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Individual Values: A Pokémon Feature - Week 72: At Least Ampharos Is Proud of Me

Jonathan Higgins

Welcome to the seventy-second week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed the last one, check it out! Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday.


Shaymin is available via the Nintendo Network. It'll be live until July 24th. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! And hey--y'all know I'm not into it, but Pokémon GO! is officially live in North America. Have fun augmenting Pokémon into your realities, friends!









At Least Ampharos Is Proud of Me



As of this very moment, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon sits in my “Top 10 Most Played” list on the Activity Log of my 3DS, at just over 128 hours. I“m most of the way there, but there are still a few challenges standing between me and a team of all 720 Pokémon in the game. I“ve completed the Treasure Collection, whose endeavors reveal some of the biggest challenges and time-investments in the game. The only Legendary/Mythical Pokémon missing from my team is Arceus -- the one that unlocks after you“ve Connected with every other Pokémon. So it seems like most of my epic exploration stories are behind me. Goodness knows I“ve done some crazy stuff.


I put most of my time into the game last year, but I“ve gone back every now and then -- including very recently. See: Explorers of Sky was released on the Wii U Virtual Console at the end of June. I sunk a good 30 hours into that game while I was sick with a pretty severe cold, clearing all the main story and the postgame up to the end of Shaymin Village. Going back to where the series stood in 2009, and completing almost all of Super Mystery Dungeon“s most challenging tasks, has got me thinking:


Even if The Pokémon Company and Spike-Chunsoft go on to create another entry in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series -- I“m fairly certain “Super” will be the last one I put any real time into. I“ve always wanted to 100% a game in the series -- but the obscene recruiting mechanics and luck that previous entries relied on made it feel like an impossible endeavor.


I“ve seen the strengths and weaknesses of my former -- and newest -- Mystery Dungeon favorites, all in the span of a few weeks. So I“m going to devote some time to gathering all my thoughts together and giving the series a proper send-off, even if it takes more than one week to do it. I“m not likely to revisit Explorers of Sky again, and I“m definitely to the point where I can see the light at the end of a Super long tunnel. Without further ado...






I mentioned, way back in the first IV, that I took some time away from Pokémon -- before my now-fiancée helped me to accept my inevitable fate as a Pokémon Master. Red Rescue Team came around just before Diamond & Pearl, so I wasn“t exactly there on "Day One" to experience it. I don“t remember how I got word of the game, but what initially attracted me to the series was its art-style. Regardless of how much I“ve enjoyed “Super” -- I“m still rather sad that the main artistic hook that got me into the series has been abandoned in favor of fully 3D sprites. There“s something about modelling that makes the world feel somewhat less alive than its cartoon-esqe, 2D origins, in my opinion.


I had no experience in the roguelike genre when I played Red Rescue Team for the first time -- but I liked the concept enough. The premise of every dungeon being unique means that it would take a combination of luck, skill and patience to persevere. My only issue with the early games in the series leading up to Explorers of Sky is how absurdly random mechanics [that shouldn“t be] are.


The series tagline “Gotta catch ”em all” becomes “Gotta recruit ”em all” in the PMD games, because you are an actual Pokémon. But recruitment was entirely luck-based in the Game Boy Advance/DS games -- you“d often have to explore the same dungeon a few hundred times to get the Pokémon you wanted, especially if it was a Legendary or starter. It“s like they gave the most popular Pokémon the lowest recruitment percentage rates.


Still, even if I had more gripes than compliments at first, I really liked the narrative (along with almost every aspect of the game“s presentation). I didn“t play through ”til the end, since I was borrowing a friend“s copy at the time... but I figured this wouldn“t be the “first but last” Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, and I“d do the next one proper justice after I“d gotten back into the main games.



