Explorers of Time Review
Though I have not played Explorers of Darkness and logic would tell me that when Explorers of Time has a plot that revolves around, well, time, Explorers of Darkness should have a plot revolving around darkness, they are supposedly exactly the same aside from some obtainable Pokémon and items. Therefore, this review should be entirely applicable to Darkness as well, but I call it a review of Time anyway since that's the game I played. This review will also include numerous references to Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team, but since the one I played is Blue, I'll refer to them collectively as Blue or Blue Rescue Team.
Remember how I wasn't that fond of the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon? Well, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time is better. Much better.
While the plot of Blue Rescue Team (though better than the main series) always felt rather like just an excuse for you to go through all those annoying dungeons, Explorers of Time is an honest-to-God plot-based game. In a bit of a déjà vu, you wake up as a Pokémon, its species determined by a personality test you take at the beginning, and cannot remember anything except that you are really a human with a particular name. You also meet another Pokémon, an aspiring explorer, who is to become your partner on an exploration team. However, beyond this, everything about the storyline is a dramatic improvement over everything that Blue was - the characters are more vivid and varied, there is just plain more of the plot, and most importantly of all, the plot is simply much better and more interesting.
Let me elaborate a bit on the plot. At the start of the game, the two of you join Wigglytuff's guild, ruled by the eponymous Wigglytuff, who is a lot more badass than he seems. You have some dealings with a group of stereotypical bullies, Team Skull (at least it's better than Blue's 'Team Meanies'), in the early game, but they are thankfully only minor side villains. Instead of having mysterious dreams, you have a mysterious ability to see brief flashes of the past and future of objects that you touch, later revealed to be called "Dimensional Scream" for some reason, which largely serves as a plot device but actually turns out to make sense (kind of). The main plot, however, starts when you find out that certain regions of the world house 'Time Gears', small cogs that keep time flowing right, and that they are being stolen by a mysterious thief (whom any well-versed Pokémon fan will recognize from the cutscenes as a Grovyle), stopping time in those regions. While it is easy to criticize the game's portrayal of stopped time (everything turns grayscale and nothing in the environment moves, but apparently you can come there just fine and move around normally), there is something unnerving and nightmarish about the time-stopped areas that makes it fall under the Rule of Cool to some degree.
Once the Time Gear plot has been introduced, the game just keeps on surprising you with things you wouldn't have thought would ever be in a Pokémon game. It has actual plot twists! Characters die! The future is a bleak and hopeless place of nightmares ruled by Dialga gone mad! One of the main villains has understandable motives! The ending is not happy! (Well, until after the end credits, anyway.) And throughout the whole thing, the characters all have their own dimensions and depth. Overall the storyline is really, genuinely enjoyable and pretty solid as a story, which is more than could be said about the unmodified plot of, well, any other Pokémon game in my opinion.
Then there are the little things. One of the things I absolutely loved when playing through the game is that just about every time I thought something like, "Oh, so this has something to do with this," or, "Why don't they just do this?" the characters would think of the same thing within two lines of dialogue. One is so used to marveling at the inherent stupidity of video game characters that it seems extremely surprising when they actually seem to have just about the same capacity for logical thought as you do. It makes a big difference how all Pokémon now have head sprites, if only the more significant ones have variable emotional responses, and gameplay-wise I love the fact that you are actually given more room to store items as you advance in the game.
I was delighted to discover that Time dealt with my primary beefs with the originals. In Blue, I felt lost and unmotivated in between plot-significant events; in Time, they fix this in an amusingly psychological way by simply having Chatot - the vice president of the guild - personally tell you every filler day, "Today, go look at the job list and do the stuff on there." Or sometimes, "Today, you should do sentry duty." Sentry duty is a new minigame where you're meant to recognize a Pokémon's footprint, something that can be crazily difficult until you realize that if you just wait a bit, it will start giving you stupidly obvious hints about which Pokémon it is. In any case, strangely enough, it works; being ordered around by Chatot made me at least feel like the game was honestly expecting me to do something in particular.
Your partner dispersing to a Friend Area at the end? Nope! In fact, they did away with Friend Areas altogether, instead allowing you to add any Pokémon you've recruited to your team straight from Chimecho's booth in the guild, but the primary point is that not only does the storyline continue immediately after the "end": in the non-dungeon overworld, you are always shown as yourself and your partner and the two of you go to sleep together at the end of the day, even if some other Pokémon is the team leader or neither of you is on the active dungeon roster. This goes miles towards keeping the appeal of the game even after the storyline starts to fade away.
Even the standard, randomly generated missions are more interesting and varied: there is less emphasis on rescuing and more adventurous Pokémon who want you to escort them to treasures, as well as an entire class of missions that revolve around catching rogue Pokémon by fighting them on a certain floor of a particular dungeon.
