Ever since the Pokémon Red and Blue, the core theme of each Pokémon game has been friendship. Finding new Pokémon to capture and befriend has always been a highlight, even used as a method to evolve your creatures. Now, in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, that friendship isn’t just the theme of the game, it’s the very thread that holds it together.
I’ve always preferred the main Pokémon series to the Dungeon series of games, but this new entry took me by surprise. It has an intriguing story that’s chock-full of interesting main and supporting characters. It starts off, like most of the other Dungeon games, with a little quiz. This quiz will help identify your best starter Pokémon and partner, however, you can choose whichever starter you want. Ordinarily, Bulbsaur is my chosen Pokémon, but this time I was given Riolu. My partner was Fennekin – yay for no Pikachu!
Once that is done, you find yourself in the world of Pokémon. If you’re not familiar with the Dungeon series here’s a quick breakdown. It’s nothing like the main series. In this world, humans don’t co-exist with Pokémon. Rather the creatures take care of themselves, often living in homes, running stores and doing day-to-day things. You, unfortunately, have been transported from the human world and turned into a Pokémon.
An Impressive Story!
Without giving away too much, you later meet your partner Pokémon, attend school (sort of like a long-winded tutorial), and eventually become junior members of the Expedition Society. This society, is the new version of the rescue teams in the previous games. Its main mission is to map the world and help those in need i.e., rescue lost Pokémon, find objects, fight others and fully explore locations.
There are many twists and turns in the story that will surprise you. I really wasn’t expecting much, but I finally see a Pokémon story that is actually mature and well thought out. The only issue with the story is that the pacing in the first half is very slow. The character growth and comedic timing is brilliant and many of the characters will charm you. The Expedition Society members are all kooky, but lovable at the same time. Another factor that blends in well is how it’s visually portrayed. Not only is it well-polished, but it’s colourful and joyful at the same time.
Fighting In A Maze
While it may be all fun and laughs, the game itself is a whole other ballgame. Combat, unlike the main series, is very different. The Dungeon games are more rogue-like with an RPG element to it. There are no trainers, so you control the Pokémon directly, moving them around in maze-like dungeons, caves, forests, etc. The mazes change every time you enter them, so it’s very much the same as the Chocobo Dungeon series if you’ve played them.
However, just like the main series, your character has four moves in their movepool. The button layout is very simple and the learning curve is smooth. Depending on what moves you have, you can attack directly, far away, in an area or buff/de-buff other Pokémon. It’s not as in-depth as the online Pokémon battles, but knowing your and your partner’s movepools are important. The good news is, your partner Pokémon AI is smart and knows exactly what moves it needs to use against who.
The same goes for other connected friend Pokémon. Unlike in the other Dungeon games, recruiting Pokémon isn’t down to luck or chance. By completing main and side-missions, you “connect” with the mission giver. Once that’s done you can call upon that Pokémon as a partner when you go dungeon diving. This makes it much easier for you to get the partners you want and organise your party members more efficiently.
Customising your Looplets and Emeras
That’s not all, now you can equip your characters with looplets to provide them with additional bonuses in the dungeons. To strengthen them, you can add emeras, which will provide unique buffs and defences for your Pokémon. Different emeras can be added to the looplets, giving you the chance to really modify your characters. Turning a simple creature into a tank or sweeper is possible and is often the key to victory. And I say that in a good and a bad way.
One of my biggest gripes with the game is the difficulty. The main missions were okay – a little grinding and you’ll be fine – but the post-game and side mission stuff will make your eyes bleed. Although it’s quite difficult it is possible to level up and become stronger, but lots of grinding is needed, even with some of the stronger connected team members. The other issue I had was movepool diversity.
Your Pokémon learn moves at the same levels like they do in the standard game, so you won’t learn the full moveset until you’re about level 60, but here’s the kicker, your level will be WAY under that by the time you finish the game. In essence, I played the entire game with same moves, replacing one or two along the way. This makes combat very tedious and formulaic.
A smaller irritation of mine is that some of the dialogue is completely unnecessary. There are also long and unskippable sections that just take up too much time. For example, after you finish a dungeon, you are “treated” to a clip of the expedition society eating their supper. While that happens, you are forced to read (or press) your way through many speech bubbles just containing the words “munch, munch, munch, munch…”
Pelipper Island and a lot more!
The good news is, the game is loaded with content. The story itself doesn’t even take you to half the continents in the game. I connected with about 120 Pokémon by the end, and that’s not even a quarter of the 720 available monsters. Then there’s Pelipper Island which covers the online portion of the game. Using this area, you can send and receive rescue Pokémon from the internet or via streetpass. I wasn’t able to fully explore this section as the game was under embargo. However, it is used for another purpose: rescuing yourself.
In a big way, Pelipper Island allows you to combat the tough difficulty of the game. If you faint in a dungeon, you can exit the game via the prompts and attempt to rescue yourself with another team of Pokémon. If successful, you can resume the dungeon or escape.
Despite the frustrating difficulty and tedious combat, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon surprised me in more ways than one. Its uplifting story with vibrant and colourful characters will appeal to old and young Pokémon fans. Although there are some irritations, this is not just a solid entry into the World of Pokémon, it’s by far the best in the Dungeon series.