Like many of the Tanuki Bridge team I am a longtime fan of the Pokémon series. It’s safe to say that I’ve sampled almost every game related to the franchise but there is one series of spin-off titles I am extremely fond of. That series is Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, an RPG adventure that has you and your Pokémon friends exploring dungeons in an effort to save the world from whatever chaos has befallen it.
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series started out in 2006 (in Europe and the US, 2005 in Japan) with the release of Pokémon Red Rescue Teamon the Gameboy Advance and Pokémon Blue Rescue Team on the DS. The games were fairly successful and the series has since offered a further ten titles (three of which were only released in Japan) within the Mystery Dungeon universe, all building on the groundwork of the originals and becoming all the better as things go. However, one game pulled down the quality of this memorable series and that game was the last title, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity which was a 3DS title released in 2013. Fast forward to 2016 and Europe has just been given the latest adventure in the form of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon on the 3DS, but does this dose of dungeon exploration serve us better than the last?
For those we aren’t already aware, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games puts you, the player, into the world as a human transformed into a Pokémon and without memories of how or why you’ve suddenly been sent to this place. Not long after awakening as a Pokémon you’re fated to meet your friendly Pokémon partner and together the two of you set out on numerous adventures together. The gameplay sees you exploring randomly generated dungeons battling wild Pokémon, collecting items and solving quests. It’s a simple affair but often a very rewarding one.
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon sticks to the formula well, placing you in the world as a human turned Pokémon with no memories of how you came to be here. Shortly after awakening (and being chased by some Beheeyem) you’re brought to a small village where you enroll in the local school and meet your partner Pokémon. The creature you become and your partner are both determined by a personality quiz which picks what you become from a selection of 20 different Pokémon. For my run of the game I was a Charmander with Oshawott as my faithful friend. Not long after you start getting used to your life in the village it becomes apparent that around the world Pokémon are being turned to stone, and an encounter with the leader of the Expedition Society will change the course of your fate forever. You see, the Expedition Society dedicate themselves to building a map of the world and all the different dungeons and it just so happens that your partner has always dreamed of joining the team.
While the overall story going on here is really interesting to watch unfold and has the whole ‘just five more minutes’ feeling to it, it’s definitely not where the meat of this game is. Where you’ll be spending the majority of your time is within the post-game content. During the course of the game you’ll be given a special gadget that allows you to connect with various different Pokémon, one of each kind from the 720 Pokémon found within the game. To connect with a Pokémon you must first complete a quest they give you, listen to them talk about something, or sometimes the Pokémon you complete quests for will introduce you to others whom you then form a connection with. Perhaps the best part of this is that any Pokémon you become friends with is one that you can then play as or have join your team while adventuring in the dungeons. No doubt trying to become friends with every single Pokémon will eat up a lot of your time but even if you do manage that there is over 100 dungeons to explore (which all go toward an overall completion rate for the world), and after you complete the story you’ll have a bunch of hidden treasure to go and find. I completed the story within 20 hours but I’d barely even scratched the surface of the game within that time. It’s engaging and there is always something to do and enough ways to shake it up to keep the adventures interesting, but that doesn’t mean Super Mystery Dungeon is flawless.
The story is well written, the characters are funny, the music is gorgeous and there is a variety of things to do, but there is one real issue with the game. Super Mystery Dungeon is difficult, even for a seasoned player like me. It’s not a frustrating difficulty the majority of the time but there are times when it just feels unfair. A random Pokémon walks into the room and critical hits you to death, or they’re simply just a little overpowered compared to you and your team. Revive Seeds are tough to come by, as are other essential healing items, and the cost for getting a game over is hefty with the loss of the majority of your items on hand and your money. How challenging a time you have with your adventure is very heavily determined by the Pokémon you start out with. I was lucky that my Charmander had a wide range of moves, and most importantly some attacks that work at a distance, but not all of the starters are this good. Sadly the moves you start with are those you’ll likely be stuck with for most of the game as you finish the story around level 20-30 (I was 24). I went into Super Mystery Dungeon well aware that the difficulty was fairly unbalanced, having heard from friends of mine in America who have had the game since it released there late last year, but I’d have been annoyed had I not already known. It’s not game-breaking and I’m sure those who want a challenge will be interested but it’s certainly something to be aware of.
Beyond the above issue there are only smaller notes of complaint. I noticed later in the game that there is the odd framerate drop when a lot of Pokémon are on-screen, like in monster houses where you’re attacked by multiple Pokémon at once. It’s also worth noting that this game is region locked. There is a feature in the game that allows you to input a password or scan a QR Code and save your friends over the internet if they die in a dungeon by completing the quest and giving them a password/QR Code in return. It’s a staple part of the series but sadly Nintendo have region locked it so you only have the ability to save your European friends (or American friends if you have a US copy of the game). It seems like a pointless move to lock the game off like this as there is nothing to gain or lose by being able to help players from a different region. If anything it’s just upsetting to me as a player as I can’t go and rescue my friends who live in a different country. In the day and age we live in this is unacceptable and was very disappointing to discover.
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is a return to form for a beloved series and both newcomers and veterans alike will find something to like here. With a solid story and grand adventures awaiting there really isn’t a whole lot more we could ask for from these games. The difficulty issues are worth noting to potential buyers and newcomers should beware of repetitive gameplay in terms of the dungeon crawling, but regardless I truly believe that this is a Pokémon game worth owning. Now excuse me while I set off to save a Magikarp from trouble…