It's A (Pokemon) Mystery
My initial thoughts on the newest addition to the mystery dungeon series, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon; Rescue Team DX for the Nintendo Switch. At this point in time, I've hit about the 7 hour mark and wanted to record some thoughts on it as well as talk about how the core mechanics differ from the original.
Mystery Dungeon. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. It's been years since I really sunk my teeth into any part of the series. I put at least 50+ hours into the original games alone, so when Nintendo announced that they were remaking it for the switch, I just about lost it. To add to the excitement – the new fairy tale/story book styling they re-imagined it into is a precious, unique new take from its pixelated origin that I absolutely embraced. Even with the procedurally generated content, like various, seemingly infinite jobs that turn this game into a mindless dungeon crawler, I feel like this series places so much emphasis on the storytelling. This new art style really reflects that sense of storybook adventure the narrative gives off. Albeit, the story itself is honestly kind of wild and over the top, but the sense of empowerment, comradery, and teamwork it emphasized feels like a breath of fresh air.
It's simple, straightforward, doesn't take itself too seriously, no shiny bells and whistles tacked on. It's about you turning into a Pokémon (your choice, out of a small pool of options), and just kind of.... rolling with it. Obviously you discover more about this as you progress in your adventure, but it's almost kind of lighthearted in that sense. There’s no inherent deep existential dread that comes along with your mystical transformation, and as someone who is looking for a comforting, positive realm of escapism, I am totally ok with that. You as the player are essentially like “Alright... so I'm a Totodile.... Just gonna unpack that later” at the start of the game. As you roll with the punches and team up with your partner Pokémon to create a Rescue Team, you come to learn that natural disasters have started occurring and begin to work with other Rescue Teams to try and figure out why. The plot of how you came to be a Pokémon is told more as a secondary narrative, it slowly being revealed to you while you dream. This plot ramps up later on but is by no means a priority in the beginning. Your main focus at the start is to establish yourself as a Rescue Team and dungeon-crawling to help out Pokémon main characters.
Now this isn't an exact re-creation of the original Mystery Dungeon titles, it seems like they've made a lot of quality of life changes that I openly welcome. The whole experience is much more streamlined than its predecessor, the gameplay loop going as follows:
- Waking up, you walk out of your residence and Pelipper drops off the mail. Your partner Pokémon will briefly remind you of the current point in your plot, which usually consists of going to a specific dungeon to help a specific Pokémon
- You can go into town to the Coin Bank, Item Storage, Kecleon Shop to buy TMs and Supplies, or head down to the Makuhita Dojo to level-train a bit with coupons you’ve obtained from successful rescue missions. There is also a post office that allows you to reach out to other players if you’d like, or check the community board to see what other jobs you can add to your docket.
- Once you feel prepared, you can select a specific dungeon you would like to run. It conveniently tells you how many jobs you currently have accepted in each location.
- While in a dungeon, you are able to explore and battle and complete all jobs for that specific location. Even after completing the last of the list, you are welcome to continue on adventuring but you can also retreat once you are done your business.
- Returning from the dungeon, you go through your rewards screen, each Pokémon who recruited you for their help thanking you and presenting you with your reward money, rescue experience, and any items to go with it all.
- Finally, you are complimented by your partner Pokémon on a job well done, and immediately sent to sleep for the evening. Waking up again the next morning repeats the process over again.
Now there are a couple things to note about this cycle:
- You can now complete multiple jobs per dungeon which was not the case in the original titles, so your sheer ability to level up and get money + resources has grown almost exponentially.
- There is now an Auto Feature available to you in dungeons, which when activated, allows your Pokémon to automatically exlore the dungeon, seeking out items and Pokémon of interest, and then evidently, the stairwell to the next floor once nothing is left. This might seem counterintuitive as the main draw of this game is, well... exploring dungeons, and automating that process so you don't have to might not make sense at first glance. But for the new unbound amount of content you can tackle per dungeon, this is a miraculous idea. It helps save your energy and focus for moments of battle and points when you do really to pay attention. The function reminds me a lot of the Ultra Fast Battle Speed that's available to you in Dragon Quest XI, you are just streamlining the easier content so you aren't as worn out and bogged down by the time you get to the harder, more complex portion.
- In the original titles, you could have a Rescue Team of up to 4 Pokémon, one of those spots taken up by your partner who you ideally want to keep with you at all times. In order to recruit new Pokémon that you could bring to other dungeons and level up, you would have to keep those slots open, defeat said Pokémon in the dungeon, and hope for the odd chance that they will feel a connection with you from the battle and want to join your party. DX is similar in that you recruit Pokémon via defeating them in the dungeon, but now you can have a set part of 3 (so yourself, partner and a plus one, at least in the beginning), and then add up to 5 POKEMON during your dungeon! This makes it much easier once you start to get into the higher level dungeons and realize there is definitely strength in numbers.
- The original titles allowed you the classic selection of 4 teachable/learnable moves that each Pokémon could have, along with a basic, generic attack that was used by just hitting the A button. The specific moves Pokémon knew had the classic PP system in which you only had a certain amount of PP to use for each move before it was consumed. Having the generic attack button made managing this system a bit easier as there was always a certain point when the generic attack would be sufficient in defeating weaker Pokémon. The newer game however, removed this mechanic and replaced it with choosing the attack best suited for the Pokémon and situation. So in pressing the A button, you use one of your taught moves depending on where the enemy is in proximity to you, and what type (dis)advantages were available. This makes battle require a bit more focus since now your only means of attacking can wear out after a certain point if you aren't careful.
Like I said, a lot of these quality of life changes are so welcomed, and work towards helping the game get a modern facelift so to speak. It goes beyond just being a visual re-stamp of a GameBoy Advance game. Keeping the backbone that the series is built on intact, it feels like DX has brought something new and refined to the table. With that being said, I’ve come to notice a heavy division amongst players who’ve ventured into the mystery dungeon series.
On one half, there are the folks who absolutely love it and are ecstatic to see the series get revitalized on arguably Nintendo's best console. On the other half, are the people who do not enjoy this more RPG-style, dungeon-crawling saga. There isn’t much in between. I don’t think enough in this reboot has changed to invigorate the latter half to revisit this adventure, but if you do find yourself somewhere in between or you’ve never really had a chance to play the series, I recommend at least giving the demo a try. It’s not a huge time investment and gives you a pretty sound experience of what your Rescue Team adventure will entail!