Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series returns to form on 3DS
Following 2013’s rather underwhelming debut of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series on Nintendo 3DS (Gates to Infinity), it was clear that this dungeon crawling Pokémon spin-off series was in need of some revitalization. Nintendo, along with developer Spike Chunsoft, have done exactly that with Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, carrying over the best elements from the previous game (the beautiful 3D graphics and exquisite music) while taking the core gameplay fans love, and improving upon it.
Common complaints about the last 3DS game varied from the limited number of recruitable Pokémon, to the oversimplification of combat, to the complete removal of traditional series elements such as the hunger mechanic—all in the name of greater accessibility. These concerns have been addressed in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, with the game including every known species of Pokémon (720 in total), a return to deep and challenging combat, and hunger once again must be factored into dungeon exploring. After putting in more than two dozen hours into the game, I still feel there are ways this franchise could improve, but overall this is easily the best Pokémon Mystery Dungeon entry to date.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Role-playing, Dungeon crawler
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Choose your Starter Pokémon
Similar to previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon titles, the game starts with a brief personality quiz that determines which Starter Pokémon you’ll play as, as well as your partner Pokémon that will stick with you for the whole journey. There’s a nice range of possible Starter Pokémon—20 in total, with representation from across generations—including favourites like Pikachu, Squirtle, Treecko, and Riolu. If you don’t like the Pokémon duo assigned to you, there is an option to choose whichever ones you’d like from the list. Having this freedom of choice is a nice touch, but I opted to go with the Pokémon given to me, which was a Mudkip main, and a Riolu partner.
Take a journey into a world filled with Pokémon
Following series tradition, the story begins with your character (a human) waking up and having the startling realization something major is amiss. Not only is the world around you unfamiliar, and inhabited by Pokémon, but you’ve been transformed into a Pokémon yourself!
It’s not long before the dangers of this new world rears its head in the form of three Beheeyem—extraterrestrial Psychic-type Pokémon—that attack our tenderfoot human-turned-Pokémon. Luckily, you bump into Nuzleaf, a spunky Grass/Dark Pokémon with a distinct southern American accent, who not only rescues you, but offers you a place to stay at his home in Serene Village.
Off to school you go
To help you adjust to your new life in Serene Village, Nuzleaf enrolls you in the local school for young Pokémon. The schooling, as it turns out, is actually the game’s tutorial in disguise, with daily lessons introducing you to a new gameplay element, and then whisking you off to a nearby dungeon to try it out. Nintendo games are well known for having copious introductory tutorials to help you learn the ropes, but these lessons last an astounding five hours before the full game opens up.
While extremely long, the good news is that this introductory portion of the game is still quite fun to play through thanks to the many interesting Pokémon characters you’ll interact with, and the wide variety of training dungeons you’ll explore. Each Pokémon you meet has a distinct personality that’s fun to explore, and will give a lot more insight into Pokémon personalities than we’re used to seeing. For instance, I always thought Deerlings and Espurrs were two of cutest looking Pokémon there are, and now I know they have adorable personalities to match. On the flip side, Shelmet and Pancham Pokémon turned out to be a pair of meanies, always scheming of ways to ruin other Pokémon’s day. The excellent dialogue localization of these characters, and more, really go a long way towards drawing you into the story.
Enter the Mystery Dungeons
Like in previous entries, every dungeon you’ll explore in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is procedurally generated—a fancy way of saying their design is completely randomized. That means no two layouts will be the same, even if you revisit the same dungeon. Dungeons consists of several floors to work your way through, all containing hostile Pokémon to contend with, along with money, items, and other loot to aid in your journey.
Time passes very uniquely when dungeon exploring, in that each action you perform counts as a turn, with the game essentially being paused while you’re standing still. This allows you to take as much time as you need to plan your strategies, whether that’s picking the right combat move for the situation, flipping through your inventory for a particular item, or carefully planning your escape from battle. You’ll need the extra time too, as hostile Pokémon can be quite formidable and aggressive, making dungeon exploration challenging if you’re not prepared.
This passage of time system factors into play in other ways as well. For example, with each step you take in dungeons, your Pokémon’s belly will slowly deplete, and when empty, they’ll start taking damage with every additional step. To satisfy their hunger, you’ll need to consume apples, which means it’s critical to always have a few on hand at all times. Also, when your Pokémon is hurt, every step will replenish 1 hit point until they reach their max. Given that you have a limited inventory to hold apples, healing items, and other possessions, both of these gameplay elements make a seemingly simple action—taking a step—suddenly very strategic.
Connect to hundreds of Pokémon
My favourite new feature in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is the reinvention of recruiting new Pokémon via the Connection Orb. Whereas in previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games you had a random chance of recruiting defeated Pokémon, in this latest game, acquiring new allies is very deliberate and doesn’t require any luck whatsoever. By completing various requests from Pokémon, be it rescuing them in a dungeon, finding one of their lost possessions, or others, they will get added to your Connection Orb and join your party.
Your Connection Orb is essentially one giant quest log that keeps track of all the Pokémon you’ve befriended, and shows the Pokémon they are connected to. When a Pokémon joins you, you’re then able to complete requests for Pokémon friends they are connected to, after which your web of connections will branch even farther. If there is a particular Pokémon you want to recruit, by looking at your Connection Orb you can see how many degrees of separation they are from you, and know exactly which Pokémon you need to help in order to get one step closer to your desired Pokémon. Eliminating the tedious random recruitment element in favour of this new quest system is a great step forward for the franchise, and one that I hope carries forward into future installments.
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is a huge improvement over 2013’s Gates to Infinity and overall the best entry in Nintendo’s long-running Pokémon dungeon crawler series to date. This game retains my favourite aspects of the previous game (superb graphics and excellent music), while bringing us back to the core gameplay that veteran fans will love. There’s lots to like about this game, from the fun dialogue, to the lengthy campaign (25+ hours), to the deep strategy required when dungeon exploring. As well, with its robust tutorials, this is a game experienced fans, and newcomers, can both get into and enjoy.
+ Great presentation: beautiful 3D graphics and exquisite sound
+ Very deep combat system
+ Pokémon characters are unique and likable
+ Large open world with loads of content
– Tutorial could have been shortened
– No multiplayer components
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5
Overall Rating 4.25/5 (85%)