Mystery Dungeon Blue Review
Note that most of this review is also applicable to Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team for the Game Boy Advance, but I felt it was not really appropriate to call it a review of both games when I have technically only played one and not done any particular research on the differences.
When the "Road to Diamond and Pearl" spin-off games - Pokémon Ranger and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Red and Blue - were announced, I immediately looked forward to Mystery Dungeon, both for the prospect of getting to play as a Pokémon and the general promise of more emphasis on plot and characterization than in the main series. In the end, however, though it delivered in some regards, it was a disappointment.
The plot goes like this: you wake up as a Pokémon (its species is determined by a fun little personality test you take before you start the game), remembering only your name and the fact that you are actually human. Luckily, there is another Pokémon there to help you out - chosen by you as one of several possibilities that is not of the same type as yourself - and the two of you together form a 'Rescue Team', taking on missions to help various other Pokémon in need, usually lost in dungeons, while you try to figure out who you are and why you have turned into a Pokémon.
Overall it is true that a lot more attention is given to the story and characters than in the main series of games, perhaps more in the details than in the big picture: one thing I noticed with astonishment early in the game was that at one point, where my rescue team was essentially racing against the sinister 'Team Meanies' to be the first to get through a dungeon and I ended up fainting in the middle of it, the game actually bothered to explain why this didn't result in Team Meanies getting there before me by showing that they had also fainted in the dungeon! Actual effort to maintain continuity even when you don't do what you're supposed to? Now, there's something you'd never see in the main series. Another astonishing feature of Mystery Dungeon compared to the main series is that the player character actually talks in something more than just answering questions with 'Yes' or 'No' - you get to play as an actual character instead of just a player avatar. Nice.
During the course of the game, you also grow to love your partner, who is almost unnaturally devoted to you in an adorable way, and the mysterious dreams you keep having are bound to keep you somewhat interested in the plot. The graphics look nice, with the Pokémon looking fairly like themselves and fun Sugimori-style portraits to show their emotions during conversations. So far, so good, right?
The great issue with Mystery Dungeon, which is a great shame because the plot, characters and graphics have so much promise compared to what we have grown to expect from a Pokémon game, is the gameplay. Oh, sure, the implementation of Pokémon attacks is pretty fun, and the crawling through the game's various randomly-generated dungeons itself isn't that bad. There are numerous annoyances that you really feel during the dungeon-crawling: being unable to directly control the other Pokémon on your team, for instance, it is hard as hell to get them lined up with any opponents so that they can actually help you, and even after you do that, it will take some patience to wait for them to actually do anything helpful; the twenty-item limit becomes insanely annoying, especially since having many of the same item will take up multiple slots; it is altogether too easy to run out of PP and Max Elixirs are too rare for you to feel like you can waste them when you've only used up the PP of one of your attacks. But all of these things are trivial compared to the real issue: in order to have the dreams that progress the plot, the game seems to wait for you to reach a certain level or Rescue Rank - and that leaves you hanging in the void. You have no visible goal to aim for to progress in the game, and I don't know about you, but that completely killed my interest in the game for a couple of years.
(Okay, so the final nail in the coffin was that while waiting for something to happen, I stupidly accepted what I remain convinced is the absolute most godawful escort mission ever to appear in a video game. I was supposed to take a level one Slaking through some reasonably high-level dungeon. On practically every other step I took, the Slaking randomly used something like Slack Off or Rest, wasting time by showing the animation even though it was at full health and had no need for it - and on half of the other steps I took, it had to wait thanks to its ability, forcing me to walk one step forward, one step back and then one step forward again, at which time it would use the move again. Then after some time, it ran out of PP for the move, so instead of watching the move animation every other step, I just had to scroll past the "No PP left!" notice every other step. After moving literally at a snail's pace for a maddening while, I gave up and figured that it would be quicker to just leave Slaking behind and find the stairs to the next floor (conveniently, the other Pokémon don't actually have to be with you when you find the stairs in order to proceed), except that as soon as I did that, some wild Pokémon went and killed Slaking in one hit, which made me fail the mission. This is just an example of the hellish tortures that the random generation in Mystery Dungeon can put you through.)
But yes, my point is that the game's greatest weakness is that in between snippets of plot, you're left with no indication of how many random rescues you need to complete to get to the next snippet, which makes you feel lost in a really not all that appealing (to me, anyway) sandbox.
As for the actual difficulty, in general I found that being a Bulbasaur, my Leech Seed/Sleep Powder combo (literally a combo, since Mystery Dungeon allows multiple moves to be linked together to be used at the same time) could beat most anything with some patience, making the bosses usually fairly anticlimactic. I hear more moves are broken in this way. The music is mostly rather dull, though not precisely an earsore, if that is a word.
Thus, it's a pretty fun game, and probably worth playing just for seeing a Pokémon game with plot and characterization and getting to play as a Pokémon, but very flawed in its gameplay. When playing, you might need to force yourself to go on, but when you do go on you don't precisely regret it.
One final issue remains to be brought up, though it is a bit of a spoiler. When you beat the game and are about to return to humanity, you choose to remain a Pokémon in the Pokémon world, thanks to your love for your partner - but just a few gameplay minutes after that, your partner suggests that you stop hogging the spotlight for yourself and let anybody be a team leader, and then, in a ridiculously unintentionally heartbreaking moment, the partner simply disappears to a Friend Area, like any other recruited Weedle or Poochyena, and never speaks to you again. (Well, just about; I hear there is more storyline somewhere in the distance after a whole bunch of more random rescues, but I really have not felt motivated to pick the game up again to get to and finish those.) Neither do you, as a matter of fact, and although finishing the plot gives you the ability to evolve your Pokémon, recruit legendaries and so on, this simply does not make up for the fact that the moment your partner leaves and the two of you become just another pair of soulless, interchangeable Pokémon, the game irrevocably loses its charm, and sadly, I have never felt motivated to pick up the game again since completing it, partly out of lack of interest and partly because it actively pains me to see my beloved partner walking in circles in his Friend Area spouting the same default phrases as every other Pokémon.
Page last modified August 05 2009 at 01:00 GMT