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Review: Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon


Jonathan Higgins

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: November 20th, 2015

ESRB: E for Everyone

 

 

It“s been almost ten years since the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off arrived in North America. I“ve played every game since the beginning. And I“ve remained attached to it -- despite the previous 3DS entree, Gates to Infinity, being less than stellar. Despite a love for the series, I“ve been apprehensive. After the previous game let me down hard, I“ve become critical... even cynical of the series. Is this new game really worth it?

 

To be honest, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has managed to exceed my expectations in every way imaginable. Spike Chunsoft are certainly no strangers to the roguelike genre, or even injecting Pokémon“s mechanics and charm into it. But I daresay their latest endeavor has introduced enough sweeping changes to the decade-old formula established in Red Rescue Team that folks who dismissed the series should come back for this one, and newcomers could feel welcome as well. I“ve absorbed every last drop of story this world has to offer over the past week or so (sitting at just over 33 hours), and I still have a long way to go before my journey to obtain all 720 Pokémon (yes - -they“re all playable!) is done. Without further ado:

 

The Mystery Dungeon spin-off series dismisses the world that humans and Pokémon share in favor of a world that consists of only Pokémon, where humans are often left to myths and legends. Every game in the series has you play as a human that“s turned into a Pokémon, with no memories of how it happened, who you are, or why you“re there. Near the beginning of your journey, you meet a partner Pokémon who you share your adventures with. The plots of each of these games rely heavily upon the bonds a player will establish with the partner Pokémon.

 

Super Mystery Dungeon has the largest cast of protagonist and partner Pokémon to choose from that includes every known starter Pokémon, as well as popular ones like Pikachu and Riolu. If you“d rather not choose and leave destiny up to the personality quiz that“s often been a series staple, that“s up to you! I went with my same choices from Explorers of Sky: Charmander and Pikachu.

 

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The story of Super Mystery Dungeon starts out simple. Charmander is thrust upon the Pokémon world with no memory of how it got there, and winds up enrolling in the Pokémon School at Serene village, a peaceful paradise far-off and disconnected from the rest of civilization. It“s there that Charmander meets Pikachu, whose dream is to become a member of the Pokémon Expedition Society and help create to a map of the world. For the first few hours, as the game introduces new and returning mechanics, the story sticks to Serene Village and the colorful cast of characters living there.

 

Eventually, though, Charmander and Pikachu will leave Serene Village and investigate the mystery of why Legendary Pokémon have been turning to stone. Their adventure spans multiple continents, features plenty of powerful Pokémon, and has a wide variety of emotionally powerful moments, too. The story carries plenty of weight on its own, but many of the dungeons you“ll explore as a part of the main story are really cool! There“s more than one instance in the story where you could be exploring a dungeon with a full party of five, six or seven powerful allies. There are so many things Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon does that no game in the series has attempted before -- and most of the time, you“ll be pleased with how well the developers pull it all off.

 

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The story is definitely not the only thing Super Mystery Dungeon does well. The visuals are great; they build upon Gates to Infinity“s 3D approach to deliver much more vibrant environments than that game did. I still miss the adorable sprites from the series“ 2D beginnings, but I think this is definitely the game to make old school fans appreciate the new graphical style.

 

Everything looks beautiful. But it sounds freaking incredible. The soundtrack confidently stands with elite contemporaries like Fire Emblem: Awakening and Kid Icarus: Uprising. There are over 150 tracks in the game that cover a wide variety of environment types and moods. Some remix old classics from the series, and some are the old classics themselves! From a presentation standpoint -- this is without a doubt the best of the entire series.

 

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The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series introduced Pokémon moves, types and mechanics to the roguelike genre. But “catching them all” -- even when every known species was available like in Explorers of Sky -- has always been an impossible endeavor. Recruiting allies was mostly left up to chance as you encountered them in dungeons -- and the more popular or powerful Pokémon had an incredibly low recruitment chance. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has introduced the single biggest change to the series: the Connection Orb. Rather than potentially turning enemy Pokémon into friends while you explore dungeons on missions for Pokémon clients, or during the story -- your clients become your allies at the end of every single mission.

