Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX – Review

Having pumped double digits of hours into the new Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX, I can safely say beyond doubt that this is the most loving entry into the history of the franchise. It will charm old and new players alike. However, much like its first incarnation, there were several opportunities where developer Spike Chunsoft could have made moves to better plan a better player experience where it matters the most and that is within its dungeons.

Choosing your character  A selection of Pokémon appear before the character ranging from Bulbasaurs to Machops
Choosing your character.

It all begins with a Question

I remember when I picked up Mystery Dungeon for the first time. I was sitting in Eddie Rockets (Johnny Rockets to my friends in the USA) and when the game asked you to place your finger on the touchpad and begin your quest by answering a series of personality questions. I was hooked, hooked the same way I can remember being hooked playing Pokémon Crystal when the first female playable female protagonist was introduced. The same way I remember being hooked when I first started playing Pokémon Red. I knew that this would be a love affair that would last me my entire life.

Little did I know how right I would be, leaning into all entries regardless of version. A love that would lead me to buy multiple copies and keep old systems around just to go back to that world, that place. A deeper love than maybe the original Pokémon series had on me as the series was more formulaic in its iterations.

Mystery Dungeon was something special to me. Something unique. This wasn’t just a protagonist who I was aiming to be, shoes I was yet to fill. This was my own journey, with my answers, my solutions, with my friends.

So when I heard of the remake it thrilled me to bits to go back into this place, and I’m delighted to say that Spike Chunsoft (the makers of hit visual novel series Danganronpa) made a faithful recreation of the Mystery Dungeon world; with some beautiful ascetic changes.

Watercolour Masterpiece. Pikachu and Bulbasaur by a forest lush with watercolours straight from a childs book.
Watercolour Masterpiece

Watercolour Masterpiece

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX is stunningly beautiful in its depiction of the world. It’s the closest thing I’ve come to going “this is exactly what I had in my brain when I was young”. The watercolor imagery captures all that is whimsical, bright and alive in this world. It is bright without being overbearing, a brightness you could stare out at for hours without needing to avert your gaze. Thankfully there are instances in the games where you can pause for a moment to take in your surroundings. Even going so far as to have a dedicated art mode viewer on the main menus.

I’m grateful for that tiniest of little touches to take your time and appreciate the world that you’re in. It encourages a place to go and gather yourself, place your feet firmly on the ground and take your time to get to grips with everything that the game has to offer. It is deceptive in its ability to surprise you. Especially as the game starts to get into the deeper aspects of the story.

Many to one. Your team vs a load of enemies
Many to one

Not so Mysterious Dungeon

Formulaic is the kindest word that I can find to describe the gameplay, although a more accurate word would be boring. The dungeon part of Mystery Dungeon is easily the weakest part of the game. Which is unfortunate – as it is the most predominant part of the game. The premise of the mystery dungeon title is that every time you enter a new dungeon it is different from the last one you enter. This means you can only go so far to prepare for what lies ahead of you.

This has its pros and cons, naturally. Pro’s being it does keep the gameplay from being completely dragged down by the sameness of having to go through the same layouts on repeat and you will encounter different sorts of Pokemon on each run you do. Giving you more opportunities depending on rare qualities a likelihood to recruit them onto your squad for more adventures.

Cons, unfortunately, outweigh the pros. You invariably are trying to do quest markers more often than you are doing a quest to boost your rescue teams’ rank because you just can’t bear the thought of having to do any more dungeons. I was doing so many dungeons at one stage I had to take a break because I was getting headaches. That’s not the best sign in the world that your gameplay is engaging or keeps you in a rewarding loop. The items you get from dungeons are, most times, are either completely useless to your objectives or essential items that you need for dungeons; like apples.

The Kecleon Shop that you have access to in the Pokemon main square or occasionally popping up mid dungeon has an uninspired array of items. Apples are essential for longer dungeon runs, as getting hungry will invariably lead to your party fainting if you can’t get some sustenance. The shop only selling one of these a go at any one time just isn’t useful. You have to bank on the ability to either find them in dungeons as they spawn or that the shop in dungeon spawns more than just a single-use item.

What is the biggest gamble of these mystery dungeons is starting them in the first place. There are no hard and fast rules for level requirements and you will find out super quick if you are under the level required for it and with that loss comes the loss of all of your money as well as your items. So if you have had a set of equipment and are fully prepared for your dungeon you could get wiped out in one go by just having an unlucky encounter or worse, a monster house.

Silver linings in unlikely places

Auto Mode allows the player with one click to move around the dungeon
Auto mode

There are some incredible accessibility modes that more developers could do with taking on board. Some of these are unique features and others are just sheer thoughtful input created from a thoughtful development process. There is quite literally an overabundance of them. Some of which there has been no fan fair or notice through other outlets, but I can’t tell you how much these things matter for players with disabilities.

Auto Mode

Auto mode is a mode where, as the name would imply, allows your character to explore the dungeons without you needing to toggle or hold down buttons in order to explore. The auto mode only ceases when there is an enemy in sight, allowing the players to make a decision on what to do from that point on.

Move Sets

For players with Cognitive difficulties or simply new players who wouldn’t know what the best moves are. They can simply press the A button and the game will make the best decision as to what move to use in order to get the upper hands on your opponents.

Highlighted Text

One of the best things that I have seen in accessibility tools is the ability to look into highlight words by simply hovering over the words. Each is colour coded into their specific categories so they are distinct from each other at all times. This gives the player the ability to review at any time what is going on or what item will have an effect etc.

