The Mystery Returns, Better than Before
March 18, 2008 – It’s a sad fact of the video game industry that every time there’s a successful console, genre, franchise or even individual game, there are tons of people looking for an opportunity to use that popularity to make a quick buck. Pokémon is one such franchise, and has inspired countless spin-offs and rip-offs because of its simple and successful gameplay mechanic.
One spin-off was the unique Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, which took the basic Mystery Dungeon hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler formula and added Pokémon. The twist? Rather than playing as a Pokémon “Trainer,” you got to play the role of a Pokémon. And now the DS is getting a sequel to the title, in the form of the upcoming mirror titles Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness and Explorers of Time.
For those of you who have not yet played Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, the premise of the game is quite simple. Through a series of random questions, the game decides which of ten or so starting Pokémon you will become. The story begins as you find yourself suddenly turned into the Pokémon you have selected and you’re thrust into a world where Pokémon converse with each other, purchase items, sleep in houses, and go on quests. As in the first Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, you’ll receive a partner of your choice, and you’ll band together and form a Rescue Team, prompted by the fact that you’ve been attacked by a group of Pokémon criminals and naturally you’ve a desire to protect other defenseless Pocket Monsters.
The meat of the game, as suggested by the game’s title, is the exploration of several dungeons throughout the game. Wild Pokémon are scattered throughout the dungeons, and everything occurs in a turn-based fashion. Every time you move, the wild Pokémon, whether or not you can see them, move as well. Once they become visible, you’ll actually notice this turn-based mechanic. Most of the time you’re going to want to fight the Pokémon you encounter (I’ll explain in a moment), and to do this you simply need to approach the Pokémon and attack once you’re adjacent to it. Your partner will attack automatically, with the caveat, of course, being that you have to take turns attacking. You’ll have a number of battle options at your disposal: you’ve got a set of four moves, just as in any other Pokémon game. There’s also a generic attack that is used with the A button, and while this is more convenient than navigating multiple menus just to pull off an attack, it’s also weaker than most of the moves you’ll have in your arsenal. In addition to these battles, you can also use a wide variety of items and certain moves to execute long-range attacks.
I mentioned previously that attacking is usually the best course of action when you encounter a wild Pokémon (as opposed to trying to flee, that is), and this is so for a number of reasons. Like most other Pokémon games, Explorers of Darkness / Explorers of Time has some strong role-playing elements. You’ll gain experience for each battle won, and you’ll level up, increase your stats, and learn new moves as well. Additionally, you can sometimes recruit Pokémon that you’ve defeated, and thereby form a real team. The mechanics of building a team are similar to those present in the traditional Pokémon titles, and as you’d expect it’s quite fun determining who to use and who to omit. Additionally, a big part of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is the fact that the dungeons are randomly generated each time you visit, so even though you may be playing several quests in a single dungeon, it’s never going to be the same experience. This keeps things fresh and interesting and keeps the lengthy title from getting boring or monotonous.
But Explorers of Time / Explorers of Darkness is not just a simple rehash of a game already released; naturally, there are a number of additions to the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon gameplay mechanic that will likely make this a title worth purchasing, even if you own the original. First off, there’s the fact that there are nearly five hundred different Pokémon that can potentially join your team — all the Pokémon up through the fourth generation (Diamond and Pearl) are here, so Pokémon fanatics will be quite happy with the huge selection of possible allies. There are also a few smaller additions such as the system of gaining eggs and allowing them to hatch (eggs are occasionally received as a reward for completing missions).
Probably the biggest feature that’s been added to Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is that of WiFi play, and it serves two different purposes. First, you can play online co-op with a friend on any dungeon to help them if they’re having a hard time. And second, the idea of being a rescue team really comes into play. If a friend has fainted in a dungeon, you can visit that dungeon online; when you reach the spot where they fainted, they’ll be revived (and hopefully you’ll be given a reward for your hard work!). In previous games, rescuing was taken care of with a complicated code which the rescuer would then enter into his or her DS — this system promises to be far more efficient and encourages players to get help when they are KO’d in a dungeon.
It’s not the most groundbreaking title on the DS, but Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time / Explorers of Darkness is shaping up to be a nice little niche title. If you enjoyed the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon title, then this game should certainly catch your eye. And if you’re looking for an interesting Pokémon spin-off, this title improves upon the original and definitely warrants a purchase if you’re into simple RPGs. Keep an eye out for Explorers of Time / Explorers of Darkness when it releases late next month.