 

These missions vary: there are ones where you help your client find its lost pal, find one“s treasure, defeat one looking for a challenge, and more. You can also recruit Pokémon (both Legendary and non-Legendary) by simply talking to them in the game“s many towns, or randomly traveling in dungeons. For example: I“ve run into Victini just chilling in the game“s cafe where you can pick up your rewards for completing missions. This approach encourages you to fully explore all the game“s towns once per in-game day, as you gain access to them. You“ll find new Pokémon allies and missions to do more often than not! There are many more brand new elements introduced in the game, but this one is definitely the most welcome.

 

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(Those orange dots are Pokémon you've not yet encountered before. There are new ones each time you play!)

 

Previous entries assigned missions by way of a bulletin board. They were random, sometimes useless depending on how far you were in the games, and in Gates to Infinity you could only do one at a time. Since Super Mystery Dungeon's missions are tied directly to the Connection Orb, you can accept a limitless number of tasks from Pokémon you encounter in town. They“re all kept track of for you, and each mission is only ever assigned and completed once.

 

Handling non-story missions by way of the Connection Orb really does streamline the process; it makes playing the game for completion“s sake seem like so much less of a chore. What“s more -- every single Pokémon you recruit shares experience with the team currently exploring a dungeon, so no one will be stuck at Lv5 if you don“t ever get around to using them. There“s even a “motivation” system that challenges you to go on adventures as certain team members to be rewarded with double experience for your entire squad.

 

With all the positives in mind: I think the biggest flaw of my experience was several difficulty spikes, at times. Charmander and Pikachu“s levels are kept rather low throughout the main story -- I finished the main game around Lv30 or so. The game makes allowances to make non-story missions easier on the player, but those story-based ones are rather tough! I think the reason the game allows a squad of six to accompany you at times is because you need those powerhouses surrounding your weaker main characters to survive the battles. It“s an interesting approach, but it may take newcomers some getting used to.

 

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The biggest point I should stress when it comes to Super Mystery Dungeon is its scope. It“s truly worthy of the word “Super” in its title. It doesn“t just want you to explore a handful of dungeons on a single continent; it wants you to explore an entire world. You“ll meet allies via the Connection Orb that you may recognize as being from other games in the series, even! All the continents share thinly veiled similarities with other games“ hub worlds.

 

Even the “Rescuing” component that allows you to save other players who“ve fallen in dungeons takes you to a completely different part of the game that functions as a sort of free-play. Helper Pokémon from your rescues can even join you in the main story by way of StreetPass and SpotPass elements. It really does seem like the entire team went all out, to make Super Mystery Dungeon the finest -- and possibly final -- hour of the series.

 

The developers shoved everything they possibly could into this experience, marrying old and new elements to create the ideal Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game. I used to say “If you can only play one game in the series -- make it Explorers of Sky.” That“s certainly changed. Super Mystery Dungeon isn“t revolutionary. But it certainly is the new personal best of The Pokémon Company and Spike Chunsoft“s combined efforts.

 


Pros:

 

+ All 720 Pokémon are playable in this game. No Legendary or popular favorite is left behind!

+ The new Connection Orb makes recruiting said Pokémon easier and more intuitive than any previous entree in the series.

+ The story is suited for all ages. There are as many whimsical characters as there are powerful moments.

+ The game's world is huge. Everything opens up to the player relatively early on, so he or she can make non-story missions as easy or as difficult as desired.

 

Cons:

 

- This is definitely not an easy game. You may retry or need to be rescued more than necessary, if you're not careful. Newcomers who don't know the nuances of the genre may feel overwhelmed, sometimes

- Are you one of those people who dislikes Nintendo America's sense of humor? You may be turned off by some of the script. The phrase "scaredy cat" becomes "scaredy Delcatty," for example.

 


Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)

Fantastic

 

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon feels like the finest hour of the series. The game is so chocked full of content that "Super" almost feels like it's not a good enough word to do it justice.

 

Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a copy of the game purchased by the author.

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