time, and I like to dabble at the card game when I can actually find someone to play with (which is, unfortunately, barely ever).
I am not going to go into complete detail of my complete story with the series, how I went between loving it, not caring about it, to loving it and back again, as that will take too long, and doesn’t have a lot to do with the meaning of this article, but we’ll focus on a specific part – a game where, instead of a human trainer, photographer, whatever – you play as a Pokémon.
I’ve talked to several of my friends about it, and most agree the idea has a charm to it. Instead of playing as a boring old powerless human, you play the role of a cute, cool, or outright freaky monster with special powers, fighting other monsters, and simply having fun while doing it. While it’s true that my circle of friends isn’t that big, nor it is a great way to measure what most people think, but the idea was still there, and still had a crowd, and in November of 2005, we finally got Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team for the GameBoy Advance, and Blue Rescue Team, for the Nintendo DS.
After playing through three of the main games in the series – not being able to play the Wii one because I have nowhere to connect my Wii nowadays, and not playing Gates to Infinity because of how stupidly restrictive it is – and after not writing anything for this blog since the beginning of the year because college, I decided it might be a nice way to unwind by posting my thoughts on the series to the two of you who still read this blog for some unexplained reason. I know my writing skill are borderline crap, but please bear with me, as I rant like an old man and go through a trip through a spin-off series I almost put as much time into as the actual main games.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red and Blue Rescue Team – GBA/NDS





As stated earlier, back in 2005, we finally got Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red and Blue Rescue Team for the GBA and Nintendo DS, respectively. I still remember, back when I had no idea what mystery dungeon games even were, getting this game into a GBA and starting it up, and being honestly shocked by some of the ideas used in the game.
As soon as the game starts, the player is treated to a personality test, with several questions to choose the most ‘fitting’ Pokémon to the player’s personality, out of the first three generations’ starter Pokémon, including Eevee and Pikachu, and afterwards the player needs to choose a partner out of the remaining Pokémon from the list of possible starters. That partner will do most of the talking and feel like taking a bigger role in the story than the player.
Honestly, as much as I enjoyed playing that game at the time, I have more complaints than praise for the game. The story in general feels tacked on, adding Pokémon to the team is handled poorly, with having to actually acquire a habitat for the Pokémon before even having a chance to recruit them – which can be incredibly low and force the player to battle them time and time again, dungeons that feel like they stretch way too long, with more than one dungeon taking 99 floors, and an experience that I have found mostly forgettable.
The one part I did enjoy in this game was the post-game – the game had a post-game that can take several hours, and add more layers to the story that the main story brings up but can’t be bothered to go into more detail, and the length of said post-game is artificial; it only really lasts that long because of the dungeons that have no reason to be so long.
Really, when I played Blue Rescue Team on my DSi years later, after beating the next game in the series several times, I struggled with playing through it because of how much better the next game actually was and felt. It might be a good enough experience to try and go through it just to see how it was like, but for anyone who’s thinking of getting into the series, I honestly can’t recommend this game as a good starting point, as it might even convince people not to play the rest of the series because of how repetitive and slow it feels.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky – NDS




With these three, we actually have an interesting case; Explorers of Time and Explorers of Darkness are the same game, story-wise, each has several Pokémon exclusive to them, with Sky having all the Pokémon shown in both games, with the addition of Shaymin (who has been revealed only after the first two games have come out), several tweaks and changes, adding four new starter Pokémon, adding five new side chapters focusing on a few of the NPCs in-game, and overall just make it feel like a better experience, just like with the trios of Pokémon games that came out at the time.
While the first two games actually came out in 2007, I unfortunately couldn’t play them at the time, as I didn’t have a DS, and only got a DSi during the end of 2008, not really that long before Explorers of Sky came out. Because I had a relatively fond memory of Red Rescue Team, Explorers of Time was one of the first games I played on my brand new DSi, and it was great.
I beat these games several times – as intended, with codes, changing the leader and partner, and more. Something about this game just kept drawing me back to it, time and time and time again. While a bit easy throughout most of it, to the point where I never really felt that much challenged during the dungeons, at least during the main story (to quote Cathony in regards to the side stories added in Sky: ‘LET'S GO THROUGH A BIG FIRE DUNGEON AS A SUNFLORA, WOULDN'T THAT BE NICE?’), I found myself going back to it again and again, having beaten it, at the time of writing, six different times.
The dungeons, while not that hard, are fun to explore, the story is decent, and the characters is where this game actually shines. The characters are well-rounded, with interesting personalities, and Wigglytuff. I honestly cannot recommend this game enough, because of how fun the entire package just feels. Seriously, if you’re interested in mystery dungeon games and have a soft spot for Pokémon, don’t hesitate on getting Explorers of Sky, as in my opinion, it is well worth the investment.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon – 3DS


Now, if I am to be completely honest with you, I had no expectations for this game. At all. After seeing how much they botched Gates to Infinity, I only put this on my 3DS for old times’ sake. That is why it took me almost two years to get it. And I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to the previous games in the series after playing it.
While none of the improvements felt that much needed while playing the first two games in the series, after opening my eyes to them, they feel critical; the world feels more alive, with different ways to get Pokémon to help, a reason to explore the hubs – yes, several – each day, dungeons that feel challenging rather than long, a way for the player to rescue themselves without needing a friend or another game and console, an actually great story, with the player character actually playing a role rather than feeling tacked on, 720 Pokémon to connect with, an ending that feels like a punch to the gut, and much, much more.
I do have complaints for the game, like how linear the game was, a pretty short post-game story, not being able to change the leader and partner in the hub, and how the transfer between hubs can be somewhat slow, but the game actually improved and added so much from previous games, that this game has easily become my favorite of the bunch, with me spending thirty hours on it in four days, beating it and actually feeling sad that I beat the story, that genuinely made me laugh, feel surprised, sad, and happy for all the right reasons.
One of the better gaming experiences I’ve had in the past several years, being second only to NieR: Automata when counting this year alone, to anyone even remotely interested in the series, the genre of rogue-like games, or just Pokémon in general, I honestly couldn’t recommend this game enough.

And here, my incredibly vague and summarized thoughts on the series are all written here. I apologize if it feels like it somewhat skims over a lot, but a deeper explanation is not the purpose of the article – this article is me going over a series I’ve been enjoying for the past twelve years, and thought I might share my feelings towards. Maybe someday I’ll write an actual review for one of the games, when I feel like my reviewing skills are at an actually decent level.
But for now, for all of those who are interested in these games from afar, I have to say – play them. Try them. They are actually great games that deserve to be played, and you might just find a series you love just as much as I do.

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