Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is based on a rather simple premise. You are a human, who has mysteriously turned into a Pokémon, losing all of your memories in the process. All you can remember is that you were human. Upon starting the game, you take a personality quiz to determine which Pokémon you play as. This is a charming concept, but sometimes I'm unhappy with the results. Perhaps a relic of its time, I feel it'd be much better to just be able to choose. You are, however, allowed to pick your partner Pokémon, who you travel with throughout the game.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is far more interesting to me than the mainline entries due to the emotional story and lovable characters. When you wake up in the Pokémon world, you soon learn that its residents have recently been plagued with natural disasters, causing mass panic. You, along with your partner, form a Rescue Team in order to help Pokémon in Mystery Dungeons, dangerous places with aggressive Pokémon and randomised layouts. On your journey, you meet a number of Pokémon both good and bad, facing numerous challenges, sticking together with your partner through thick and thin. It's a tough journey, with some Pokémon believing that you are the cause of the disasters.
In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, you traverse through randomly generated floors in a variety of themed dungeons. Your goal is to either reach the end, defeat a boss Pokémon, or to complete missions from the town's bulletin board. Each dungeon is unique, and filled with different Pokémon to fight. As in standard RPGs, defeating enemies nets you experience, allowing you to progressively get stronger and learn new moves throughout the game. The way Red and Blue Rescue Team handle moves is excellent, allowing you to slowly build your power over the course of the game.
Some types of Pokémon have different advantages in certain dungeons. For example, if your Pokémon is a water type or fire type, you can walk on water and lava respectively. If your Pokémon can levitate or fly, you can float over both! Ghost types can even pass through walls, at the cost of hunger.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games take a little more thought than your bog-standard Pokémon game. My experience with main-series titles is to spam attack moves, and ignore status moves. You just don't need to use them in single-player, as the games are so easy. In Mystery Dungeon, though, I keep status moves handy all the time. They're immensely useful in both explorations and boss battles. This isn't a 'mash A to win' game. It's no Dark Souls, but it's a lot more involved than other Pokémon games.
Sometimes the balance feels a little bit off. A whopping five out of the seven bosses in the main story are flying type, which can feel unfair if you're unfortunate enough to be weak to flying. As a Chikorita in my latest playthrough, one of the bird legendaries managed to KO me in one hit. This isn't impossible to get around if you use the aforementioned status moves wisely, but if you're unprepared, you could very well get beaten into a pulp.
There are some minor niggles I have here and there—this is the first game in the series, after all, so there's bound to be some oversights. For one thing, recruiting Pokémon can be a painful task. To get new Pokémon, you need to have the correct 'Friend Area', which can cost a hefty amount. This isn't really the issue though, as money isn't too hard to come across. The real issues are small quality of life stuff that were massively improved in the sequel. To add Pokémon to your team, you have to visit their friend area and speak with them. Alone this doesn't sound too annoying, but after you complete the game, all of your team members reset after every exploration. This makes for some tedious time-wasting, when you're trying to just enjoy yourself.
Secondly, there is a small aspect borrowed from main-series titles that makes an annoying appearance here; HMs. Some dungeons require you to either carry an HM with you to enter, or to have a Pokémon with that move on your team. This is dreadful, and thankfully, HMs never played this role in sequels. Let's just hope these are kept out of the remakes, hm?
Graphics & Sound
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series lost a ton of charm on its transition to the 3D world. The Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS entries are beautiful, with wonderfully designed environments that don't get old. One of the things that gives PMD so much personality is the headshot sprites of important characters, with several versions depending on reactions. This is done for the entire main cast, making the characters feel alive. The music is just as good, with catchy tracks to fit whatever mood the game throws at you. I recommend checking out the Spriters Resource page for this game, as it's full of the charming sprites that make this game so beautiful.
Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, or the Switch?
The Rescue Team games are an amazing start to a franchise that had an even better sequel. These are amongst my favourite games of all time. Right now, the definitive version is Blue Rescue Team for the DS, thanks to the second screen coming in handy for some information during gameplay. I'm curious to see how the Switch version will stack up. With the quality of life improvements we've seen in the demo and recent Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, it could very well be the best way to play, even if I'm sceptical about the graphics. I'd say that there's no better time to jump on the original to see where the series started, all the way back in 2006.
They have their flaws—they are nearly 15 years old, after all. But, despite this, they're still stand-out titles, and a must-have in your Nintendo DS library.
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