However, all these positives for which I praise the game make the core issues with the Mystery Dungeon gameplay all the more painfully apparent. They fixed what killed my interest in the game, but instead they left it as one of the most irritating video games I have ever played. You see, in Blue I happened to get Bulbasaur on the personality test, and then spent the rest of the game merrily Bullet Seeding (eventually Razor Leafing) and Sleep Powder/Leech Seeding my way through every dungeon and boss. In Time, however, I had the misfortune of being a Mudkip, which I have begun to suspect may be the absolute worst Pokémon to be in the entire game. Until I hit level forty-two and learned Hydro Pump, my best attack was Water Gun. Eventually I gave up and taught myself both Dig and Rock Slide, but I still had no convenient status-inducing attacks like I did as a Bulbasaur, and depending on which Tactic I made him act on, my partner Charmander was either completely unhelpful or would run off and get himself into trouble while I was stuck dealing with some other Pokémon. Fainting in a dungeon gets you into a vicious cycle: you lose all your money and around half of your items (I believe it's just that each item has a fifty-percent chance of being lost; I have ended up with only three items left, but I have also kept just over half of them), which means you lose your Oran Berries (which means you can't heal yourself in a dungeon) and whatever else useful you might have had and can't buy yourself Reviver Seeds when you happen to come across a Kecleon shop, which means you'll almost definitely faint if you try again, too; all you can do is make futile attempts until you happen to have leveled up enough to get there. Or go all the way back to Treasure Town, do a bunch of missions to earn yourself some money and items, and then go through all the previous parts of the dungeon you were trying to get through.
The fundamental issue behind what makes the gameplay of Mystery Dungeon so irritating is the fact that moves - in general - are vastly overpowered. You see, in the Mystery Dungeon series, Pokémon don't always use moves - they also have a "standard attack". However, as it happens even a move like Tackle is greatly superior to the standard attack in terms of damage, and as if that weren't enough motivation to use moves almost all the time, you get more experience for beating Pokémon with moves than without. Now, you would run out of PP (a precious resource in these games) way too quickly if you had to waste a whole bunch of moves on every Pokémon you fight in every dungeon, so they made it so that moves will generally beat any Pokémon around your level in two or three hits.
The bad part about this is that the Pokémon you fight also know moves, and those moves will also beat you in two or three hits - less if they happen to be super effective or multi-hit moves such as Fury Swipes. This would make the game freakishly hard - after all, they are going to be ganging up on you and have not been wasting all their PP fighting every Pokémon on the preceding floors - except for the fact that the wild Pokémon are stupid and will in fact most of the time just use their weak standard attack - you'll rarely actually get hit by two moves in a row from the same wild Pokémon, especially with how all attacks miss a lot more than in the main series.
...rarely. Not never. See, that's where it gets irritating. There is so damn much luck in the battle system that it drives me crazy. At least in the main series most moves are fairly reliable and it generally takes several critical hits for an average opponent to take you out. Not so in Mystery Dungeon. If the random generator happens to make the wild Pokémon you're fighting use multiple moves in a row, and those moves happen to hit you, you're basically screwed. And it only needs to happen once in a humongous multi-floored dungeon to make you lose all your money and most of your items (or, if you turn off and reload your save file, lose all the money, items and experience you got in the dungeon - though if you do this after forgetting that you had previously quicksaved in the same dungeon, you will lose both all the money, items and experience you got in the dungeon and half of your other items, since reloading a quicksave will act like you fainted where you quicksaved) and need to do it all over again. You'll have to repeat huge dungeons, often multiple times, just because you missed a few times in a row or that Glameow happened to hit with three of its Fury Swipes or there happened to be five Pokémon in the room where you materialized that all ganged up on your partner. (Well, okay - that or you put down the game, type up a long nonsense password and hope somebody on the Internet takes pity on you and bothers to rescue you and give you another lengthy nonsense password that takes about ten minutes to pick into the DS.) And speaking of your partner, why in God's name do you need to feed them fifteen billion Gummis to get them to understand type weaknesses and resistances? You can essentially manually pick your partner's moves - go to their move menu and disable everything except the one you want them to use - but the problem is that that is really, really time-consuming, and you just can't be bothered to do that every turn you're battling something - why can't there be some sort of a shortcut? I hope all this ranting is giving you an idea of just how frustrating this game is when you are not a Bulbasaur.
So in conclusion, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time's storyline and characters are great and deserve so much better than the extremely irritating gameplay. I still recommend it, but for your own sake, try not to be a Mudkip on that personality test.
Page last modified August 05 2009 at 01:02 GMT