Then came Explorers of Time & Darkness, and Sky. I“m going to hold myself back on discussing the narrative of both those games and “Super” until next week (heck, I“ll even put out an advance spoiler-warning; I“m not holding back!), but there is one story-related tangent I can discuss that“s specific to Sky. “Special Episodes” are unique to that game, and are brief 1-2 hour long “Chapters” that dismiss the player characters for a while in favor of helping to develop other major and minor characters in the “Explorers” world. For example: You get to play as Guildmaster Wigglytuff when he was an itty bitty Igglybuff, to learn how and why he first became an explorer.


That kind of approach will probably be the only way to get me to experience another Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, after I finish “Super”: 1-2 hour “Episodes” where the focal point is more narrative-based than anything else. I wonder if it“s too late to hope for Downloadable Content for Super Mystery Dungeon that accomplishes something like that. Probably!


Revisiting Sky on the Wii U Virtual Console has shown me how much both Gates to Infinity and “Super” have made the mechanics much easier to bear on the player. You can switch teammates on the fly in the 3DS games; you can“t in the originals. Moves like “Flamethrower” phase through your allies to hit enemies behind them in the 3DS games; they just smack your allies in the original (without proper “IQ Skills” -- whew, you wanna talk about a series concept that needed to be reinvented in a big hurry). Your allies in the early games start out dumb as bricks, collectively. You“d be more likely to waste Reviver Seeds on your allied characters than you would actually fending for yourself, in dungeons.


But ultimately, I was willing to tolerate the more methodical aspects of the early PMD games because their narrative was worthwhile -- or in the case of “Explorers”: really freaking great. Having tools like these that let you modify the kinds of jobs you could take was a big help for reducing some of the grindy aspects, too. But Gates to Infinity marked the beginning of a few gameplay evolutions, while taking a few steps backward in terms of both narrative and the entire “Job List” system. I was ready to give the PMD spin-off series one last chance with “Super”, before I considered Sky the exception and not the rule.


Man, am I glad I did.




And Now


You“ve read my review of Super Mystery Dungeon, I hope. I don“t have to reiterate how involving the Connection Orb in recruitment helped kill my single biggest concern with the series, but I will. While I wrote that up before really sinking my teeth into the postgame [as described above], my words still ring true. This game is tough as nails -- I tried getting Holly into it, but it ultimately proved too much of a chore for her. I can“t imagine many who aren“t used to adapting quickly and needing to power through high-pressure battle situations will get very far into the main game, nor will they last too long in the postgame at all. As someone who just got done praising the main series for its increased inclusiveness -- SMD“s biggest flaw is definitely that it“s the biggest challenge of the series, by far.


But, near the end of my adventures, I can say it“s done enough to not be "impossible." The Explorers games had you fight Dialga at one point, then Palkia much later on. SMD has you fight Dialga, Palkia and Mega Rayquaza back to back in the same dungeon. I took on Reshiram and Zekrom at the same time. The “boss” Mewtwo you fight spams Recover and heals 998 HP, just when you think you“ve gotten the upperhand. If you manage to kill the first form... it freaking Mega Evolves right after that. And hey, who can forget an entire 15 floor dungeon filled with nothing but Deoxys forms, and another with Genesects?


Calling this game “the Dark Souls of Pokémon” would not be a stretch. I“ve absolutely earned my victories/accomplishments in this game. And I can“t run around and call them “impossible” either -- because concepts like Alliances and Looplets help give any given team an upper-hand as they explore. I even compared stats between my Partner Pokémon -- Pikachu -- and a Raichu I recruited at some point during the game. They were the exact same across the board. So, a major plus is that -- barring the obvious Legendary and Mythical “deity Pokémon” with extreme stats across the board -- no one Pokémon outdoes another, in terms of stats. You don“t have to evolve to win; you just have to pick the best team to fit the circumstances you“re presented with.




And I have.


I“ve described how the presentation, characters and world-building helped me get into the series -- and how brand new mechanics and genuine (not entirely luck-based) challenges helped me stay with Super Mystery Dungeon ”til (close to) the end. But there“s still so much more to elaborate on before I feel comfortable saying “goodbye” to talking about these games.


So I“ll see you next week, to spoil the heck out of the things that make both Super Mystery Dungeon and the Explorers games so great -- their characters and world.

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