Audio Captions

Something that goes so understated in video games is the ability to read captions. Thankfully, Spike Chunsoft has been experts in their field when it comes to visual novels. All that experience comes into play with the way that they have used text in this game. Not just in the way that they have used highlight text, as per the example above. But their ability to capture sound in text to tell a story. This level of storytelling should be standard across all titles, as this is a level of care that you take to include people from all backgrounds, levels, and experiences in being able to enjoy your game fully. I can think of no higher praise than this. It is a sheer masterclass of accessibility and something that developers from all around the world can learn from.

A Storys End

Camp Corner with Wigglytuff and our protagonists
Camp Corner

There is an awful lot to like about Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX. You can feel the love of the source material from the Spike Chunsoft team and the care that went into developing this game. Using their length and breadth of experiences to breathe new life into a franchise that was feared to be left in obscurity. However, even with the quality of life improvements as well as some stellar accessibility features – it doesn’t stop the game from having some fundamental flaws where it matters the most and that is in its gameplay.

It leads to a larger conversation around remakes, how close should you stay to the sources material in order to maintain its truest self? With other remakes of significance lurking around the corner like Final Fantasy VII, I’m sure this will only be the start of the debate to come. All I know is that I’d appreciate the intention but am sad for the opportunity missed to tweak some mechanics or to expand on what made the series iconic, to begin with.

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Pokemon Ultra Sun

My love affair with Pokemon has been lifelong. I have yet to miss a launch game from the main series so, Ultra Sun was no exception here. As the Pokemon has an ongoing legacy, it’s nice that the Ultra Sun & Moon series refines the series formula. Though, I’ll readily admit that I was only moderately interested in returning to Alola.

sun and moon imageAloha is the region in which Pokemon which you are to venture through on your Island Challenge. Instead of taking on your series of Pokemon Gyms as is common in the series you are tasked to go through a set of Trials set by the Captains of the Islands and their Island Kahunas. These trials take the forms of classic battles, scavenger hunts, quizzes and a final task of it culminating in battling the Totem Pokemon of the Trial. While these deviate significantly from the usual pattern of going round and collecting Gym badges it was a welcome change. It gave the series the refresh it needed, and in turn, gave these particular games a soul that the others were lacking towards its more recent entries in the franchise.

It’s a game that prides itself on it being about the journey rather than the destination. From the beautiful depiction of the tropical islands (as Alola is based on Hawaii) to the charming and engaging captains and Kahunas. The individual trials give you a greater sense as to what role these people play in their respective communities as well as greater insight into who they are as people as well as trainers. These aren’t just one-off encounters like in previous entries in the franchise, and this is to the stories benefit. The Captains and Kahunas never outstayed their welcome, they had their purpose for the narrative part of their trials and then let you be on your way to the next objective. It’s cleverly paced, and while Ultra Sun is still plagued with some stiff dialogue at times, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is capable of laughing at itself for its silliness.

The narrative progression in Sun & Moon was one of the short comings of the first iteration. It took a long time to do anything, and Ultra Sun and Moon address this issue. You get to pick your starter a lot quicker, and there are some subtle changes to trials and sequences of event that has been shortened considerably. This is an improvement as far as I’m concerned, as it trimmed a lot of the fat narratively speaking. Something that may be disappointing to players who have already completed Sun and Moon before is that regarding the overall arch of the story there isn’t any significant change until the credits have rolled. However, in saying that, there are plenty of reasons to see the 30 + hour story to the end.

There are optional tasks in game now, where the people of each of the towns could issue you with mini quests along the way. Some of these side quests (if you could even call them that given their brevity) are nothing short of fetch quests. But, its the reasoning and their writing that kept me wanting to find more. Two side quests mainly hooked me; one was where an elderly woman was lamenting about her brother whom she hadn’t heard from since childhood. I stumbled upon a message in a bottle that I found in the corner of a cave well out of the way of the central area I was roaming. Sure enough, that message was for his sister letting her know that he was safe and that he still loved her and wanted her to be happy. Returning to the women and being able to provide that closure for her is a testament to the writing from Game Freak and a real understanding and respect for the fact that this game is enjoyed by all age groups. The second one that caught my attention was finding some misbehaving Ditto who are transforming into Humans. There is a wonderful scene that I won’t spoil as a result of finishing that quest, but it leaves you with a bit of wistful wonder that has long since been missing from the series at large. There is a lot to be explored and a lot to gain from exploring every nook and cranny of Alola.

dsimageThere have been some minor updates to the game from a UI perspective too. The battle screens are adjusted in move selection, so you no longer have to try and keep a mental record of what moves have what effect on the opposing Pokemon. The overall menu screen has, thankfully, been made brighter by the colour change. There is now a quick save option bound to the 3DS’s Y button that is accessible from the main menu. Pokemon Amie from X & Y has returned to a more useful format of Pokemon Refresh where you can heal status ailments of your team as well as increase their affection using Poke Beans. Increasing the affection with your team can lead to them dodging enemy attacks or shaking off status effects mid-battle which can be useful when you’re in a pinch!

Which may happen more regularly than you might think. I struggled to play Ultra Sun in a way I didn’t with previous games. While the inclusion of the Z crystals that you earn at the end of the trial to power up your Pokemon is an interesting mechanic, however, it wasn’t quite the one shot button of destruction I was hoping for. Though, your mileage will vary depending on your squad makeup. Ultimately, it’s a flashy power move of which its animation get tiresome after its twentieth or thirtieth time. Seriously, there are only so many times you can watch Breakneck Blitz without wishing there was some sort of skip button.

All that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ultra Sun and Moon to newcomers to the series or veterans. 20 years have passed since the original series of Red and Blue launched on the Original Gameboy, and the series has been a process of iteration in each entry. I’m happy to say that after all of these slow and steady iterations, Pokemon has finally found its form again.