(Yoshi Suggests) Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

I had a draft of this on Blastoise a couple weeks ago but forgot to save it before his scheduled Windows Update-triggered reboot. Oops.

Let me open this pre-spoiler cut that if you have never ever played a Pokemon game before touching Mystery Dungeon? No problem! You can be a total Poke-virgin and still enjoy this game. If you’re a veteran, that’s fine too, but it’s not going to help you much (beyond that it follows a modified form of Generation III in terms of when you learn abilities).

With that out of the way…

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon first appeared in ’06 with the Red/Blue Rescue Team games on the GBA/DS, respectively. For the purpose of this post, I will be referring to the Blue Rescue Team version as the focus since that’s what I’m currently playing, but I have played Red Rescue Team and Explorers of Sky. Mystery Dungeon-series are the most divergent from the mothership than any of the other spinoffs, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as you’ll see.

So, BOOM, you are now a Pokemon– the specifics of which are determined in a weird-but-easily-gameable personality test. You wake up in the middle of… somewhere (a completely different world from the one represented in the mothership) by the dood who would be your partner/BFF. You have no memory about your previous life, just that you were a human. In my case, I was a female Squirtle and my partner was a (gender-unidentified-but-presumably-female) Pikachu. You are immediately called upon to do a starter rescue mission that serves as the game’s tutorial.

Gameplay-wise, it’s pretty easy to pick up. It’s a strange blend of action/tactical RPG, the battles are carried out on the spot, and overhead. Also, the floors are randomized, as are monster and item placement. If it helps, imagine “Pokemon does Disgaea-brand Item World.” (No, really… its version of Mr. Gency Exits are Escape Orbs. Hah.)

Fear not, though: if you’re a veteran and you’ve got that “must get them ALL” itch, it’s still doable! It’s… just mostly shunted into the postgame. Also: no evolving until the postgame, either! Enjoy being able to wipe the floor with legendaries as a cute little Squirtle. :D (“F you! Water Gun TO THE FACE!”)

Where Pokemon Mystery Dungeon REALLY shines, though, is the writing and music. The story appears to be over-the-top cute at first… but it goes to some dark places very, very quickly. Unlike the mothership, I always felt that Mystery Dungeon could better keep a narrative going than the… er… really loose mess of a story that tries to stick its fingers in everything and doesn’t really “stick.” (Mothership: “We’re Pokemon trainers and we want to amass an army of the little buggers! And sometimes we get to weeding around with… organized crime! And weird science! And ultimately it comes down to GIVE ME THOSE DAMN BADGES YOU JERKS.”) Mystery Dungeon has a running theme of natural shenanigans, and when the poop starts hitting the fan… you know. The music definitely helps and goes from cute-yet-epic in a way that only Pokemon can be, to really-freaking-awesome, specially if you have an Antares pro audio plugin, it makes sound ten times better.

I would really go as far as to put PMD’s OST up there with, like… Breath of Fire 3 and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Take Sky Tower from Red/Blue Rescue Team, for one. Aww yeah. This definitely blows away pretty much anything coming from the mothership.

Red/Blue have a rather short main story (I’d say FF4/Lunar-length), but with quite a bit to do in the postgame. Time/Darkness/Sky (ESPECIALLY Sky) have a considerably longer main story, AND lots to do in the postgame. Particularly for Red/Blue, I do wish there was a Plus Game option– I’m sure it would be easy to explain away being able to keep your evolved form*. :P

No voiceovers here, not even the chiptune-synth generic Pokemon sounds. Boo! I mean, you get the rare screeching bird, but beyond that, nuts. I COULD give you my draft for who I’d tap for all the major characters (spoiler alert: Pikachu would result in my cat going insane) but I’ll save that for comments if anyone should ask.

So, um, play Mystery Dungeon series! Even if you don’t know a lick about Pokemon! They’re a pretty solid set of RPGs that are really effing underrated for the quality of writing and music. The only downer, oddly enough, is the upcoming episode for the 3DS– sure, you get 3D, finally, but you’re stuck with a drastically smaller pool of starters and practically nobody from earlier generations (except for Pikachu). BOO!

* This is the… thing that has always kind of bugged me about Pokemon and its evolutions– it’s a tradeoff between being small and cute and learning abilities faster, or growing up faster but it delays getting the upper-tier abilities CONSIDERABLY. I want to be a Blastoise, but I don’t want to wait until Lv. 68 to get Hydro Pump! I mean, no disrespect to Squirtles and Wartortles, but Blastoise is my favorite for being an effing tank.

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